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Flexible Thinking Part 2: Flexible Thinking and Mental Health

In my last post, Flexible Thinking Part 1, I reviewed what flexible thinking is and its benefits. Over the last few months, we have all been “thrown in the deep end” of flexible thinking as the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to make adjustments. Flexible thinking, or the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations, helped us transition to distance learning, working, shopping, and socializing. 

In this post, I briefly highlight how flexible thinking can improve and help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety:

  • Depression tells us things will never change and reduces hope for the future. Flexible thinking applied to depression recognizes the opportunity each day and, in each situation, to do something different and breaks down negative feedback loops.
  • Anxiety feeds on possible, but unlikely, scenarios playing out in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Flexible thinking reminds anxious minds they have the resources around and within them to solve current and future problems and to create solutions to those problems. In short, flexible thinking focuses on “possibilities rather than deficiencies.”

What can we do to increase and improve our mental flexibility? 

Engaging in mindfulness activities, (think deep breathing, meditation and guided imagery) yoga, aerobics and relaxation techniques have all been shown to increase executive functions and mental flexibility. Research has also shown we can also enable flexible thinking through positive affect (positive emotions such as cheerfulness, pride and energy and their expression), openness to experience and self-control.

As we consistently engage in flexible thinking, we can have more control over our thoughts and responses, reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration and stress, meet our goals and successfully navigate the changing circumstances in our everyday lives and interpersonal relationships. 

Emerald Robertson, M.S.Ed., ACMHC, NCC

Reference:

Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review30(7), 865-878.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-inner-life-students/202003/flexibility-in-the-midst-crisis

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Be Present: Sage Advice from Kung Fu Panda

One of the best things we can do for our mental, emotional, and physical health is to simply live in the present moment. The phrase is becoming cliché, but that doesn’t mean its significance has reduced. Rather than living fully today, we often spend our entire day worrying about what’s coming up in the next one. Or, we waste away our lives regretting and lamenting what we have (or haven’t) done in the past. Neither of these strategies are helpful in getting the most out of the here and now. So, how do we stay in the present? Here are a few tips:

Do a little bit of writing (or reflecting) each day, preferably with a pen and paper

In our fast-paced world, we feel like we are working at a million miles per hour. Writing helps slow things down and clear our minds, which is very therapeutic. To write clearly is to think clearly. There’s a power in writing down our thoughts and expressing what we are thinking and feeling.

Put away the technology!

Smart phones, iPads, and computers are constantly distracting and “stimulating” our minds. Put them away! Be present where you are, especially if your children or those closest to you are competing for your attention. You won’t regret it.

Take time to breathe

Obviously, we are all breathing throughout the day, but sometimes its just enough to survive! We want to thrive, not just survive. Take a step back, and take a few deep breaths. Not only is this good for the nervous system, but deep breathing is a useful tool in grounding us and helping us develop a healthier perspective on life.

In conclusion…slow down. Enjoy the present moment. Soak it in. In our pop-tart, microwave society, we are always running from place to place, both literally and figuratively. Take some time each day to reflect, put away the technology, and practice being fully present in the moment.

Maybe I have been watching too much Kung Fu Panda with my boys, but like Master Oogway says: Yesterday is History, Tomorrow’s a Mystery, Today is a Gift…That’s Why They Call it the Present.

Please, if you have found other ways that have helped you stay present and joy in the moment, share in the comments or share with your friends. I would love to hear your ideas.

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Anger Management Series – Part 3

Here are a few more tips for handling anger. As mentioned, process and handle your anger, don’t discount it and push it away.

Relaxation:

  • Try deep breathing exercises.
  • Repeat a phrase to relax your self like ‘take it easy’ or ‘you’re ok’ to calm yourself down.
  • Use imagery and go to your ‘happy or quiet place’
  • Exercise!

Cognitive Restructuring

  • Change the way you think.
  • Be more rational – “It’s the end of the world” can change to “It’s frustrating but understandable. It’s not the end of the world and overreacting never really fixes anything.”
  • Avoid phrases that start or end with never, always, or demand.
  • Logic can defeat your anger.

Problem Solving

  • Not all anger is displaced.
  • Don’t focus on the solution, focus on the process.

Improved Communication

  • Don’t act on your conclusions – they might be wrong. Clarify what’s going on by asking and using a conversation.
  • Listen to what’s going on.
  • Try not to fight back

Use Humor

  • Humor can diffuse rage quickly.

Change the Environment

  • Give yourself a break!
  • Don’t avoid confrontation but don’t put yourself in frustrating situations either.

Use Appropriate Timing for Conversations

  • Typically places like in front of the TV or when people are busy aren’t ideal conversation places.
  • If you have a confrontation situation then try planning a better place to talk where you can both focus on yourself.

Learn Assertiveness Training

  • Take a class on being more assertive rather than confrontational.
  • See a counselor for assertiveness training.

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Deep Breathing… How Can This Possibly Make Me Feel Better?

Wasatch Family TherapyA lot of therapists do deep breathing exercises with their clients and what’s going through your mind might be… does that really do anything? How can just breathing help make me feel better? I breathe all the time and it’s never helped me before! Well, here are a few benefits of  deep breathing:

1) Deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen you take in which then releases tension in your body
2) Deep breathing massages your organs increasing and improving circulation
3) Deep breathing can actually strengthen and tone your stomach… who doesn’t want that?
4) Deep breathing can actually help you burn up excess fat… also something we all want
5) Deep breathing increases oxygen levels right? Increasing the amount of oxygen gives you more energy!
6) Deep breathing increases the pleasure chemicals in your brain making you feel happier and can even combat physical pain
7) If you put your mind into concentrating on ‘inhaling’ and ‘exhaling’ it clears your mind of whatever you were previously thinking about giving you a break from the stresses in your life, depressed thoughts, etc. How? Your mind can only think of one thing at one time so you’re concentrating on breathing and not anything else.

Just 15-20 minutes a day can help you feel better and give you all of those benefits. We all have 15 minutes right?

Learn more about deep breathing exercises…

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