MUSIC.BRAIN

Everybody can relate, whether you struggle with mental illness or not: we all have our personal taste in music. But how can music help your brain?

Certain songs lift us up, and others provide us with an emotional expression of our sadness. When I am feeling blue, I give myself a chance to listen to sad songs and embrace the sucky feeling. But I like to follow it with something uplifting, to help pull me out of that bad mood. Listening to soft music helps me unwind from the day and fall asleep (the album Mental Illness by Aimee Mann is my go-to).

Some of the positive effects music has on the brain include:

  • reduction of depression
  • decreased anxiety
  • improved sleep
  • better memory
  • greater cognitive function
  • pain relief
  • lightened mood

Music has also been proven to alleviate symptoms of the following disorders:

  • Depression — alleviate your low mood state.
  • PTSD — process trauma and grief caused by the event.
  • Schizophrenia — regulate emotional disfunction.
  • Anxiety — calm tension in the mind and body.

On a personal level, having a MUSIC.BRAIN has really helped get me through difficult mental challenges. I would focus on music played on the radio to process the stress of being hospitalized for my mood disorder. I distinctly remember listening to Kendrick Lamar’s song Swimming Pools, and appreciating the lyrical honesty as I got sober. Singing also provided me with an emotional release during my psychosis, and took me back to the present moment.

My top 3 albums for helping me through difficult times are:

  1. Mental Illness by Aimee Mann (for getting a good night’s sleep)
  2. What is this Heart? by How to Dress Well (for relaxation and anxiety relief)
  3. Fallen by Evanescence (for when I really want to release my depression or anger)

How does music help you through tough mental health days? And what are some of your favorite songs for uplifting your spirits?

For more on how music improves your mental health, check out this article from the American Psychiatric Association.

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. — Bob Marley

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RE.LAX!

Take a mental health day. RE.LAX! Stay a while in the moment. Here are my favorite ways to keep your mental health in check in the middle of a busy work day.

1. Take 5 and breathe deeply.

Even if you don’t have time to take a full blown mental health day, you can recover your mind and relax with 5 minutes of deep breathing. Try focusing on your breathing, and take a few deep breaths in and out. Follow it with a natural breath, and begin counting your inhalations and exhalations to the count of 10, then begin again. After 5 minutes, come back to the present, and feel refreshed and focused.

2. Go on a mental vacation with imagery.

When you need a vacation, but can’t drop everything to take one, use imagery to get away. Start by closing your eyes and picturing your favorite place to relax, or imagine a new one. Describe the sights and sounds — if your vacation is at a beach, do you hear seagulls and waves crashing? Really immerse yourself in your happy place. The more details that you imagine, the better you will feel after reaching your special spot.

3. Have a cup of tea.

If you have trouble counting breaths and just can’t imagine that vacation spot, don’t fret! Take a moment for yourself and make a cup of tea. Coffee seems like the go-to for an afternoon pick-me-up. But replacing your afternoon coffee with chamomile tea, or green tea if you need a small caffeine boost, can keep you relaxed and mentally sharp for the rest of your day. Try a new tea, and make a point of sipping it slowly and appreciating the warmth of the mug. Changing your temperature is a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skill, and it can help you RE.LAX!

These are a few of my favorite ways to take a mental health break. Try them out, and see if they soothe and relax you when you just don’t have time to take a full mental health day. Enjoy and RE.LAX!

For more relaxation techniques, check out this Harvard Health article.

If you do what you love, it is the best way to relax. — Christian Louboutin

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FOR.GIVE

Forgiveness is not always a gift you give to another person. Often, forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. You do not need to forget about the wrongdoing. Rather, don’t place all powerful importance on the mistake. Forgiveness helps someone detach from the hurt, and no longer suffer because of it.

I’d like to write this post about what it means to me to forgive. Broken down, I see it as FOR.GIVE and a way to give back to your emotional, mental and spiritual self. It is a gift, for you — not always for the one who hurt you.

Giving is contributing to yourself and others.

When you give a gift, you are contributing to the greater good of humanity. It does not have to be monetary, it can be volunteering your time, or doing a favor for a friend. So why is the word “give” in forgiveness?

The answer is simple. It is forward giving, moving past the hurt, and treating mistakes as a learning experience. Rather than having an all-or-nothing mentality, you meet a dark moment in another person’s life with a light for them to see with — a goodness that heals your own heart as well.

Forward thinking is moving past the pain.

Focusing on the past and the pain others may have caused you can be draining. Stay in the present by forgiving the past, and your forward thinking will become clear, level, and productive. Moving on is not a bad thing. It is a step onward and upward.

Holding onto pain hurts, especially when it was caused by something (or someone) out of your control. Forgiveness is detaching from the pain, and taking back your control over your feelings. Letting another back into your life can be frightening; sometimes, it just feels easier to shut them out. Moving forward with your attitude does not have to mean condoning hurtful behavior, but it does greatly reduce the stress. Bring your thinking forward, and let go of the attachment to the pain. You will be happier for it.

Together, FOR.GIVE means a gift for you.

Treat yourself to the gift of forgiveness, and find a blissful release of toxic energy. Don’t hold on to the hurt and suffer. Try a prayer for the person whom you resent, or a formal show of forgiveness in person. Remember, it is a gift you give to yourself.

On a personal level, I had a landlord at my apartment who gave me sound advice: pray for the men who sexually assaulted me, and forgive them. I was appalled initially, thinking they deserve no forgiveness, let alone a prayer! But I pondered it, mulled it over, and finally prayed for them. And I found I was accepting of what had happened, yet able to move forward with my own life, and without letting the memory cause me suffering. You don’t have to be religious; even if it is a simple kind thought wishing those who wronged you well, you will give a gift to yourself, for you and from you.

How do you define forgiveness? And how has it helped you move past the pain of being hurt by someone?

Let us forgive each other — only then will we live in peace. — Leo Tolstoy

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ME.TOO

The #MeToo movement smashed the ceiling and shed light on a major crisis. Women, and men, no longer have to sit in silence with sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. #MeToo is a way for victims to become survivors.

It hits home on a personal level for me. I began writing about my experience with sexual assault as the movement came to the surface. Whether in the workplace, or elsewhere, no one should be made to feel unsafe by perpetrators using their superiority as a means of aggression. No one should be victimized period.

Now is the time to take back control from our abusers. Silence only gives culprits more power over us; speaking up reminds survivors of their strength. How does ME.TOO affect you?

MY.STORY

After a trip abroad, I came back unsure of what had happened to me. It took years to fully realize what had been done: I had been sexually assaulted. What solidified it for me was checking out the Department of Justice website and realizing that everything about my experience fell into the defined category of rape.

MY.MIND

My mental health became unstable in the months after the assault. I became catatonic from depression. Bipolar disorder surfaced and led to a diagnosis. And I felt lost. It took years to finally be found again.

MY.VOICE

Slowly but surely, I spoke up. And it made all the difference. My mental health symptoms are now at a bare minimum. I am honest with my therapist about what I am feeling, and what I continue to go through. And I found my voice, choosing to use it to help others like me take back control of their lives.

We have the power to speak up. I wanted to use this post to share a bit about my story, my mental health challenges, and my voice — finally found.

I’ll leave you with this: champion people instead of breaking them down. The #MeToo movement shows just how many of us have been affected. Be a part of the cure, not part of the disease. And be the light you have always been, because you are not alone.

For a safe place to talk with professionals about sexual assault, call 800.656.HOPE (4673) – the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become. — Carl Jung

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NAMA.STAY

What are the physical benefits of yoga? And how can it perk your mental health?

Practicing yoga for the past 15 years, I have noticed my balance, stamina, and gracefulness improve. Yoga has been a staple of the positive way I feel about my body. The added benefit? It is a practice of patience that calms my hyperactive brain. Let’s investigate the ways yoga supports a healthy MIND.BODY&SPIRIT. Namaste.

What can yoga do for your physical health?

My love for yoga began with the added stretching to my sports routines — lacrosse and running. Flexibility made it great for joint pain, and the poses were new to me and fun to practice.

Physical benefits include:

  • flexibility
  • balance
  • strength
  • circulation
  • energy
  • metabolism

What does yoga do for your mind?

The amazing thing about yoga is that it is a practice of mindfulness. Meditation can be incorporated into the practice, calming the brain and focusing on the activity at hand. When I amaze myself with what my body can do for me during yoga, I gain positive body image.

Mental health benefits include:

  • stress relief
  • positive body image
  • focus and attention
  • chronic pain
  • decreased anxiety
  • improved mood

What does yoga do for you spiritually?

Whether you are religious or atheist, yoga can be a spiritual experience. Becoming one with your breath, your center, and grounding technique may bring a sense of spiritual awakening within oneself.

I find that yoga sets up my day and night for better connectivity to my thoughts, and it helps me believe in the good of the world. I am closer to my soul, as it heals while I practice.

There are many different types of yoga, and they can benefit all ages and body types. I highly recommend it for the above reasons of physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. Do you want to give yoga a try? Check out your local studio, or download an app or video to get started. And I truly believe you will NAMA.STAY with it.

Ohm.

For more on yoga health benefits, check out this article from Harvard Health.

Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is what you learn on the way down. – Jigar Gor.

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BE.BOLD

I want to take a minute to tell you something amazing. Finally, I am finding my voice. Finally, I know how to say “No.” Finally, I am living my life, unafraid of being my assertive, strong, and kind self. Now, it’s time to BE.BOLD.

I grew up thinking anger was an un-pretty emotion. I often stuffed my feelings deep inside myself, and turned my anger inward into depression. Today, with coping skills, I am channeling anger, sadness, and even joy into a healthy expression of my mood. Finding the upside to feeling an emotion that you are uncomfortable with can make it more digestible, and release the tension and anxiety that may come along with it. Today, I vow to notice my feelings, without judgement, and find the root cause. Expressing your emotions can save relationships with friends, family, and significant others. Don’t live in fear of your feelings. Embrace them, and BE.BOLD.

ASSERTIVE.VS.AGGRESSIVE

Many times, my assertiveness has been wrongly seen as aggression. Viewing myself as a strong, independent woman, my assertive moments were shot down many times, and often left me feeling insecure and unconfident.

Want to know the real aggressive case? It’s the people who put you down for feeling smart, capable, and decisive. I used to sink to a lower level, and get upset with the toxic relationships I had with the people who kept me feeling weak. No one should make you feel guilty, stupid, or “too pushy” when you are asserting yourself.

definition of assertive

1disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior 

SAYING.NO

Do you find it difficult to say “No?” Still, I have trouble with this one. I think a lot of it came from being taught to be polite and people-pleasing, but in my later years it developed into a real issue.

Practice this two-letter word on the small things: if you don’t want to go out somewhere, say No; if you don’t have time to help someone with a favor, say No. No should NO.LONGER be a BAD.WORD. This is one of the greatest words of our language, it is empowering and assertive and so not selfish. No is an honest word. Be genuine with the things you just don’t want to do, and say NO.THANK.YOU. We can still do it in a polite way…

USE.YOUR.VOICE

The more you use your voice, the more you learn about yourself. No life should be lived in silence, fearful or unsure or numb to our emotions.

So, I challenge you to be assertive, say no thank you, and find your inner voice. Go forth, and BE.BOLD!

Read more about the benefits of BEING.ASSERTIVE on PsychologyToday.com.

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. — Dr. Seuss
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GET.FIT.

We all should be celebrating this weekend. It’s EARTH.DAY and there is no better way to rejoice with MOTHER.NATURE than by being in the great outdoors. In NYC, several neighborhoods are going carless today and embracing the impact we have on protecting our beautiful planet.

What better way to show our appreciation of our world than by getting out there, breathing some fresh air, and finding your new favorite exercise. I’ve come to enjoy walks with my dog and running outside as a way to stay physically fit, as well as mentally sound. Being out in the sun, or on a brisk day like today, I notice natural beauty. Birds chirping to welcome Spring, trees and flowers blooming, the happiness my dog brings to me when she’s out and by my side: these are all reasons that fitness helps the body, mind, and spirit. I’d like to share with you my goals for getting fit, and ways I achieve them in a healthy way.

1. How can I start a GET.FIT plan?

Baby steps. The same way mindfulness teaches us to focus on one thing at a time, evaluate the first small step you can take towards your health goals. Write a list of ways you can improve your health. Prioritize and take the initial step that makes the most sense. I cut out red and white meat from my diet. I have gastrointestinal issues, so making this small change improved my energy, digestion, and metabolism. For exercise, I began hiking and walking with my dog, which evolved into jogging and running. Want to try something outdoors? Go to your local park and take a lap around it. Make a game out of it: how many trees can I identify. It may sound silly at first, but I assure you, there’s no harm in feeling a little goofy. You would be surprised by how great it feels to try something new in nature.

2. What’s the best way to keep up the GET.FIT momentum?

I use my iPhone much more nowadays, for the major reason that mood and fitness apps exist. It’s like having a physical trainer at my finger tips. I used Runkeeper to begin my running journey, and it increasingly improved my abilities, distances, and time. Knowing that I get a gentle reminder every few days to get outside has kept up the momentum. I feel I am held accountable when I can track my progress and feel the nudge in the right direction. Other apps can get you out there and meeting people interested in similar outdoor activities, like Meetup for instance. Building confidence through trying something fresh and new is healthy for your SELF.ESTEEM and MENTAL.STATE. Feel like giving it a go?

3. READY.SET.GO!

Just as the Nike tagline goes, JUST.DO.IT! Put one foot in front of the other, take it one day at a time, and get that momentum going. Some days I don’t want to be outside. I give myself a little push by remembering how amazing I feel when I get back after that brisk walk or run. We only have one life to live, and it’s never too late to begin a GET.FIT plan. Talk to your doctor about what exercise is appropriate for you. And look in the mirror when you get back, say that positive affirmation you love, and believe in yourself. Why not get it started on this lovely EARTH.DAY weekend? The planet will thank you. And there’s no day like today.

Ahh, Earth Day, the only day of the year where being able to hacky-sack will get you laid. — Jon Stewart

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