How to Calm Your Amygdala and Live A More Positive Life

Would you like to be a more positive person?  You can.  It turns out that you just need to learn a few simple ways to trick you brain into letting you be happy.

Our brain is naturally wired to be attentive to negative stimuli. Negative thoughts, experiences, or images trigger a structure called the amygdala which is the fear/threat system in our brain. This part of our brain is often hyperactive in an attempt to keep us safe from potential danger, however psychologists at the University of Miami have found that it might have a negative impact on our long-term psychological health and happiness.

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If you are struggling with anxiety and would like more resources for calming your mind and living a more positive life,

Check out:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Psychologists have found that even small amounts of negative stimuli can have a large impact on our overall happiness, stating, “Suppose you drop your morning coffee and it splatters everywhere. Later a colleague drops by to say hello. Do you grumble a testy acknowledgment, or cheerfully greet her?” This example demonstrates that “how a person’s brain evaluates fleeting negative stimuli — such as that dropped cup — may influence their long-term psychological well-being.” Lead researcher of this study, Nikki Puccetti, stated, “One way to think about it is the longer your brain holds on to a negative event, or stimuli, the unhappier you report being,”

To conduct this study, psychologists evaluated 52 participants through a process of psychological questionnaires, nightly phone calls evaluating overall daily experience, as well as functional MRI scans measuring the effects of positive, negative, and neutral images on brain activity.

The results of this study revealed that people whose amygdala held on to negative stimuli for fewer seconds were more likely to report more positive and fewer negative emotions in their daily lives — which spilled over to a more enduring well-being over time.

So how do we teach our amygdala to hold onto negative stimuli for less time in order to increase our overall happiness?

Focus on gratitude—When we intentionally focus on what we are grateful for, we create greater activity in our hypothalamus, hippocampus, and balance our amygdala. The hypothalamus and the hippocampus are primary brain structures that regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functioning. Focusing on gratitude is a helpful way to increase our psychological well-being as well as our physical health. Practice gratitude by writing a gratitude list and adding to it as you move through your day.

Recognize the Gift—Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that you shouldn’t say “thank you” to someone who is “just doing their job” or “just doing what they are supposed to do.”  There are lots of people who don’t do their jobs and fail to do what they should.  The fact is, it takes effort to try to do what’s right and fulfill our responsibilities to one another, and it’s an effort that deserves to be recognized.  In a world that sees people as objects and takes everyone for granted, we Christians have a special duty to remind each other, and the world, how important each and every person is in the eyes of God and how precious a gift it is when someone does something–anything–to make our lives a little easier or more pleasant. Be that person who recognizes the gifts others give you today.  Acknowledge everything someone does for you today with a simple “thank you” and a smile. 

Celebrate the People In Your Life–Is there someone you especially appreciate? Someone who makes a difference in your life just by being who they are?  When was the last time you told them how important they are to you?  Today, take a minute to actually hand write a short note to tell them how much they mean to you.  You might thank them for something specific they did, or for how they make you feel, or just thank them for being in your life. Let them know what a gift they are to you and how you wouldn’t be the same without them.  Then drop it in the mail or leave it someplace where they can be surprised to find it later on.  It doesn’t take much effort, but you’d be surprised by how much of a difference  this little effort can make.

For more resources on increasing your mental health and well-being, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Taming The Beast—3 Ways to Understand and Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety often feels like a terrible beast that runs roughshod over our lives. It can cause us to feel scared, hopeless, or worn down. It can even feel like something that becomes more of who we are rather than something we can manage or get rid of.

So how do we manage something that can become such a large presence in our lives?

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Do you want more information on overcoming anxiety?

Check Out:
Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that anxiety is not God’s will for us.  Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. They were completely at peace.  Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and their best selves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious.  Confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency when separated from God they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way?  TOB tells us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us, “Be Not Afraid!” Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater.  In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”

 

Here are three ways to win your battle with anxiety:

1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face.  Yes, these are serious things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves.  Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing.  If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems.  Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations?  How will I pace myself?  How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?”

Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!”  It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety.  Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed.  The MOST important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

2.  Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!”  Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution to the situation that is upsetting you, but rather by focusing on the next step. What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources,  enlists more support, or at least makes you feel a little more taken care of while you think about what else you can do?  If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek.  Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once.  Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success.  The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for.  Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it.  Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through.  In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different.  God loves you.  He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace.  The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

 

For additional resources and support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Finding Fulfillment—What Can We Learn From The Theology Of The Body?

Are you struggling to find fulfillment in your work or everyday life? We often feel like we’re stuck or lacking direction. Sometimes we feel we need to make a large shift in our lifestyle as a means to finding the fulfillment we crave—the fulfillment God wants for us.

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Are you looking to discover God’s plan for your life?

Check Out:


The Life God Wants You To Have: Discovering The Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail!

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We can find answers to some of these concerns in St John Paul’s Theology of The Body.

Theology of the Body teaches us first, that we all have gifts and second, that were all meant to be a gift.  The key to finding fulfillment is combining these lessons; learning how to use our gifts to be a gift.

The first step is to get in touch with the things we do that bring us joy. Why? Because we tend to feel joyful when we’re most connected to our strengths and our passions. Knowing what our strengths and passions are can give us hints into how we might be a blessing to others. For example you might find joy in caring for others, or maybe we have an interest in or passion for running and get a lot of joy going for a run every day. These are our gifts, the things that make us unique and unrepeatable in God’s eyes.

It isn’t always obvious how a particular strength or passion could enable us to be a gift to others.  For instance, how could I turn my passion for running into a gift? Don’t worry about that right now. The answer to that question will be revealed in the second step of this exercise; bringing that strength or passion to God in prayer, and asking him to show you how to use it to be a blessing to others.

As you bring your gifts to God and ask him to show you how to use them to bless others, you might be surprised at what he reveals to you. Some things will be more obvious—if we have a gift of being caring, we can use that gift to care for others. But other strengths or interests might be a bit more difficult. Let’s go back to running for a moment. When you bring that passion to God, perhaps he would remind you of an upcoming charity run. Or he might just encourage you

to smile at the other people you meet on your jog instead of staring straight ahead. Or maybe, he would inspire you to draw strength from the joy that you received on your run so that you could engage with your family more, or be more focused in your work or in our life. All of these options represent ways you could use something that seems like a solitary, personal pursuit to be more of a blessing to others.

Using our gifts to be a gift, means opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, and allowing God to guide us in using our strengths and interests to bless others.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to begin your path towards finding fulfillment:

Finding your strengths:

  • How would I describe myself based on my strengths/positive characteristics/virtues?
  • Check in every day: What is one thing that I did well today? What strengths allowed me to do that well?
  • How am I capable of using my strengths to serve others?

Finding your interests:

  • What activities help me feel most like myself?
  • In what situations/environments do I feel most at peace?
  • If nothing is sparking my interest, what activities do I dislike least? How can I start there to find greater passion?

Using our gifts to be a gift:

  • In what ways can I use what fuels me to be a better version of myself?
  • What would it look like to be my best self today?
  • How can I schedule at least 20 minutes a day to do something that I enjoy?
  • How can I be present in that activity so that it truly fuels me and I can have more to give to others?
  • How can I be a gift today?

Reflect on these questions. Ask God to help you find concrete answers. As you do, you’ll find that this process can be your starting point for getting to know yourself–and who God created you to be–in a deeper way. Let the Lord help you find true fulfillment by showing you, step-by-step, how to use your gifts to be a gift to the people who share your life.

If you would like additional support in finding the life that God wants you to live, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Why Would God Let This Happen?—Keeping The Faith When Times Get Tough

Why does God let bad things happen? Why am I going through this? What does this mean for me? … Do these questions sound familiar? You’re not alone.

Although we can sometime feel guilty when we question God or doubt his love, it’s more than okay to ask these questions. In fact, it’s even good to ask these types of questions—as long as we bring these questions and struggles to God. The world is not as it was meant to be, and figuring out how to respond to everything that is broken in our lives and in the world is a big job that carries a lot of pain with it. The good news is, God doesn’t want us to have to deal with this pain on our own. He wants to help. He wants us to bring the hurt to him.

Theology of The Body reminds us that faith and life are not meant to be separate things.  In fact, being a disciple of Christ begins with giving our body to Christ so that every part of us can serve him and learn to love others as he would have us love them. Truthfully, rather than making things simpler, living out our faith can make things seem more difficult at times because bringing our lives and relationships in line with Gods will is hard work.  Doubts and struggles are not a sign of weak faith. Theyre an invitation to deeper faith.  As long as we keep bringing our doubts, struggles, and confusion to God–instead of letting them lead us away from him–the more God will use those struggles to draw us into closer union with his love and his will.

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Do you want to learn more about balancing struggles and your faith?

Check Out:
Broken Gods—Hope, Healing, and The Seven Longings of The Human Heart

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How do we bring our struggles to God? Keep the following tips in mind.

Be Where Youre At–We often think that we have to pretend with God; like were not allowed to admit that we have doubts, fears, or even anger with God.  But Jesus reminded us that we are not meant to approach God as fearful slaves, but as friends.  God desires our friendship, and friends are real with each other.  They dont pretend.  They dont put on airs.  God wants to be with you wherever you are, so let him.  Tell him your doubts, be honest about your fears, vent your anger.  Trust that God is big enough to take whatever you have to dish out. 

Why does God want you to be this honest and vulnerable with him?  Because it is only by revealing your heart to God that he can heal the hurt.  The best way to experience Gods mercy, love, and healing, is to simply be honest about where you are at and how you feel about him, your faith, and your life.  Let it out and ask him to heal whatever is broken, to give you the wisdom to see things the way he sees them, and to respond to everything in a manner that will glorify him regardless of what youre dealing with.  If you can manage that much every day, God will take care of the rest. 

Re-center Yourself–Because we tend to turn to our faith and spiritual practices as a source of comfort, we also tend to abandon them when we feel like were not getting the emotional payout we were hoping for.  Thats especially true when we are experiencing faith-related struggles. 

While its understandable to want to give up on God, our prayer life, or even our faith in times of spiritual dryness or pain, abandoning these things simply creates a vacuum that tends to be filled with unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that cause us even more pain.  Instead of giving up, re-center your spiritual life with a few simple steps.  First, re-examine your approach.  If the way you are praying isnt bearing fruit, try a different approach.  If you usually talk to God, focus more on listening and meditation.  If you usually use a more spontaneous approach, explore some of the more traditional prayers of the church—or vice-versa.  Whatever you do, dont quit–RECOMMIT! 

Second, instead of focusing on your feelings and processing your faith through your emotions, process your feelings through your faith.  Confess whatever you are feeling to God–no matter how ugly or messy it is–but ask him to help you sort out your emotions in light of what is really true, in light of what gives glory to him, and in light of his grace.  Feelings are important but when they occupy the center of our lives instead of our faith and spiritual life, they tend to cause a lot of pain and confusion.  Dont deny your emotions, but make sure to process your feelings through your faith.  Youll be amazed at the peace this can bring.

Talk to A Spiritual Mentor--If you feel like your spiritual struggles are too much for you to manage on your own, reach out for good spiritual support.  Talk with your pastor.  Seek out a spiritual director or pastoral counselor who can help you reconnect with your spiritual resources.  The Theology of the Body reminds of what God said in the Book of Genesis, It is not good for man to be alone.”  Dont let the devil separate you from the heard and pick you off like a lonely gazelle. If you are struggling in your faith, reach out to the people God has put in place to help you.  Dont be too prideful to seek out a Simon of Cyrene to help you carry your cross.

If you would like to talk to a spiritual coach or pastoral counselor, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Three Ways to Stop Settling and Live the Life You Were Meant to Live

Do you want more from your life? Are you struggling with dissatisfaction in your life or relationships? You’re not alone. We were created for more, yet our fallen nature often causes us to settle for less or holds us back from aspiring for more. But the good news is, there are ways to break this habit and live the life we are meant to live!

Theology of The Body reminds us to stop settling.  To see that God wants to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart for a love that doesn’t fail, for relationships that are fulfilling, and for a life that reflects the glory of his grace.  Pope St John Paul the Great reminded us that we must keep our eyes, not on what we see in front of us when we look at our broken world and our broken lives, but on what God sees when he looks at us and what God wants to make of our lives and relationships so that his glory could be known in the world through our lives.  The truth that will set us free is the truth God sees when he looks at our lives.  Our job is to stand up to to our doubts and fears and lean into the vision that God has for us instead so that we can become what we are.

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Do you want more from your life? Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have

Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail

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Here are three ways to stop settling and live the life you are meant to live:

1.Get Your Binoculars–We tend to settle because we get so caught up in the frustrations of the present that we lose sight of the destination to which God is leading us; Namely, a life and relationships that are healthy, whole, and holy.  Stop settling for what is in front of you.  Get your binoculars and look to the horizon line.  Keep imagining what a healthier, whole, and holier life and relationships would look like and start walking toward that.  Sometimes it will seem impossibly hard.  No Matter.  Trust that God’s grace will make up for what you lack and start walking.

2.Take Small Steps–We often settle for surviving because we can’t see ways to make the big changes that need to happen.  Remember, big journeys are made up of a million little steps.  Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I can do today to make the change I want to see in my life?”  Do that, and then ask that question again, and again, and again. Each time, remember that you are fighting against the temptation to survive and, instead, learning to cooperate with God’s grace to live life more abundantly.

3.Turn On Your GPS–We tend to settle when we feel lost.  But there is no reason to ever feel lost if you have your GPS, your GOD POSITIONING SYSTEM–that is, PRAYER.  When you feel lost and find yourself giving into the temptation to survive in your life or relationships, ask God to help you make the turns you need to make to get back on the path to wholeness, health, and holiness that he wants you to be walking.  Just like with a regular GPS, chances are, it will only take a few simple turns for God to get you back on the path.

If you want more information on how to overcome the frustrations in life and stop settling, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Four Simple Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Change Your Life

Memories have a powerful impact on our lives.  They shape how we feel, how we act, and the choices we make.  When painful memories emerge, it can be especially hard to shake the negative feelings that bubble up and the way they affect our quality of life.

A new study by the University of Alberta provides us simple ways to manage the level of emotional intensity that we experience when recalling past memories.

Researchers report that when we recall our memories from a third-person perspective we are able to decrease the emotional intensity of that memory. “Specifically, the results show that recalling memories from an observer-like perspective, instead of through your own eyes, leads to greater…interaction among brain regions that support our ability to recall the details of a memory and to recreate mental images in our mind’s eye.”

Not only does this third-person perspective allow us to recall memories with higher accuracy, but it also enables us to experience relief from troubling or even traumatic memories more successfully.

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Do you want to overcome past hurts and live a whole, healed, and healthy life?

Check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Learning to decrease the emotional power of negative memories is especially important because it helps us overcome limiting “core beliefs.”  Cognitive behavioral therapy defines core beliefs as central beliefs that people hold about themselves, others, and the world. These core beliefs then influence what CBT refers to as automatic thoughts—those thoughts or beliefs that seem to pop into our mind that shape our daily self-talk.

In addition to recalling our memories from a third person perspective to decrease their emotional power, here are three ways to re-story our core beliefs and develop healthy self-talk:

Label Thoughts—One of the best ways to get control of our self-talk is to label our thoughts as either helpful or hurtful. When we do this, we can learn to lean into helpful thoughts and let go of hurtful thoughts, just like we would listen to helpful advice from others and dismiss unhelpful advice.

Live Intentionally—When we live busy lives it’s easy for us to operate on “auto-pilot.” We go about our day moving through our tasks without really being present. But when we live in this more passive state, we are living more out of reaction rather than intentional action. Gain control over your negative feelings by being intentional about your actions and your self-talk. This can be as simple as changing your self-talk from “I have to go to work,” to, “I’m choosing to go to work because…(of this benefit I get from it).” Likewise, instead of saying “what is the day going to bring?” you might say, “what do I want to make happen today?” Living intentionally helps us regain control over our emotions and our lives.

Focus on Strengths—We often focus on what we didn’t do well or what we wish we could do better. However, this kind of thinking often leads to negative core beliefs and automatic thoughts.  Instead, practice focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do. Make a point of acknowledging your successes throughout the day. Even in the face of hardships, identify the strengths that you displayed and give yourself credit. For example, did you have a positive conversation with your spouse, co-worker, kids, or friend? Acknowledge that as a success and identify, “I was thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, (etc.) in that conversation which helped me be successful.”

For more ways to re-story your core beliefs and self-talk, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Becoming More Playful — The Added Benefits to Our Overall Well-Being

*This post is a continuation of the series based on Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship. Join the discussion in our facebook group.

There’s a lot in life that we have to take seriously. A lot to think about, a lot to manage, just… a lot. In the face of all this seriousness, one of the first things we adults lose is our ability to be playful.

Are problem solving and playfulness mutually exclusive?

A growing body of research has actually found that playfulness in our daily life has a large impact on our ability to handle challenges effectively, as well as increasing our overall life satisfaction.

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Do you want to cultivate greater joy and satisfaction in your family life? Check out

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids

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Researchers from the University of Zurich and Pennsylvania State University teamed up to conduct a study on 533 participants. The participants were separated into three groups, two groups were given exercises pertaining to practicing and recording playfulness in their daily lives, the third group acted as a control group and were given exercises unrelated to the study.

The results found that those individuals who actively looked for ways to be playful in their daily lives reported greater life satisfaction even 12 weeks after the experiment took place, whereas the control group reported no difference. Furthermore, the results indicate that it is possible to teach individuals who are typically not prone to playfulness how to be more playful simply through intentional practice and participation in playful activities.

This study, as well as research conducted by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, shows that playfulness in our daily life actually increases our ability to process emotions and solve problems. Dr. Neufeld refers to playful activities as “emotional playgrounds,” stating, “When words fail us, emotional playgrounds are our best answer for safe emotional expression and for feelings to bounce back,” and that “Play is where we are most likely able to feel our emotions safely.” Neufeld and other research demonstrates that this is the case for both adults and children.

Research such as this highlights the significant importance of creating and maintaining family play rituals, like the ones we describe in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life and the Rite of Family Rituals.

The ritual of play allows us to not only build rapport and connection as a family on a regular basis, but also creates the opportunity for these “emotional playgrounds.” Play enables us and our children to become more emotionally intelligent and emotionally healthy. We are able to problem solve, increase our emotional intelligence, and emotionally regulate more effectively, if we integrate play/playfulness into our regular, daily lives.

But how do we make time for this ritual of play on a daily basis?

Here are a few ideas:


– Start a family tickle fight when getting out of the car on your way home after soccer practice.

– Take turns bringing a joke to family dinner.

– Turn on your favorite music and have a dance party while picking up the living room or washing the dinner dishes.

– Sing your favorite songs in the car or snuggled up before bed.

– Read stories together and/or have your kids read to you while you get chores done (like folding the laundry).

– Take a walk together.

– Bake a yummy dessert.

– Integrate crafts into school activities and sit down and do them together.

– Have a family movie night, but make it special with your favorite pillows, blankets, and snacks.

– Play a card game during/after a meal

Start your own list of fun activities! Have everyone add to the list, hang it on the fridge, and pick one thing off the list that you have time for every day.

For more ideas on cultivating the ritual of play—and all the rituals of connection—in your family, join the discussion at Catholic HOM and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Power of Our Thoughts

Most of us know that negative thinking isn’t good for our mental health, but did you know that repetitive negative thinking has harmful effects on our physical health?

A study led by researchers at University College London evaluated 123 participants to determine the relationship between repetitive (chronic) negative thinking patterns and dementia. The results of this study reveal that individuals who exhibit repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns have higher levels of tau and amyloid—two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain. Over four years, the individuals who displayed RNT showed greater cognitive decline, including decline in memory.

As this study shows, negative thinking not only has harmful effects on our emotional life, but on our physical body as well.

So how to we break our habits of repetitive negative thinking and live healthier lives?

Find your power: In any situation, ask yourself, “What can I make of this?” Don’t simply allow yourself to be a passive participant in your situation. Seek your power through intentionality. Asking yourself questions such as, “What can I make of this/learn from this/do with this?” helps engage your cortex (your thinking brain) and allows you to focus on resources and solutions as opposed to getting caught in the trap of negative thinking. 

Focus on gratitude: Intentionally recall your blessings, your strengths, and your skills. This can be done in several ways, such as keeping a running gratitude list throughout the day, focusing on the things that you did well during the day, or keeping a “got done” list to remind yourself of your daily accomplishments. This type of thinking helps cultivate more helpful thinking patterns instead of the hurtful thinking patterns caused by RNT.

Cultivate Connection: Cultivate connection and maintain a sense of community by actively seeking ways to be a blessing to others—even when you are struggling. When we are focused on serving others and acting out of self-donation, we are more effectively able to break the cycle of negative thinking.

To find more resources for breaking your habits of negative thinking, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.

Get a Grip—Mastering Your Emotional Life

What feelings tend to get the best of you?  Do certain people or situations provoke emotional reactions in you that are hard to get a handle on?  For that matter, does someone you love struggle with their emotions and you’re not sure how to support them?

In order to handle these difficult situations for ourselves and others, it’s helpful to understand the answer to the following question: Are our emotional reactions universal, or are they conditioned by culture and environment?  

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined the words used to describe feelings in over 2500 languages to see how people in various cultures experienced emotion.  They did find differences in the ways different cultures describe the experience of certain emotions.  For example, some languages view grief as similar to fear and anxiety, whereas others view grief as similar to regret.  But researchers found that ALL cultures think about and categorize emotions in a similar way. Specifically, all languages distinguish emotions primarily based on whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to experience, and whether they involve low or high levels of arousal. For example, no languages view the low-arousal emotion of sadness as similar to the high-arousal emotion of anger, and no languages viewed the pleasant emotion of “happy” as similar to the unpleasant emotion of “regret.”  This suggests that there are universal elements of emotional experience that are rooted in biology more than culture.  The takeaway? The challenge of  understanding, expressing, and cultivating a healthy emotional life is a universal human experience.

Theology of the Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do–that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways–if we learn to bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. 

Emotions and feelings are two different but related things. Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment.  Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them and that’s where things tend to get complicated.  Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others.  By bringing our emotions to God we can relearn how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing.

Here are a few, effective ways to understand and gain control over your emotional life:

Pause and Pray–Get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion–especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety.  When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause–even for a second–and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.”  Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain.  This allows us to make better, and more complete,  responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place.  On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings aren’t God.  God is.  And everything we do–including acting on our feelings–has to be motivated by a desire to serve him.  If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body–the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.

Add Feathers–Do you know how people can be really good at telling others how to manage their emotions but really bad at managing their own?  A new study by the University of Waterloo found that practicing one simple habit can allow people to manage their own responses as well as they can help others manage theirs.  The trick?  Add feathers.  Just like an arrow that has feathers flies straighter than an arrow without them, people who ask themselves what virtues they need to express their emotions well are much better at identifying and hitting the right emotional targets than people who just act on feeling.  If you want to be as good at taking your own advice as giving it, before you act on an emotion, ask yourself, “What virtue would help me express this emotion well?”  The study found that asking simple virtue-based questions like this helps people both avoid the temptation to repress negative emotions and also helps people make better emotional choices by reminding them to keep the big picture in mind. Next time you feel a strong emotional reaction welling up, don’t just let it fly with your feelings.  Add feathers, and let virtue guide the path toward the right response.

Get a Boost–Sometimes it can be too hard to learn to handle our feelings on our own.  If your emotional reactions are consistently complicating your life or relationships, seek professional help.  Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the brain.  New research shows that modern therapy techniques help boost the brain’s ability to process emotional reactions more efficiently and identify healthy responses to emotions more effectively.  You don’t have to be a victim of your emotional reactions.  If you aren’t happy with the way your feelings are causing you to respond to the people or situations in your life, getting professional help sooner than later can help you get the skills you need to have a healthier emotional life.

For more information on gaining control of your emotional life, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.