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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Like little boats on a stream – practicing mindfulness everyday.

One of my favourite topics to read about and experiment with is mindfulness and meditative breathing. One of the most important imagery tools I've found involves disconnecting myself from my thoughts and just watching them as if they were seated on individual tiny boats floating along a stream. It's extremely grounding.

To practice this, find a quiet room and take a seat in a comfortable position and just feel yourself breathing (deep, abdominal breathing!). Try to see your thoughts as their own entities, floating by on boats. Do not engage the thoughts, just watch them. It will be difficult at first, you will find yourself analyzing why your friend said that thing the other night, or the argument you had with your partner this morning. When you notice that you have begun to engage the thought, gently bring yourself back to the shoreline by counting down from 10 slowly.

          Then stay again with the moment on the shoreline, watching but not boarding, all the thought-boats floating by.

It will be hard in the beginning as we are so used to just constantly thinking and over-thinking, ie: worrying. But the more you practice, the easier it will be to maintain a mindful state. This is only one aspect of attaining and seeking mindfulness in your life, but it’s helpful to think about your thoughts as things you can choose to think.

By imagining thoughts being physical beings, it makes it easier to push negative ones away. Pair this imagery-tool with the thought-monitoring concept. It will help you manage your anxious or depressing thoughts.

                                                                 Conquer on!

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