#FABFEATS: SAVOURING LIFE’S JOYS

I have always been a “glass half-full” kind of person, despite my struggle with depression and anxiety.  However, I often missed out on the fleeting moment of joy because of anxiety about some potential future disaster or ruminations about how I might have image1better dealt with situations that had already taken place.  When I was introduced to the concept of savouring, I almost dismissed it as being too simplistic to make any sort of difference in my life. Stopping to smell the roses seemed a little clichéd and surely couldn’t make an impact on my daily challenges.  Yet, as I read about the related research, I came to the realization that the ability to appreciate the good things in life – big and small – was one of the most effective strategies for improving depression and reducing stress.

Barbara Fredrickson, one of my positive psychology researcher rock stars, defines savouring as “considering good events in such a way that you willfully generate, intensify, and prolong your heartfelt enjoyment of them.” Researcher Fred Bryant describes how savouring is not just about the present moment, but has a past and a future element.  Think about an outing with friends:  you can benefit from planning where you will go and what you will do; you gain enjoyment in the moment; and later, you can savour the memory of the time you spent together.

Savouring can also transform routine experiences into small moments of delight.  Having eaten more than my fair share of meals while mindlessly watching TV or thinking about what I needed to get done that day, I decided to try a few practices that focused on mindfully eating, using all my senses to appreciate something as small as a raisin.  Instead of driving to work in autopilot, I purposefully looked at blossoms on the trees and the little dog in the car stopped next to me at a red light as he enjoyed the sights and smells of the world from his open window.

I found that I could insert these moments of savouring into my day even when – especially when – there were significant challenges in my life.  I remember when my son was in hospital in the mental health unit and I would visit him in the morning before work.  Each day I would stop at the front of the entrance where beautiful pink flowers were blooming.  I would close my eyes and breathe in their sweet scent; sometimes I would touch the velvety petals before I made my way inside.

Perhaps the most special part of my adoption of savouring practices was the joy I found in the shared experiences I had with others during my 50 feats and the ability to mutually reminisce that increased the happiness quotient for all of us.  Whether it was eating sushi, getting my nose pierced, or flying through the sky on the Niagara Falls zip line, being able to talk about the fun of it all with those great friends and family who were along for the ride brings fresh positivity and a spark of energy to plan a new adventure.

I discovered that the practice of savouring was absolutely beautiful in its simplicity.  In addition to the examples I have described, below are a few more ideas for your own savouring practice:

  • Use your camera to really notice and preserve the beauty in the world around you
  • Create a savouring album or box that contains meaningful pictures or items and regularly look at it and think about the joy of each piece
  • Have an adventure with a friend – plan the details, enjoy the moment, reconnect later to remember the fun
  • Eat a meal without any distractions – use all of your senses to appreciate each bite
  • Go to an art gallery and experience the awe of its contents

And, of course, take a mindful walk – stop and smell the roses.

I’d love for others to add to the list and talk about their own savouring practices

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#FABFEATS: DEVELOPING COPING STRATEGIES

Everyone experiences stress, adversity, and heartache in life – it is just a part of being human.  Some people live with more difficulties and it is true that those challenged with mental illness are especially impacted by the stressors of everyday life.  Nonetheless, we can all support our own mental health by developing effective and positive coping strategies that allow us not just to survive, but thrive.

keep-calm-and-use-coping-skills-2According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, “coping is what people do to alleviate the hurt, stress, or suffering caused by a negative event or situation.”   In her book, The How of Happiness, Dr. Lyubomirsky describes two types of coping:  problem-focused, and emotion-focused.  One strategy is not superior to the other, but, while problem-focused takes an analytical, logical “fix it” approach, emotion-focused recognizes that not everything is managed through a concrete list of steps.  For example, when a loved one dies, emotion-focused strategies such as talking to a friend and remembering the positives of the relationship in the face of the loss can facilitate acceptance and even support post-traumatic growth and transformation.

I appreciate the challenge of developing coping positive strategies. I have enlisted more than my fair share of negative approaches, including self-medicating with alcohol, when faced with what felt like overwhelming situations.  I now know that my ability to develop and use solid coping practices has allowed me to become more resilient to the difficulties that life inevitably presents me.  Over time, I have experienced the benefits of building my positive coping muscles including better physical health, reduced stress, and the meaning a purpose that comes from sharing this information with others; research also supports the gains experienced by those who implement positive ways of dealing with life’s difficulties. 

There are no shortage of examples of positive coping practices.  Below are just a few that you might like to try:

  • Take a hot bath
  • Listening to your favourite music and, maybe, singing and dancing to it
  • Writing about your thoughts in a journal
  • Going for a walk, run, or bike ride outside
  • Calling a friend
  • Listening to a guided meditation
  • Engaging in some deep breathing
  • Taking a nap
  • Practicing an act of kindness for a stranger
  • Having a cup of tea
  • Reading a book
  • Watching an uplifting movie
  • Doing some gardening
  • Going to a yoga class
  • Eating a healthy meal
  • Getting a massage

I’d love for others to add to the list:  what do you do to positively cope with life’s stressors?

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats #CopingStrategies

 

 

 

 

 

 

#FABFEATS: NURTURING SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS

I am an introvert by nature, though some might puzzle about how an introvert can be so darn loud! I definitely need my alone time to recharge my batteries, but I also know that I am at my best when surrounded by people I love. That’s not surprising; human are wired for connection.  However, when my anxiety and depression sneak in, I can find myself turning down invitations, making excuses, ensuring that my world becomes smaller and smaller.  I know from my work with individuals living with mental illness, conversations with others who also have challenges with their mental health, and my own personal experience that one of the common threads we share is the tendency to socially isolate when we are unwell.  It is for this reason that this wellness pillar is so important to me: NURTURING SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS.

There is significant research into the benefits of social connections. Growing our relationships with others can strengthen the immune system; provide for a longer life; lower levels of anxiety and depression; increase empathy and self-esteem.  Additionally, it has been found that social connection is bi-directional: people with strong social relationships are happy and happy people are more likely to acquire friends.

I am truly blessed in my life to have incredible family and friends.  During my initial 50 Feats experiment, I purposefully reached out to those around me to join me in some of my adventure; I callzipline 2ed these outings “feats with friends” and the value came as much, if not more, from the people as from the activity.  From horseback riding with one of my dearest friends to meeting kindred spirits at the Writer’s Circle to simply enjoying a movie with my son, the experience – and my outlook – were enhanced by the presence of others.  For those adventures that I embarked on independently, I was thrilled to meet and learn about other participants.  While we began the walk downtown, night of music, or cooking class as strangers, we parted ways having shared a laugh, a story or two, and a connection.

As the warmer weather comes teasingly closer each day, why not make a “spring year’s resolution” to reach out and purposely nurture your own social connections, be they old friends or potential pals-to-be.  Looking forward to vicariously sharing your experiences with you through social media:

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats

“We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” – Brene Brown

#FABFEATS: PRACTICING ACTS OF KINDNESS

Having just come through the long, grey days of January, I think it is forgivable for us to be more focused on self preservation than engaging in acts of kindness.  I have witnessed a lot more short tempers than I have selfless acts in support of others and confess that I may have contributed less than positive vibes sometimes too.  Maybe that’s just the reason we all need this month’s #FabFeat “pillar of positivity” –  PRACTICING ACTS OF KINDNESS.

The wonderful part about practicing acts of kindness is that not only does it improve the lives of those you help, it has also been found to benefit you as the giver of kindness.  This isn’t surprising; everyone can think of a time when they experienced that warm glow after assisting another – friend or stranger.  Recently, research into acts of kindness have provided more information about how best to maximize the positive outcomes.  For instance, when the acts are performed together, they provide the giver with greater joy.  When the kinds of activities are varied, the benefits are again multiplied as we become less acclimated to doing the same thing all the time.

Performing acts of kindness also has a positive impact on our perception of ourselves as compassionate people resulting in feeling more useful, confident, and optimistic.  In turn, others are inspired by your example making practicing acts of kindness a contagious activity; you can help others reap the benefits of kindness in a “pay it forward” kind of upward spiral.

acts-of-kindnessI have always been the kind of person who wants to support others.  I am an avid volunteer and intuitively know when someone needs a little TLC.  My 50 Feats adventures allowed me to find new ways to practice this pillar, from building a playground to planting trees to working with kindergarten kids learning  about science.  Each activity provided me with yet another benefit of practicing acts of kindness:  social connection. I fondly remember the conversation I had with the Motts employee from Georgia who had immigrated to the States and was thrilled to be able to give back by building the playground as part of their corporate initiative.    I smile as I think about the expressions of awe on the faces of those little scientists as I played marine biologist Sue holding up the octopus and learning as much from them as they did from me.  Interestingly, these acts cost me exactly zero dollars; my time and interest were the only assets I needed to bring to the table.

Practicing acts of kindness can be easily included in your daily activities.  Below are few ideas that might “jump start” your practice:

Random Acts of Kindness: Think about how you might engage in a few small (or large) acts every week. Track them in a journal to remind yourself of these activities and reflect on how it felt to help someone else.

Spending Money on Others:  This activity doesn’t involve a lot of money. Research has found that spending as little as five dollars on others can increase your (and their) happiness levels.  Buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive through, leave a five dollar bill in your favourite book at the bookstore for the person who buys it, smile and say hello to a stranger.  It’s just that simple.

Random Acts of Kindness week runs from February 12 – 17, 2017. Visit https://randomactsof.us/ for more information and  join me in sharing your own ACTS OF KINDNESS through the following:

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats

 

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
– Leo Buscaglia

 

#FABFEATS: CULTIVATING OPTIMISM

optimismIf I asked people who know me to describe me, I suspect many would mention my smile and a laugh that is loud, heartfelt, and contagious.  In the past when I have done presentations about living with depression and anxiety, I have received comments that I don’t “look like a depressed person.”  My response is always the same: “I’m not a depressed person, I am a happy person with a depressive disorder.”

However, like everyone, I have times that are challenging, days when happiness doesn’t naturally bubble to the surface.  And, like many people, when I am dealing with a depressive episode, it can feel almost impossible to identify, let alone focus on, something positive.  Enter the next #FabFeat “pillar of positivity” – cultivating optimism.

Sonja Luybormirsky describes the practice of cultivating optimism in the following way:  “Finding the silver lining in a cloud.  Not only celebrating the present and the past, but anticipating a bright future.” I was particularly taken by this quotation as it reflects my own philosophy of life.  While I cannot say that things happen for a reason given so many horrible and heartbreaking events in this world, I do believe that I can take away learning, meaning, and purpose from things that do take place; that represents the “silver lining” for me.  For example, when I was downsized from my Human Resources position of 26 years, I had the opportunity to return to school, complete my Master’s degree, and am now able to work in my new mental health career as a Recovery Support Worker.

The benefits of cultivating optimism are significant including  increased motivation to achieve goals; more effective coping skills; positive mood; higher energy and morale.

Optimism is something that can developed and enhanced through exercises and practices.  Below are few that can help you to cultivate your own silver lining:

  • The Best Possible Self: Take about 10 minutes and write about your best possible future self:  your life as you always imagined it would be, having achieved all the things you wanted to the best of your abilities. Let the writing flow.  After you have finished, reflect upon how you feel.  Are you inspired to make these goals and dreams come true?  A variation on this practice is to write about a goal that you wish to accomplish in five years, describing it in terms of the steps you have taken to successfully get there.
  • Doors: Closed and Open: Reflect upon a time in your life when something in your life didn’t turn out as you had planned – a relationship, a job, a project. Now consider what happened after that particular “door” closed.  What door opened to you that would not have otherwise been an option?
  • Identify Barrier Thoughts: Increase your optimistic thinking by becoming more aware of your automatic pessimistic thoughts.  For example, each time you have a negative thought, place a penny in a jar while replacing the pessimism with a more favourable thought. Since the brain cannot focus on two opposite feelings at the same time, you are training your mind toward hardwiring positivitiy.

Time to build our optimism muscles together.  Join me in sharing your own ways of Cultivating Optimism:

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill (who lived with bipolar disorder)

#FabFeats: Practicing Gratitude

Even though I love the holiday season, I experience stress during the hustle and bustle that accompanies this time of year and I know I am not alone in getting a bit tense and anxious.  The first #FabFeats “pillar of positivity” I have chosen, therefore, is the practice of gratitude.

Robert Emmons defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” Brene Brown (brenebrown.com), who has conducted extensive research on gratitude, has discovered that a commonality among people who are living joyful lives is their inclusion of gratitude in their daily activities. While our Neanderthal ancestors needed to begratitude attuned to threats to survive, unfortunately, even though we no longer regularly battle wild animals for survival, our brains are still wired towards a negative focus.  The practice of gratitude reconnects us to an awareness of the positives in life.

The benefits of practicing gratitude are numerous: less depression, anxiety, envy; better able to cope with stress; increased social bonds; more energy, hopeful; more frequent positive emotions; higher self esteem.

I have experimented with a number of gratitude techniques in order to find those that resonate particularly with me.  Below are a few exercises and suggestions that you may wish to try:

  • Keeping a gratitude journal:  There are many variations on the gratitude journal.  Research suggests that writing once or twice a week rather than daily is most effective.  Keep an ongoing list of people for whom you are thankful and why.  Going into detail can be more beneficial than making a longer, but more superficial, list.  In the end, do what feels comfortable for you and put some time aside so that you are present and aware when you are recording in your journal.
  • Write a Gratitude Letter:  Take a few minutes to write a letter to someone expressing thanks for what they have contributed to your life.  Be specific.  If possible, personally deliver the letter and read it aloud to the person. Not only will you benefit, so will the receiver of your letter.
  • Fill a Gratitude Box:  Decorate a box and place items that remind you of a happy memory (concert ticket stub, thank you note received, picture, etc.) in it.  Every week, spend a few minutes looking through the items and reliving the experiences.
  • Create a Gratitude Board:  Create a collage of things for which you are grateful and place it in a spot that you will regularly see it.  Change up the items from time to time to keep it fresh.
  • Throw a Gratitude Party:  Invite some friends over and ask them each to write a short note about something for which they are grateful.  Read aloud or share the notes with each other.

It’s time to start the movement – Join me and we will infuse our holiday celebrations with gratitude.

Looking forward to seeing how each of you expresses your Practice of Gratitude:

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.  -Brene Brown

 

 

#50 Fabulous Feats: The Movement

Here it is: the last of my 50 Fabulous Feats!  When I began this journey on my 50th birthday, I couldn’t have imagined the incredible people, places, and things I would encounter along the way.  I began the blog as an applied positive psychology experiment and, while it involved less than sound research methodology, I feel quite confident that I am the better for having engaged in this array of awesome activities.  As I complete my 50 Feats, I have been reflecting on the learning as a result of practicing these pillars of positivity:

File 2016-02-21, 6 53 35 PMPracticing Gratitude:  According to Robert Emmons, gratitude is “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” For me, it involved giving back to my community, particularly in recognition of the privilege I enjoy.  My passion in mental health was reflected in my contributions to the Women and Wellness fundraiser through Canadian Mental Health Association – Niagara Branch.  My wish to support those living without the basic life necessities that we take for granted including food and shelter led me to volunteer with the great people at Start Me Up Niagara and the Coldest Night of the Year walk as well as the Niagara Region when it conducted its first point-in-time survey of homelessness.  The wonderful 100 Women Who Care – Niagara further showed me both the needs within my community and the positive difference a small group of people can have when they come together for a common cause.    Research more reliable than my own experiment has identified the benefits of practicing gratitude to be higher self-esteem, energy, and hopefulness; increased ability to cope with stress; decreased envy, loneliness, and anxiety; and a building of social bonds. I know that as I look back, these outcomes resonate with me.

Cultivating Optimism:  Sonja Lyubormirsky describes optimism as “finding the silver lining in a cloud.  Not only celebrating the present and past, but anticipating a bright future.” I feel a kindred spiritedness with Dr. Lyubormirsky as many of my feats focus on the silver lining and hope associated with the ability to live well with mental illness.  I had the opportunity to share my story of ongoing recovery from the perspective of someone both living with mental illness and as the mother of a young adult son who also has mental health challenges.  Rather than focusing on the struggles, and there are many of them, we have chosen to2016-06-23 17.53.48 create our own silver linings.  One of my favourite feats continues to be when Christian and I got matching semi-colon tattoos symbolizing the importance of recognizing mental illness as a pause in the story and not the end.  Equally as memorable was my opportunity to meet Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (I call her my “rock star researcher”) whose Broaden and Build Theory was foundational to my 50 Feats; she posits that positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love help people to be open to new ideas (broaden) that, in turn, allows individuals to grow their physical, intellectual, and social resources (build) which can later be drawn upon for coping and resilience in the face of challenges.  In addition, cultivating optimism has been found to support the achievement of goals, positive mood, and high energy.  I feel strongly that my own positive focus has been the driving force for my psychological growth and ability to bounce back – Thanks Barbara! 

Practicing Acts of Kindness:  We all have the ability to practice acts of kindness – selfless acts in support of others.  Interestingly, such activities have been found to produce greater benefits for the giver than the receiver – truly a win-win proposition.  From blood donation (while I wasn’t able to do so for health reasons, others told me that my cb4blog inspired them to donate in my stead) to building a playground with likeminded strangers to planting trees to reduce my carbon footprint, I accomplished these fabulous feats spending zero dollars in the process showing that such acts are accessible and possible for everyone.  Reviewing the benefits of elevated happiness, increased compassion, social connection, confidence, and optimism, I wholeheartedly believe I was the benefactor in every case.

Nurturing Social Relationships:  Researcher/storyteller Brene Brown writes: “we are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” This statement struck a cord for me not just because I have always been relationship-driven in my life, but also because those of us who live with mental illness share a common dichotomous challenge:  when we are unwell, we tend to socially isolate at a time when we need to connect more than ever.  Many of my feats revolved around activities with others – friends and strangers alike.  Whether eating snails, horseback Riding 18riding, learning to cook, or touring local sites and sounds of Niagara, the experience was enhanced because I was sharing it with others.  According to research, those who cultivate connections have the benefit of strengthened immune systems, longer life, lower levels of anxiety and depression, and greater empathy. Excitingly, the positive results of nurturing social relationships are bi-directional which means that not only was I made happier by my connections, but, as a more positive person, I also enjoy a greater likelihood of acquiring new friends.

Developing Coping Strategies:  Sonja Lyubormirsky describes coping strategies as “what people do to alleviate the hurt, the stress or suffering caused by a negative event or situation.”  Engaging in problem-focused and emotion-focused techniques and practices allow me to not just survive, but thrive while living with mental illness, supporting post-traumatic imagegrowth and transformation.  In some instances, my “feats” were very specific to me:  the makeover that invaded my peri-personal space; travelling alone to Ottawa; and successfully navigating the mental health system of “hospital-land” with my son.  In each case, I emerged with a sense of meaning and purpose, one of the benefits supported by the research into coping strategies.

Savouring Life’s Joys: According to Dr. Fredrickson, savouring involves “considering good events in such a way that you willfully generate, intensify, and prolong your heartfelt enjoyment of them.” Savouring allows you to triple the pleasure through anticipation, experiencing, and remembering events.  As I write this, I am smiling as I think about my first feat of riding a motorcycle, re-experiencing that enjoyment after all these months.Motorcycle  My nose piercing still glints at me every morning when I look in the mirror and, if I close my eyes, I can feel the whoosh and hear the roar of the wind as I ziplined down the Niagara gorge.  Savouring is the gift that keeps on giving.

Committing to Your Goals:  Moving towards individual intentions, wishes, and desires has been shown to increase self-esteem, confidence, and provide meaning and purpose, especially when the goals are intrinsic and authentic to you. It is important to note that the benefits arise from approaching something you want rather than from moving away from something undesirable.  I get a little emotional when reviewing this pillar.  Neale Walsch said “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone;”  50 Fabulous Feats empowered me to push my limits and achieve beyond my wildest imagination.  I obtained my Master of Education degree, started my own consulting business, became a certified Coach Practitioner, landed my dream job of Recovery Support Worker, and completed training as a SPARKie with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Sharing these accomplishments through my blog further served to enhance the thrill of each achievement.

Taking Care of Your Body, Mind, and Soul:  The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The importance of taking care of yourself is not a new concept, especially related to the benefits of physical activity.  In fact, some research has found that physical exercise can have as much, and sometimes more, of an effect in improving mental health issues, such as depression, as medication.  My fab feats included not just walking around the neighbourhood (listening to the audio recording of Moby Dick), but also around the Isle of Wight (150 km in 6 days).  IMG_0136From the mental health perspective, I pursued mindful activities including drumming, meditation, and, my favourite, kickin’ back in Kauai in support of reduced stress, stronger immunity, and just plain slowing down in a world that sometimes feels like it moves at warp speed.  Finally, I explored what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes as the “search for meaning in life through something that is larger than the individual self.”  In my case, it was not connected to organized religion (although I wholly support others who choose this path), but through considering various aspects of spirituality including a retreat at a spiritual centre on the one hand, and a psychic reader on the other.  Of note is the prediction from Jewelee that my next position would involve “travelling from one place to another” rather than working at a single location; my time is now spent visiting clients in the community to support their health and wellbeing as an Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) member which infuses my soul with meaning and purpose every day.

And so, I conclude my applied positive psychology experiment in this, my 50th blog.  After spending over a year engaging in novel, engaging activities in support of increasing my own positive affect, however, I believe that the impact of these pillars of applied positive psychology is too important to simply end.  I think everyone can benefit from a little “broaden and build” activity. And so, I am rolling out the next phase of my applied positive psychology experience:  Fabulous Feats: The Movement.   This “final” blog launches a call to action for others to take up the mantle, engaging in your own unique, novel, interesting feats, and sharing them with the world.  I will be assisting the movement through introducing one of the positive psychology pillars and inviting your posts, pictures, tweets, and videos illustrating how you have embraced the ideas through your own activities.  As I complete this post, I am simultaneously unveiling my own Facebook page:  Fabulous Feats, that I would love for you to “like” and where we can all share our ongoing experiences.  In addition, I would love for you to support the movement through the hashtag campaign:  #FabFeats with a quick tweet about your own activities.  SilverLiningFrog.com will continue with posts describing research and suggestions that you might try based upon each month’s positivity pillar.

file-2016-11-28-8-22-55-am

For December, the focus will be on Practicing Gratitude.  In keeping with the theme, I would like to thank everyone who has supported SilverLiningFrog and my Fabulous Feats throughout the journey so far.  I appreciate you more than words can say.

 

                                                                                         #FabFeats                               Fabulous Feats