Habits

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“Our Character, basically, is a composite of our Habits”

-Stephen Covey

 I have been thinking a lot about habits lately, specifically my own habits in various areas of my life: physically, spiritually, vocationally. My husband and I recently participated in a “21-day Sugar Detox” Program to create better eating habits, and I have also been reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.

The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. According to Stephen Covey, habits are powerful factors in our lives because they daily express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Through personal work on improving my own habits, I would like to share what Ive been learning about building new healthy habits.

  1. Changing Habits is a Hard Process!Habits are often unconscious patterns. According to The American Journal of Psychology, habits are hard to change because behavioral patterns that humans create become imprinted in neural pathways. It was originally thought that creating a new habit takes 21 days of repeatedly completing the new behavior. However, research now shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days. Repeated Behavior is the key to changing habits
  2. Start Small: People can get very discouraged because they set out to change too much too soon. Then, once discouraged, they give up on new habits. Starting out small allows people to have some quick success, which breeds the confidence to keep up the good work. For example, don’t commit to yoga everyday for an hour when you’ve never done yoga in your life. Start out committing to 10 minutes of light stretching every day or every other day, and build on this.
  3. Replace/Exchange unhealthy habits for healthier ones.  I had an unhealthy habit of drinking too much soda and caffeine. What helped me in beating this habit was to replace that serving of soda with flavored Sparkling Water. In doing this, we can trick ourselves into not feeling deprived.
  4. Enlist Support. Telling others about the bad habits you are trying to break provides accountability in one’s quest for healthier habits. If you are trying to decrease or eliminate soda from your diet and your loved one sees you drinking a large soda, they can gently say something (or in my husband’s case, something sarcastic) to you to keep you on tract with your quest for creating healthy habits.

Though it is difficult to break bad habits, it is also very possible to do so! These simple steps are a good start for setting yourself up for success. The reward of overcoming unhealthy habits is worth the work it takes to do so.

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Unexpected Ways to Help Heal Anxiety & Depression

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Most people have heard that the best treatment for mental health disorders is counseling/psychiatric treatment and medication. While this is true, there are other aids to help in healing those who suffer from mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. As humans, we are not only made up of our mind, but also our body and spirit.  It is important to consider the whole person when treating the mind.

According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in te U.S., affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population every year. Nearly one half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The good news is, we know these mood disorders are highly treatable. Along with counseling/medication/psychiatric treatment, people can aid in healing their minds by taking care of their bodies. There is most certainly a Mind-Body Connection.

One helpful & less known way to heal depression/anxiety is food intake. There is a strong connection between the brain and “gut”.  Research shows that approximately 95% of serotonin is produced within the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating mood and behavior. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that relay messages between nerves, and the neurotransmitters in your gut are almost identical to those in your brain (Dana Korn, “Living Gluten Free for Dummies”). Due to this gut-brain connection, it makes sense that the type food we eat will help nourish our gastrointestinal tract…thus impacting our brain. Adopting a healthy diet promotes the health of the gastrointestinal tract, and according to Jessica Black, author of “The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book,”a better-functioning gastrointestinal tract improves serotonin secretion, which improves sleep and mood.

So what does a healthy diet look like? There are all kinds of popular diets these days, so it can be confusing to know which diet is best.  The answer is that everyone is different, but some of the rules apply to everyone. Eating a balanced diet of meat, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats is a great start. Limiting foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine, can help alleviate stress on the body.

Another way to aid in the treatment of anxiety and depression is getting enough sleep and exercise.  Sleep is the body’s way of rejuvenating itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended sleep for adults 26-64 years of age is 7-9 hours.  Our bodies require long periods of sleep to restore and repair tissues, process memories, synthesize hormones, etc (www.sleepfoundation.org).  Poor sleep is directly related to anxiety and depression. Sleep aid techniques can include shutting off technology 1 hour before bed, sleeping in a completely dark room, meditation, & deep breathing.  Daily exercise is also a great way to aid in sleep and take care of one’s body. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory & mood, and reduces symptoms of mood disorders.

With the high levels of anxiety and depression in our culture, it is encouraging to hear that there are some natural approaches to aid in healing (along with counseling and/or medication), as simple as eating, sleeping, and exercising. After all, the mind, body, and spirit are all connected. Remember the mind-body connection and take care of yours. 

 

Community is Key (Part 2): Pride

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“Pride is the deadliest poison that can kill a relationship”

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Have you ever spoken with someone who boasted so much about his accomplishments that you wanted to gag? Or they listed so many of their child’s achievements in school that you don’t even know their child and you don’t like her?  Have you been with a person when the conversation revolves around his new car, boat, or vacation? If nothing gets on your nerves more than a person who only talks about themselves or their own in a conversation….you have been on the receiving end of pride.

Pride is a community & relationship killer.   It can lie to us and make us believe that we don’t need others/community.  It lets us think we can achieve things for ourselves.  The world tells us to be independent and achieve on our own.  However, God designed us to be in community with others, helping them and allowing others to help us.  Pride crowds out other people…Pride crowds out God. Pride causes us to take credit for what God has done.

There are 2 types of pride, the first being selfish pride. This can be defined as “excessive confidence or glorification in one’s self, possessions or nation.”  Synonyms for pride include arrogance, haughtiness and conceit, among others. In the Bible, selfish pride caused Satan to believe he didn’t need God and wanted to be his own god.  The Bible says in Isaiah 14:14, “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (New International Version).  Satan’s pride caused him to fall away from God and in turn he temped Adam and Eve to do the same.  Genesis 3:5 says, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (New International Version).  Adam and Eve’s pride caused them to disobey God and sin (separation from God) entered the world.  As you can see, this type of pride produced division. 

The Bible also speaks of a healthy form of pride. This type of pride does not create division.  It is pride in others that are living in obedience to God.  It is the reasonable self-respect we have in ourselves and others. Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians  7:4, “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (New International Version).  Here, Paul is speaking of his confidence in Christians.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says “…Therefore I will boast all he more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  Paul is boasting in  the strength that comes from the Lord.

Pride has caused me to resist seeking help.   Being a business owner creates a lot of extra expenses, and I wanted to figure out how to manage my money on my own.  Pride caused me to not want to receive help from anyone & to make sure I was saving well for all my business expenses –instead I would stress out every time an expense came up.  Once I finally admitted I couldn’t do this on my own, I reached out to someone for some guidance.  Pride diminishes our capacity to admit: we need help, we did wrong, etc. It prevents us from the community God designed to help us.

Pride also prevents us from acknowledging and apologizing.  Lets face it: we are human and will mess up.  Saying you are sorry means swallowing your pride and acknowledging your mistakes.  Only through admitting, apologizing, and forgiveness do relationships and communities stay in tact.  Pride tempts us to believe we are right even when we were very wrong.

Pride tempts us to take credit for what God has really done. Even if we feel we worked really hard to achieve a goal, like raising a well-behaved child or advancing at work, it is God who gives us life, breath, and abilities — and ultimately does what He wants.  Though God does ask us to work our hardest for Him (Colossians 3:23), He is the one who gives us our skills, abilities, and opportunities. Sometimes even the best parent can have the strongest willed child who goes astray, and sometimes the best worker in a career is let go because the economy is down. We can’t take credit or blame ourselves — some things are out of our control.

It is important to kill pride before pride kills your relationships, and ultimately your community.  We need God and we need others.

Looking for Love (in all the Wrong Places)

  1. wedding2  “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, Lookin’ for love in too many faces, Searchin’ their eyes, looking’ for traces Of what I’m dreaming of … Hopin’ to find a friend and a lover I’ll bless the day I discover, another heart, looking for love.”                                                                                                            

-Johnny Lee, “Looking for Love” Lyrics

“Where are all the nice guys?”  “Where are the stable girls?”  I have been asked these questions a lot recently.  This is not a new question for people, and it even dates back to biblical times.  Solomon asks in Proverbs 31: 10: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.”  Today we wonder the same thing: Where can I find love?

I have talked to many friends who have expressed the difficulty in finding a person worth dating.  Most everyone would agree that a loving relationship with a special person is something that they desire.  In contrast, finding love is not as fun, and can often feel like a wasted endeavor.  Add to this the distorted view of “love” portrayed in mainstream television, cinema and music… No wonder the younger generations are left standing alone trying to decipher text messages in order to find a future with someone.

With all the benefits of a loving, stable relationship (including the lesser known ones such as lower stress), I think we can all agree that it is still worthwhile to make an effort towards finding love — even through the potential misery of casual dating and “putting yourself out there” to meet new people.

Because the purpose of dating is to find love and marriage, the best advice on the matter comes from consulting God, the inventor of it.

Here are some of the qualities God sees as important in defining a Godly Man and Woman.  These traits are very important if you are looking for long-term love.  Most Christians have heard of “the Proverbs 31” woman, an excellent passage on the description of “The Wife of Noble Character”.  I encourage all women to read this passage and strive to be this type of woman.  Because this passage is so popular, I would like to expose some other verses from God’s word that one might miss about the qualities of godly men/women. These are what single women and men should be looking for in a mate.

Godly Man

  • blameless walk (Psalm 15)
  • does what is righteous (Psalm 15)
  • speaks truth from his heart (Psalm 15)
  • no slander on his tongue (Psalm 15)
  • does neighbor no harm (Psalm 15)
  • honors those who fear the Lord (Psalm 15)
  • despises a vile man (Psalm 15)
  • keeps his oath even when it hurts (Psalm 15)
  • lends his money without usury (Psalm 15)
  • does not accept bribe against innocent (Psalm 15)
  • temperate (1 Timothy 3:2)
  • self-controlled (1 Timothy 3:2)
  • respectable & hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2)
  • not given to drunkenness (1 Timothy 3:2)
  • gentle (1 Timothy 3:2)

Godly Woman

  • women of respect (1 Timothy 3:11)
  • not malicious talkers (1 Timothy 3:11)
  • temperate (1 Timothy 3:11)
  • trustworthy (1 Timothy 3:11)
  • reverent in how they live (Titus 2: 1)
  • not slanderers (Titus 2:1)
  • not addicted to wine (Titus 2:1)
  • self controlled & pure (Titus 2: 5)
  • busy at home (Titus 2: 5)
  • kind (Titus 2:5)
  • Wise (Proverbs 14:1)
  • all of Proverbs 31’s descriptions

Romantic comedies emphasize the feeling you need to be searching for rather than the character you need to be looking for.  Society tells us to look for outward qualities in men such as strong, handsome, rich, powerful, etc., I would say it is more important to search for the inward qualities of a godly man.  What kind of integrity does the man have when no one is looking?  How does he treat people, including family & friends? Also, even though society tells us to look for a woman who is skinny/fit, made-up, popular, “easy”, etc., it is more important to look for a woman with character. Can the woman you are dating be trusted?  Does she respect herself and you? Outer beauty fades with time….When looks go away, can you relate on a deeper level?

If you have not come across someone with godly characteristics, spend your time working on growing godly characteristics in yourself — this is what will attract the type of mate best for you.  Practice getting to know people you admire and take note of what you admire about them.  As Andy Stanley often says “Be the kind of person the person you are looking for is looking for”. My mom has great advice on this matter as well.  She says “you attract the type of person you are”.  When we look for qualities in a potential mate that are enduring and biblical, we are looking for love in all the right places.

Starting Over – Hitting Reset

“With every rising of the sun, think of your life as just begun.” -Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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Do you ever want to hit the “reset” button on your life, habits, relationships, job?  Do you believe that if you could start over again that you would do things differently?

In Genesis,  God created separation between days, weeks, months, and years. Genesis 1: 3-5 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’. and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’ and the darkness he called ‘night’ “(New International Version).  According to the Bible, creating a difference between night and day (and subsequently days and weeks) is the first thing God did after creating the heavens and the earth.

Therefore, if every day, week, month, and year is separated from the one preceding it, we are constantly given a chance for a new beginning or fresh start.  As we enter into 2015, many people see the new year as an opportunity to start fresh with resolutions.  People often make promises to better their health, relationships, finances, career, etc; However, God says that we have a chance to start new every day.  Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (New International Version).  What beautiful grace God displays by giving us a chance to have a new start each day.  With each sunrise, we are given a fresh opportunity to live God’s way.  His grace is always there for us, but I like the visual expression of a sunrise and sunset to show the sunrise of our new chance each day.

Sometimes life forces us to start over at unexpected times.  We may have an “out-of-nowhere” job loss or relational breakup.  We are left to pick up the pieces & start over when an event occurs we did not choose.  Andy Stanley’s Series “Starting Over” was excellent to describe what to do when it all falls apart (http://startingoverseries.org).  Andy talks about the three exercises to complete when starting over: 1) Own it, 2) Rethink it, and 3) Release It.

Owning it means to own your share/part of why the situation went wrong.  Even if you feel like the situation was not your fault, there is always a piece of the fault pie that belongs to you.  In Andy’s sermon, he asked us to draw a slice of the pie that represented our part in why a situation went wrong and we are forced to start over.  Owning your part of why a situation went wrong helps you gain clarity and learn from it (www.startingoverseries.org).

Rethinking it means to ask yourself what you were thinking during the situation that went wrong.  If we think the way we used to, we will do the same things.  Be able to answer the question ‘What was I thinking?” (www.startingoverseries.org).

Releasing it means that even though other people may be to blame in your situation, you have a responsibility.  You must decide to forgive and release the fault others created in your situation (www.startingoverseries.org).  Andy told us to ask the question “How long do you plan to allow the people who mistreated you to influence your future?”

Each new day is an opportunity to start over — We don’t have to wait until January 1st of each new year to change.  Sometimes life events give us no choice but to start over again, usually at unexpected times.  Each circumstance that falls apart is an opportunity to begin again.  We have the chance each day to hit the “reset” button and do things better the next time.  It takes a little reflection and “owning the situation”…but starting over can be a great thing!

Where’s My Perfect Thanksgiving?

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              What do you think of when you imagine Thanksgiving Holiday? Family and friends gathered around a crackling fire?  An image of “the perfect family” eating a fabulous feast together, while laughing with one another?  The Publix commercial image of happiness at the holidays?  We all have expectations about what the holidays should be like built up by social media, retail stores, the entertainment industry, etc., causing us to expect some magical holiday season.   When we arrive for Thanksgiving and it isn’t the “perfect” day and everyone doesn’t “get along perfectly”, we are disappointed.  Our holiday expectations are unmet, and this, along with other factors, can lead to depression.  Many benefits arise from ridding ourselves of unrealistic expectations…and getting to the true meaning of the holiday.  Let’s start with Thanksgiving….

It is important for us to reflect on the idea of thankfulness.  

           Thankfulness is “feeling or expressing gratitude; being appreciative” (dictionary.com).  As a therapist, I have seen many benefits of practicing gratitude and have witnessed its role in the treatment of depression.  Practicing thankfulness is a beneficial antidote in the treatment of depression; similar to the widely known treatments such as medication and/or psychotherapy.

           When a person is struggling with depression, his thought life is typically distorted and negative.  One of the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder is the presence of suicidal thoughts.  Distorted thinking, a client having more negative than positive thoughts, suicidal thinking, and irrational thinking are all symptoms of a person who is dealing with depression.  This is why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is used to treat depression.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors.  During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on their behavior (psychology.about.com).  Our thoughts lead to our feelings which lead to our behaviors (thoughts –> feelings–> behaviors).  If we are stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, we will feel sad, and then we will act depressed.  However, thankfulness allows us to change our negative thinking into positive thinking, thus fighting depression.  For example, a person may have the thought “I am so frustrated that my car keeps having to go to the shop”.  This thought makes a person feel upset which then makes them behave in ways an upset person would (moping/feeling sorry for themselves/isolating self).  However, if thankfulness is added and the person thinks “I am so thankful I even have a car“.  This thought makes the person feel joy, enabling the person to behave in ways a joyful person would (engaging with others. higher energy levels).  Thankfulness has a big role in combating negative thinking, which treats depression.

         A specific exercise used by therapists to fight depression is called “thanking your mind”.  Your mind offers you many thoughts in an effort to protect you–trying to get you to judge whats good or bad for you, predict dangerous possibilities, etc.  Your mind is working to help you survive and overcome problems.  However, your mind can run wild and obsessively focus on thoughts that make you miserable (McKay, Davis, & Fanning, 2011, p. 132).  One way to deal with these thoughts is to thank your mind for its efforts to protect you. As each negative thought shows up, simply say, “Thank you mind, for that thought”.  This helps you to just appreciate that your mind gave you a thought to protect you, but helps you not to dwell on negative thoughts (McKay et. al, 2011, p. 132).

         As a Christian, God’s word tells us to be thankful.  Phil 4: 6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus” (New International Version).  Thankfulness creates a form of tranquility, or peace of mind.  We cannot have two separate thoughts at the same time: it is difficult to worry and be thankful at the same time.  We aren’t that smart! Colossians 3:15 says “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (New International Version).  Can you see the connection between thankfulness and peace?  The more thankful we are, the more God’s peace will rule our hearts and minds, combating depression and other forms of despair.

Reference List

Johnson, S.L. (2004).  Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention: The 1-2-3’s of treatment planning (2nd ed.).  San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

McKay, M., Davis, M., & Fanning, P.  (2011).  Thoughts and feelings: Taking control of your moods and your life (4th ed.)  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

http://www.psychology.about.com