Monday, 16 December 2013

Architect of Your Own Fortune

 (PHOTO: Me on part of the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa)

Everyone is the architect of their own fortune. 

This quote (adapted to fit today's language styles) has been credited to various people, but Appius Claudius Caecus (340 BC – 273 BC) said it first in a speech addressed to Cineas, declaring that Rome would never surrender.

 How does that apply to you, here in the 21st century? There is deep wisdom in the phrase. It implies that everyone has the power to direct their own lives; create the fortune that makes them happiest. 

 You hold the key to unlocking your ultimate life. 

           You also hold the key to beating depression, anxiety or whatever you may be fighting. It's not easy to have your ultimate life, or reach your full potential. It's difficult. Really difficult. Most things worth anything are very hard to get, or achieve. That is part of what makes them so alluring, and in the end, so rewarding. Would you feel as proud if you achieved something without even trying? No (well maybe you would, but I'm guessing no), you'd feel bored. Part of achieving your goals and reaching your pinnacle is the road along the way. The obstacles you overcome help you grow and gain strength (mentally, physically and spiritually). 

           Though the path you desire to carve through life may seem daunting, and reaching your goals impossible, it doesn't have to be so. Especially when you remember that you have the power in yourself, and you can control your choices. Control is generally an illusion. We can't control the weather, or nature. But we can control our reactions to events and our choices in life. 

            In following our paths we will come across obstacles, they are an inevitable part of life. We will fall down. Nothing is perfect. Life is not perfect. Life is not fair. There is only one way past these obstacles: "adapt and overcome"; to borrow a phrase used so often by Bear Grylls (survivalist, writer and producer). 

            Though his shows are generally over-the-top, somewhat set-up and usually involve an inordinate amount of creature-killing, his expression is exactly what so many of us need to hear. And it's not just applicable to surviving nights out in the flat tundra of the arctic. 

           To adapt and overcome applies to so many facets of life. Overcoming any obstacle or challenge naturally involves accepting the situation and gradually re-adjusting our route. We can choose to get stuck behind the obstacle and sit there, waiting. But the obstacle will go nowhere and neither will we. Only when we choose to be the Architect of Our Own Fortune and press forward, adapting to our situations and overcoming them gradually with the help of friends, family and other social networks will we move forward on our journeys to health, happiness and success.

Please take a few moments to listen to this very motivating song by a progressive metal band from Sweden:
Circus Maximus - Architect of Fortune

 If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to Conquer The Clouds

Other topics you may be interested in: 

 What motivates you?

Engine for Change - Motivation for self-relection and self-improvement. 

Staying Motivated when Discouraged

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Give yourself a break! 10 signs it's time to put your feet up!

Photo credit to Conquer The Clouds (Trees of the Cloud Forest, Oaxaca, Mexico)
Sometimes you don't know when it's time to stop and relax. Take a small break to recharge. You all have an inner feeling about when things are too much, or overwhelming, but some of you just ignore these feelings and press on. The problem with forcing yourselves to go on even though you feel your emotional resolve weakening is that it makes you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Letting yourselves take a break from your daily routines, a challenging project or task is healthy and will let you return with more vigor afterwards.

Here are 10 signs you may be exhibiting that signal it's time for a break (even just a little one). 
1. You're drawing blanks.

You can't seem to think straight, everything seems like a blur and you're frustrated. You have too many things on the go, and piling more on or pushing forward might be detrimental to your end goals. This is a definite sign you are overwhelmed and nearing a breaking point.

2. You're not scheduling sleep into your life

Cliché but, even Rome wasn't built in a day. You need to sleep in order to have energy to do the things you want. Sleep is the most basic restorative state you can enter. Denying yourself enough time to sleep and recharge your body is setting you up to fail as your energy wanes. If you aren't getting enough sleep because of insomnia then it could be a sign that you are overworking yourself.

3. Friends are something other people have.

I posted a while back about the power of friends as a buffer for low moods. These friends won't help you stay out of the gutter if you don't make time to see them. It's not a threat, just a reality. This is a sign that your life is out of balance and you need a break to re-connect with the people you care about. Even a quick coffee or lunch can make a big difference in your mood and energy levels.

4. You aren't taking the time to eat or nourish yourself.

If most of the crumbs from your daily meals are landing in places like your computer keyboard or between your car seats, or you find you don't even have time to eat, then you know it's time to slow down. Savouring a healthy meal and taking the time to appreciate the flavours goes a long way to preventing burnout. I'm not saying you should sit at the table, then proceed to shovel food into your mouths and then run off again, but actually taking thoughtful bites of each food and being present in the moment.

5.  You're not scheduling FUN into your life.

This one is a hard one to swallow... FUN is a nasty three-lettered word for overachievers and work-aholics. The very thought of spending time doing something enjoyable can feel scary to some who aren't used to taking a step back, taking a few deep-breaths and enjoying life. But if your life has gotten to the point where fun is being omitted on a regular basis, there is going to be a problem. This also goes for people suffering depression. In depression, the "fun-button" gets worn out and doesn't work anymore, things are really bleak and negative. But fun won't happen if you don't schedule something "fun" into your life. You may not have fun, but the trick is to just get into the habit of scheduling enjoyable activities in your life. Eventually you will start to feel a semblance of pleasure, and then start looking forward to those activities.

6. You aren't making time for exercise and fresh-air.

 Your schedule is so packed you go from one place to the next until you come home exhausted, fall into bed, all without ever going outside for a walk or a run or whatever sports you might enjoy. Combine this with number 4 and you have a recipe for disaster. We are animals and we need to move. Getting outside for even just a short brisk walk is enough to reap the benefits of our naturally-occurring feel-good chemicals: endorphins!

 7. Your body is starting to fall apart.

Your muscles are tense and painful, you're getting headaches frequently, or your stomach is constantly in knots. These are real physical signs that you're pushing too hard and need to slow down. If your days are plagued with physical ailments that are likely resulting from your hectic lifestyle, you definitely need a break it may be time to speak with your doctor about the effect of your stress on your body.

8. Your friends are telling you you're too busy.

Our friends and family often see situations more objectively than we do. If you are noticing that friends and family are saying things like "we never see you anymore" or "you're always too busy", then it's likely they're expressing true concern. Take note of their comments and re-assess your priorities.

9. You miss bill payments.

Your home office (or your kitchen counter!) is starting to look like a paper-version of Jenga... only with much more at stake than just a messy floor. Your bills are piling up and you haven't made time to sit down with them, crunch the numbers and get your finances in line. This is a costly side-effect of being too busy and not taking the time for all our obligations. It's also likely that your feelings of being overwhelmed make it hard to think about starting this task as well.

10. You're wishing for a snow-day.

The alarm goes off and the last thing you want to do is leave the bed. It could be the middle of July, but you're lying there wishing for a snow-day. Your brain is overwhelmed, you're dreaming of staying home, cuddling up on the couch to watch a movie, or clean your bathroom and have a tea. Whatever it is that you're dreaming of, it's a sign you need to take that well-deserved break.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to Conquer The Clouds

Other topics you may be interested in:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Engine for Change - Motivation for self-relection and self-improvement.

Motivating and encouraging statements - Help yourself stay above the water!

Staying Motivated When Depressed; 5 Ways to Fight the Sludge of Depression/Anxiety!


"A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step"

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." 
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu 
Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)
          Today I was speaking with a friend about motivation, road-blocks and walls. We are both musicians, and aspire to create. There is nothing like the feeling of cohesive music that just flows from your mind into your instrument and out into beautiful music. There is nothing like writing the perfect poem or story, or achieving your goals. But there are so many potential obstacles that can arise along the way. The thoughts of encountering these obstacles, or actually encountering them, is enough to stop most people's motivation dead in its tracks.

The same is true for coping with depression or anxiety. There are many walls and obstacles that can crop up - some may be physical, some may be emotional/mental. Sometimes the simplest task is overwhelming and the urge to shrink from it is strong. Getting out of bed some days can be very hard for some people. Facing a personal fear can be daunting. Finding the will inside to keep pressing forward, through the emotional fog and walls can be exhausting. Finding the motivation can sometimes seem impossible.

As people, we don't often give ourselves credit where it's due; we are our own hardest critics, our worst judges. It has been said before and it's true. But this mindset doesn't help to keep you motivated, and it definitely doesn't keep you feeling mentally well. We rarely look behind us to see where we have come, the challenges we have conquered, the goals we have achieved. We are constantly looking forward, berating ourselves for not being there yet, not being better yet, not being good enough.

When taking on a big battle like fighting depression and anxiety, or setting long-term goals, or starting a new routine or habit, people don't often acknowledge the little steps they take along the way in order to make it to the end goal. It's an all-or-nothing, black-and-white perspective that will leave them feeling defeated.

I didn't do all the tasks I had set out today. I'm a failure. 
I didn't run the whole 5km. I didn't succeed.
I didn't.... 

This list can go on.

But, chances are, you did do some of the tasks on your list. And chances are you at least put on your shoes, maybe took a few steps, maybe you ran half your 5k. Chances are, you did do something to help you achieve your goal. These are little steps.

They are the most important steps you will take.

Little steps are what set you in motion for sustaining habits; they are the power behind the inertia of routine. They will get you to where you are going.

Be happy with the little steps, as they are the biggest part of your journey.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to Conquer The Clouds

Other topics you may be interested in:

Overwhelmed? Carve a Staircase Out of a Wall!

Engine for Change - Motivation for self-relection and self-improvement.

Motivating and encouraging statements - Help yourself stay above the water!

Staying Motivated When Discouraged

Friday, 6 December 2013

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - Do you have it? What can you do about it?

The days get shorter, you seek out your fuzzy pyjamas, and break out the winter coats. It sounds like a great prelude to a 'winter wonderland' but for some people (approximately 1-10% of the North American population) the darker winter months can spell emotional disaster. (Note: it is also possible to have Seasonal Affective Disorder during summer).

People who are affected by SAD experience a general drop in mood (depression), a tendency to want to sleep more, eat more and have low energy. (SAD during the summer can include periods of exacerbated anxiety).

The symptoms of SAD mimic those of depression.

There are a few treatments available including light therapy, medication (typical anti-depressants), and
cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Light therapy uses a lightbox or set of LED lights in a panel that emits far more lumens than normal room lighting (2,500-10,000 lux compared to 400-600 lumens). A bright, sunny day is around 5,000-7,000 lumens.
There is evidence to suggest that the alterations of melatonin* secretion affected by the changing photoperiod (the time and amount of light in a day) affects the seasonal mood cycles of SAD. Light therapy has a positive effect on SAD by altering the secretion of melatonin, modifying the circadian-rhythm as well as sleep patterns. The most effective time of day seems to be early morning just after awakening. But your individual "dosing" schedule may differ (in the evening, for example) depending on your body's reaction to the light therapy.

If medication is something that works for you, speak with your doctor. Ask whether herbal alternatives like St. John's Wort are suitable if you are interested in alternatives (be careful when selecting herbal remedies as the strength of each "batch" is variable - it really depends on the health and harvest of the plants). And if you are interested in typical pharmaceutical treatments for depression/anxiety, let you doctor know.

Additionally, there are many ways to integrate cognitive-behavioural therapy into your life, and speaking with your doctor to ask about local programs or therapists they can recommend is a good first step. Always make sure the person you are considering as your counselor/therapist is certified (either a psychologist, psychiatrist, certified counselor, etc.). Some of these are *not* covered by insurance, so make sure with your insurance company what kind of coverage you have.

And then get back to baking those Christmas cookies!

Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, please subscribe to Conquer The Clouds

Other topics you might be interested in: 

Vitamin D and Mental Health

Anxiety - What's it all about anyways?

Top 10 Depression Symptoms

The Nervous System

*Melatonin is a hormone in the brain that signals it’s time to sleep. Read more about sleep and anxiety here.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Top 10 Depression Symptoms - When To See Your Doctor

 Feeling down or out-of-sorts is common for many people and is usually a transient state. But, if these down-in-the-dumps feelings linger for a longer period of time, you may be dealing with depression.

Here are 10 common symptoms of depression (in no particular order):

1) You lose interest in your 'fun' activities: Your ability to enjoy once pleasurable pastimes and hobbies is diminished or non-existent. You may isolate yourself, ignore social invites and find your sex-drive is low.

2) You're sleeping more... or less: This is usually one of the first signs for many people. An inability to sleep, or falling asleep too late at night (if you're a shift-worker, this is a bit different). Also, waking very early, or having difficulty waking in the morning is common in many people suffering from depression. Total sleep time may be reduced or increased.

3) Difficulty concentrating on tasks: You are finding it hard to think straight, make decisions or remember. You may feel like you are in a "fog", or scatterbrained. You may be falling behind in school or having difficulties staying focused at work.

4) You are feeling hopeless and helpless: You feel as though things in your life are terrible and won't improve. You feel incapable of changing your situation and trapped.

5) Your body feels depressed: You're tired, slow, lethargic. You have no energy and even getting up to get a glass of water can feel like a marathon. Getting out of bed is very difficult, and you may not even make it that far.

6) Feelings of guilt and worthlessness: Self-loathing, harsh self-criticism and negative thought patterns regarding yourself. You pick on your "faults" and past mistakes, ruminating over them endlessly. This drives your feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness.

7) Changes in your appetite or weight: You notice a significant (5% or more in a month) change in body weight - either gain or loss. You may feel hungrier than normal, or less than normal. You may notice you have specific food cravings (ie: fatty foods, salty foods, sugary foods, high-carbohydrate foods like pastas, etc.)

8) You are experiencing unusual/unexplained body pains/aches: You may be experiencing more headaches, back pain, muscle-aches or stomach-aches with no known cause.

9) You feel a deep need to "escape" your life: You abuse drugs or alcohol to numb your feelings or drown out your thoughts, you may gamble compulsively, or drive dangerously and recklessly or participate in dangerous or extreme sports. Also, if you find yourself spending many long hours in front of a computer screen browsing the internet or playing video games, you may also be exhibiting escapist behaviour.

10) You feel angry, on-edge or irritable: Every little thing is bothersome for you, you lose your temper at trivial issues, perhaps getting into fights with friends and/or family. Everyone and everything is getting on your nerves. You feel restless and agitated. Maybe you are beginning to exhibit signs of violence or feelings of violence.

If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms with no known other causes and have been feeling this way for most days of the past two weeks, see your doctor and discuss the possibility of depression. They may have you fill out a questionnaire to determine if you are depressed and if you are - how depressed. Treatment options are extensive and include: various types of therapy, medications*, natural herbs and remedies*, self-help programs and books, etc. Your doctor will point you in the right direction.

*Please speak with a pharmacist prior to using any medications or natural medicines as they may interact with other medicines or food you may be taking. Please read the bottle and pamphlet on any prescription or over-the-counter medication you take.

***** If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide or speaking about suicide call your local crisis-hotline numbers or the emergency department immediately.*****

Crisis number USA:  ( 1-800-273-TALK (8255))
Crisis numbers in Canada:
Crisis number Australia:

Please subscribe to subscribe to Conquer The Clouds

Other topics you may be interested in:

The Nervous System 

13 Beliefs to Disbelieve 
The downward spiral: the fastest way down!
Staying motivated when discouraged

Sleep, Insomnia and Anxiety

Monday, 2 December 2013

What motivates you?

Hey Conquerors!

I wanted to discuss the topic of motivation and let you tell me what motivates you to do the things you do.

I actually started writing this particular blog a couple of months ago, but got side-tracked by life.

Today I submitted an application for a prestigious national scholarship award. It has taken weeks to get it prepared and I spent 9 hours today, grueling over the smallest details, to make it perfect. Motivation was hard, but I felt let down this morning when I inadvertently missed a deadline for something else that was much less important. Still the feeling was negative. I felt angry at myself, and upset - sad that I missed out on an opportunity (to win extra tickets to a show in the States!).

So my motivation to get my application done before the due date (tomorrow!) was negatively influenced as well as positively influenced... I felt the negative side of missing a deadline for something already and knew that if I missed this deadline, I would feel much worse.
The thought of how proud I would feel, or how excited I would feel if I won the award motivated me to ignore all the potential distractions waiting for me on the internet.
I am just proud of the fact that I got the application completed and submitted. It required a very detailed, thorough research proposal supported by literature as well as reference letters. I had to be organized, and efficient in order to get it done. I did it though, my internal and external motivating factors helped me get it done, and I am feeling good about it.

The things that motivate me in my life and in striving for my goals (which are numerous) include:

Success - completing my goals is an intrinsic motivating factor for me; also being recognized by leaders in the fields I take interest in is an extrinsic motivating factor for me.

Creativity - I am motivated to create and share (music, writing, etc.). I would say my drive to create is mostly intrinsic, though it does feel good to be acknowledged or complimented on your creations.

Growth - I am motivated to grow into my best potential self, learning everything and anything I can about the things I love or take deep interest in. I want to be the best at the things I do, or at least *my* best.

Fixing/Troubleshooting - I can't stand when things break or don't work. I need to know why/how and then fix them.

Those are just a few things I can think of right now.

What motivates you? Tell me in the comments form! :)

  If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to Conquer The Clouds

Other topics you may be interested in:

Engine for Change - Motivation for self-relection and self-improvement.

Motivating and encouraging statements - Help yourself stay above the water!

Conquer on!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Friends and Family: The Built-in Buffer

Today I will write about the power of friendship and the poison of isolation and how the balance between the two can make or break your mental health.
When someone is feeling down or out of sorts, they tend to develop an affinity for being alone. Unfortunately this is usually the opposite of what they should be trying to do!

It's almost as though they think it will get better if they just wait it out, stay in bed longer, sleep more, sleep-it-off, draw the blinds, and shut out the world... ignore reality.

But the world won't wait and it won't really ever go away. So you have to catch yourselves and pull yourselves out (in very serious situations medication may sometimes be needed but you must consult with your physician).

It can be really hard to find the motivation to do anything let alone get out of bed sometimes. And if you find yourself constantly stretched thin and weary, then perhaps you need to do some self-reflection. This is easiest when writing in your journal.

It helps you to connect with yourself, regain perspective, expose thoughts and desires or fears of recent (or past) events in your life that may be affecting you now... It's a great place to work through confusing life situations or help you with major decisions. (It's even really fun just to doodle sometimes).

Even though the most enticing thing could be to hole up in the basement and vegetate, maybe the better thing to do is pick up your phone and call your friends. Try to organize a small (or large!) social gathering. If you find that you have few or no friends, maybe it's time to join a club or a community center and expand on your interests. Staff at local recreation centers are usually pretty knowledgeable about what is happening in the community. You could even check your local newspapers, or see if the city website has anything going on.

It is hard to make friends, but when you have them, they are an important buffer for protecting your mental health. Family is also very important. All the positive social interactions you experience serve to help maintain a good state of mental health. Facebook has been taking place of real-life interactions and while in some cases this is a good stand-in (long-distance friend/relation-ships, while traveling, etc.), nothing really beats a face-to-face conversation.

 With that, I will leave you with a few small things to help you get motivated and start turning the downward spiral around:

- Try to make time for friends and family
- Join clubs/develop interests and skills
- Meet people (if you are shy, or have social anxiety, I will address these topics at a later date!)
- Write in your journals to self-reflect and re-connect with yourself; get grounded.

Conquer on!

 If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to Conquer The Clouds

Other topics you may be interested in:
An engine for change... motivation for self-reflection and self-improvement 

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