What Depression Actually Is, Because It’s More Than ‘Just Being Sad’

 Jo M

Depression isn’t the saddest person in the room. Quite contrary actually, depression sometimes is the person you would have never expected. Along with trying to convince you they’re happy, they’re trying to convince themselves.

Depression isn’t that melancholy person, you don’t want to be around. Oftentimes, it’s the person everyone loves because of the light they bring to a room is so bright but that’s only because they know darkness.

Depression isn’t the person screaming out for help. It’s the silent person dealing with battles they’re still trying to understand themselves.

Depression is doing everything you can to hide it. Because there’s nothing glorified about it. There’s nothing beautiful about a bad night as you fall you your knees, in a silent scream, that no one hears because you’re alone and you need to be until you get through it.

It’s the sleepless nights as you lay awake at 2 am staring at the ceiling.

It’s that time of year, you just get a little bit sadder for no reason.

It’s the tears you don’t tell people you cry because you don’t really know why you’re crying, you just know you need to.

It’s the want and need to be around people but at the same time, you push them away.

Depression is watching across social media, everyone’s highlight reels and you know it’s not an accurate depiction of their life yet you still compare yourself to them.

It’s the plans canceled last minute because you couldn’t muster the strength to get out of bed.

It’s your alarm going off in the morning and you just want to go back to sleep.

Depression is that cloud that doesn’t seem to go away ever. And even in those happy moments, you cling to, you know it’s still hovering over you. Depression waits. It creeps and lurks. It waits for the best day of your life and your happiest moment just so the next one can be your worst.

It’s the fear of such happiness because you know it’s bound to fade.

It’s every good day, that are few and far between and that’s what you hang onto.

It’s the struggle in explaining to people when they ask why are you depressed? You just don’t know and you don’t know how to fix it. It’s just a feeling you can’t shake but you’re learning to work through.

Depression are toxic habits or people you gravitate towards.

It’s drinking the way you do because at least for a moment your pain is numbed. You know the effects lead to being even more depressed the next day. And you know alcohol is a depressant but being numb helps sometimes.

Depression is the constant unbalance of things in your life.

It’s either overexercising and being at the gym for hours or staying in bed for weeks immobile.

It’s either sleeping too much or too little. But no matter what, you’re always tired.

It’s eating too much or just never being hungry. It’s someone asking, ‘When was the last time you ate?’ And you actually don’t know the answer.

It’s weight loss that people commend you for but you know even you couldn’t help it.

Depression is people asking if you’re okay and you don’t respond with ‘I’m sad.’ You simply say, ‘I’m tired.’

It’s the envy of looking at others and just wanting to be that happy. So you glamorize your own life so it appears that way.

Depression is the overcompensating in relationships and trying too hard. You know you’re tough to deal with but there isn’t anyone you love more than those who accept you, as you’re still trying to accept yourself.

It’s that really scary moment when you open up to someone about what it is you deal with. And that new level of friendship you reach, when they welcome you with open arms and it almost brings you to tears.

It’s loving people unbelievably hard because you’re still learning to love yourself.

It’s looking ahead and looking forward to certain days in your life and really appreciating everything.

And even though you might not say it, as often as you should, it’s the love you have for everyone in your life which gives you strength.

Depression is becoming addicted to anything that gives you purpose. Whether it’s being a perfectionist in academics or becoming a workaholic. It’s becoming the most involved in a group or organization because you need something to look forward to. It’s excelling in sports because it really helps to have that and a team to fall back on.

It’s the need to be busy because if you’re not you’ll spend too much time alone and everything will get worse.

But more than that, depression is the person who would do anything to make others happy because someone else’s happiness is their own.

Depression is being overly observant because you know what it’s like to hide things, so you look for it in others.

It’s being the first one willing to help and being the person you wish you had. Knowing well, there’s nothing you can say or do but be there for them and that’s okay.

But more than that, depression is a strength in you because there’s nothing harder than overcoming demons within yourself.

It’s the trust people have in you, knowing they can turn to you without judgment.

It’s the excitement you bring to others because even though you’re sad, you do love life.

Depression is being the happiest, saddest person, people know but there’s a bit of beauty to someone who knows both emotions at such an extreme level.

Depression is an appreciation and gratitude for life. It’s knowing no matter what happens things will get better.

Depression is hope even in moments that seem hopeless.

It’s not letting this define who you are but rather learning to live through it and being the example others can follow. 

 

 

50 New Year’s Resolution Ideas And How To Achieve Each Of Them

The New Year is slowly nearing, and with the holiday season having just passed, many people are indulging in retrospection and reevaluating some of their life choices. New Year’s resolutions are the perfect opportunity for all those who have failed to start making the changes that they said they would make next week, next month, or perhaps when winter starts.

Well, now’s your chance to sit down and prepare a list of important lifestyle changes you want to make, and we’ve decided to give you a bit of help – because since the majority of people fail to stick to their resolution, you’ll need all the help you can get.

What follows is a list of 50 good New Year’s resolutions with a piece of advice. If you are looking for effective ways of changing your life for the better, then you’ll be sure to find tons of useful information here.

 

1. Get in Shape

Losing weight is the top resolution for Americans, and combined with “exercise more” and “stay fit and healthy” it is something that over a third of the population wishes to achieve. It’s easy enough to start an exercise and diet program, but the trick is to find a decent one that will give you steady results and will be easy to stick to in the long run.

 

2. Eat Healthier

This is usually an extension of the previous resolution. Switching to a healthier diet can be incredibly tricky when we are surrounded by cheap junk food. However, with a good amount of determination and some basic tips, you can slowly develop healthier eating habits.

3. Stop Procrastinating

The biggest barrier that keeps most people from reaching their goals is the desire to relax and do something fun instead of working hard. Once you get used to procrastinating, it’s difficult to snap yourself out of it, so you’ll need to put in a lot of work to change this bad habit.

4. Improve Your Concentration

People have been trying to find ways to improve their focus and cognitive capacities for thousands of years, and most ancient civilizations had some combination of mental exercise and herbal medicine to help them reach this goal.

5. Meet New People

When we get stuck in a rut, we usually end up staying at home most of the time, missing out on a lot of interesting opportunities for networking and having fun. Meeting new people can be beneficial to your mental well-being and help your career[1], so don’t be afraid to get out there and make some friends.

This is a good New Year’s resolution, but it can be difficult for shy people. Start by just saying yes when a friend asks you to go out one evening. This is a great first step toward meeting new people.

6. Be More Active

Some people don’t really have a big weight problem, and they even get some exercise a few times a week, but they just sit around the most of the time at home and at work, which can have a negative effect on their posture and health.

 

7. Develop Confidence

If you are confident, other people notice it, and it is much easier to have your opinions heard, ask people out on dates, and get ahead at work. A good dose of self-confidence will help you lead a much happier life overall.

Building confidence involves positive self-talk, focusing on your achievements, and seeing failure as an opportunity.

8. Earn More Money

Even billionaires are always looking for ways to earn more money, and we common folk can definitely use an additional source of income to make life a bit more comfortable.

9. Be More Polite

Good manners have always been an important part of a civilized society[3]. They make it easier to connect with others, avoid offending people, and will ensure that others perceive you as a good and trustworthy person.

10. Reduce Stress

They say that stress is one of the biggest killers out there, and it can have a very destructive effect on your relationships, as well as your health, making this one of many good New Year’s resolutions. It may be an unavoidable side effect of our hectic modern lifestyles, but it can be effectively managed with the help of useful and easy-to-practice tricks for stress management[4].

11. Learn to Be Happier

Even those that are in decent shape, make a good living, and have stress under control can still be unhappy. It takes time and patience to learn how to find joy in the little things and not to let problems bring you down.

Showing gratitude can be a great way to build happiness. Try starting a gratitude journal to help you focus on the good things in life.

12. Get More Quality Sleep

With big TV’s, computers, smartphones, tablets and all sorts of gadgets with glowing lights and beeping alerts, it can be hard to get enough sleep at night. You should be shooting for at least 8 hours of sleep a night, and there are fairly simple ways to achieve this number if you make use of science and everyday hacks.

The first thing to do is set those gadgets aside for at least an hour before bed. This will let your mind slip into bedtime mode and make it much easier to fall asleep.

13. Give up Cigarettes

A bit of bad habit that a lot of people don’t know how to kick, smoking will not only endanger your health, but can burn a hole in your wallet as well. Just be prepared to dedicate a lot of will power to giving up cigarettes once and for all.

14. Watch Less TV

The average American spends nearly 8 hours a day watching TV, more time than they spend cooking and probably sleeping[5]! That is time that could have been better spent developing skills, learning, or keeping your body active. Once you manage to cut down on TV time, you will realize just how long and productive a day can really be.

15. Read More

Books are an excellent way to gain a lot of knowledge on a huge variety of topics, and they are also great exercise for your brain. It’s not that difficult to go through 20 or more books in a year; you only need to make it a habit, discover your favorite type of book, and find a bit of time for reading here and there.

16. Find a Significant Other

We all need someone to hold at night, talk to, and share our deepest secrets with, but finding the right person is a matter of trial and error. We need to go out and get to know a bunch of potential partners before we can find the one that we can get along with really well.

17. Have Better Sex

Any healthy relationship requires a good deal of intimacy, and sex can actually help keep us mentally and physically healthy[6]. The idea is to make it a fun and rewarding experience, and this is something that comes with practice and exercise.

18. Be Tidier

There are a lot of slobs out there who can’t really get their stuff organized, and a cluttered desk or chaotic home will negatively affect your productivity and even your mood, so it helps to clear the clutter, clean your house, and lead a tidier and more organized life.

19. Learn How to Dress With Style

The way you dress can say a lot about you, and wearing the right clothes can make you seem powerful and confident, which in turn can help you land a job, get promoted, and catch the eye of a lovely guy or girl. No matter if you’re male or female, find clothes that make you feel good and stand out in a crowd.

20. Spend More Time With People That Matter

There is just too little time in this life for us to waste it on insincere, duplicitous, and toxic people. We should focus on the people who we care about deeply and who care about us, as this is the best way to stay happy and lead a fulfilling life.

21. Drink Less Alcohol

While it is completely safe and healthy to drink one or two servings[7] of an alcoholic beverage of your choice per day, not a lot of people can say that they can follow this rule effectively. Getting your drinking under control has plenty of benefits, but it can be a difficult process.

Start slow. If you’re used to having two glasses of wine after work, cut it down to one for a month, and then try only drinking one glass once or twice a week.

22. Get out of Debt

You can’t really move forward in life if you are weighed down by debt. The road to financial freedom is a rocky one, but it is definitely manageable with a bit of planning and self-restraint. Take a look at these strategies and methods to pay off your debt. You won’t believe how good it will feel.

23. Save Money

Once you have your debt under control, it’s time to start putting some money aside. A rainy day fund and some extra money that can go towards traveling abroad, fixing up the house or buying a new car are a welcome change of pace. Make use of these hacks and apps to save money efficiently.

24. Learn a New Language

Not only will learning a new language help improve your communication skills, but it will also look great on your resume and possibly open up some doors for you. These days there are plenty of resources that allow you to learn a language for free.

25. Volunteer and Give More to Charity

To devote your time and energy to helping those in need is a noble gesture and one of the genuinely good New Year’s resolutions in itself, but it is also an opportunity to meet new people, learn new skills, and boost your resume. Here’s how you can find time to volunteer in your busy life.

26. Pick up Useful Skills or Fun Hobbies

Just sitting around all day won’t get you anywhere. It is much better to use your free time in a constructive manner and pick up new skills while having fun at the same time. The future you will be glad that you did. No matter if you’re interested in communication skills or sports, find out how to learn new skills and hobbies in a short time.

27. Let Go of Grudges

Times can be hard, and it may take a lot to overcome adversity, but sitting around and moping about it is just counterproductive. If you have a big fight with someone and fall out or get hurt over a small issue, you will only lose a friend or life partner and remain sad and bitter. Forgiveness is a much healthier way to deal with issues that should be left in the past.

28. Adopt a Pet

There are tons of animal lovers out there that would be great at caring for a pet, but they often overthink things, while some people just rush out and get a pet without understanding the responsibility involved. Be sure you know what you are in for and find a pet that fits your living conditions and lifestyle.

29. Become More Organized

It doesn’t matter how much time you have on your hands; if you can’t manage it properly, you’ll just spend most of the day running around aimlessly, so make organization a priority on your list of New Year’s resolutions. When you get organized, there will suddenly be more time to spare, and things will start falling into place. Make it a habit, get help from apps and tools, and enjoy your new-found leisure-time.

30. Travel More

You’ll need to have your finances in order, get the right equipment, and invest some time and effort before you consider traveling across the globe, but there are ways of experiencing different cultures and visiting faraway places even on a tighter budget.

Watch some documentaries, try out a staycation, or start corresponding with a foreign pen pal to itch that travel bug.

31. Learn to Cook

Cooking is one of the essential skill that every man and woman should possess. It allows you to save money, eat the food you love just the way you like it, and impress dates with lovely meals shared under candlelight. If you go through useful tips, keep your kitchen clean, and avoid common mistakes, nothing stands between you an your 3-course-meal.

32. See Your Doctor More Often

Staying healthy should be your top priority, but many people seem frightened of doctors and don’t go nearly as often as they should, often waiting for their condition to significantly worsen. Regular checkups are a must, no matter how healthy[9] you feel at the moment.

Remember, this includes taking care of your mental health, as well!

33. Reinvent Yourself

If you don’t feel quite happy no matter what you do, it is perhaps time to make some serious changes in your life as one of your good New Year’s resolutions. Reinventing yourself can give you a whole new perspective on life and take you in directions you may never have dreamed were possible.

34. Stop Being Late

Punctuality is a virtue that is held in high regard in our society, so this is a great New Year’s resolution to have. Being on time is a mark of a true professional, a dependable friend and caring partner, so it is a good idea to pick up a few tricks that can help you stay on time.

35. Be More Self-Reliant

Technology, a relatively decent government, and corporations offering cheap, ready-to-eat food and all manner of useful tools have made us somewhat spoiled, and we often get well into adulthood without having what it takes to be independent and self-reliant. Next time you face a problem, try solving it on your own instead of running to the nearest family member or friend.

36. Turn Your Hobby Into a Career

If we could all manage to marry fun and productivity, and be able to make money doing what we love, we’d be a much more content and well-balanced society. This may not always be possible, but there are cases where starting a new hobby can be turned into a lucrative career.

37. Get Over an Ex

It may be better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved, but it still hurts like crazy. Healing a broken heart is a process that takes time, but there are tricks to make it through this difficult time without too much pain, and it starts with self-care.

38. Learn to Control Your Emotions

Uncontrolled anger can get you into a lot of trouble, but things like jealousy and pride are destructive in all circumstances, so it’s a good New Year’s resolution to control your emotions. Gaining control over your feelings allows you to keep a level head and think more rationally, even during emotionally charged conflict situations.

39. Be More Responsible

A big part of growing up into a mature adult is the ability to think before making a decision. It is important to take responsibility for ones actions and avoid blaming everything on someone else, just as it is important to protect your family and help provide for them.

40. Learn More About Music, Art, and Culture

The best way to fit in when talking to a variety of people from different backgrounds is to have a well-rounded education. Topics like art, music, history, and culture often baffle people, but they can be easy to comprehend if you spend enough time learning about them using helpful websites and online courses.

41. Spend Less Time on Social Media

Some people might not spend hours in front of the TV, or playing video games, but social media has become a serious addiction among a wide range of demographics. It’s fine to stay in touch with friends and family, but if you consistently spend more than an hour every day on social media, it’s time to make a change and add this to your list of good New Year’s resolutions.

42. Learn How to Defend Yourself

Being able to ensure your own safety and the safety of those you love is a very important skillset to have. It’s not all about groin kicks and palm strikes, however. You need to learn how to conduct yourself and what kind of behavior to look out for in others.

43. Become More Romantic

Romance is often the first casualty in longer, more serious relationships, but it doesn’t have to wither away. A few romantic gestures here and there can keep the passion going for decades. It will be fun, even if you’re not the romantic type.

44. Remember Important Dates

Speaking about romance and keeping a serious relationship fun, you don’t want to keep forgetting birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates. There are plenty of memory tricks that take very little time to master, so you’ll never forget another date again.

45. Be More Social

Getting out and socializing has its perks. You get to have fun, meet new people, and find out interesting things, but you can also develop leadership skills and learn to work in a team, so this is a very good New Year’s resolution to add to your list. Even if you are an introvert or very shy and feel uncomfortable talking to others, there are ways to become a fairly active member of a community.

46. Develop More Creativity

There are times when we get mentally fatigued and our creativity just goes out the window. This is particularly bad if your job or hobby depends on you coming up with fresh ideas and thinking outside the box. As with anything else, there are many resources that help you spark your creativity in a number of different ways.

47. Express Yourself Artistically

While some of us are more logical, most people still have a bit of a creative spark in them. Expressing yourself in some creative, artistic way is a great form of stress relief and helps keep your mind sharp. Some of these activities will also help you stay active and burn some calories. So write, craft, make DIY projects—whatever makes your soul free.

48. Face Your Fears and Insecurities

You will find this particular point masked beneath other good New Year’s resolutions, but fear and insecurity are often the cause of several problems that we want to address. You need to think of it as surviving and controlling your fear rather than overcoming it, and it will enable you to shed off a lot of the insecurities that you have.

49. Start Writing a Book/Journal

You’d be surprised to know just how many people out there have an interesting story to tell but lack the confidence and skill to write everything down. Even if it is just a few random thoughts scribbled daily in a journal, you shouldn’t be afraid to give writing a go with a few tips and tricks.

50. Stick to the Healthy Habits You’ve Developed

The last and most important point to mention is that all the positive changes you make have to be permanent when you begin good New Year’s resolutions. You will need to work on sticking with the good habits you have adopted until they just become a natural part of who you are. That is how you achieve true self-improvement.

The Bottom Line

Above, you have an extensive list of advice, tips, and tricks to help you see your good New Year’s resolutions through and make some long-term changes in your life. Start with one, and if you feel like you’ve got the hang of it, pick up another. There’s no limit to how many positive changes you can make in life, but you have to start somewhere!

 

 

How to Let Go of the Stress and Pressure That Weigh You Down

“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens, and response is something we can choose.” ~Maureen Killoran

 

I don’t know about you, but I often find advice to release stress and pressure to be great on paper but incredibly difficult to apply.

Just say no more often! Sounds good, but my twenty-month-old son still needs constant care and I need to earn money, so there’s a lot I can’t just not do.

Get out in nature! I do try, but it’s been cold and grey, and often I don’t get time to myself until night—when it’s even more frigid.

Exercise more! I have the best of intentions, but I’m pregnant, frequently exhausted, and there’s that whole time thing again. I just can’t seem to create more of it, try as I may.

I suppose this is true of most good advice: It’s far easier to make a list of great ideas than it is to actually apply them. And it’s hard not to resist all those well-intentioned suggestions as overly simplified and maybe even unrealistic.

That, I’ve realized, is my biggest problem—one that you can perhaps relate to as well: While my circumstances can be challenging and limiting, most of the stress and pressure I feel originates with some form of internal resistance. Resistance to what was, what is, what might be, what I’m doing, what I could be doing, who I am… the list goes on.

And it might look like this:

  • Rehashing the past (and pressuring myself to somehow fix my mistakes)
  • Dwelling on worst-case scenarios (and pressuring myself to find ways to avoid them)
  • Fighting my current reality (and pressuring myself to change it)
  • Worrying about what I have to do (and pressuring myself to do it perfectly)
  • Obsessing about what I should be doing (and pressuring myself to figure it out)
  • Fixating on what I can’t do right now (and pressuring myself to get around my limitations)
  • Wishing I had more time for myself (and pressuring myself to somehow create it)
  • Judging myself in comparison to others (and pressuring myself to be better than I am)
  • Agonizing about what people think of me (and pressuring myself to meet their expectations)

If you’ve done any of these things yourself, I’m sure you know they’re exhausting.

That’s not say we are the sole cause of our stress. Sometimes life demands that we do more and deal with external challenges beyond our control—job loss, health issues, financial troubles, divorce…

And it’s true that there are lots of little things we can do to relieve some of the tension. But the first thing we need to do is relieve the pressure where it’s generally the most intense: within our own minds.

How to Relieve the Mental Pressure

There are two things I’ve found to be highly effective in quieting my inner voice of resistance.

1. Allow yourself to feel the feelings under your thoughts so that you can calm and release them.

All too often we get caught in a thought loop as a way to avoid feeling our feelings, because stressful as it may be, thinking about our circumstances allows us to avoid facing our deepest wounds. But we have to face them to heal them. As they say, the only way out is through.

I’ve found that underneath my varying forms of internal resistance, there’s usually:

Shame/guilt:

About things I think I’ve done wrong, about who I am (when I mistakenly assume my poor choices define me), about expectations I failed to meet or might fail to meet (my own and other people’s). And this triggers my core childhood wounds that led me to believe I’m fundamentally bad.

When I feel it:

When I’m rehashing the past, judging myself in comparison to others, and agonizing about what people think of me.

Fear:

Of the unknown, failing, succeeding then somehow ruining it, losing control, not doing enough with my life/making the most of my time, not living up to my potential, hurting or disappointing other people. Once again, this triggers my childhood wounds that led me to believe I’m not good enough, and never will be.

When I feel it:

When I’m dwelling on worst-case scenarios, worrying about what I have to do, and obsessing about what I should be doing.

Anger:

Toward myself for what I think I did wrong, toward other people for how I think they did me wrong, toward for myself for maybe causing them to do me wrong (because I often find a way to blame myself), toward life for being unfair. This triggers my core belief that life should be fair, formed, you guessed it, in childhood, when life felt very unfair.

When I feel it:

When I’m rehashing the past and fighting my current reality.

Emptiness:

Because I’m not connecting with myself, others, my passions, the world at large, or anything that would fulfill me.

When I feel it:

When I’m fixating on what I can’t do right now and wishing I had more time for myself.

When I can get below the thoughts and identify one of these feelings, I can sit with it. I can cry it out—the ultimate release!

I can empathize with myself and tell myself what I need to hear—that I’m a good person who’s always done her best, that I will do my best in the future and can handle what’s coming, that everyone else is doing their best, and we all deserve understanding and forgiveness.

And I can also do what I really need to do to feel better:

Maybe take a warm bath if I’m feeling ashamed to remind myself that I deserve comfort even when I think I’ve messed up.

Maybe do something fun and childlike if I’m feeling afraid of the future to help me find joy in the present moment.

Maybe write a forgiveness letter if I’m feeling angry to help me empathize, accept, and let go.

Maybe call someone I love, journal, or do something creative if I’m feeling empty, to meet my need for connection.

The point is, after we feel our feelings, we can do something to address the specific root cause of our stress in a moment instead of arbitrarily choosing an activity from a one-size-fits-all list of stress-relievers.

So ask yourself: What am I thinking that’s stressing me out? What’s the feeling underneath it? What does that feeling have to teach me? What does it need to hear? And what can I do to help ease that pain?

2. Get out of your head (and perhaps into your body or a state of flow).

It’s ironic but true that two pieces of seemingly contradictory advice can be equally helpful and powerful, and such is the case when it comes to relieving stress. Or at least it has been for me.

On the one hand, it can benefit us to look closely at what’s going in our minds so we can understand it, challenge it if necessary, and calm the feelings underneath our thoughts.

On the other hand, sometimes we simply need to disengage from our mind’s stories—about our unfulfilling work, our mounting bills, our insensitive relatives, and so on. To recognize we’re getting caught up in a mental maze from which we may never escape unless we consciously choose to get out—and then make that choice.

Our brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is designed to protect us, tends toward negativity, often focused on the past, the future, and the intentions behind others’ behavior. Research has shown a link between a disproportionately active DMN and depression and anxiety—and has also shown that meditation can help influence the default network.

That’s why it’s so important that we learn to get out of our heads, either through traditional meditation or by getting into our bodies or a state of flow (when you’re so consumed in a task that you forget about everything else and lose track of time).

It’s not just about temporarily quieting our thoughts. Mindfulness can actually change patterns of brain activity over time, enabling us to more frequently get out of the default mode network—where we inevitably feel stressed!

How do we get out of our heads and into our bodies or a state of flow?

Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness through movement:

Yoga

As you sync your breathing with your movements and focus your attention on the subtle muscle shifts required to get into and hold each pose, you’ll find your mind naturally quieting. There are lots of different styles of yoga. My favorites are vinyasa and Bikram, since I find the heat particularly soothing.

You can find all kinds of yoga videos on YouTube, and odds are, when life gets closer to normal again, you can find a free or donation-based class near you. I personally find it easier to practice in a class than on my own, since the presence of other people holds me accountable, and there are fewer cookies and TVs nearby to distract me!

Tai Chi

I have less experience with Tai Chi, but I did practice for a while in college, as part of an acting class. Acting requires you to get out of your judging mind, and Tai Chi is a perfect practice to facilitate that, since it’s all about integrating mind and body through slow, low-impact, controlled movements and breathing.

Tai chi is less physically taxing than most yoga practices (aside from restorative yoga, which is incredibly relaxing), which makes it perfect for anyone who’s more physically limited. It’s particularly popular among the senior crowd, since it’s easy on the joints, but it’s a powerful and effective mindfulness practice for anyone, of any age!

Mindful hiking or walking

Any form of movement can be meditative if you focus your attention on the sensations in your body, and hiking and walking outside bring the added benefit of immersing you in nature—a natural stress-reliever!

Studies have shown that just twenty minutes in nature can significantly lower your stress hormones. And it can also stimulate all the body’s senses, as we tune in to the sound of running water trickling nearby, the scent of pine (known to lower depression and anxiety), the colors in a picturesque sunrise, the feeling of leaves crunching beneath our feet, and the taste of a freshly picked piece of fruit.

Here are a few ways to get into a mindful state of flow (suggested by flow researcher Steven Kolter):

Through social triggers

We often think of flow as something we achieve individually, but group activities bring the added benefit of facilitating deep connection as we move in sync or work toward team goals. This might mean getting into a collective state of flow as part of a sports team, dance troupe, or through synchronized swimming.

I remember one particular piece of choreography from a community theater show I did as a kid. There were at least twenty of us, seated, doing clapping motions with each other’s hands, tapping our own and each other’s legs. We all needed to move perfectly in sync to get it just right, which required intense focus, and I have to say it was deeply gratifying to move as part of a whole—to lose myself in the group and become immersed in something bigger than myself.

Through creative triggers

Any creative activity can get us into a state of flow if we enjoy it and lose ourselves in the task. Painting, playing an instrument, dancing, jewelry making, even doodling—pick whatever calls to you so deeply you can’t help but concentrate on the present, losing your sense of self-consciousness because the act itself is so fun and rewarding.

Through environmental triggers

Rock climbing is a perfect example, since you need to be fully absorbed in the moment to safely navigate the rock formation. As you push yourself to your physical limit, balancing and adapting to the changing terrain, you’ll find yourself going deeper and deeper into a state of flow.

Though I’ve never done outdoor rock climbing—which I imagine is all the more thrilling, since it’s riskier and you’re totally immersed in nature—I participated in a climbing course as an experiential therapy treatment for bulimia in my early twenties. I remember all my worries falling away as I focused on not falling off the beam, and I recall appreciating my body for what it could do instead of judging myself for everything I thought I was doing wrong.

The beauty of most of these practices is that we can adapt them to our needs and available time. You can take an hour class or just practice for ten minutes. You can work on a painting for two hours or sketch for a brief window before bed.

Easier said than done? Of course! It’s far easier to watch Netflix in our one free hour of time or mindlessly scroll in that brief window before bed. (Guilty as charged.) When I do that, all my heavy unfelt feelings fester, settling deep into my brain and my bones and suffocating me like an invisible straitjacket.

But I know when I do something that’s good for me, I feel it—and I want more of it. And my resistance to doing it naturally fades away, along with my stress.

So really, we just need to show up once—really show up. Be so present that we allow ourselves to fully live that moment so we can love that moment, and that love will bring us back. Back to the practice, back to our bodies, back to ourselves. Our deepest selves, underneath the stress and pressure. The true self who knows we don’t need to be more, we don’t have to do more, we just have to let ourselves enjoy more. Because within that enjoyment there’s peace and healing. And no matter what our negatively biased brains tell us, we absolutely deserve it.

 

11 Proven Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

While the holidays can create some of the happiest moments in your life, they can also cause a great deal of stress. On top of your typical schedule of work and managing your home and kids, there is shopping to do, menus to plan, and food to prepare. Moreover, there is the possibility of having to deal with family disagreements, schedule conflicts, and financial issues. While this all may seem overwhelming, there is good news. You can still reduce holiday stress, even with all the extra activities and preparations.

Following are proven strategies to help you decrease stress and tension. Some of these methods may be so effective that you’ll choose to use them all year, and not just during the holidays!

1. Acknowledge That Everything Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect. The holiday commercials and movies on television really do miss the mark when it comes to realistic portrayals of family gatherings.

• Accept that you can enjoy some wonderful holiday get-togethers regardless of whether the kids accidentally spill a bit of the Christmas punch or you’re having trouble locating your festive napkin rings.

• Believe me, most people will hardly notice if the pies baked a little too long or you forgot the cranberry sauce.

2. Purchase Your Gifts Early. When you get holiday shopping out of the way early on, you can prevent added last-minute pressure. You won’t be dealing with other shoppers during peak shopping times, and you won’t have to worry about making split-second decisions on gifts.

• Another way to avoid this stress altogether is to do all of your holiday shopping online so you can beat the crowds!

3. Scale Down Your Holiday Plans. Because adults can sometimes have an overly idealistic view of the holidays that springs from their childhood experiences, this strategy can be a challenge. Scaling down your plans involves being more flexible in your thinking about the holidays.

• Let go of feeling the need to plan and carry out elaborate, lavish celebrations. Maybe you’d rather have smaller, more intimate gatherings with friends spread out over a month or two, rather than a big event that makes it difficult to connect with others.

• Essentially, know that you don’t have to reproduce the special holiday memory you have in your mind to have an amazing time. You also don’t have to find the perfect gift, spend the most money, or have a room piled with presents to show your love to others.

• Try to remember—“It’s the thought that counts.” Most people will never remember the cool gift you got for them that one year. But they will have fond memories of the quality time you spent together as a family.

4. Take Shortcuts to Save Time. Figure out simpler ways to do things that will provide more time for other holiday tasks and activities.

• One good example: Rather than baking pies, order them from a nearby restaurant that’s known for its delicious baked goods.

• When shopping, it’s okay to purchase gift cards as presents. Many people actually prefer to receive a gift card so they can then choose what they want. Gift cards are easy to find at most stores, satisfy nearly everyone, and will cost you less in wrapping paper.

5. Take Some Time to Yourself. While we often take the time to think of others during the holiday season, we can also forget our own needs. Remember to schedule some time for yourself and concentrate on winding down. To care for others, you first have to take care of your own health and well being.

• One way to take some time for yourself for relaxation is by scheduling a massage.

6. Stay Calm. While it may not be an issue for every family, sometimes the togetherness causes conflicts and clashing. Before you join a family event, tell yourself that you’ll take the high road if need be. You don’t want a disagreement or any tension to ruin the opportunity to have fun during the holidays.

• If necessary, take a time out and walk around the block or go to another room to take some deep breaths to center yourself. When you’re ready, you can rejoin the festivities.

8. Watch your Nutrition. It’s not fair to yourself nor even practical to completely avoid indulging around the holidays, but at the same time, you can remain in control. Watch what you’re putting into your body, as large amounts of certain foods can affect how you feel. The two big ones to be mindful of are caffeine and sweets.

9. Buy Yourself a Present. While you’ve been spending money on everyone else, there’s no reason why you can’t buy yourself a little something. This way, you can ensure that you’ll get something you want. • Remember the massage suggestion earlier in this article? Maybe it’s something else you’d prefer. Either way, you deserve it!

10. Get Enough Rest. The holiday season is generally an exciting time. You may lose sleep due to stress or even because of the excitement. Either way, be kind to yourself by getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Getting less than eight hours of sleep per night may set you up for stress without realizing it.

• If you need a reminder, use the settings on your phone to alert you when it’s time to start settling down and getting ready for bed.

11. Learn to Delegate. If you realize that you’re in charge of too many things, don’t pile on the stress—instead, delegate the tasks. Be wise enough to recognize when you need some help and ask for it. You can even involve your children with certain holiday preparations which they may very much enjoy! This year, decide to reduce your holiday stress. By shedding the urge to be perfect, beginning holiday shopping earlier, scaling down expectations, and using shortcuts to save time, you’ll bring your tension level way down.

Think about what you truly want the holidays to mean to you and your family. Then, you can let go of expectations based on the past and enjoy your time together. Ultimately that’s what the holidays are for—creating meaningful moments and connections with those who matter most.

3 Nature Therapy Exercises to Help You Live in the Now

“Nature is the best medicine for serenity. Peace. Calmness. Stillness. It’s good for the heart.” ~Karen Madwell

I was looking for a way to stop obsessing over the future. I’d spent my adult life as an underground musician, and it had been wonderful for the large part. The thing is, it wasn’t good for me anymore.

I felt anxious onstage. I felt really uncomfortable with so many people looking at me. I had changed as a person, and yet I continued putting myself through performing even though I hated it.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever continued to do things that you hate because you identify so strongly with what you are doing? If I wasn’t “a musician,” which I had been all of my adult life, then what would I be? It felt as if I would be nothing at all.

Through dabbling with various new musical projects, I became increasingly aware that whatever was going to be creatively fulfilling (if anything), would inevitably lead my mind to obsess over it, sending me into a dreamworld of scenarios where I was the center of everything. Perhaps this is why I continued singing: I wanted to “be something special.”

In my imagination (which was extremely active), singing always seemed so important, and after each gig I would only remember the fun parts (of which there were many too, don’t get me wrong). Then I’d get onstage the next time and think, “What am I doing here?”

The awareness that I was letting dreams and fantasies dictate my life wasn’t profound, it was just a product of getting a little older and thinking, do I really want to live like this for the rest of my life? I looked into ways that I could enjoy the here and now a bit more; ways of appreciating life as it was actually happening, rather than several years later through filtered, distorted, and romanticized memories.

I’d never meditated or done anything that I would have previously disregarded as “hippy rubbish.” I had read something about mindful breathing somewhere.

I didn’t know anything about mindfulness, but I had an impression that it was something that middle-class people did a lot alongside their yoga. I didn’t relate to that image at all. I didn’t realize that it was simply a tool for paying attention to what is happening.

Then one day I focused on my breath while I was on a walk in the local park with my dog, Euro. Suddenly, everything was alive. The world was just beautiful.

At that moment, focusing only on what I could see and sense, my mind went right back to basics, to where I remember it being when I was a very small child. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck (and all over my body) and I couldn’t stop grinning.

Several blackbirds popped their jerky, judgmental eyes out from under some shrubs, bobbing forward for worms and eyeing me up cautiously as I walked past. I didn’t just see a bird and move on. I saw strange, beaked, winged creatures who fly about this land—singing, to boot! (If birds existed only in myth and folklore, they would make elves and unicorns seem positively dull.)

Walking around the park, I was in a calm ecstasy, grinning at everything around me, occasionally wondering if I looked to others like I was on some serious happy pills (but not much caring what other people thought).

I didn’t see trees and move on. I saw wooden beings, some of them hundreds of years older than me, growing out of the ground and displaying leaves and petals reaching up into the sky. Why we were there together, swapping gases, was a beautiful mystery.

A year or so after this experience, and others like it, I realized that what I was practicing that day was “ecotherapy” or “nature therapy,” although I didn’t know about those terms at the time. I’ve since trained to become an ecotherapist to help other people find this amazing connection to nature, and this is honestly something I would never have seen myself doing five years ago.

Somehow, when I became an adult, I had forgotten what nature meant to me as a child. I think most of us are connected to nature deeply as children, and yet we get easily distracted from it as we get older. I don’t think I am unique in that respect at all.

One day, back when I was seven or eight years of age, I was allowed to set my alarm clock for the early morning hours. I went to the local park with a notebook and pen to see what animals I could find.

I saw my first ever hedgehog, and it felt like meeting a visitor from another dimension. I just couldn’t believe that there was this unique spiky creature in front of me, living completely independently, getting on with its weird little life in shrubs and muck. I still get a feeling of awe when I recall that moment, watching it curl up in the early morning dew.

I grew up as a proper city boy in the suburbs of Liverpool, England. Somehow, when I became a teenager, I did what many of us do and I got so caught up with ‘finding out who I was’ that I neglected what was happening on the earth around me for decades! I had fun for the most part, but I spent so much of my life lost in fantasy and living in honor of some so-called ‘identity’ that I forgot how important nature was to me.

Earth is a wonderland. The diversity of life that we encounter each and every day (and often ignore) is mind-boggling. Creatures that crawl, fly, and speak are everywhere. The vivid colors present in giant plants that grow from tiny seeds is just awesome (in the traditional ‘awe-some’ sense of the word)!

It took me years to comfortably move away from a life in music to be doing the things in life that I am doing now. I think changing our callings in life always comes with a sense of grief to some degree; we attach and identify with the things we do quite naturally.

Nature has taught me to enjoy not being the center of attention, to simply enjoy feeling that I’m a part of this beautiful world, and it’s such a relief! We are tiny and yet we are miraculous at the same time. I don’t need to do things that make me anxious if I have the control to stop doing them.

More About Ecotherapy/Nature Therapy

The term “nature therapy” is used interchangeably with the term “ecotherapy,” but they are referring to the same thing. In a nutshell, ecotherapy refers to therapies and activities that deliberately aim to improve our mental health and well-being through connecting with nature. It is a broad, umbrella term.

Some ecotherapists may be qualified psychotherapists who offer “walk and talk” outdoor counseling sessions, whereas others may focus on helping people to create art or poetry inspired by nature. Some ecotherapists run gardening groups, and there are many more approaches still! Ecotherapy is totally, 100 percent something that you can do for yourself; it’s actually very simple!

For me personally, the most powerful ecotherapy exercises are based on mindfulness (it was this kind of work that changed my life, and so I’m bound to feel like that)! Here are three simple exercises to try that have been amazing for me personally, and I hope that they help you to find a deeper connection to nature.

1. Look toward the new.

Take a walk somewhere you go often and give attention to your regular habits. Notice your walking habits closely: how you often pay attention to the same things in your environment without conscious awareness. Deliberately shift your attention elsewhere every time you notice you notice your attention going to a habitual place. What new things do you notice around you?

2. Use your senses.

Find an outdoor space where you feel comfortable and safe. With your eyes closed, focus on your senses, especially tuning into sounds, smells, and the feeling of the air against your skin. Open your eyes after a few minutes and take in the color and sights all around you. How does it feel? (Please note, if you have any sensory impairments, simply adjust the task to work in the best way for you; this exercise can be effective with whatever senses you use.)

3. Notice nature reclaiming space.

Take a city/town walk where there is lots of concrete and look for the weeds and wildflowers popping up through the pavement and walls. How often can you spot nature appearing through the cracks? How does it feel to notice it?

Nature is not separate from us. We are a part of nature too, and I hope that these simple exercises help you to feel that connection. If all else fails, simply spend a little time outdoors, or even open a window if there are restrictions on you going outside. Just remember to pay attention to what’s going on out there!

How to Reap the Benefits of Meditation Without Meditating

 

The benefits of meditation are far reaching and have been well known for centuries. However, the idea of formal meditation doesn’t sit well with some of us.

The idea of sitting cross-legged for extended periods and delving inward puts many of us off before we’ve even got started. Even the word “meditation” can be a very real barrier to entry for some. What a shame, as the many benefits of meditation can be good for us all.

Those benefits can include:

  • reduction in the stress we feel
  • A deeper sense of calm and relaxation in our lives
  • Reduced feelings of anxiety
  • A better understanding of what we truly think/feel/want
  • Less feelings of anger, hurt, or disquiet
  • Being more present
  • Being more content
  • A better understanding of who we really are

This little list is just starting to scratch the surface. Meditating can be that powerful.

If meditating in a more traditional way for extended periods feels right for you, all power to you— please continue with your journey. If that isn’t you, don’t worry, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be.

If you recoil a little when meditation is mentioned but still want to reap some of the rewards, I hope to offer several ideas that might work for you. But first, a bit of personal reflection.

I Confess I Do Not Have a Formal Meditation Practice

As someone that writes books and a blog all under the broad umbrella of simplicity and that can often be found leafing through books and words by Thich Nhat Hanh, Bruce Lee, Sun Tzu, and Lao Tzu, it may surprise you to know I do not consider myself to have a formal meditation practice.

Perhaps somewhat out of step with the trend of our time, my morning routine (if I even have one) does not have time carved out for sitting cross-legged in a quiet room, reflecting on the universe at large.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire that others do this, but it never really felt like a fit for me. I’ve tried to make it a habit, at a few points in my life, but it just hasn’t stuck.

If I’m honest, I think the word “meditation” itself intimidates many of us. We perceive it to mean we need some special point of entry, or skillset, to reap the rewards.

All this said, perhaps paradoxically, I am also totally sold on the benefits of meditation and I want them to be a part of my life. I just happen to believe you can get those benefits in other ways. Your formal practice doesn’t have to be formal, and you don’t even have to call it a “practice.”

This is where the art of meditating without meditation comes in.

Meditation without Meditating in Action: My Top 6

Here are some of my favorite ways to achieve some of meditation’s powerful benefits without actually feeling like I am meditating.

1. Walking

Walking is my ultimate reset. It blows away the mental cobwebs that can accumulate. It provides new stimulus and re-energises a tired mind. Complex problems I’ve been struggling with can suddenly feel like they fall into place on a good, long walk. A fresh perspective can somewhat magically drift into view.

I like to walk early, before the rush and before the noise of human traffic drowns out the birds singing. Depending on where I am, I like to walk as close to nature as possible (a nice park, a beach, a hike over rolling hills). This is as close as I consider I get to a formal meditative practice.

2. Being at one with the outdoors and nature

The natural world is a passion for me. Something that breathes life and color into any day, if I just make time to stop and notice what is going on around me. I find it grounding and uplifting all at once.

Nature presents us with a constant wonderland. It’s easy to take this for granted. We can fix this by spending some time just being at one with nature and reconnecting with the great outdoors, and we’ll feel so much better for it.

Be amazed by that spider’s web glistening with the morning’s dew.

Take in the sun rising and setting.

Make time to watch the clouds moving overhead, soak up the inspiration that comes from the view.

Be endlessly in awe at nature’s ability to evolve, adapt, and deal with challenges.

Enjoy the offerings of new life and renewal each and every spring, by making deliberate time to stop and notice.

3. Losing myself in music (art)

Some would say this is cheating, as you are using outside stimulus to get a response; I say call it what you will. The benefits that people claim to get from meditation, I have and feel from losing myself in music.

Music is transformative. It can lift our mood on our darkest days, it can ease anxiety when we feel on edge about something, it can shift our mindset.

We can leverage different music at different times to support our state of well-being. Music is one of life’s true pleasures for me, one of the very last things I would want to give up.

However, if music isn’t quite as powerful a force in your own life, perhaps there is something else that is. Literature can, and does, serve the same end. Or a beautiful painting or sculpture that really moves us, or even a really great movie. All of the above can be transformative, life-affirming, and even life-changing ways we can apply ourselves.

4. Seeking stillness

Seeking stillness may sound like a total contrast to the earlier suggestion to listen to music; maybe it is or isn’t, but this time is necessary for me. This is time to let my mind just drift without expecting too much of anything from it. Letting it wander where it wanders. In a results-orientated culture, we can spend too little time here.

Cut to the core, this is actually what meditation is all about. For me, all it really means is taking the time to get in touch with our own thoughts and finding a point of reflection. It’s cutting out the external world for a while and tuning into frequency us. It’s about reconnecting with the signal, amongst the noise.

This is time to turn off the phone, unplug from the internet, and make space for some calm in our day.

Disconnecting a little from the busy world around us, to reconnect with ourselves.

No special cushion necessary, unless you want one, no special seating position necessary unless it helps trigger the state. Just make a commitment to be mindful and find some stillness in your own way.

5. Creating

For me this means writing and playing guitar.

Writing, in particular, is something I spend much time on. I feel better on days and weeks that I have made time to write creatively. Ideas flow freely and come out on the page. I make sense of thoughts and words and try to communicate as effectively as I can, then I refine (edit). When I am truly in a writing flow, this creative process can definitely feel meditative.

6. Exercise (calisthenics, yoga, and breathwork)

I am a fan and practitioner of calisthenics (working with one’s bodyweight as the weight). I find this form of training both physically demanding and endlessly interesting. I enjoy the raw simplicity.

Learning new moves or practicing well-worn moves, trying to perfect them, also has a meditative effect. I’m totally in the practice, and often have to be if the move in question is getting hard or has a balancing element. Trying to create whole body tension for some moves also means I need to be aware of where my breath is (am I holding it somewhere or letting it flow?).

Yoga is relatively new to me and I have been slow to embrace it, perhaps somewhat surprisingly as my wife is a yoga practitioner and teacher and has encouraged me to give it a proper go for years.  Knucklehead that I am, I finally took note and I’ve come to really enjoy this time. I now make time for working on the mat through my week, amongst other exercise I do.

As I am new to the yoga poses themselves, and how different teachers teach, I find I have to be totally present for yoga. No time to think about what comes after or what has just happened; to keep up with the class I have to listen. This has a calming effect on body and soul on the best days.

The breathwork, and constant queues to focus on breath, have also made me aware of where I tend to keep tension (physically and mentally).

Reframing Meditation

What’s great about this list is that you can use these practices interchangeably, and they can happily co-exist at the same time.

I think the “meditation” label puts as many off as it attracts. In busy and distracted times, this is a missed opportunity for us all to feel the benefits.

When we forget the labels, all we’re doing with the practices above is resetting a little. The art of meditating without meditating if you like.

Give it a go. String these resets together on a regular basis and feel the benefits for yourself. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be open to further experiments in formal meditative practice after doing so. If not, just find your own way. Keep what works for you, discard what doesn’t, and call it what you want, or call it nothing at all.

How to Start Your Business and Keep Your Day Job (Without Going Nuts)

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Marketing/Media Writer, Strategist and Consultant

How to Start Your Business and Keep Your Day Job (Without Going Nuts)

 

Testing out your idea for a new business before you quit your day job is always a wise idea. It gives you a chance to make sure you really enjoy working for yourself and that your business is economically viable, while still allowing you the financial security of a steady paycheck. It can be a great way to “test-drive” your entrepreneurial dreams.

That said, having a side hustle is by no means easy. In fact, one of the things it winds up testing, inadvertently, is whether you’ve got the dedication and motivation it will take to be an entrepreneur. If you can manage the stress of day job/dream job double life, chances are you’ve got what it takes to run your own business.

I side hustled for two and a half years before going off on my own, and I know how challenging it can be. If you’re currently working a side hustle, or are thinking of starting one, here are a few key things to keep in mind to keep your business (and your sanity!) from going under in the process:

Learn to Say “No”

Just as important as your to-do list is your not-to-do list. You only have so many hours in a day, and if you’re running a side gig, chances are you’re already stretching those hours pretty thin. Now is not the time to try to make everyone happy or be everyone’s friend; now is the time to know your limits and take a stand to enforce them.

Practice and become comfortable with phrases like, “I’m sorry, but my plate is full,” and, “I wish I could, but I’m booked up right now.” The key to saying no without sounding like a jerk is to keep it simple (no long, flowing excuses), express your sincere regret, and leave it at that. You have every right to set your own priorities—and if you want your side hustle to ever become a full-time hustle, you’re going to have to.

80/20 Everything

You’ve likely heard of the Pareto Principle: 80 percent of your outcome stems from 20 percent of your efforts. In essence, it argues that it’s smartest to focus your energy on the tasks that give you the highest return on investment. Everything else? You can probably get away with letting it slide.

This is true not only when it comes to your business, but also when it comes to the rest of your life. When you’re holding down two jobs, you can’t beat yourself up too much when certain things in your life fall by the wayside. Rather than trying to do everything, focus on just trying to do the essentials. Your house may be a little messy, but at least you can do enough laundry to keep your family clothed and enough dishes that you have something to eat off of each night. You may not be able to make meals from scratch, but try to get healthier takeout on the nights you’re crunched for time.

Schedule in Some “Me” Time

When you’re in full-on hustler mode, it can feel wasteful and selfish to spend time on anything that isn’t “billable.” (Believe me, I know.) But the harsh truth is that your business won’t last very long if you crash and burn out. If you can’t get yourself to take a break now and then for your sake, get yourself to take one for your business’s sake.

If it helps, schedule in time for yourself on your calendar just like you’d schedule in time for a project. Treat yourself as another client, and adhere to your assigned “me” time with the same discipline you’d adhere to a client deadline.

Trust me. It will be worth it. Hustling is ultimately a long game, and you want to keep yourself in working order.

Are you currently working a side hustle? How do you keep yourself and your business going?