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5 Intention-setting Ideas to Move Through Depression

National Depression Education & Awareness Month!

As we move into the 8th month of learning to live with the Covid-19 virus, many of us continue to struggle with symptoms of depression emanating from the physical distancing and the many other losses we have experienced, including amongst others the loss of loved ones, loss of employment, inability to be with loved ones when they are sick or in the hospital, inability to give and receive hugs, and the changes to regular pleasurable activities that might have included going to the movies or taking an in-person yoga class with our favorite teacher.

There are many positives that are occurring during this time too, yet it can be difficult to focus on them when caught in the throws of depression.  As my husband has been known to say “Not every day can be a home run”, it’s when more days than not that we feel like we struck out that becomes concerning.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S.” There is no one cause for depression, yet it often stems from family history, major life changes, trauma, and/or stress, biological or other environmental factors.  It impacts all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or gender, although prevalence rates are highest amongst adults identifying as two or more races.

Depression is typically treated with a combination of psychotherapy, medication and brain stimulation therapies.

Below I provide intention-setting ideas that might prove helpful to you or your loved ones when moving through depression:

  1. Breathe.  Try Breath of Joy each morning.  Standing with your feet a little wider than your hips, arms by your side to start.  Take a 3-part inhale, raising both arms out in front of you on the first part of the inhale, moving both arms out to the sides at heart level on the second part of the inhale, and raising both arms to the sky on the third part of the inhale (YES, like you are conducting an orchestra), and then, as you exhale open your mouth, make a loud sighing out noise, as you swing your arms down along the sides of the body, fold the body over towards the ground while bending your knees.  Repeat these steps while taking 3-5 more breaths.  Afterwards, come back to standing with your arms along your sides, drawing your awareness to your hands, becoming aware of any sensations that might be present, while allowing your breath to return to a natural rhythm.  Sense into how you can feel your energy moving!
  2. Set One Daily Goal.  Make one goal that is especially meaningful to you.  Start out small, knowing you can grow it if and when you are ready.  Perhaps it is to make your favorite cup of tea in the morning and allow yourself 15 minutes (or more) to simply sit and enjoy drinking it.  Or perhaps it is to use your mala or prayer beads to allow yourself to sit for 5-10 minutes saying your prayers first thing in the morning or the last thing before bed.  Or it might be to read your favorite book or read the book that you have been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten to.  And, the most important part is to give yourself a pat on the back when you accomplish your goad and NOT beat yourself up when you don’t.  Be kind to yourself and simply set the goal again for the next day.  Maybe the goal changes to simply be kind to myself!
  3. Be active.  Exercise not only moves our body but also moves our e-motions (energy in motion).  So, although it may be difficult or even feel impossible on some days to get up and move, moving helps!  Walking as little as 15 minutes a day can help shift our energy and release some of the weight of depression.  Gentle yoga is perhaps another option to try and, thanks to the pandemic, you don’t even need to leave the house to attend a virtual class.
  4. Reach out.  The symptoms of depression tend to encourage us to withdraw and stay isolated, thinking that we don’t want to burden others with what we are going through.  However, being with others helps us feel better and is one of the best coping strategies for moving through depression.  And we don’t always have to put on our “happy mask” either.  When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and share our experiences, often we discover we are not alone in our challenges and, through sharing, we validate not only our experiences but the experiences of others.  Humans were designed to feel good when helping others, so allow others to help by listening to us when we are not having one of those “home run” kind of days.
  5. Gratitude journaling.  Practicing gratitude has been shown to increase our sense of peace and happiness.  Again, when trying to identify what you might be grateful for, think small.  This is another practice that will begin to grow as you continue to practice it.  Some of the most mundane, routine things might begin to look and feel differently when sprinkled with gratitude.  My most favorite items to add to my journal are:  running hot water, a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head, and my furbabies who love me no matter what!  I’d love to hear back from you what some of your favorites might be!

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

Might transcranial direct current stimulation (aka direct neurofeedback) be an additional tool to reduce symptoms of depression as a result of the impact of the pandemic?

If there is one silver lining to this pandemic it is the blossoming realization and acceptance of the fact that people need people!  It is shining a light on the cultural ideal of independence and reflecting the shadow side of such an ideal.  Human beings were designed to be interdependent, using relationships within their tribes and communities to grow and thrive.  If independence was truly the healthy ideal, why aren’t more people thriving during this pandemic?

Use this time to reflect on the lessons being brought forward to us.  If we embrace the fact that we need each other – and that it makes us feel good to help each other – than perhaps we can learn to be at ease with asking for help and support when we need it, knowing it will deepen our connections with others and make others feel good about themselves.  What brings hope during these unexpected – and let’s just own it – scary times is collaboration and comradery.  Knowing we are not alone – in our experiences, thoughts, and emotions – and that if we just have the courage to reach out, we will find relief.

Action is actually an antidote to fear.  So, although the mind says withdraw, let the body lean in and reach out a hand – to call a friend, to pet an animal, to throw and catch a ball with a child and best of all to give and receive a hug with a loved one.  You might even try your hand at writing, perhaps a letter or poem, to someone you care about and are unable to see in person at this time.  Letting them know you are thinking about them and care about them might forever change their world in that immediate moment.

All of these acts of connection soothe the mind’s sense of disconnection.  As neuroscience is demonstrating, our brains are wired for connection and, when we begin to experience disconnection, symptoms like depression start to develop.  And the current pandemic conditions are only exacerbating any pre-existing sense of disconnection.  Therefore, we need more tools that support the brain’s innate ability to reorganize towards health, beyond medications that bring so many unwanted side-effects.  We need tools that reduce the fear signals in the brain so that action becomes more of an option when depressive symptoms loom.

Well, such a tool exists and a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of the research reflects that this tool is effective in the treatment of depression.  Prior to this review, the results were mixed.  However, now enough randomized clinical trials have been conducted and the cumulative data reflect that direct neurofeedback has achieved superior response and remission rates, warranting further large-scale clinical trials!

This information is vital as we continue to move through this pandemic and beyond.  The lasting effects of the physical distancing required for our immediate physical health are still unknown at this time, yet history informs us that the psychological wounds may be deep.  Acknowledging that symptoms of depression may be arising, whether within our own experience or witnessing it in others, helps to anticipate support might be needed along the healing path.  Knowing about the treatment options facilitates choice throughout the journey.

To read more about this research click on the link below:

Is positive psychology really effective?

When we experience loss, it is normal and natural to feel sad.  It is also normal and natural when we are under stress to use safety seeking strategies such as pulling back from support structures, such as friends and family.  At the same time, it can sometimes be difficult to move through such normal experiences and rediscover the joys in life.  We can get stuck under the weight of loss and stress, feeling alone and on edge, especially when the stress is chronic.

Reminders of loss often arise at this time of year, whether it is the loss of the innocence of our childhood or the loss of someone that we loved.  Mix in the stress of the holiday season, when our “To Do” list grows long, and it is a recipe for pulling us down into the gloom and making us more susceptible to falling ill.  It can be especially challenging when experiencing this sense of spiraling downward when we don’t have any tools to support us in turning it around.

When we feel alone and don’t want to bother anyone with our troubles, where can we turn to support our navigation through such powerful emotions that tend to knock us off balance?  Is it truly possible to use positive psychology to get us unstuck and back in balance?  Can the technology wave of online help deliver such life balancing tools, allowing us to take this journey from the privacy of our homes?

Well, a new randomized controlled trial took a look at a facilitated online positive emotion regulation intervention with caregivers responsible for people with a diagnosis of dementia.  It was a 6-week intervention that focused on testing the effects on positive emotion, depression, anxiety, and physical health.  This study demonstrated that there are tools that can teach us to experience a more positive attitude and when we have a more positive attitude, it reduces the powerful emotions of anxiety and depression!  This study supports the use of online, remotely delivered programs to support the navigation towards psychological well-being through the use of positive psychology tools.

If you would like to read more about this research, click on the link below:

Do emotions have a role in healing childhood trauma?

I sense that most of us are aware that our brain, especially the rational part (i.e., prefrontal cortex) does not reach full development until age 25 or so, which implies, by default that until that age, we tend to operate more from the emotional parts, such as the amygdala.  And, as our brains develop, the connections between the two (emotional and rational) centers are still developing as well.  What we may not be so aware of is the impact of childhood trauma on such connections.  We also may not be fully aware of many of the situations that are now understood to be traumatizing to children.

Let me start with the latter.  Extensive research has been ongoing since the original group of participants were recruited for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study between 1995 and 1997 in California.  Although the study ended in 1997, most states continue to collect such information through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  The information collected focuses on child abuse and neglect and other household challenges, including intimate partner violence, substance abuse and mental illness in the household, parental separation or divorce, and if a household member was incarcerated. This research has resulted in the inclusion of a new diagnosis of Complex posttraumatic stress disorder, also referred to as developmental PTSD, within the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition, recently officially endorsed by WHO’s World Health Assembly and set for implementation outside of the US in 2022.

This is a HUGE step forward in identifying the underlying cause of most challenging symptoms to mental health, including anxiety and depression, and how these symptoms link to most chronic physical diseases, such as heart disease and cancer!  I have been known to say we don’t need a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, we simply need The Book of Trauma.  When we all can embrace the idea that there is nothing wrong with us and instead can understand it is what happened to us when we were little that makes it so difficult to live a life full of joy and meaning today, there will no longer be any stigma to seeking support and we can begin the process of healing by shedding the shame and suffering we have been carrying.

Now to expand on the awareness of the impact such developmental PTSD has on the growing connections between the emotional and rational parts of a child’s brain.  When we are little and presented with trauma (as defined above), the emotional input to the brain is overwhelming to the point where we only ‘feel’ and are unable to ‘think’ because the developing rational part of the brain is hijacked by the emotional part, cutting off the connections that encourage a more balanced perspective.  The most familiar and natural fear responses of ‘fight or flight’ in many cases may not be an option for children.  Therefore, the ‘freeze’ response may be the most accessible, especially in young children.  The freeze response is used when the presenting danger cannot be escaped or beaten down, and if either were to be attempted, might actually increase the risk of harm.  The freeze response is a survival response that encourages stillness and silence to avoid being seen and offering a mental escape instead.  What this normal response to danger also does is narrow the range of emotional awareness to flavors of fear and shuts down the development of a more diverse range of emotions, including engagement, joy, comfort, confidence, empowerment and enthusiasm.  When the freeze response helped us to survive the traumas of our childhood, it also stunted our emotional intelligence (aka alexithymia), locking us in a world where danger lurks around every corner, even as adults.

So what can we do to unlock the door to the fear chamber and open it up to a safer, more peaceful existence?  In order to facilitate improvements in trauma-specific symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, dissociation, impulsivity, and interpersonal problems, emotions need to be welcome to express themselves.  Working with a therapist that embraces the intelligence of emotions, through perhaps using Emotionally-focused therapy, can address the emotional challenges associated with alexithymia and thus, begin to resolve issues of childhood trauma.

To read a little more of the research on how working with emotions heals childhood trauma, click on the link below:

 

 

What does your attitude about crying say about you?

Take a moment and ask yourself which of the following four statements reflects your belief about crying:

  • Crying is healthy
  • Crying is controllable
  • Crying helps one feel better
  • I hate crying

Recent research reflects that your beliefs about crying reveal your attachment style.

When I grew up, I got mixed messages from my family about crying.  My mother would cry all of the time and I would presume that she would identify with either the ‘crying is healthy’ and/or ‘crying helps one feel better’ beliefs.  Whereas, my father on the other hand would never cry and most likely would identify with ‘crying is controllable’ and/or ‘I hate crying’ beliefs.  More recently, I heard several quotes that stuck with me, one within my yoga roots by Kripalvanandji “One who knows crying, knows spiritual practice.” and the other “Crying is how your body speaks when your mouth can’t explain the pain you feel” which appears to be from an unknown author.

Crying is a universal human attachment behavior and starts at birth.  As little ones, crying notifies our caregivers that we need something, to relay important information to our attachment figures, such as food or sleep.  As we grow up, crying is a part of emotional processing and acceptance of loss.  The act of crying tends to elicit care and comfort from others throughout our lives.  But what happens as we grow when our caregivers have different beliefs about crying and they may not respond to our needs with care and comfort as intended?

I remember times when I was crying and my father’s response was something like ‘I won’t speak to you until you stop crying’, which implied to me that he was not available to provide care and comfort and somehow I must find a way to do that for myself.  I also witnessed that same response when my mother would be crying and he would not provide her with any comfort.  I quickly learned that crying does not elicit comfort and care in my family and, instead, makes the source of comfort and care unavailable.  As you might suspect, I tried my best to ‘stuff’ my emotions, especially my fear and sadness, and tried to rely on my words to explain my responses to the world.  But what happens when words fail?

Another memory comes back to me when I was a young woman working in the corporate world and I found myself feeling unsupported at work, even bullied.  I approached Human Resources and started to use my words, until my tears starting flowing and the dam broke.  I could not stop crying and I felt ashamed.  The HR person even alluded to the fact that my tears made it difficult to navigate the circumstances.  Well the research findings now show that the beliefs we develop about crying as a result of our experiences with our attachment figures have implications for interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning throughout our lives, impacting all of our relationships.

Learning and embracing the wisdom of Kripalvanandji helps us embrace our humanness, which includes the capacity to feel and experience emotions, and release any shame around crying.  It is a normal, natural human response to loss – whether we learned to deny/avoid the pain that comes with loss or cry more and stronger when we experience loss, hoping to get the care and comfort we all deserve – that has the power to heal.

If you would like to learn more about how your beliefs about crying may reflect your attachment style in relationships, click the box below:

Might direct neurofeedback be worth a try?

I’m a big believer in our innate ability to heal ourselves, the power of the human body and mind to continually work together towards homeostasis and health.  I also have personally experienced the chaos created in both by trauma, challenging my body and mind to maintain that state of equilibrium and well-being.  Through my own healing journey, I have discovered tools along the way that have worked to reinforce that innate ability to heal and feel sense of encouragement when the research supports personal experience.  Direct neurofeedback is one of those tools.

Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, whether you experienced abuse or neglect as a child, grew up on a home with one or both parents suffering from a mental illness or addiction, or were a witness to domestic violence while living with adults or going through a contentious divorce.  The enduring nature of the trauma from such interpersonally violent upbringings stems from the impact on the developing brain and nervous system.  When we embrace this fact, then we can also embrace the fact that sometimes the mind cannot talk itself out of such experiences when not involving the body in the process.

The brain, along with the spinal cord, forms the body’s main control center of our central nervous system.  This control center is where incoming stimulus is evaluated and decisions about what action to take are made.  It is the neurons in the brain that support the mind’s awareness of sensations, emotions, thoughts and ultimately behaviors when they communicate with each other.  When our neurons communicate, they produce electrical pulses referred to as brain waves.  These brain waves can be compared to the radio waves and the various stations that we tune into to listen to the radio.  AM stations work on a lower bandwidth, while FM stations have a higher bandwidth.  Our brain waves change according to what we are “tuned into”, with our slower brain waves being the AM stations and our faster ones being the FM stations.  Therefore, the brain is the main body part that is driving our beliefs, perceptions and reactions.

Understanding this very complex organ has taken some time as we waited for science to catch up with the personal experience of many.  With the advent of the electroencephalogram (EEG for short), we are able to see the various brain wave activity and now research has been able to identify the brain wave patterns associated with various neurological and emotional conditions, including ADHD, anxiety and depression.  This information created the opportunity to identify and work with tools to change or modify those brain waves, supporting the brains natural tendency towards balance and health.

Therefore, we are now better able to understand that when our brain waves are out of balance we will experience dis-ease in our minds and bodies, creating an unnatural, unhealthy environment that jeopardizes our overall well-being and health.  This understanding allows a more specific focus on tools that change or balance our brain waves to return the brain to its natural healthy state and thus creating an atmosphere for peace of mind and strength of body.  It helps us to appreciate the past experience with psychotherapy (or “talk” therapy), where it has been shown that changing our perceptions changes our experience of the world.  It also better explains the use of drugs (prescription or otherwise) to alter the brain’s ability to function and alleviate symptoms of dis-ease in the mind and body.

A newer approach to what ails many in the Western world is the use of more traditional Eastern practices such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing, which research is now able to show that these practices support the brain’s natural balance by modifying the brain wave patterns that create the imbalance.  In addition to these techniques, which work best when implemented as daily practices over the long haul, direct neurofeedback is showing success in altering brain waves more quickly that underlie the symptoms of a wide range of conditions, offering more immediate relief.

If you would like to read more about the research to determine for yourself if this tool might be worth a try, click on the button below:

The Legacy of Childhood Trauma – Transgenerational Impact!

I had a dear colleague once say to me “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.  When we know, we do better”.  I hear myself repeating this phrase often, because blame and shame are not healthy, period.  Yet, if we don’t look back to reflect on the need for change and growth, then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  I have written reflections in the past on the research around the impact of adverse childhood events (ACEs) on the individual and today I want to share the research that shows the impact of such events doesn’t stop with the individual!

Both of my own parents experienced childhood trauma and stressors, which thwarted their emotional growth trajectories, yet they didn’t know that about themselves and neither did society.  However, I definitely sensed that something was off and, as little ones will naturally do, I attempted to fill in the gaps.  Impossible, I know now, but I didn’t know then.  How ironic.

With this new research from UCLA reflecting a strong association between children’s behavioral health problems and their parents’ adversity histories, we now know better.  When our awareness grows around our past, it brings a deeper understanding of our experiences and our normal, natural adaptive responses.  With that deeper understanding, our hearts can begin to heal from events that our conscious minds were not even present to directly witness, yet stuck in our bodies instead.  We can create opportunities for ourselves to challenge those strongly guarded, unspeakable beliefs that there must be something wrong with us or that we are not worthy of acceptance and love, which keep us from a meaningful connection with ourselves and to others.

So, if you currently suffer from symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety and/or depression, and are not aware of experiencing any adverse childhood events yourself, perhaps consider exploring any that your parents might have been subjected to as they grew up.  Please remember that this exploration and what it might uncover is not meant to blame your parents.  It is meant to shine a light on the blame and shame that you might be carrying and that is feeding the self-judgment that is holding you back from a life full of connection, meaning and health.

To read more on this research, click on the button below:

Neurofeedback – Promising non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies for anxiety and depression!

Many people that I connect with express a desire to try other approaches to address symptoms of anxiety and depression before turning to medications, especially when it is their children that are suffering from such symptoms, as all prescription medications come with undesired side-effects.  As a psychotherapist and yoga teacher, I share the research with them that shows the effectiveness of integrating these two (yoga and talk therapy) healing arts to support the shift in focus toward health promotion for those who prefer to take a more natural, holistic approach to healing. Now I am excited to share recent research that demonstrates combining neurofeedback with heart rate variability training (e.g., deep slow abdominal yogic breathing) provides another viable non-pharmaceutical approach to address the symptoms of anxiety and depression.  And the research showed a reduction in symptoms for both children and adults!

Neurofeedback is not new and is a form of biofeedback, where instruments are attached to the body to provide information to the individual on the functioning of their body.  Biofeedback, including neurofeedback, as a field of study has been growing since the 1960s.  Neurofeedback (or EEG biofeedback) is the form of biofeedback that enables people to change the brain’s electrical activity.  An EEG (electroencephalography) is the device that captures the real-time brain wave activity so it can be displayed and assessed for any unhealthy patterns that might be contributing to symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.  Being able to offer a way to change unhealthy brain wave patterns through neurofeedback is of special interest to those of us working with clients to relieve such distressing symptoms because the brain is a central contributor to the emotions, physical symptoms, thoughts and behaviors that define many problems for which people reach out for support.

Yoga and it’s slow, controlled deep abdominal breathing is also not new.  What is new is the research that is showing how this yogic breathing impacts heart rate variability (HRV).  HRV has been shown to be linked with an increase in cardiovascular disease, specifically when the variability is low.  (Please refer to last month’s Reflection to learn more about HRV.)  Stress and anxiety increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the flight-fight response in the body, leading to increases in heart rate and a lowering of heart rate variability. On the other hand, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for the rest-digest response in the body, has been shown to decrease heart rate and increase heart rate variability, specifically through the stimulation of the vagus (Cranial X) nerve that controls the heart, lung and digestion.  It is the controlled breathing found in a regular yoga practice that stimulates the vagus nerve, bringing balance to the activity of the sympathetic nervous system activity.

Even more recent research has brought these two healing modalities together to assess the impact of stimulating both the brain with neurofeedback and the vagus nerve with deep abdominal breathing on symptoms of anxiety and depressing in both children and adults.  The results showed evidence that such training may provide an effective, non-pharmaceutical approach to reducing such symptoms, with some additional benefits such as improving blood pressure!

To read the full research article, click on the link below:

Does the ability to be self-aware of our inner emotional world contribute to our mental health?

In March of last year, I explored alexithymia when reflecting on how this difficulty in identifying, describing, and feeling our emotional world may be a factor in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), specifically how early childhood trauma impacts the developmental ability to integrate thinking and feeling.  I find myself revisiting this topic again due to recent research that suggests alexithymia has a role in anxiety and depression in general, placing an even greater emphasis on the importance of the intelligence of our emotional experiences and the need to promote both self-awareness, and cultural acceptance of emotional expression as a way to improve mental health.

From my own personal experience growing up, I spent a great deal of energy navigating between the emotional overload of one parent (AKA chaos) and the emotional desert (AKA rigidity) of the other.  Initially, rigidity was winning the battle as I did everything that I knew how to in order to suppress my emotions, including disassociating from them altogether and relying heavily on logical intelligence to figure life out.  What rigidity taught me was how to be on my own, embracing the cultural value of independence and discounting the need for human connection (or is it the human need for connection?).  What I came to understand many years later is that you cannot ignore your emotional world for long without severe consequences.

In holding on to my basic right to autonomy so tightly, I kept the door closed to connecting with others, viewing their emotional needs as monsters that would eat away at my independence.  I used to say “I don’t need anyone.  I may want you in my life, but I certainly don’t need you!”  At that point, all I understood was that if I was not independent, I would be judged as co-dependent and needy, which was not acceptable and dangled rejection over my head.  I didn’t know that neither end of the spectrum (from dependent to independent) was ideal for my overall health and well-being.  When I started to learn that humans are part of a complex system that requires interdependence to thrive, I was able to start the journey towards wholeness, unlocking the doors that had been holding my intense, seemingly uncontrollable emotions out to be heard.  The anxiety that I felt for most of my life was because I had rejected those parts of myself that I thought would make me unacceptable in the world.  As I learned to listen to my emotions and the wisdom they had to offer, I was able to accept all parts of my human self and to open my heart to deeper connections with others.

The lessons of both my familial and societal cultures had impaired my emotional self-awareness and my sense of the emotional experiences of others and thus my ability to emotionally connect with others, creating a great deal of anxiety.  With the support of a kind and patient therapist, I was able to allow myself to feel again, learn to reconnect with my emotions by giving them names, listen for understanding as to why those emotions arose, and, perhaps most importantly, that by allowing them to flow through me instead of denying them, learn to value them as much as my logical intelligence bringing more balance and compassion to my experience of the world.

So, how excited was I when I read this research that reflects how experiencing difficulties with identifying, describing and feeling emotions (alexithymia) explains the association between finding the healthy balance of interdependence (autonomy-connectedness) with anxiety and depression as it validated my personal journey.  Prior to this research, evidence showed that the concept of autonomy-connectedness was related to anxiety and depression, yet little was known about the underlying causes.  The results of this research offer guidance to mental health practitioners when supporting people experiencing anxiety and depression, specifically assessing, supporting, and increasing emotional awareness.

If you would like to read more on this research, click on the link below:

My New Year’s Intention – The Time’s Up for Shame!

As I have written about in the past, I am not a big fan of making resolutions for the New Year.  I find that such resolutions often bring with them failure, self-judgment and self-criticism, and ultimately shame when I might step away from such rigid demands on myself.  Sounds more like a recipe for depression than self-improvement if you ask me!  Which made me wonder if that is why many of us don’t bother with setting resolutions and, if we are brave enough to attempt them, why so many of us don’t succeed in such undertakings.  Could it be more about being hard on ourselves versus the unrealistic goals that we tend to set for ourselves at this time of year?  Or is it the shame that holds us back?  Or might it be a combination of both?

So, when I sat in reflection of my self-improvement efforts in 2017 in order to create a vision for myself in 2018 that is more intentional, motivating, and empowering, I found myself drawn so strongly to the #MeToo Movement that is now evolving into the “Time’s Up” campaign!  What felt so powerfully moving to me was the act of shining a light on the shame, that is transferred to someone who experiences one of the most natural, normal, adaptive, human responses to a body-mind breaking situation, so that shame can be given back to the rightful owner, the transgressor.  When we find ourselves in a situation that appears threatening, whether to our physical bodies or to our physical circumstances like our livelihoods, our bodies/brains know what to do to survive without much thought.  The first automatic survival response is to flee and when the mind realizes that might not be possible, it considers fighting for its life.  When the mind suspects it might not survive the fight, it freezes, even sometimes fainting, as a defense mechanism to try and trick the predator into thinking they are dead and leave (them alone).  And, of course, when we freeze – or faint – our voices go silent.

It is only when the “after” (survival) thoughts arrive that we begin the real battle, because we unknowingly took on the trangressor’s shame as our own.  The thoughts get really loud while our voices remain silent, for fear that we won’t be heard and supported and, instead blamed and rejected.  Anxiety and depression present themselves and become the unwelcome visitors in our daily lives and homes.  When we can experience the acceptance and support of others, we can then begin the journey of healing, bringing more acceptance and compassion towards ourselves.  When we can see the shame as not ours and give it back to the one who transferred it to us, we can begin to accept that we are human and we did what we had to do to survive at that time.  And now we can move forward and thrive, by embracing – maybe even expressing gratitude towards – our vulnerability as one of the strongest parts of ourselves, the part that helped us survive to live another day and become a part of a movement and campaign that has the energy to transform the world.

So, my intention is 2018 is be a compassionate support for those brave souls that are able to honor their vulnerable parts by speaking up, identifying and talking about shameful words and behaviors.  I intend to stay connected to the well of compassion for myself as the perfectly flawed human that I am, leading by example, showing others that self-compassion is the first, last, and every step in between on the path of healing.  Connecting to our ability to experience self-compassion while, at the same time, holding shame in the light is the true recipe for individual self-improvement and inner peace as well as contributing to the elevation of the collective consciousness of the world.

If you are interested in reading the recent research showing that self-compassion is more effective than the more established strategies of acceptance and reappraisal in decreasing depression, click on the link below: