Are you really grateful?

I’ve spoken to a lot of people recently who use gratitude journals and I use a gratitude app on my phone.

I am all for gratitude – but are there times when gratitude is not really gratitude?

A short while ago, I spoke to a client who was using a gratitude diary but rather than feeling happy, connected, or content afterwards, she was left feeling worse.

When we looked closer at how she was using her gratitude journal, she was actually drawing a comparison against people who were ‘worse off’ than her.

For example (mine, not the client’s):

‘I am grateful to have food on my plate because there are people starving in the world’.

This may be true but when we compare what we have against others, we rarely feel good. (Whether we judge ourselves to be better or worse off than the people we are comparing ourselves against)

This seems to me like guilt masquerading as gratitude.

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Of course I am not saying we shouldn’t think about these kinds of issues, but in my opinion, a felt sense of gratitude is more likely to be experienced without drawing comparisons.

However, if we were to act in a way to help those in need, for example by donating an item of food to our local food bank, the ability to do this may be something we feel genuinely grateful for.

Contrast this against doing nothing but thinking about people who are going hungry whilst trying to feel grateful for your tea!

 

Comparisons may not be the only gratitude pitfall

There is also the potential to frame gratitude in a negative way, which may take the edge off the feeling of gratitude.

Contrast:

‘I am grateful the kids didn’t misbehave in the car’

with:

‘I am grateful for a peaceful and enjoyable car journey with the kids’

When we frame our experiences as an absence of something negative it is probably not going to feel as nice as framing our experiences in terms of gaining something positive.

 

Last of all…

If (like me) you tend to fall into a pattern of starting your gratitude journal entries with the same old ‘I feel grateful for…’, we could be missing out!

Gratitude comes in different flavours and comes along with other positive emotions too. It might be nice to recognise them all!

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So maybe the next time you and I write in our journals, we could ask ourselves ‘do I feel ‘grateful’ or do I feel’:

Appreciative

Blessed

Content

Enjoyment

Fortunate

Glad

Happy

Honoured

Love

Lucky

Pleased

Priviledged

Proud

Recognised

Thankful

Understood

Validated

Or something different?

 

Thank you for reading!

Image credit: Pixabay

Get more from your breathing exercises

You would be amazed by how many people I see who think they are using deep or relaxed breathing techniques but are actually breathing in a really unhelpful way (until I show them how to do it in a more helpful way, that is)!

There are many variations of breathing exercises and techniques and for the most part, it comes down to personal preference as to which ones you use.

I personally don’t like to count or hold my breath in my breathing exercises, but whatever method you choose, it is helpful to notice where the air is going in your lungs.

When we breathe into the top part of the lungs, we are usually taking in slightly more oxygen than we actually need. We tend to breathe into the top part of the lungs without even knowing it when we are rushing around, talking and busy, and for the most part it doesn’t cause a problem.

However, if we are under stress we may breathe like this for most of the time, even when we are inactive or resting. In its extreme form, over-breathing becomes hyperventilation, which is a key component of anxiety and panic attacks.

If we are aiming for relaxation, the most helpful form of breathing is diaphragmatic or ‘deep belly’ breathing in which the air gets down to the lower part of the lungs. As the lower part of the lungs expand, this flattens out the diaphragm – which is the big sheet of muscle that sits underneath the lungs.

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When breathing from the diaphragm, your belly should move more than your chest.

Here are 3 top tips to get the more out of your breathing exercises and to help promote diaphragmatic (or deep belly) breathing.

 

Tip 1: Take slow steady breaths rather than forced or exaggerated breaths.

If you are taking in a forced, sharp or exaggerated in-breath, the air is probably going into the top part of your chest, rather than down into the lower part of your lungs. This can happen even if you are using the ‘in through the nose and out through the mouth’ style of breathing.

Try it now…

See what I mean?

One way you can try getting the air down to the lower part of your lungs by lying on your back, placing a small cushion or light object onto your tummy and watching it move up and down.

 

Tip 2: Keep an open posture

If you are attempting deep belly breathing, it is helpful to have a relaxed and open posture rather than sitting or lying with crossed arms, legs or a hunched body posture.

Likewise, if you are used to holding your stomach in or wearing clothes that suck you in,  relax those stomach muscles, ditch the Spanx and let it all hang out!

 

Tip 3: Practise when you are feeling calm (particularly if you are new to using breathing exercises)

Breathing exercises are very useful to manage stress but the temptation is to use breathing exercises only in response to stress.

If you are a beginner, the best time to practise is actually when you are already feeling calm. This way, you can get into a relaxed breathing rhythm more easily and naturally and notice how it feels.

Some beginners wait until they feel stressed or anxious, try to practise then feel more stressed that they can’t get their breathing exercise to work!

Relaxed breathing can also help to maintain relaxed state and promote wellbeing, so don’t reserve your breathing exercises purely for times of stress.

 

Want to learn more?

Louise from Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing and Jen from Flourish in Mind are teaming up to deliver a new workshop at Hub 26 (off junction 26 of M62 in West Yorkshire).

At our ‘Workplace Wellbeing that Works!’ workshop you can learn what stress is, how to recognise your stress signature and learn tools to manage stress and promote wellbeing, including breathing exercises.

You can find details and tickets here: Workplace Wellbeing that Works!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Louise & Jen

Get more from your affirmations

I’ll let you into a secret… Cognitive Behavioural Therapists don’t really teach positive affirmations. The reason being that CBT is about finding a balanced alternative to a negative thought and is not so much about ‘thinking positive’ as some people expect.

So the idea of positive affirmations is one that hasn’t been on my radar until relatively recently.

However, the trend for positive affirmations appears to be growing and many people seem to find them helpful.

I used one myself this morning when I needed to have a difficult conversation and it was very helpful to me. If you are wondering, it was: ‘I can approach this conversation with strength and compassion’.

If I did teach positive affirmations, I would probably teach them like this:

 

Take small steps towards increasing positivity in your affirmations

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If you currently believe ‘I am a bad person’ and your positive affirmation is ‘I am a good person’, it is probably a leap too far.

This is how people sometimes apply ‘positive thinking’ and it often doesn’t work, simply because it doesn’t feel believable. You can usually tell if you are trying to trick yourself into believing something you don’t!

Steps might include language like:

‘I am working towards believing I can be a good person’

‘Sometimes I feel like a good person’

‘I am doing the best I can to be a good person’

 

Make them your own

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I saw a client recently who has been using positive affirmations from a list of somebody else’s affirmations. A list of affirmations or suggestions from others may give you some good ideas and help to get you started but it may ultimately be more helpful to word them in a way that is more personal to you.

The more personal you can make your positive affirmation, the more believable it is likely to be.

The more believable it is, the more helpful it is likely to be.

When you make your own, you can also make them situation specific as I did this morning. This may be of more use than something generic.

 

Use evidence to back them up

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In CBT we use evidence for and against thoughts. When you can see that there is evidence against a negative thought, it undermines the believability of the thought.

Likewise, if you can find evidence to support a more helpful thought, it feels more believable.

So, carrying the logic forward, if you have evidence to support your positive affirmation, it is likely to feel more believable to you.

For example, if your affirmation is ‘I am a good person’ and today you did a favour for a friend or helped someone in need, the evidence fits the affirmation.

 

Nod… yes nod!

OK, this one is not mine. This was something I heard on the (awesome) Savvy Psychologist Podcast by Dr. Ellen Hendriksen who cited a very nifty psychological experiment. You can listen to the episode here: https://soundcloud.com/savvy-psychologist/245-3-secrets-to-beat

In a nutshell, participants were asked to test a set of headphones while listening to either positive affirmations or negative statements by either moving their heads up and down or from side to side. Afterwards, their physical performance in an exercise task was measured.

Those who ‘nodded’ to positive affirmations performed the best and those who ‘nodded’ to negative statements performed least well.

The impact of the positive affirmation was boosted by performing a physical action ‘confirming’ the statement, even though the participants were not aware that this was what they were doing!

I highly recommend that you take a listen to the Savvy Psychologist Podcast!

Dr. Hendriksen has an abundance of helpful tips on a range of issues and in my opinion, has wonderful warmth and humour.

 

I would love to hear your comments about positive affirmations. Do you use them? Do they work? Are you already using these tips? Do you have other tips?

Thanks for reading!

Image credit: Pixabay

 

What is meditation?

A lot of people think meditation is about clearing your mind of all thoughts and focusing on nothing. However, as you might imagine, this is incredibly difficult to do!

The truth is that there are many forms of meditation and in most forms of meditation the aim is not to empty your mind altogether, rather it is about focusing your attention in a specific way. Many forms of meditation also involve focusing on the breath at some point within the practice.

In mindfulness meditation, the aim is to focus your attention in the present moment without judgement.

In loving kindness mediation, the aim is to focus on feelings of compassion for yourself and others.

In a guided relaxation practice, you are invited to focus on visualisation within your imagination and to notice what you can see, hear, touch or smell.

Any form of meditation can be beneficial within the workplace as it aids concentration, helps you to quieten down your mental chatter and reduces your body’s stress response, also known as your body’s fight and flight response.

Find out more about the benefits of relaxation for the workplace in this short video!

 

Want to learn how to recognise and manage workplace stress?

Join Flourish in Mind and Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing at our upcoming workshop: Workplace Wellbeing that Works!

There you will learn what stress is, how to recognise your unique stress signature and learn tools to manage workplace stress that can easily fit into your working day.

You will also experience a guided relaxation exercise to develop a visualization practice you can use time and time again at work or at home!

The workshop is developed and run by Jen Rawlinson bringing expert knowledge as a Mental Health First Aid trainer and Louise Aaron an experienced Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.

Find out more and get your ticket here:Workplace Wellbeing that Works!

We look forward to meeting you there!

Jen & Louise

My weird and wonderful experience of Bars and Access Consciousness

As a start to my personal wellbeing project to re-prioritise my self-care I attended an Introduction to Bars course and an Access Consciousness ‘Being Your Life’ course delivered by Jessica Summers.

Here is how it went…

 

You can find our more about Jessica Summers here: https://www.facebook.com/calmresult/

Find out more about Bars and Access Consciousness here: https://www.accessconsciousness.com/

 

The images I experienced

I thought I would share the images that came up to me when I was being gifted Bars (gifted seems to be the term used in the Bars world) and in the process of the Being Your Life course. Make of them what you will! I’m not sure what to make of them myself just yet.

The first image that came to my mind during Bars was a still sideways image of a water droplet creating ripples in a pool. It was a vivid image but it passed by quickly.

A memory that came back to me was a time when I had stood up for myself in a way that was really out of character for me (I was actually telling someone where to go and it was in quite a public place).

The images that came to me in the Being Your Life course were partially guided and we were asked to imagine a ball of energy in front of us. This is similar to an image I already use sometimes for emotional regulation but in this image the ball exploded like a supernova.

I also recalled a dream I had a number of years ago, which was very random and vivid. I hadn’t thought about this dream for years and it was one of those dreams you wake up from and wonder how the hell your brain came up with it!

The sense of it was about expansion and connecting with something bigger and to me it was visually beautiful.

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..Weird…

 

My reflections after the course

I’m not sure I can show all of my inner workings but here are 3 key reflections that I have come away with:

  • It is OK to explore and not to know all of the answers. If I follow my curiosity and interests, I can form my own path.
  • If I am ‘doing’, it is usually a means to an end. If I am ‘being’, it is an end in itself.
  • My power is in kindness.

 

I am aware that reading this back, it all sounds a little bit bonkers (particularly if you haven’t watched the video) but my idea was to share with you my experiences of different methods of self care and wellbeing and here it is!

 

What next

I plan to book in an appointment to get my Bars run and see what happens in a full session! Meanwhile, I would love to explore and experience some other forms of therapy (holistic or otherwise).

 

If you are a practitioner and you would like a review of your therapy and you are happy for me to write a blog about it, please do get in touch!