The Key to Improving your Anxiety – Do What Makes you Anxious (and stop excessively washing your hands)

After a little break from technology I am back with some new blog post ideas and a calmer mindset, yay ๐Ÿ™‚ I originally meant for this blog to be aimed at people with emetophobia, as the resources I found on other blogs when I was suffering with it were pretty unhelpful and actually made my phobia worse.
In short – The phobia revolves around vomit, and the tips I saw online to ‘help it’ were mostly just advice on how to avoid vomiting or seeing vomit in every situation. That is not only unrealistic and unhealthy, but is exactly the kind of advice someone who is desperate to never face their fear looks out for. Only, that it reinforces vomit to be something to be scared of and the phobia cycle continues (I have outlined this in a prior blog post).

Face what you fear (maybe not dangerous animals though, as they could actually kill you… How about starting with irrational anxieties?)
Image source: https://coreaspect.org/way-for-facing-your-fears-and-bounce-back/

Anywho, I have recovered from my phobia by slowly doing things that make me nervous or anxious. But I feel like this applies to all types of anxiety – You need to do what makes you anxious for you to realise it really is nothing to be anxious about, which is also empowering in itself. The thing is, it is really uncomfortable in the moment; You might cry, maybe you’ll have a panic attack, but I promise you, you will not die, and over time you will decrease your suffering!

Let’s take a personal example of mine: Washing one’s hands! Even though I have pretty much overcome my phobia, this was still a big topic in my life the past few months. When people around me did not wash their hands before cooking or after going to the bathroom, I would not only get uncomfortable but I might even start a fight. I would cry a few tears and possibly insult their hygiene as a way to protect myself and make my fear of germs seem valid. But making them wash their hands will only validate germs as a bad thing, and it could even harm them mentally and physically when excessively done! That made me realise, my thoughts and behaviour were catastrophic and obsessive – Yes, washing your hands is important, but it’s not as dramatic as my mind made it out to be.

Let’s be honest, today’s society has huge (ridiculous) hygiene standards of constantly using antibacterial gels and wipes. That is important for some settings, but for the typical person with a fear of germs, this can become excessive and unhealthy. Where do we draw the line?
Image source: https://www.cdc.gov/features/handwashing/index.html

This past month I faced my fear of not having ‘clean’ hands very dramatically by pretty much only washing them when they were visibly dirty (and most toilet breaks). Of course, washing your hands after going to the toilet is a hygienic standard, but I am glad I can calmly go take a pee-break at night without having to worry in bed that I did not wash my hands. Might sound gross, but hey I’m still alive and healthy and my excessive worry is gone too!

So – The only way I got over my excessive worry about my own and other people’s hand-washing behaviours was by drastically changing mine to be what I very much feared. Yes, I was uncomfortable and felt dirty, but living through the after effects of not having overly cleansed hands and seeing I was fine, reinforced that my worry was simply unhelpful and false. Doing what makes you anxious is the empowering challenge you might need, to show yourself how strong you are. It’s all about believing in yourself and being patient ๐Ÿ™‚

How I went from Feeling Lonely to Being Happy Alone

I think everyone knows the feeling of not wanting to be alone – Of course, as humans have a natural social instinct. But there is a fine line between wanting some company compared to needing people around you to be happy. I have compiled a quick list of things that helped me to love being alone (maybe a little bit too much, I am already an introvert by nature), and how I learnt to completely enjoy my own company

  • Remind yourself – You do not need other people around you to be happy. In fact, you should live by the exact opposite; You are the only constant and continuous support in your life, so become the source of your own happiness. Being alone does not in any way influence how you should feel about yourself, as you can become completely in control to regulate your self-esteem!
This cute picture sums it up for me – You have to look after yourself and learn to support yourself, which will make being alone a much happier place
Picture source: https://medium.com/@iamnancyruffin/why-letting-go-of-toxic-relationships-is-a-form-of-self-care-c9818445d410
  • Do activities by yourself you enjoy – Some of my hobbies are solitary activities already, such as reading, sewing, and knitting. Of course it is nice at times to have company, but it’s not essential for these activities. So use such hobbies as something to look forward to when you get to be alone – For one, I love having the house to myself as it means I can read in silence, or I can practice my singing and piano without bothering anyone. On top of that, if you want to go shopping, see a movie, or eat out but have nobody to join, still go for it! I have never seen anyone judge someone who is alone in a cinema or restaurant, and if someone does judge you, it reflects badly on them, not on you ๐Ÿ™‚
Productive activities by yourself that you look forward to make your time alone something you can look forward to! Enjoy it while it lasts ๐Ÿ™‚
Picture source: https://www.pinchofattitude.com/i-love-being-alone-10-guilty-pleasures/
  • Entertaining yourself is important – The ability to amuse yourself and laugh while you’re alone is so important! Just because you are alone, it does not mean you can’t have fun – Yes, it might be a bit odd if someone sees you laugh all to yourself, but it makes you happy and also builds your charisma for when you are around others! It also makes you radiate happiness and positivity ๐Ÿ™‚
Apparently women laughing alone with salad is a thing on the internet, but hey she seems to be having a great time, and so can you!
Picture source: https://www.thehairpin.com/2011/01/women-laughing-alone-with-salad/
  • Get off social media – Seeing pictures of other people enjoying their time together is neither fun nor productive. Do something to keep your mind focussed on yourself and your joy. Scrolling through other people’s lives makes you build a negative connection to social media sites, and it probably is a very invaluable part of your day.
Spending time on social media leads you to compare and degrade yourself. This can make your time alone feel painful and you get into a ‘lonely and not good enough’ mindset, so go offline to feel better.
Picture source: https://thebannercsi.com/2019/02/04/the-craze-is-on-surviving-without-social-media-for-a-week/

So, remember – The opposite of loneliness is not surrounding yourself with people. It’s all about the mindset, and the only way to stop feeling lonely is by looking at your time alone in a different, more positive, light! Be productive, do things you enjoy, and remember that being okay with being alone is so important to feeling positive in life. If you do want company, reach out to your friends and family, I promise they won’t bite or judge you ๐Ÿ™‚

Buy Less, Make More – Improve Your Mindset by Crafting :)

This past week I focussed on being less greedy and more charitable, but this post will focus on how I have neglected greed by creating more. I will be upfront and say I am quite charitable as a person – I like to give my time and efforts to volunteering and other people. At home, I live out my generosity by running errands for my Animal Crossing villagers and, of course, cooking or helping with other household tasks. But greed is something that eats away at the modern day person, which is sadly due to a materialist and consumerist society encouraging an excessive ownership of cheap and low-quality items.

Nowadays, we often buy cheap things that easily break and aren’t actually useful. Rather than consuming, make items you require so that you waste less money and plastic!
Picture source: https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-good-and-bad-sides-of-consumerism

Greed is the desire of possessing certain things in life, which I have seen in my own life concerning clothing and food. While the sin of greed is opposed by the virtue of being charitable, to me the opposite of greed is a mixture of giving and being grateful. While you should give more and take less, you should also learn to be grateful for what you already own so that you consume and desire less.

This is something I am currently progressing towards in life, by changing how much and what I buy, and instead working towards making items I need myself. This means I sew, knit and craft almost every day, which not only teaches me patience, but also leads to owning items that are better in quality and are much more appreciated – I also consume and waste less, which is not only good for one’s soul but also the environment. By needing time to create what I want or desire, I find that my mindset on owning items has taken a shift, and I am much happier and grateful for what I have in life.

I wanted a cute pink shirt, so I made one! It was a bit tedious (as you can see from the uneven seams, but oh well), but making it myself meant I could make exactly what I wanted, while it also taught me patience and appreciativeness

To me, making your own items means you become more satisfied with yourself and your possessions, resulting in taking better care of them while also being proud of your skills and patience. I will be honest – I am feeling happier than I have been in quite a while, and I can see that learning to be patient and resilient through crafting is transferring to my general mental health. So, I definitely recommend spending your free time by adopting hobbies that require determination and time, to teach you a positive mental mindset ๐Ÿ™‚

How Self-Restraint is Linked to Happiness

This past week I have been focussing on cutting out gluttonous behaviour, while applying more restraint on myself. Thereโ€™s a few things I have learnt from doing this, as well as from the reading I have done, so I want to emphasise how important it is to adopt temperance for a healthier and happier mind-set.

Studies have shown that self-discipline is linked to many mental benefits, including happiness (See https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/how-to-improve-self-control?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1 for more information)
Picture source: https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/tip-how-to-increase-self-control

At first I thought gluttony was just about taking in excessive amounts of food and drink that you want rather than need. So I started at that, and have stopped eating out of boredom, but I also realised that taking this rule too seriously takes away the occasional delicious treat (as you really donโ€™t need it, it just tastes nice). When researching this eating aspect more, I came across resources that proposed gluttony is also about becoming slaves to food as a substance โ€“ If we donโ€™t have it at the right time we might get โ€˜hangryโ€™, you might not know why you are having something as you โ€˜need it right nowโ€™, and you might be led to eating food of poor quality in high quantity.

Over time this behaviour pattern with any substance has aversive effects. Why? Dopamine is the answer!

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that motivates to engage in pleasurable activities, such as eating, smoking, gambling, videogames, and so on. This can over time lead to addiction due to reducing the sensitivity of dopamine receptors, increasing the threshold of the pleasure experience and making us engage in a given activity more. It also leads to the reduced ability of enjoying (or getting a dopamine response from) less โ€˜addictiveโ€™ things in life, such as reading, hiking, crafting, exercise. We become adapted to the high and quick dopamine release when engaging in the prior mentioned activities, while behaviours that might benefit our mental and physical state become less and less desirable to engage in.

This is where self-restraint plays a powerful tool โ€“ The ability to say no to inviting pleasurable experiences does not only heighten your enjoyment when you do allow yourself to engage in those, but also makes simple things in life better. You become more grateful and accepting of the non-addictive parts of life, while giving into gluttonous behaviour reduces the enjoyment we can experience and enslaves you to the quick and high dopamine releasing activities.

This makes self-restraint a really important habit to adopt! It takes time to build habits, so don’t rush this. I recommend writing down each activity you did during the day and rating from 1-10 how much you actually enjoyed it through reflection, and how much it meant to you and your growth as a person (see my example below). Once you learn what does not matter to you and your life, cut down on those things and learn to say no, despite their temptation. Restraining yourself will be hard at first, but it will form your life around activities you find actually meaningful, rather than wasting your time.

During the day, it helps to keep note of what you have been up to and track its enjoyment and meaning, which leads you initiate positive changes.

So, remember: Practice and effort lead you to adopt habits that will easily let you say no through trained self-discipline, and ultimately you will enjoy life a lot more ๐Ÿ™‚ During this next week, I will be focussing on being more charitable and less greedy, which is one I am excited for, as I have always favoured giving over receiving! Let’s see what that says about me…

Resources

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pMbi7wmVmg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluttony

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/americas-most-tolerated-sin

The Deadly Sins & Heavenly Virtues – Their importance for Mental Health

I have never been very religious in my life, and have identified as an atheist these past few years. However, the more I look into religion, the more appealing I find the idea of having some rules to live by. I am currently reading a book about Buddhism, which is teaching me a lot about discipline and productivity. However, for this post little series, I will be focussing on Christianity, and in particular the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues and their link to the human mind.

Today’s society encourages the partaking of all deadly sins in a modern way.
Image Source: https://hackernoon.com/future-of-all-business-exploit-the-7-deadly-sins-80c2b7b7b6a0

In short, the seven deadly sins are habits one should avoid due to their classified immoral nature, and this includes:

  1. Lust – Excessive sexual appetite
  2. Gluttony – Over-indulgence
  3. Greed – Avarice
  4. Sloth – Laziness
  5. Wrath – Extreme anger
  6. Envy – Desire to have something that belongs to another person
  7. Pride – Hubris & Vanity

Now, I don’t personally condemn these habits as immoral due to my so-far limited religious beliefs, but when looking at the list I think each of these is bad for your mental state. These traits encourage indulgence, disinhibition, and egotism, which is not helpful for anyone’s mindset. So, it might be helpful to keep these in mind when assessing your thinking for certain negative patterns!

To counter-balance these ‘sins’, a set of values that would enhance the human soul, named the heavenly virtues were proposed. In my research, I came across different sets of virtues, so I stuck with those that were most clear to understand for me.

  1. Chastity – Purity
  2. Temperance – Self-restraint
  3. Charity – Giving
  4. Diligence – Conscientiousness
  5. Forgiveness – Composure
  6. Kindness – Admiration
  7. Humility – Humbleness

Aristotle even talked about having 12 virtues, which you can see here:

https://aesthetichealingmindset.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/4706/

Adopting the values of the heavenly virtues can teach you a helpful mindset that will improve your mental well-being
Image Source (and some good reading!): https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/6802/seven-heavenly-virtues/

I always find my mental health improves when I live by certain rules, which are based on creating a more disciplined routine. Within that, positivity and being able to let go, rather than dwell, always help me to move forward from a bad patch. When looking at the sins and the virtues, I think it is safe to say that living life according to those would create more discipline, and a life fuelled by less hate and more love. You would be encouraged to adopt values that help you give, forgive, and be kind, while you neglect habits that bring you down, or make you indulge in your own achievements and materialism.

There is a lot within each sin and virtue, so this is more of an introductory post to a 6-week (not 7, because I will be excluding Lust) blog post series, where each week I will challenge myself to focus on one particular sin and the counter-balancing virtue, and live more according to those. This is part of my own self-growth and increasing interest in religion, but some of these habits and values might be particularly interesting for my own (and your!) mental health!

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_virtues

http://freedomoffaith.tripod.com/id11.html

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-24/edition-2/deadly-sins

Mental Health is More than just Mental Illness

Our mindset is complicated and takes time to figure out, but with consistent effort you can get there ๐Ÿ™‚
Image Source: https://online.alvernia.edu/program-resources/behavioral-health-vs-mental-health/

Being healthy, physically and mentally, is often defined by the absence of any sort of illness. However, to me, being mentally healthy means so much more; When I reached the point of mostly having overcome my phobia, I was excited about being in a ‘healthy’ state of mind again (i.e. my life did not revolve itself around vomit). But I came to the realisation that there was so much more to my mindset than my previous mental illness. I did not suffer from depression nor anxiety, but there were parts of my thinking that were still unhelpful, and I am still continuously working on these belief systems.

But what do I mean by unhelpful thoughts that were not really part of a mental illness? For me, I found myself to be very reliant on other people – I constantly wondered what others thought of me, if they thought I looked good, and even let their personal outlook on life get to me. Everything in my life revolved around others, by either helping them, giving parts of my life up for them, or letting their opinions take over mine. Whenever I got home alone, I felt lost, confused and frustrated. This is not mentally healthy. I realised I could not let myself be so dependent on everyone but me – At the end of the day, I am the only person that is a constant throughout my life, so I need to learn how to be there for myself, be able to happily keep myself company, and create the person I aspire to be!

Mental illness is a huge issue that many people face in life, but is there more ways our thinking can be affected negatively?
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder

If you don’t suffer from a diagnosed mental illness, it is important to still check how mentally healthy you are. An easy way to do this is to ask yourself questions concerning how you go through life: Are you happy being alone or do you immediately feel lonely or abandoned? What do you think when you look in the mirror? Is going to the cinema alone an option for you, or are you scared of external judgement? Are you able to find something positive in every situation? Can you laugh at yourself or are you easily embarrassed?

Mental health is something we need to talk about more, and mental illness is certainly a huge part of that. But there is more to being healthy, and small things, such as complaining or putting on make-up every time you step outside the door, might be signs you are not living with a healthy mentality. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed, or don’t suspect you suffer from a mental illness, being mentally healthy is still something you should check for.

Being able to see something positive in every situation is crucial for being mentally healthy.
Image Source: http://omswami.com/2016/12/the-secret-of-being-positive.html

You are the only consistent support throughout your life, so make sure to be create the support system you need and want! Nobody else but you will be there to look out for you, sense your emotions, and realise whether you are doing okay. For me, this is a huge part of mental health that I don’t see talked about very much, so I would love to hear your opinions on this :)!

Gratefulness – A Key Pillar of Happiness

Being grateful was never anything I consciously forced myself to be. People tend to naturally feel grateful when, for example, a friend does something nice for them, or when you escaped a dangerous situation safely. But my whole life, until recently, I have never sat down and purposefully listed every single thing I am grateful for – And doing this was a game changer!

I have recently discovered all these small things to be grateful for, and focussing my mind on those really boosted my positive outlook in life. Whether it is being grateful for your parents’ support, being in good health, or living in a safe society, simply reminding yourself of and appreciating the good aspects of your life is really important. Being grateful of any life event can shed some positive light on it, which can help you grow so much as a person.

Appreciate the simple things in life, such as seeing a beautiful sky that could really be a Bob Ross painting

In terms of my past phobia, it is easy for me to think of all the issues it has caused in my life; Being scared of every day experiences, being embarrassed, and keeping myself away from other people. But thinking about those self-inflicted negative consequences is not helpful at all, so I prefer to be grateful that I experienced living with emetophobia. It raised my awareness of ‘unusual’ mental illnesses, which is very important for my future career in Psychology. I also learned about the different forms and shapes anxiety can take on, which makes it easier for me to relate to and emphasise with others. I am also quite sensitive as a person, which I have recently learned to appreciate about myself – This trait has helped me be kinder, take care of others and myself better, and be very aware of my emotions.

I believe that any negative life experience, whether it be mental health issues, death of a loved one, or a break up, can be in some way turned into something that you are grateful for. Be grateful for having had someone in your life, the mental growth it induced, or simply for the good experiences and new pathways it led to. Research has shown that mental well-being is closely tied to how grateful you are (e.g. Rusk, Vella-Brodrick, & Waters, 2016), and it is so so SO easy to start being grateful right now.

It does not matter when (morning, evening, when you’re upset – you choose!), just consciously try to think of a few things every day that you are grateful for. I promise it will help you in one way or another, as a positive outlook never hurts anyone ๐Ÿ™‚

“Comparison is the thief of joy”

Appreciate yourself for who you are and what you have – nobody matters when looking at yourself, as you are all you need to reflect and learn.

References Rusk, R. D., Vella-Brodrick, D. A., & Waters, L. (2016). Gratitude or gratefulness? A conceptual review and proposal of the system of appreciative functioning. Journal of Happiness Studies17(5), 2191-2212.