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Goal Setting and Activity Planning

We tend make big, lofty goals for ourselves that we think will make us feel better— “I’ll get back to running 5 miles tomorrow and feel better” “If I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be happy” “Once I get that promotion at work, everything will be good.” If our goals are so big or out of our control, they can be daunting. We then may put them off, which ultimately makes us feel worse and further away from the life we want to live.

One way to start is by thinking about your values. What’s important to you? Time with family? Friendships? Community engagement? Physical fitness? Brainstorm all the activities that you can do that fall in line with these values. Maybe it’s a walk with your child, reaching out to your neighbor, looking up online fitness classes, spending five minutes outside. Write down some ideas and schedule these into your day. Like we talked about in earlier blog posts, track your mood and energy level as you do these activities. If you notice something is bringing your mood down and it’s within your control to reduce that activity, try taking it out. For me, that’s time spent scrolling on social media. When I’m glued to my screen, I feel more “sluggish” and less engaged with my values—so I can try to reduce the time I spent online and replace it with another activity more aligned with my goals. With intention, add more of those activities that lift your mood. Start small so you can get “a win.” Maybe it’s walking from your door to the end of the street. That’s okay. In fact, that’s great. If it that walk wasn’t on your schedule, you wouldn’t have done it and would be that much farther from where you want to be. Acknowledge and reward yourself when you follow through with your planned activities- no matter how big or small. You are taking steps towards your goals!

The key ingredients to making changes when you’re stuck are to start small, be curious about how different activities specifically affect you (see post about “Getting Started when You’re Stuck”, be intentional about adding these personalized activities to your day and…and drop the judgment on yourself, each small step is bringing you closer to the life you want to live.

 

By Naomi Ennis, PhD

 

“I’ll try that…..when I’m feeling better” Getting started when you’re stuck

“Go for a run!” “Eat healthier” “Smile it will make you feel better!” Have well-intentioned people in your life given similar unsolicited advice when you’re feeling low? Although scientific evidence shows that each of these recommendations can improve mood, sometimes hearing them can make you feel lousier and…you just don’t feel up to doing them.

If you’ve been down, fatigued or stuck in the same old routine, you’re not alone. This happens to most of us at some point. It’s especially common now that our lives are more limited by COVID-19 and uncertainty. But what to do about it?

For each of us, there are unique activities that either boost, decrease, or maintain current mood. These activities are different for each person! Pay attention to the little things in your day. What’s the difference in your mood when you have your morning coffee? Ignore a stressful email? Feel some sunlight on your face when you’re at your desk? Let the dishes sit in the sink? Each of these things can tweak your mood little by little for better or worse.

According to behavioral activation, an evidence-based treatment for low mood, there are categories of activities that can lift our mood: mastery and pleasurable activities. Pleasurable activities are what they sound like—activities that we enjoy. We’re not talking about “curing depression” “ecstatic” level joy but say, boosting your mood from a 3 to a 3.5 or 4 out of 10 (where 10 is the happiest you could be). For example, watching a funny movie, taking a warm bath, or hugging a loved one may elevate a person’s mood. These activities are different for each person.

Mastery activities are the things we may not enjoy doing in the moment, but they make us feel more in control and accomplished. This isn’t like writing a novel or running a marathon-again it’s the little day-to-day things. For me, it’s taking out the garbage. I don’t ever feel like doing it but after I throw that trash bag in the can outside, I feel relieved and my mood is a little lifted. For others, it could be responding to that call they’ve been ignoring, flossing, filing taxes, watering the plants, exercising…the possibilities are endless. The important thing is figuring out what for you what tasks or activities influence your mood.

So what’s the point? Find some activities that in teeny tiny ways make you feel a little lighter and more accomplished? What will that do? Actually, it can do a lot. When we feel down and have low energy, these “little” mastery and pleasurable activities tend to go the wayside. We put them off. We think they won’t help. We stop doing all these “little things.” So start to pay attention to the shifts in your mood and what you’re doing when your mood changes. This information can guide you into what activities you can increase, decrease, or keep doing to enhance your mood.

 

By Naomi Ennis, PhD

Mindful Social Media: How to stay mentally well in the age of social media

Social media has completely changed the way we connect with others. The “key 3” social media platforms- Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram- offer seemingly quick-and-fast ways to grow our social circles, consume news, and showcase our own lives for others to like, comment, and share as they wish.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely aware of the pros and cons of social media. On the one hand, it can be a powerful tool for networking, communicating with friends, staying informed of current events, providing entertainment, etc. On the other hand, it invites us to constantly compare ourselves to others and creates a false sense of connection or belonging. Being mindful of the ways we engage in social media is essential in protecting our mental and emotional health. Mindfulness refers to the state of being conscious and aware of the present moment. In the age of social media, that means being aware of the content we’re consuming and how we’re reacting in the here-and-now.

Let’s think about how YOU are showing up digitally and what you can do get the most out of these tools.

  1. When and where are you scrolling?

Take notice of the times of day you find yourself opening social media. You may notice a pattern. Specific settings may urge you to whip out your phone- silent elevators, public transportation, lying in bed, etc. Just noticing these patterns can clue you into opportunities to more mindfully engage with your surroundings. For instance, if you are a bedtime social media checker, challenge yourself to set your phone down and instead recap your day with your partner. BONUS: Make your bedroom a no-phone zone by setting up a charging station in another area of your home.

  1. What are the reasons behind your posts?

There are countless reasons you might post on social media. You may want to broadcast your weekend beach day or perhaps show off that trendy recipe you whipped up for your family. You may just feel lonely or in need of a confidence boost that positive digital feedback will provide. Before you post, take a few minutes to think about what you need in this moment, and if posting will satisfy that need or possibly exasperate an underlying negative feeling. To set yourself up for success, take stock of how much YOU like the photo or appreciate the content before allowing others to weigh in.

  1. Is your feed a problem or a solution?

Take inventory of your social media feed. Is it clouded with unconstructive political banter? Are you constantly scrolling past posts about the newest fad diet?  When you stumble on a post that elicits social comparison or a strong emotional reaction such as rage, don’t be afraid to hit that “unfollow” button. Remember to fill your feed with positive energy and things that make you smile. May I suggest following a few accounts that will fill your feed with adorable puppy pictures?

 

Think of social media as a tool, your tool, and while it grabs our attention and tricks us into being passive consumers,  we are not actually robots! Take the time to check in with the human behind the scrolling  – YOURSELF. Then use the platforms to your benefit- send uplifting videos, challenge your friends to a dance contest, plan a virtual meet up, or join a video tutorial to learn a new skill.  Apply mindful social media practices to unlock the possibilities!

 

Written by Kiera Molloy, Wellness Mentor at Modern Minds

De-junk your trunk for fall

It’s that time of year again. Fall. Time to de-junk your trunk and here’s why.

Seasonal changes can prompt psychological effects that may impact people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or seasonal affective disorder. The end of summer typically prompts a return to more structured routines, increased time indoors, and less time engaged in enjoyable activities. This can trigger feelings of stress and disconnectedness. Fall also kicks off the beginning of many impending holidays which may not be anticipated as joyfully by some as by others. Holidays can be a time of pressure and comparison resulting in overspending, overindulgence, loneliness or other challenges. Transitioning from Summer to Fall brings many changes that can impact each person differently. De-junking your trunk is a way to re-center and find clarity for yourself amidst the changes.

Here are a few ways to de-junk:

Dedicate time to yourself by engaging in regular self-care activities that include daily movement for at least 30 minutes a day, eating plenty of healthy whole foods, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.

Get outside as much as possible to increase your exposure to natural light and vitamin D. The decrease in daylight decreases access to vitamin D, which we absorb from sunlight. Adequate vitamin D intake is important for many basic bodily processes, and vitamin D insufficiency has been linked to depression, decreased energy, changes in appetite and sleep. Meditate and practice mindfulness daily to clear out the emotional clutter and create internal space and gratitude.

 

Choose to invest your time and energy in areas that are meaningful and uplifting for you.

Accept invitations to events that you are excited about, with people who are important to you. Plan activities that will move you into alignment with what you value rather than packing your calendar with empty busyness. This will free up both your time and energy; and leave you feeling less stressed and mentally cluttered. Whether you are a techie who keeps track of your commitments digitally, or you prefer to keep it old school with a paper planner, enter your obligations and events on a calendar to keep track and avoid overcommitting. Designate weekends that are just for you to chill out with a good book in equal parts to glam party weekends.

 

Clear out your physical space.

Studies have shown that a clean and comfortable living environment reduces stress and increases health and happiness. If your living space is cluttered, unorganized and dirty, you have no place to relax, regroup, and replenish which can release cortisol, a hormonal response resulting in unease and agitation. This impacts you both emotionally and physically. Take time to de-clutter, throw out old papers and items that no longer serve you; clean out your closet and discard or donate what no longer brings you joy. Look in your fridge and pantry, consider throwing out junk food and overly processed foods which are high in sugar and artificial ingredients and have been linked to depression and anxiety.

 

Financially de-clutter.

Review all your bills and have a solid understanding of your financial standing. Not knowing how much money you have coming in, how much you owe, how much you spend, and not having a financial plan directly impacts your level of stress and anxiety. Establish a budget and stick to it. Tie your spending to your goals. If you are saving up to buy a car, a house, or take a fun vacation, bring this goal into your awareness when you get the urge to hit up Starbucks for a mocha latte. Pause, remind yourself that you can make just as delicious a coffee at home, and put that money towards what actually matters to you.

The process of de-junking your life may seem overwhelming, but taking time to create a peaceful internal and external space for yourself improves more than just your aesthetic—it could also improve your overall sense of fulfillment and well-being.

 

Written by Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP