Friday, 12 October 2012

Empowering yourself quickly: while coping with anxiety, job-searching or other life challenges.

Well Conquerors, it's back to the grindstone for a lot of us: back to work, back to school, back to real life.
If you are fortunate enough to have a job to come back from the summer holidays from, count yourself lucky. But for those of you finding yourself confused with the next steps in your life, read on!
Don't wait around for opportunities to come to you, you have to go and find them.

This applies to so many different facets in life; particularly when trying to find a job or attend a school of your choice.

We have been raised in a society which fosters the development of entitlement. The educated and intelligent people pouring out of universities and colleges (and high school even) expect that there will be a job waiting for them.

It doesn't always work like that..

Now this isn't to crush dreams and hopes of ever finding something stable and satisfying, but it certainly should serve as a reminder of how to stay focused on things in your life that need immediate attention - especially when job searching. 

In this current economy, the market is less favourable than it was in previous years. Even for those with degrees and experience.

For the average person, losing a job and then embarking on the search for a new one is daunting enough.
For someone who deals with anxiety on a daily basis in a variety of environments, losing a job or searching for a job can be extremely stressful.

There are a few ways that you can take your challenging situation and turn it around to give yourself a bit more power. You can quickly get a sense of control over your situation by writing down three immediate, short-term goals.
Each day, you can write out three things you need to accomplish in order to move you forward in your situation (job-search, coping with anxiety, going to work, whatever your struggle).

An example could be (for job-searching):

1) Polish resume and start a LinkedIn* account
2) Apply to 5 jobs at least (do not be picky, just apply, apply, apply...).
3) Call friends and family and let them know you are available to work – NETWORK!

An example for coping with anxiety or depression:

1) Call up a friend and meet for coffee – take small challenges
2) Clean the dishes (or one dish; whatever you can manage)
3) Write in your journal

The most important rule for goal-setting when coping with anxiety or depression is to ensure your goals have a 95% chance of being reached. That is, if you write it, there is a 95% chance you will do it. If the chance you will succeed is less than that, reduce your expectations.
If you want to go for a walk, but there is not even a chance you’ll get out the door, that goal is too high for you. Drop your goals until they are within your 95% margin of possibility.

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*LinkedIn is useful for online and other applications – it serves as a quick way to reference you when you are job searching. If you include it in the conclusion of your cover letter, or in the contact area of your resume, chances are a potential employer will check it out.
Make sure to include your resume, any skills or talents, and a contact email (be wary about including phone numbers on your online-profiles for safety).

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Driving Anxiety: How to cope when you're going over 100km/h!

We all know driving is dangerous, but we casually get into our cars and drive everyday without thinking more than once about safety - putting on our seatbelts, checking mirrors, and we're off to work, or school, etc.

Until you feel that sense of uneasiness welling up from your stomach, or the fog and pressure building in your head.... Maybe you feel too hot, or cold.... Maybe your vision starts blurring and you start sensing the worst.... And then you end up in a full-blown panic attack, speeding down the highway in a giant metal weapon.

Having panic attacks is extremely rough and having them while in control of a vehicle is monumentally worse.

I have some tips for those of you conquering this issue in your life right now:

1) Deep-breathing techniques

If you perform some deep-breathing you might find that your physiological response tones down enough that you can actually reduce the panic feeling and retreat from the edge of the full-blown panic attack.
If not, at least you will be able to calm yourself sufficiently to pull over.

2) Distracting yourself:
-by adding numbers on license plates you see
-really focusing on what other people in their cars are doing
-talking to yourself, or using a hands-free device to call your friends or parents (or if you are secretive about your panic, your local crisis line). Sometimes just talking with someone, about anything or your particular situation, is extremely helpful for distracting you from the physical or mental stimulation that was pushing your anxiety.

3) Have some snacks and water on hand. Eating a few bites of apple or some popcorn or veggies might help you to refocus yourself, while giving you a bit of nutrition.

4) Track your panic - see if you can find a root cause or causes. If it happens around the same time of day or on the same stretch of road, try to prepare yourself by knowing that it will likely be rough but because you have made it through before, you will again, and again. Gradually, through exposure, and pure Conqueror-spirit, you will be able to drive through those tough spots.

5) Are there other things in your life that you are ignoring or repressing? Relationship or school/work issues? These may be making themselves known in the form of panic attacks in stressful (ie: driving) situations. If you haven't already, talk to a close friend or relative about what's going on for you. If that doesn't help, or doesn't help sufficiently enough to reduce your anxiety, see your doctor or a local counselor.

6) Finally, if these practical approach tips aren't working for you, speak with a local counselor or your doctor about other ways you can manage your anxiety while driving. It may be helpful for you to try some herbal or pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medications.

While you are working out what methods will work the best for you, you can always take the bus on days when it just absolutely won't work for you to drive. Try to find a carpool for your work or school; this will allow you to be more productive on the way to and from work, as well.

Note: I do not advocate avoiding anxiety-triggers, as that will only compound the problem; however, I do advocate remaining safe while figuring out what is best for yourself in these hard times.
If it is for you to carpool or bus while you practice driving at night or on the weekends, then do so.

Be safe, stay calm and Conquer on!

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An engine for change... motivation for self-reflection and self-improvement

Welcome all to Conquer the Clouds.

I started this blog half a year ago with the intention of sharing ideas and coping strategies, information and other things regarding anxiety and depression, motivation and goal-setting and achievement.

I also began this blog with the intention of helping others along their paths of self-improvement and development. I have long since been interested in the psychology of thought and action, as well as the psychology of mental illness. I never really gave an introductory post for Conquer the Clouds because I was still trying to figure out what it was that I wanted to do with it. It is a learning hub, and an engine for change.

I would like to share some of my background and history with you, in order for you to understand CTC's birth a little better.

I remember when I was 8 years old, reading my mom's psychology textbook (she was taking a course at the time, if I recall correctly). I remember being fascinated by everything in it. In highschool, biology became my passion (I am sure if we had highschool level psychology courses, I would have been right onto it). And then in college and university I pursued biology with ferocity - only adding psychology into my life as electives and hobby-reading.

Coming up on a couple years after having graduated, I feel as though I have learned so many things about living, working and being human in our time and society...
My passions have evolved, some have shifted, some have become almost obsolete...

I realize though, that throughout all my experiences, I am not a collection of segmented memories. I am a fluid, ever-experiencing, ever-evolving, and growing person. Every new challenge, and every new failure changes me for the next.

I would like to work with you on your journeys as I take on my own, to find a place in ourselves where, while the world turns, we can remain strong and knowledgeable.

Learning is the ultimate strength. Knowledge is the tool to move us forward.

Take this challenge, to become the strongest you.

Conquer on!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Weekly Challenge 6 - Week of February 5 - February 11, 2012

Hey everyone, hope you had a good Saturday night and have started your day right!

I have missed a couple Weekly Challenges for you guys over the past month, but today I have one in store that I hope many of you will enjoy.

Lately I have been thinking about the things that define me in my life: people, relationships, jobs, hobbies and thinking processes, etc. I have been considering much about how the way we interact with people reflects how we interact with ourselves and how we perceive our environments and experiences.  

My challenge for you to undertake this week is to come up with 5 things you dislike about your traits or behaviours (negative behaviours) and craft a 3-6 month plan of how to conquer at least one of them.

For example, you may not like that you don't spend enough time with your family, or you are not adventurous (don't like starting new hobbies or doing new activities).  Of course I am not suggesting to rip yourself apart and change everything about you, because you are who you are. But if there are traits that *you* don't like in yourself or can see them negatively affecting others and wish to change them, then these are the ones to consider.

In your journal you can write down one of your 5 undesirable traits or behaviours, and underneath it write the goal trait or behaviour (they do not have to be extreme opposites; you might just want to modify an existing trait to be less extreme, for example):

Undersirable trait:         Too conservative/uptight
Desirable trait:              Adventurous and laid-back (This is an extreme change; a more moderate one would be 'flexible' or 'willing to try new things')

3 or 6 months:                3 months

What are actions that promote this trait:

How can I incorporate one or some of these actions into my week:

What are the some obstacles I might face when trying to change my behaviour:

How can I approach these and handle them with grace?

How will I know when I have reached my goal?

Who can I talk to to help me along this journey? Are they supportive? If not, can I find someone who is?

By writing these out, you are forcing yourself to commit to your new behaviour. This is the first step in actualizing a plan for change. By anticipating challenges (obstacles) and writing them down and how you will approach them you will not be blindsided and overwhelmed when they do arise. This allows you to recover from set-backs quicker and helps keep you on track. By reaching out to others you are creating a supportive network that will be essential for you to press onward during rough times and to celebrate with you when you have hit a milestone!

Be careful to set a realistic and attainable goal, however, as something too lofty will only create disappointment.
If you are currently housebound and seeking counseling, planning a 3 month goal of traveling to the other end of the continent by yourself may not be realistic. Discover your personal boundaries, and seek to slowly expand the circle until your goal has come into view. Once you have reached it, re-assess your position, and seek to expand your comfort circle once more.

The idea on the path to wellness is to create a dynamic, flexible and content personality while not compromising on your beliefs and values.

Enjoy this challenge my friends!

Conquer on!

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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Help someone else when you feel helpless: A quick fix for feeling better

Hello Conquerors and welcome to Thursday night!

I hope you have had a fantastic week - I didn't saddle you with a Weekly Challenge this time, but don't fret my friends, another is surely on its way! Look forward to February 5 - 11 Weekly Challenge, posted on Sunday!

What I'd like to discuss today is the act of altruism: that is, helping others without any expectation of returned favours.

When you are feeling depressed or anxious, the tendency is to become very self-focused (in very negative, defeating ways). This can have disastrous outcomes (as explained in The Downward Spiral).
The world becomes increasingly smaller as all you are focused on resides in our heads... This has very real physical feelings as well - it feels as though your body is being crushed on the inside, or you might get that sinking feeling in your stomach or chest...

The outcome is that you start analyzing, and picking yourselves apart... Any of the 13 beliefs to disbelieve may play a part in a negative-bias towards yourselves, as well.

A very quick and effective way to take the heat off of yourselves and free our minds from the torment of constant judgment is to genuinely help someone else, or offer an honest compliment. Showing interest in other people takes the focus off yourself and making someone's day is extremely rewarding.

The feeling of being helpful lets you realize that some or all of the beliefs you may harbour are untrue - being a helpful person means you are not a bad person... It is empirical evidence against the negative voice in your head.

So the next time you are feeling the grip and dark clouds of depression or anxiety, acknowledge your own issues. Do not dwell, however. Move towards helping someone else - whether it be by volunteering to mow an older neighbour's lawn, or doing extra work at your job for a colleague. Anything that is genuine will work.

Do not expect a favour in return: in order to become stronger people you must strive to consider others and their feelings as well as your own. Acknowledging your pain is how you consider yourself; helping others is how you act to show you are a capable, caring person.

Volunteering is a great way to give back. You can volunteer with the SPCA, or with a local homeless shelter, for example.  

Warning: If you find yourself over-extending your assistance to others (including friends) and are starting to feel used, pull back and reconsider if perhaps you are suffering from the cognitive bias I am only worthwhile as long as I am doing something for someone else. (Letter E on the list).

Helping people is not the cure for depression or anxiety but it helps in the short-term for creating a sense of well-being. Helping others and volunteering can become part of a healthy way of living, and everyone can strive to give back to their community in some form.

Conquer on!

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Friday, 27 January 2012

Indecision, confusion, extro- and intro-version...

Hello conquerors,

It's been a while, I apologize for missing this week's Weekly Challenge - I've had some things on the go, and haven't made time to sit down and write for you.

I have been thinking very recently about indecisive behaviour, and the anxiety that precedes and follows it.

When you have depression or anxiety, I think there is a great concern for the opinion of others (possibly because you view yourself negatively, or think your anxiety/depression makes you a bad person). This concern creates expectations of yourself which you may or may not be aware of... Also, it mimics perfectionistic behaviour as well because you'll begin to judge whether what you are saying or thinking is the "right thing" to say... This judgment will halt your thinking process and in turn, your decision process. There is also the weighing out of alternate ideas in your head and their possible outcomes, as well.

So if you're stuck trying to think of the "right thing" to say or the "right thing" to do, you might end up saying/doing nothing at all. This is an example of how analysis can lead to paralysis. You also run the risk of becoming confused and upset or, for extroverted people, "venting" or "airing out".

But let's be honest, how many of you out there can say you feel 100% comfortable saying everything you think? There are very few environments in which to vent possibly confusing ideas that you don't entirely understand but want to 'air out'. (This "airing out" is very common for extroverts, anxious or not)... If you are speaking with or relating to someone who is more introverted, an "airing out" of your thoughts and ideas and emotions might be very overwhelming for them - to the extent that you cross emotional boundaries. You might actually be doing damage even though you think your behaviour is benign... So air yourself carefully and be respectful... It's hard to hold in your thoughts if you're an extrovert because thinking things over by speaking and getting it out of your head is so helpful, this is especially noticeable if you are anxious or depressed in addition.

If you don't have a supportive group to which you can air your thoughts and concerns, I would suggest doing so in your journal, or perhaps into a voice-recorder. Just saying or writing or typing out what you are thinking might help you follow your thoughts better, and perhaps help you connect the dots - without getting someone else involved. (This also saves you from the "back-lash anxiety" of having vented and then worrying if what you said was the wrong thing!!)

Next time you need to "air out" - do so first on paper or online to yourself, then read it over and take out any key points that might still resonate as issues you need to solve.The issue itself may just be that you needed to vent - but you can do so without causing damage to relationships and other people.

If you find that you have "aired out" and yet still feel extremely confused or anxious, seek out a close friend who understands and is willing to listen. Try to come up with positive, workable solutions to the problems you discover. Once those solutions have been crafted, try to stick with them.
Don't get down on yourself if you can't stick with them all the time, no one is perfect - and that mentality will just add to your self-judgment and anxiety/depression even more.

I hope this has been helpful for those of you coping with this interesting aspect of anxiety/depression - that is, the interactions and relationships aspect.

Conquer on!

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Monday, 16 January 2012

Progressive muscle relaxation

Many of you may have heard of this before, and many of you may be completely new to this subject.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique involving the tensing and relaxing of various muscle groups as a way to relieve stress and induce relaxation. PMR was developed in the 1920’s by Edmund Jacobson.

The theory behind the practice is that because muscular tension accompanies mental anxiety and stress, then the opposite (loose, relaxed muscles) will induce relaxation.

In order to properly begin a PMR session – find a comfortable sitting or lying position where you will be undisturbed for 20-30 minutes. It is also nice if you have some soft instrumental music playing (nothing too exciting, just something relaxing).

As with the deep-breathing exercise, I want you to close your eyes.

You may start the breathing exercise as a warm-up for the PMR. Ideally, if you can maintain your breathing during the PMR you will find the most benefit, but in the beginning, do not be discouraged if you find yourself unable to maintain your breathing patterns. This will come with practice.

As you lie or sit there with your eyes closed I want you to feel your body. This may be frightening, as you might be feeling very anxious and focusing on the feeling of your body may exacerbate this, but bear with me.

Next, tighten up all the muscles in all parts of your body and hold for 10 seconds, maintaining your deep-breathing, in and out.

Then release all the muscles of your body, focusing on the warmth and heaviness of them as they relax from the tension. Feel the stress releasing as you relax your muscles.

Do this body-tensing 2 or 3 three times.

Next, after the last relaxing, tense only the muscles in your toes, then your ankles and calves, then your thighs, your hips and butt, your hands, forearms, upper arms, stomach chest and face muscles. Hold this tension for 5-10 seconds. Then slowly release all of those muscles in the backwards order – face first, chest, stomach, hands and arms, then finally thighs and lower legs.

Do this 3 or so times. Finish again with 2-3 full body tenses and relaxes.
Focus on your breathing for another 5-10 minutes, practicing deep, belly-breaths.

The key here is not to rush the tension and relaxing. Slower is better.

You should feel more relaxed after this exercise, but if you are new to breathing or relaxation exercises, you might not feel much different. However, with practice, relaxation will be attainable. You will find yourself eventually doing these tension and relaxation exercises subconsciously in stressful periods.

If you would like to read more about mindfulness and relaxation read this article on thought-monitoring and this one on practicing mindfulness as ways to centre yourself during stressful periods!

Conquer on!

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The nervous system

 Our nervous system has two major divisions: the voluntary and autonomic (involuntary) branches. The autonomic is comprised of the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems. These systems modulate the heart rate, digestive processes, and blood pressure. Either one or the other system is active most of the time, as they are antagonist systems. This means they can’t function at the same time.

Because the sympathetic nervous system is concerned with survival, its activation takes precedence.

The sympathetic nervous system is triggered during states of panic or anxiety, we get a rush of adrenaline into our body and an entire cascade of events occurs to prep your body to fight or flee for survival.
This includes shunting of blood from the digestive organs to the muscles and brain. Both heart rate and blood pressure increase. We may also notice an increase in perspiration.
All of these changes would assist us in a situation where we have to fight or run away from danger. It’s an extremely impressive evolutionary adaptation that serves us well in emergencies, however, when the “emergency” you are facing is not life-threatening, or not even dangerous (like shopping in a crowded grocery store), then it is no longer a positive reaction in your life. This is also the system involved when we find ourselves in a panic attack.  
            What many sufferers of chronic anxiety may experience is a persistent fatigue or tiredness. If the sympathetic nervous system is activated for extended periods of time, the adrenal glands can become stressed, overworked. Also, other organs involved in the process can become tired and our bodies enter a state of ‘depression’. So it’s not uncommon to find people who suffer from anxiety eventually find themselves coping too, with depression.

The other part of the autonomic system is the parasympathetic nervous system. It is in command of relaxation responses and processes (like decreasing heart rate and respiration rate; and promoting digestion and repair of tissues). Just as this system automatically takes over during periods of relaxation, we can trigger its presence during stressful periods by practicing mindful, deep breathing.

Conquer on!


Most people never pay any attention to their breathing. It just happens.

"I’m still alive so there I go..."

But breathing is so much more important that many people realize, and breathing properly is something that has to be re-learned as adults a lot of times because we pick up bad breathing habits like shallow, chest-breathing instead of deep, belly-breathing.

I know this sounds bizarre, but trust me. Breathing is very important in order to attain and maintain a relaxed state.

It is especially effective when combined with progressive muscle relaxation.

In order to breathe “properly”, choose a quiet spot – preferably one where you can lie down. If you cannot lie down, sit comfortably in a chair of your choice.

Place one hand on your belly near your navel, and one on your chest near your sternum.

Close your eyes and inhale through your nose by expanding your belly, ensuring your chest doesn’t also rise – you can tell by whether your chest-hand moves up at all.

Exhale slowly out of your mouth, letting the air find its way out – do not force it out, just let your belly fall.

Concentrate on keeping your breaths even and slow – focus on the air moving through your nose and into your lungs, feel it energizing and calming your body, and feel the stress or anger flowing out with it as you exhale.

Practicing deep-breathing is important for calming yourselves during anxiety and panic, as well as re-energizing and relaxing after a long day. It is also helpful for centering oneself when spiraling into depression. It may not lift your mood but you will at least feel more centered after a breathing exercise.

I have underscored the importance of proper breathing a few times already without ever really explaining the mechanism behind why this is such a powerful tool to be using to reset ourselves during anxious periods. Please read the information in this article for more details about the systems behind why breathing helps calm us down during times of stress and anxiety.

Conquer on!

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Weekly Challenge 5 - Week of January 15 – 21

Welcome back everyone and welcome to the 5th weekly challenge!!

ConquerTheClouds has officially entered the 6th week of existence!

I hope you were able to keep up with the Challenge last week of tracking your moods. If you haven’t been following the Challenges, check out this page for a list of what you’ve been missing out on!

This week, I have come up with a creative-challenge (aren’t they all creative? haha!).

I have been thinking about my future and career-goals and want to make them accessible and manageable. As I have mentioned in Staying Motivated when Discouraged (tip # 3) and in Carving a Staircase out of a Wall in order to set manageable goals we have to chunk them into smaller steps. We can call this prioritizing, as well. This is to help stay motivated and avoid getting discouraged from being unable to complete the entire project or goal all at once. We have to make sure things are time-appropriate.

So, with that! I want everyone to write out a couple big goals (buy a car, go to university, write a song or story, get a job, lose 10 lbs, etc.) and put them onto a flash card, or a medium-sized piece of paper. Colour it with funky colours, or make it fun however you like – this is an important, fulfilling goal of yours! Make it fun!

On separate pieces of paper (smaller if you like, like half sized flash cards – cut them with scissors) write at least 3-5 steps that you can take to make it to your big goal. Make them manageable, and attainable.

Imagine you are trying to get a job. Write that on your card “Get a Job”. On the 1st little paper we can write “write my resume”, on the 2nd we can write “write my cover letter” and so on. These are much easier to manage than thinking about just getting that job and all that entails!

For me, this week, I am going to write my goals on some flash card sized papers and tape them to my bathroom mirror (or on a wall or door I see every day). I want you to do the same. Tape your goals to a surface that you see often. This will help to refocus your mind if you find it difficult to concentrate, and also provide you with motivation to complete your goals.

If you have no goals for your life at this point, this week can be for brainstorming! Make it fun and wacky as well as serious as your write down your life goals – you can put things like 'having a dinosaur-shaped pool in your backyard by the time you’re 30' as well as 'becoming a doctor'. It doesn’t always have to be serious, but having well-defined, attainable goals for life are important as they provide a sense of purpose and let you feel satisfied and fulfilled.

Now, get to it! :D

If you haven’t been following the Weekly Challenges, start here today!

Thanks for reading!

                                                    Conquer on!

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Bumpy roads!

I don’t know how many of you sometimes actually feel that you want to be depressed, or angry or otherwise in a bad mood when it starts coming on... The oxymoronic thing about depression is that, though one may want to feel better or good, thoughts and moods are like water – they travel and follow the easiest path. If you have spent many years thinking and feeling particular ways, then it is likely that in times of stress, or just in general, you will continue to think that way.

As an example, imagine a crevice slowly etched over the years into rock by a river or quick-moving stream. Your thoughts are like that water, gradually finding the softest and most malleable parts of the rock substrate. Eventually, a path is formed and the water will travel that easiest and least-resistant way.

This is also why when you are trying to fight these long-engrained habits that you find it difficult – imagine trying to make that water travel over the raised parts of the rock, it’s just not possible (because it’s water!) but we are lucky that as humans we have control over our reactions, if not some over our moods as well.

What do I want you to take from this?

On the road of life (because that’s what this is) we are going to encounter days and times when we are not on the top of our game or moods. Accept it, and try to learn from the situation that you find yourself in. Be easier on yourself when you are feeling low. Reach out if you are finding you need someone to talk to. And remember that it doesn’t mean you have failed just because you have hit one bump. Think about the drive to work (or my one-hour drive to work!) and how many bumps you must hit on the way! Can you remember exactly where they are? I am sure you notice them while actually driving, but in moments you have forgotten them. Just as with those bumps, you will eventually forget these mood-bumps, so don’t worry about them affecting your future. Likely no one else will notice either.

So, accept your mood today. Understand that it doesn’t change you as a person, and that it is transient and that you have the ability to modify your reactions to situations as they occur. It can also help to track your moods and thoughts in your journal. Work on the moment – cope with your symptoms as they arise, and focus on the positive things in your life. This will help you dig a way out of a hole if you find yourself slipping down.

                                                            Conquer on!

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Monday, 9 January 2012

Weekly Challenge 4 - Week of January 8 – 15

Welcome back everyone! This week's challenge is a few hours late, but I hope you enjoyed last week’s challenge of the 10 things you find fun to do.

I have come up with an interesting challenge this week:

In your journal, along with the three things per day that go well, start recording your mood upon waking and before sleeping. Also, during the day, begin to notice when your mood starts to dip or falter, or you feel that twinge of sadness well up from “nowhere”. Pause and before engaging the feeling – ask yourself what went through your mind at that moment.

This approach to mindfulness will help you track your moods. If you can find out what things are triggering your bad moods you might be able to circumvent a slide into depression or at least prevent it from being so intense because you’ll know it’s just those thoughts and you don’t have to engage the feelings to their full extent.

If you haven’t been following the Weekly Challenges, start here today!

Thanks for reading!

                                                     Conquer on!

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