Focus on Yourself!

One of the banes of society is that people seem to compare their lifestyle with those around them. How many times have we looked at the metaphorical “Joneses” and wished that we had what they have? How does it make you feel when you compare your life with those around you? We can either find that we are satisfied or unsatisfied with our lot in life.

In psychology there is a term – social comparison. This is where we compare ourselves with those around us and use that as a gauge for our life satisfaction. There are 2 types of this comparison: Upward Comparison and Downward Comparison and both of these evoke different emotions.

Upward comparison occurs when we compare our life with those who we perceive to have a better life than us. They may earn more than us, have a bigger house than us, seem to be more successful than us. The other day I was having a conversation with a person who was experiencing such a comparison. The person came across as being resentful toward the person they were comparing themselves to. That is the danger with upward comparison, it can make you feel like you have failed in your life. It fills you with feelings of dissatisfaction and maybe jealousy. It could lead you to feeling depressed as you begin to see what you think is lack in your life.

The other side of the coin is when we look at those who have less than us. People who are socially and economically inferior to us. This is what downward comparison is. When we come across people who have less than what we have, then we feel that things are not as bad as we thought. We feel that we have got a good life, we are not struggling as much as we thought we were. We have food on the table and a roof over our heads. How do you feel when you compare yourself to those who are lower down on the socio-economic ladder? You probably feel satisfied with your life, you see the abundance that you have, you feel happy and confident.

It is interesting to see the contrasts in the paradigms when we consider social comparisons: one can lead to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, lack and sadness. The other leads to feelings of satisfaction, abundance and happiness. What has led to these differences in feelings? Simply this: Who are you focusing on and comparing yourself to?

True happiness does not come by focusing on the lives of those around us and seeing how we “stack up”. We need to focus on one thing only: ourselves and our life.  That may sound selfish but it isn’t! We need to begin to compare ourselves to ourselves. Are you growing as a person? Are you the same person you were a week ago? A month ago? A year ago? What changes have you made to improve yourself (not as a means of pleasing other people, but as a way of accepting yourself and loving yourself as a unique human being.) You will also find a flow-on effect on those around you as your life becomes more positive and richer.

If you find that you are always concerned about how you life is compared to those around you, please STOP! You will never experience true happiness. Look at who you are now and compare that to who you were. Who do you want to be in the future? When you realise that you have grown as human being, then that is true happiness and satisfaction.

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“Door Openers”

Every now and then we all come across someone who, inadvertently, with kindness causes us to unlock a part of our memories that we have hidden away. I refer to these people as “Door Openers”. Usually these memories are locked away because those they are too painful, or too traumatic, to face.

I had a situation like that yesterday, when my wife was getting excited because it was the first time she will have shared my birthday. I cried, but I did not know why. She was excited and I felt touched by her kindness and enthusiasm. In the afternoon I realised that my sadness had been caused by the reality that I have never had someone so excited about my “special day”. No one really seemed to care, so  I began to try and not care either.

Every other year I tried to treat my birthday as just another day, but deep within I wanted someone to at least make an effort to acknowledge how special the day was. I became good at hiding the pain and the sadness and got to a stage where I would not tell anyone what day was my birthday.

Yesterday I came to a realisation that my wife had actually unlocked a door that I had securely locked up for years. The pain came flooding out and I cried and cried. I found the situation to be a catharsis that allowed me to find healing in that area.

In your life you will have “Door Openers”enter and unlock a door that has been bolted tightly shut for years. Allow the door to be opened and face the raw emotions that poor out from behind it. Not only will you find healing, you will also realise that you have become a stronger person!

Please do not force the door open, for doing so means that you are not ready to deal with what is locked behind it. When the time is right, someone will come along with the right “key” and unlock the door. It is at this time that you will be ready to face the pain, the torment, the anger that surfaces when those memories are released from where the have been kept under “house arrest”.

Get Tense!

Welcome to the third installment of my overcoming stress series!

It may seem ironic that the title to this post is “Get Tense”, when the whole idea in overcoming stress is to alleviate the tension in our bodies. However, deliberately tensing your muscles is the whole purpose of the relaxation exercise I am going to teach you. It is a “Progressive Relaxation Exercise” which enables you to identify the difference between your muscles feeling tense and feeling relaxed. 

Once we are consciously aware that a certain part of our body is tense, then we work on relaxing that part. So, what exactly is “Progressive Relaxation”? It is an exercise in which you deliberately tense each muscle group of your body and then quickly relax it. The goal is for you to feel your body completely relaxed at the end of the exercise. It should take around 15 minutes. If you have never done this type of exercise, then it is recommended that you do it twice a day (2 x 15 minute sessions) for two weeks. 

Here is how to do Progressive Relaxation (tense each muscle group for 5 seconds and then relax for 20 seconds before moving onto the next group) :

  1. Wear loose clothing and sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if you like. Take in several deep, relaxing breaths and visualise your body starting to relax. 
  2. Curl you toes as tight as you can and then relax them. Tense your feet and ankles as tight as possible and then relax them. Now tense your calf muscles and knees, then relax them. Finally tense your thighs and buttocks and relax them. 
  3. Make tights fists with your hands and fingers and then relax them. Tense your forearms and elbows, then relax. Do the same with your biceps and shoulders.
  4. Tense up your back as tight as you can, then relax. Tighten your chest and then relax. Do the same with your abdomen.
  5. Tighten your neck, feel it getting tense and then relax. Scrunch up your eyes as tight as possible and then relax. Tense up your jaw and then relax it. Tense up your forehead and relax. 
  6. Now just sit and feel how relaxed your body is. Does it feel different than it did before you started the exercise? How does it feel different? Explore the sensation. Become familiar with it so that you can recognise when your body is completely relaxed as opposed to tense. Don’t rush through the exercise. Take your time and get to know the difference between when you are tense and relaxed.
  7. When you are ready, slowly open your eyes. 

Please be careful when doing this exercise as you do not want to hurt yourself (I will not be held liable if you do). 

Once you become proficient at Progressive Relaxation you may find that you do it during the day when you feel yourself becoming tense, and it will not have to take the 15 minutes that this initial exercise does. You may sense tension in your neck and so you do progressive relaxation with your neck only. It could be your shoulders or stomach tensing up due to stress and so you concentrate on those areas only. Whatever area it is, just remember…Get Tense and then Relax!!

 

Breathe…Relax!!

Hi everyone!

Welcome to the latest installment of my series on how to identify and overcome stress. In my previous post I discussed a technique that you can use to identify any areas of tension in your body. Now that you know how to find where you are tense it is time to learn how to relax! 

Notice how this post is titled “Breathe…Relax!” and not the other way around? (Relax..Breathe!) That is because breathing helps our bodies to relax. When it comes to breathing there is a “good” breathing and a “not so good” breathing (I was going to say “bad”, but at least you are still breathing!). There are two ways in which we breathe: diaphragmatic breathing and chest breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is the “good” breathing. When we do this kind of breathing we are in inhaling deep into our lungs, oxygen is then taken into our blood system and carbon dioxide exhaled. Whilst sleeping, it is diaphragmatic breathing that we are doing. It is deep, slow breathing which assists our bodies to relax. 

Chest breathing is the “not so good” breathing. It is shallow and does not utilise the full capacity of our lungs. You may not even know that you breathe into your chest only! This type of breathing can lead to hyperventilation. Anxiety and panic attacks can result in chest breathing. 

So, how do you know whether you are breathing from your diaphragm or your chest? (Take comfort all you chest breathers, you can learn how to become a diaphragmatic breather by doing the exercise I include later in this post.) To determine whether you breath from your chest or your diaphragm, do the following exercise:

  1. Lie on you back on the floor. Place one hand on your abdomen (just above your waist) and place your other hand on your chest.
  2. Take a few breaths and notice whether your chest rises and drops with your breathing. Or was it your abdomen that rose and dropped as you breathed?

If you noticed mainly your chest rising and falling in this exercise, then your are a “chest breather.” If it was your abdomen that rose and fell, then you are a “diaphragmatic breather.” 

Diaphragmatic breathing allows our bodies to relax. It removes tension in our muscles. If you have determined, from the above exercise, that you are a “chest breather” you can become a “diaphragmatic breather” by doing this exercise. Also, for all of you who have found out that you breath from your diaphragm, there is no reason why you can not do this exercise too! 

  1. Take a long, deep breath through your nostrils. Feel the air entering deep into your lungs. Feel your lungs expanding to their full capacity. Focus on the air entering your lungs. How does it feel as you inhale? Can you feel the air descending into your lungs? What sensations do you feel as you breath in. Become aware of these. Explore the sensations. 
  2. Hold your breath for a couple of seconds.
  3. Exhale through your mouth. How does the air feel as it leaves your body? Can you feel your lungs? What sensations are there as you breath out?
  4. Repeat this exercise for about 5 minutes. Inhale through your nostrils and exhale through your mouth. Focus on your breath. 

What you are doing is taking full advantage of your lungs and allowing a maximum flow of oxygen into your body. You will be amazed at how relaxed you will feel! It is also important to focus on your breath. Why? Because any thoughts that had that caused the tension can not be entertained whilst your mind is focused solely on your breath.  

It may take a bit of practice until you are proficient at “diaphragmatic breathing”. Whenever you feel yourself tense up (such times are when we are susceptible to “chest breathing”), stop, breath and relax! 

 

 

Where am I tense? Time for a Body Scan!

Hi folks! 

Welcome to the first installment on how to recognise when you are stressed and what to do about it! My aim is to provide you all, over the next few weeks, with tools and techniques to help you release stress and relax. Remember how I mentioned in my last post that, when we are facing stress, our body automatically goes into “fight or flight” mode? Our muscles get tight and we are ready to take on the threat before us. This is good and part of our evolutionary programming. It allowed our ancestors to survive threats from animals, attacks from other people and also environmental threats. 

The bad part is when our bodies can not relax. That is when the damage starts. In my last post I have already pointed out how we can suffer from physiological problems as a result of our inability to reach homeostasis (i.e. a state of relaxation after a threat is no longer perceived). We need to know if our bodies are still tense and, if so, we need to know how to ease that tension. So the first step is to become aware of any tension that we may have. This is where the Body Scan exercise comes in!

Many of us pay little attention to our bodies and to what our bodies are telling us. We are too focused on the external world and take little time to stop and just listen to our bodies. Indeed, Western culture pays little heed to the internal world of the individual. It is time for us to stop, take time out (even if it is 15 – 20 minutes a day), and figure out what our bodies are saying!  It is time for some introspection and self-awareness!

The Body Scan sounds exactly like what it is: a body scan! In this exercise you take time to scan your body to see if there is any tension in it, then you relax that area. The exercise is aimed at making you become more aware of where you may have tension. I do this exercise constantly. Yesterday I had a stressful situation and so I did a Body Scan and realised that I had tension in my jaw, my shoulders and my stomach was tight! That is when I started to deal with the tension! How did I deal with it? This is where I show you how to do a Body Scan to remove tension.

The Body Scan

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Take several deep breaths and close your eyes.
  2. Starting at you toes (you can choose which foot you want to start with), become aware of them. How do they feel? Become aware of your foot, your ankle, your calf muscle, your knee and then your thigh. Is there any tension in any of these parts? Feel the tension. Where is it? Take a breath and visualise the breath like a wave of relaxation flowing to  that area and dissolving the tension. Repeat the process with the opposite foot and leg.
  3. Concentrate on each of your fingers (again whatever hand you start with is up to you). Now become aware of your hand, your wrist, your forearm, your elbow, your upper arm. Breathe into the areas where there is tension and visualise the tension being washed away by waves of relaxation. Repeat the exercise with the other arm.
  4. Become aware of your waist, your stomach, your chest, your back, your shoulders, your neck. Can you feel tension in any area? Wash the tension away by breathing into those areas. How does your neck feel? Your throat? Your face: cheeks, chin, lips, nose, forehead? Can you sense any tension in the back of your head? How about the top of your head? Breathe in waves of relaxation to wash away the tension.
  5. Take a few minutes just to truly feel your body. Feel how relaxed it is. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation. Become familiar with it so that from now on you can recognise when you are relaxed as opposed to feeling tense. When you are ready slowly open your eyes. 

That is how to do a Body Scan! There is no set time limit as to how long one should do this exercise for. The whole idea is for you to become familiar with tension in your body that you may not have realised was there. That is the first step toward combating the effects of stress on your body. You can even do this exercise during the day. When you feel stressed, do a Body Scan  to see what parts of your body are feeling tense (you do not necessarily have to sit or lie down to do a quick Body Scan). You may be surprised to learn that different stressors (a stressor is anything that causes you to feel stress) can affect different parts of your body! 

Have fun! 

 

 

 

Phew! What a day…!

We all have them, days that we wish we should have stayed in bed. Those days where, if anything is going to go wrong, it will. Several times. Just to make sure that your day is really bad! I had one of those days several weeks ago!

How do you cope when the stress slowly mounts and you find yourself get more and more wound up and tense? I know some people who decide to unwind by pouring themselves a wine or three. Others go and take out their stress out on those they love: their family, girlfriend/boyfriend or friends. Yet others draw within themselves and reminisce on the negativity of the day. This only leads to feelings of despair, depression and hopelessness. These ways are maladaptive because, though they may appear to alleviate the stress, they do so in unhealthy ways. 

There are many ways that we can deal with stress in healthy and productive ways. Starting this week, I will begin a series about how to identify stress and the different techniques that you can use to minimise the affect that it has not only on your mental well-being but also on your health. I hope that you will enjoy the series and that you get a lot of benefit out of it. Feel free to leave me comments to say what you enjoy in the series and how it may of helped you. 

The first part in the series is going to be all about what stressors are and what affect they have on our minds and bodies. So stay tuned!

 

I am not who you think I am!

We all have different roles that we take on each day: maybe you’re a student, a husband, a mother, an employee, a compassionate friend. Within these roles there are different requirements on how we are to act and react. If you are in a role long enough, then people may feel that they get a better understanding about you. People may begin to know you and define you within the context of the current role(s) that you fulfill. 

Is this an accurate way of getting to understand someone? No! We are all individuals and more than the sum of our parts. It is granted that if we have people that know us long enough and see us in operation in differing roles, then those people will have a better understanding of who we are. Yet they still will fail to know us as intimately as we know ourselves. We may feign to be happy, yet within ourselves we are sad. Someone may say “I know what you are thinking”, but this is just an assumption. Unless that individual possesses telepathic ability, there is no real way that someone knows exactly what you are thinking. 

The point I want to make is that there is no real way that anyone can define who you are with 100% accuracy. The only person who knows you is yourself. Sometimes, some people do not even know who they are because they are too busy conforming to the dictates of those around them. If you feel that you really do not know who you are, then it is time to stop being defined by others and start defining yourself. 

How can does one start on the journey of self-discovery/self-definition? Here are some steps that will lead you on the beginnings of the wonderful journey of introspection:

  • Find out what it is that you like/dislike.
  • Are you a conformist? Do you agree with those around you just because you want to fit in? Do you feel that your opinions and ideas are not as important as other people’s? Why do you feel the need to conform?
  • Do you consider yourself to be more than just what people see you as? That is, are you more than the role(s) that you fulfill? If the answer is: “No”, then I suggest that you get a pad and paper and, for the next month, keep a daily record of your thoughts and feelings. You may be surprised to see that you are more than just what people define you as. You will see that you are a complex, interesting human being who is unique. 
  • How often do you take time to stop and look within yourself. Are you in touch or aware of your intuition? Learn how to recognise that “inner you”. 
  • Are you conscious of your feelings and emotions? Do you acknowledge these or do you ignore them? 

These are just a few ways that you can begin to discover yourself. Too often we are all busy looking outside ourselves, busy with life, busy with the demands that people and life thrust upon us. We think that these external circumstances define who we truly are. Once you begin the journey of introspection, when you start to look within yourself and explore who you truly are. Then you will find that you are not who people think you are. You are a unique, complex, interesting individual who is beyond being stuck with a label and definition.