Category: Self-improvement

How to improve emotional health in 2018

How to improve emotional health in 2018
A healthy sense of self can only be perceived through feeling

Learning how to build a healthy relationship with yourself is all about developing emotional awareness and respect. In order for you to feel whole, it is vital that you learn how to listen, validate and regulate your own emotions.  A healthy sense of self can only be perceived through feeling, be it negative or positive, or an ambivalent combination of both. Since there is no means of learning or even becoming ourselves without it, the value of our emotional health should not be underestimated. If you are determined to live a more fulfilling and pleasant existence, here is how to improve emotional health in 2018:

Become more emotionally aware

There is no better way to become more emotionally aware than simply taking the time to notice how you feel. If you are not able to identify your own emotions with the help of your intellect, direct your attention back to the body. Bodily sensations can often tell you what your brain sometimes struggles to explain through words. How does it feel to be you in this particular moment? Scan your body from head to toe – especially the regions that are prone to registering emotional disturbance, such as the stomach, chest, neck, shoulders and forehead – and analyse what is there. Do you feel a lightness or heaviness in those parts? Is your breathing short or deep? Are those regions relaxed or tense? What can they tell you about your needs and emotional state?

Respect negative emotions

Feeling whole is not viable without emotional congruence. Contrary to popular belief, emotional neglect is not an effective way of dealing with emotions, but a dysfunctional coping strategy that only leads to unhappiness, as well as mental health and relationship problems. If you feel uncomfortable, inadequate, sad or anxious, there is, most likely, a good reason for it. Even if your feelings are dysregulated, exaggerated or do not seem to reflect reality, that in itself is information of a potential mental health issue that needs your attention. Life and self-improvement are unattainable when you ignore or try to repress negative emotions. Being attentive to what is not a good fit and stands in the way of personal contentment, growth and development is a clever attitude for those who want to empower themselves through feeling.

Learn how to self-regulate

Validating your emotions does not mean being completely at their mercy. There are times that they have to be to dealt with and not only felt. Learning how to self-soothe and control your emotions independently is true autonomy. Not dealing with your feelings consciously and proactively often leads to addictions and other mental health problems. In order to deal with negative emotions healthily, motivate yourself and be creative. There is no fixed recipe for relaxation and well-being, since as individuals; we experience emotions in our own unique ways. Discover what works for you and fits your personality through exploring new ways of finding inner peace, be it through exercise, physical activity, relaxation or breathing exercises, meditation, reading, dancing, taking a hot bath, etc.

Seek emotional support

Life is often also made of stressful and even traumatic events that may be difficult to deal with emotionally. If you feel overwhelmed and nothing seems to ease your pain or anxiety, it may be time to seek the help of a mental health professional. There is no shame in feeling vulnerable and in need of a fresh perspective. Most of us go through tough times in our lives, even when we are too proud or ashamed to admit it. If you feel the need and have the means to go see a counsellor, I highly recommend it, especially if you do not feel comfortable talking about your feelings with others or were raised by emotionally neglectful parents. Therapy can be a productive environment in where to learn new problem-solving skills and coping strategies, which become yours for life.

The festive period might not be a cheerful time to everyone, but it has the potential to incite a feeling for positive change in a lot of us. If you “have had enough” of feeling demotivated and empty inside, following the above may help you reconnect with the whole of you, including those parts that have been neglected. To honour who you are in 2018, let go of beliefs about feelings that rob us from our humanity, or the ability to feel and connect with ourselves, others and the world around us. After all, being emotionally healthy is nothing that requires super extraordinary powers, but an honest and open attitude to interacting with the inner and outer world through feelings.

5 signs you were raised by emotionally neglectful parents

Every single emotion we feel, be it negative or positive, has its purpose. Negative emotions tell us when something is not quite right with our bodies. Like positive emotions, they help us interpret information and connect us to our inner and outer worlds. While negative emotions are highly sophisticated alarms that let us know when to move, act or think so to protect ourselves, positive emotions direct our focus to what we like and is important to us. Overall, emotions not only makes us human, but also help us grow and develop, as well as become who we truly are.

5 signs you were raised by emotionally neglectful parents
If you struggle to feel whole and connected, you might have been raised by emotionally neglectful parents

Despite its obvious relevance to the maintenance of our physical and mental health, our culture promotes a mentality of repression, denial and even rejection of emotions, especially when negative. We are taught already from an early age – even without direct instruction – to do what we can to supress anger and sadness, for instance, as if they were something to be “managed” and not felt. Our parents learn from their parents how not to address emotional states so not to upset them, and with time become intolerant of their very own negative emotions. When they have children of their own, they feel easily uncomfortable or lost when exposed to their suffering, anger or other feelings of inadequateness, often choosing not to accept or even acknowledge their existence and purpose.

If you struggle to feel whole and connected, be it with your emotions, with what you do, with your own body, self or others, you might have been raised in an environment of emotional neglect. To find out if that could be the case, here are 5 signs you were raised by emotionally neglectful parents:

1- You perceive most negative emotions as purposeless

You are judgemental concerning negative feelings. You see the ones who honour them as weak, temperamental, volatile or irrational. You think that everyone, including yourself, should make their utmost to be “pleasant” and exercise total control over their emotions, as if negative feelings, especially, were wild animals that should be tamed at all costs. You equate intelligence and strength to such “qualities” and emotional awareness and wholeness to vulnerabilities.

2- You find it difficult to tolerate emotional discomfort

If frustration, stress or anxiety suddenly befalls you, you do what you can to deal with such feelings as fast as possible. According to your belief, negative emotions should be extinguished immediately. You achieve that mainly via dissociation, self-medication, denial or avoidance, or through any other quick fix or diversion that makes you feel instantly better. Your reactions to other people’s negative emotional states are as straightforward as your own. If you happen to notice what is going on around you, you find it easier to pretend unawareness or not get directly involved. When dodging them becomes impossible, you downplay the importance of others’ negative feelings with polite but shallow comments, or with the help of platitudes and a stoic attitude. In some cases, you might even feel irritated by their supposed inability to deal with them as “effectively” as you do.

3- You rationalise your emotions

Because you fail to recognise the value of emotions, you use reason alone to justify and explain behaviour. “Plausible” reasoning motivates everything you do, and never an emotion such as insecurity, unhappiness or fear. You left that job not because the work environment made you super anxious to the point you could not sleep at night, but because “it was not a good fit”. You decide to stay in that broken relationship because deep down you cannot even envision the idea of being alone, but to yourself and others it is because “you invested in it for so long”. Anything reasonable enough so that you and those around you never associate how you act on the outside, with how vulnerable you truly feel on the inside.

4- You struggle to connect emotionally with others

Naturally, the distance you keep from your own emotions also makes it difficult for you to communicate how you feel. When you are required to express them, you struggle. That is because the tendency of explaining your behaviour without ever linking it to emotions, be it in relation to your own acts or others’, creates and aura of detachment in which emotional connection becomes virtually impossible. Relationships suffer in such scenarios, regardless of their nature. Loving relationships, particularly, are hard to be kept healthy without emotional closeness and intimacy. In the long term, emptiness and loneliness tend to take its toll, pushing decisions and actions into a new direction. The result of such reassessment is often high resentment and thoughts of separation.

5- You do not feel understood or validated

Even without noticing it, you are betrayed by your own beliefs concerning emotions. The need for being seen, heard, loved and understood will not go away just because you made an effort to invalidate your emotions and supress their expression. We also exchange information about ourselves through feelings, and not only through language. How can anyone recognise and even address your needs when you yourself is reluctant to acknowledge and accept them? Neglecting your emotions, especially when negative, does not favour you or your relationships, but it only turns you into an unavailable automaton.

Even if you have identified with some or all of the above, you can still change the relationship you keep with yourself, and, consequently, the ones you nurture with others. Respecting and honouring your emotions by allowing yourself to feel will give you a renewed sense of self, one that is more balanced and in harmony with your own body. Everyone can learn invaluable lessons from emotions, as well as benefit from their wisdom. To reconnect emotionally, start monitoring how you feel with honesty and an open mind. Do not give into the temptation to rationalise or deal with them as quickly as possible, but stay with them for a while. Then notice what happens, if they linger or fade away by themselves. What are they trying to tell you? Have you taken the time to consider the real implications of ignoring them? What can you learn from them?

5 healthy rules to treat yourself with love and respect

Self-esteem is a language. The language of self-esteem is kind, tolerant and compassionate. When you use the language of self-esteem with yourself and not just with other people, you treat yourself with enough love and respect to nurture a healthy self-esteem from the inside out. The first step towards changing the tone of your inner dialogue – from self-critical to loving and respectful – is to monitor it actively. Start catching yourself while ruminating or when stuck in a fault-finding cycle. Then, instead of reacting passively to the attack of your own negative thoughts, use the language of self-esteem to challenge self-denigrating statements. Below you will find 5 healthy rules to treat yourself with love and respect that will help you introduce self-acceptance into your life:

1- No more labels

5 healthy rules to treat yourself with love and respect
Learn how to nurture your self-esteem

When someone makes a mistake, do you call her or him “idiot”? If a friend asks how he or she looks, do you answer with “old”, “fat” or “ugly”? Of course not. Labelling – or using words of negative connotations to describe yourself in a global and, very often, inaccurate manner – hurts. Do not full yourself: words are powerful. The habit of calling yourself names is not doing you any favours. Labels neither help nor comfort you, but on the contrary, they put you down and humiliate you.

2- No more “shoulds”

In CBT, “should” is frequently referred to as a tyrant. That is because there is little or no room for negotiation after a should statement. Just imagine: your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere when you realise you have forgotten your mobile phone at home. You are going to be late for work, which makes you deeply annoyed. You tell yourself, “I should have checked if I had my phone on me before leaving the house”. You feel even more frustrated and start questioning your ability “to do anything right”. Your anger builds up even further until it turns into merciless self-hate. Should statements are irritating reminders of one’s faults and shortcomings. They have no productive purpose, except for adding more pain to your existing misery.

3- Praise yourself

You have managed to get through a day’s work on a boring Wednesday. Well done! You were able to keep focused on eating well and consumed a low amount of carbs for two consecutive days. Good work! Why wait for recognition from others, as a desperate approval junkie, when you can give yourself the gift that keeps on giving, namely, that of self-esteem? You have all the right to express gratitude and admiration for yourself and your own achievements, be they big or small. Practicing self-love on a regular basis does not make you a narcissist. Self-love in good measure – acknowledging not only when you fail, but also when you succeed – makes for the basis of our emotional and psychological wellbeing.

4- Recognise your efforts

If you can only praise yourself when you achieve positive results, your self-esteem is conditional. What happens when you do not fulfil such condition of worth? You worry excessively and self-criticise. As a result, you may end up feeling an unpleasant mixture of sadness, frustration and anxiety. Conditional self-love may make sense in theory, but in practice is counterproductive. Those who acknowledge the value of trial and error are less likely to give up on what they want for themselves. Seeing your mistakes as essential elements of a learning journey reinforces engagement and a healthy sense of connection with your life goals.

5- Comfort yourself

You have all the right to feel sorry for yourself every now and then. Addressing your own negative feelings with love and compassion is essential for good emotional self-care. When feeling disappointed by a negative outcome, allow yourself to grieve and process your pain. Save some words of consolation for telling yourself that it is also OK to feel bad when things do not turn out as expected. Validating your feelings enables you to honour your whole self, no matter the circumstances.

Treating yourself as you would a friend can do wonders for your self-esteem. If you believe in the benefits of treating others with kindness through communicating in the language of self-esteem, you can take full advantage of such wonderful piece of wisdom by applying it also in your treatment of yourself. Nurturing a healthy relationship with yourself will give you the strength and confidence you need to lead an enjoyable and fulfilling live.

 

5 common beliefs of procrastinators

Procrastination is a very familiar problem. If you often feel that you struggle to self-motivate, you may be prone to procrastinating. As negative beliefs are at the root of our most common psychological vulnerabilities, it is helpful to become aware of the attitudes, rules and assumptions that are stopping you from getting things done.

Here are 5 common beliefs of procrastinators:

1- “If I can’t do my best, it’s not worth doing it”

Perfectionism is not a skill, but a self-confidence killer. A perfectionist wastes precious time on unproductive thinking while life passes him by. You can learn how to embrace your humanity by accepting the idea of trial and error and celebrating your efforts. Ten thousand “good enough” actions are much more rewarding in the long term than carrying out a single perfect one.

2- “No risk, no disappointment”

5 common beliefs of procrastinators
Procrastination is a very familiar problem

If you value your efforts – and not only perfect results – you are not afraid of taking risks. Self-confidence is nurtured from the inside out. Practice self-compassion whenever you are brave enough to get out of your comfort zone. Tell yourself that trying is as good as winning and act as your own best friend. Praise yourself even when it feels like no one else seems to be taking notice of you. Do not wait for outside recognition to build an inner sense of self-esteem, but let unconditional self-love guide you through your endeavours.

3- “Nothing ever works out for me anyway”

In CBT, such statements/automatic thoughts are classified as cognitive errors due to their unrealistic perspective. To tell yourself that absolutely nothing works out for you is too global and simplistic a statement to be reflective of objective truth. Aren’t you failing to recognise some of the good things that you have managed to achieve? It sounds as if you were allowing perfectionism to undermine your self-confidence.

4- “If I don’t feel like it doing it, it means I shouldn’t”

You would be surprised by how untrue such belief actually is. When you manage to overcome that initial resistance, you usually find that you can carry on doing what you have set yourself to do with reasonable ease. Motivate yourself by developing a higher tolerance to discomfort, little by little. Make it your thing to challenge thinking that seems to be working against you. Question negative and unproductive cognitions through raising self-awareness. After all, who is in control of you, your self or your thoughts?

5- “I don’t have time for this”

Really? Or isn’t that just another excuse not to dedicate yourself to something new or make some positive changes in your life? If you genuinely feel that time is against you, it may be a good idea to work out what you are actually doing with it. Take a few minutes during the next week to write down what you do on an hourly basis, every day of the week from Monday to Sunday. Then analyse your findings and assess how you have been managing your time. What are your priority tasks? What activities could be excluded, shortened or extended in order to allow you to attain your self-improvement goals? Actively structuring your daily routine is a self-empowering initiative that gives you a renewed sense of control and responsibility over your own life.

To win the battle against procrastination and become more productive, be attentive to errors in your thinking. Thoughts that are too general or send out a message of rigidity, perfectionism or bias towards the negative, for instance, are renowned for resulting in personal conflict and feelings of inadequacy. Targeting dysfunctional thinking requires little effort and dedication from your part, while it helps you realise your potential in a healthy and independent way.

Self-esteem in practical terms

While we have an intuitive knowledge of what it means to love and accept oneself, it is sometimes a challenge to define self-esteem in practical terms. Naturally, it is a tough concept to pin down without sounding too abstract, to the point that some psychologists, such as Albert Ellis (2005) – also writer and founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy – have questioned its relevance. Even if we do not agree on the power of self-esteem, we are still able to recognize the behaviours that make us “feel good”, confident and in harmony with ourselves.

As it is not my intention to add to the debate or bore you with a long list of synonyms, I have gathered 5 concepts that I consider the pillars of a healthy self-esteem. My goal is to explain self-esteem in practical terms, so that you are able to develop a clearer map of what it entails.

Here is self-esteem in practical terms:

IDENTITY: my self-esteem is high when I know who I am and what I want, my likes and dislikes. Good self-esteem is reflective of my ability to identify with whom I am. My sense of identity allows me to live in accordance with what enhances my character and personality. It also connects me to the here and now and guides me where I genuinely want to be. It makes me feel whole and congruent.

Strengths associated with a good sense of identity: confidence, self-assurance, congruence, autonomy, integrity

BOUNDARIES: my personal boundaries, when safe and active, give me a sense of control and autonomy over myself. When I am able to say “no” to what does not suit me, I prioritise my well-being against harmful interference. My limits also protect my integrity and preserve my wholeness. By honouring my feelings and respecting my boundaries, I confirm myself through my own actions and behaviours.

Strengths associated with healthy personal boundaries: assertiveness, self-respect, independence, reliability

FLEXIBLE VALUES: good self-esteem also relies on my ability to restructure my beliefs to suit my identity. Healthy values adjust to my needs and personal circumstances. When what I believe in is line with whom I am and the choices I make, I am at one with myself. My value are not stagnant or meant to transcend time, but develop along with my own process of change and personal growth.

Strengths associated with flexible values: flexibility, tolerance, kindness, empathy, spontaneity, creativity, open-mindedness, compassion

POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES & VULNERABILITIES: those with a healthy self-esteem are able to recognize their qualities and live at peace with their weaknesses. They display a high level of self-awareness by taking into consideration every single aspect that makes them unique. Above all, they do so without exaggerations and in an unbiased manner.

Strengths associated with positive attributes and vulnerabilities: objectivity, impartiality, maturity, honesty, levelheadedness, self-acceptance

BALANCED JUDGEMENT: the ability to separate from my own thoughts and behaviours and analyse them from a realistic perspective is one of the best ways to show love and respect for myself. Your self-esteem receives a lasting boost when you are able not to equate your worth solely to the quality of your actions, but value yourself regardless of the outcome.

Strengths associated with a balanced judgment: sensibility, clarity, intelligence, rationality, precision, reliability

Depending on your upbringing and cognitive profile, you may struggle to keep the above pillars erect. If you are in need of some support, check my recommended reading on the topic of self-esteem. For professional help, you can contact me to find out how I can help you raise self-esteem with CBT.

Self-esteem in practical terms

Reference:

Ellis, Albert (2005). The Myth of Self-esteem: How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Can Change Your Life Forever. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

10 tips for better emotional and psychological health

It is definitely worth striving for better emotional and psychological health.

Everyone knows the benefits of exercising and a healthy diet for maintaining well-being.  Connecting good health solely to our physical condition is a common behaviour in Western culture. Looking after oneself from a psychological and emotional perspective tends to be overlooked or completely ignored. Until something more dramatic happens, as an episode of depression or intense anxiety, we act as if our cognitive and emotional health did not require much of our attention and care.

The facts contradict the merit of such attitude, however. Depression has recently been found to be the second major cause of disability worldwide. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the cost of anxiety disorders comes close to one-third of the country’s total expenditure on mental health related issues. Even though the statistics are quite alarming, most people only recognise the value of looking after one’s mind and emotions when already affected by a mental health problem.

Thankfully, it is never too late to invest in your well-being. If you believe to have been neglecting you mental and emotional health, here are 10 tips for better emotional and psychological health:

  1. Stimulate your intellect: when was the last time you challenged your brain? You can activate those grey cells with some inspirational reading. Diversify your knowledge reading about topics you have never read before. Put down those crime novels and get out of your comfort zone with some highbrow books.
  2. Keep sound relationships: as social beings, we tend to live healthier and longer lives when socially active. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation have been linked to depression and late onset dementia. As we grow older, however, we tend to prioritise other areas to the detriment of our social lives. Dedicating time and effort to keep your
    better emotional and psychological health
    Small changes in behaviour can improve your mental and emotional health.

    relationships going does not only brighten your mood, but it also stimulates your cognition.

  3. Practice self-acceptance: a high level of self-esteem relies on your ability to love yourself unconditionally. When you accept yourself the way you are and leave at peace with your weaknesses, you are less likely to develop a problem with self-criticism, perfectionism, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
  4. Relax body and mind: progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, you name it. There is so much out there for you to try. Take some minutes of your day to unwind, restore your energy levels and feel in tune with your body.
  5. Appreciate stillness: stop for a moment and allow yourself to just be. You are a ‘being’ after all, so do your thing. There is nothing wrong in just enjoying the moment. Nothingdoism is the new ‘me-time’. Resist the temptation to get distracted by excess doism and learn how to appreciate an undisturbed and serene existence. Does the idea of being able to enjoy life’s small pleasures sound appealing to you? If you would like to apply that wonderful concept into your own life, take some time to notice the here and now. Look around you. Open your eyes to that multi-coloured sky and take some minutes to process what you see and feel.
  6. Learn how to let go: feeling too attached to an idea or thought can get you stuck on rumination mode. If your thinking is not leading you to any productive solutions, it is time to let those thoughts go. If you find it hard to get distracted or focus on something else, write your worry on a piece of paper and throw it away.
  7. Rely on your creative potential: you do not have to be a born artistic talent to unleash your creative potential. Personal creativity goes beyond the artistic realm. You can use your own resourcefulness to think of new ways of approaching life. What about taking a new direction, or investing in a different lifestyle? When existence becomes a repetitive re-enactment of a series of long-standing habits, a little imagination can help you make positive changes happen. Even if you do not feel comfortable with the idea of adopting an unfamiliar line of action, acting ‘as if’ you feel confident can give you a taste of what you are truly capable.
  8. Invest in personal growth: doing volunteer work, extending your qualifications, taking an active role in your community, spending more time with friends and family, getting motivated to do what you truly love, getting rid of bad habits, introducing healthy habits, the list goes on. Embrace your humanity and reconnect with yourself, others and the world around you.
  9. Keep a mood journal: keeping a daily record of your moods is an excellent way of gaining greater insight into your feelings. Connecting good and bad feelings to certain thoughts and behaviours will allow you to understand your motivations and control your moods more effectively.
  10. Do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: there are times that finding professional help is the best choice to implement some healthy changes into your own life. CBT is renowned for its excellent results in the treatment of a wide variety of problems. As you go away from CBT with a new set of problem solving skills, you are better equipped to deal with future challenges.

Taking care of yourself also involves monitoring your psychological and emotional health. You can increase quality of life by raising your awareness about the importance of a sound relationship between body and mind. Prioritising one over the other or dismissing the value of your own feelings altogether can have a profound impact on your general well-being. To prevent finding out about this simple truth the hard way, be proactive. Practice self-love by taking care of the whole of you, from head to toe.