Do Whatever You Want

My first competition is drawing closer and closer. Each day requires getting up early going to the gym and training, eating according to my plan, and returning to the gym for more training. I must also remember to practice posing and maintain energy to maintain a home, a husband, a full-time job, a dissertation, and various social commitments. Needless to say energy and motivation is lacking at times. It is hard. I will be honest and say I have wanted to quit, on more than one occasion. I tell myself I can skip this cardio or I can lift less during this training session. I tell myself a bite of cheese or dessert will not mess up my plan. I want to sleep in, skip a workout, and cheat!

However I don’t. Every single day I get up early. I wake up with energy after the first alarm. I sometimes dread my workout as I get ready to head to the gym. As I start my cardio I think I may not make it. Yet every single time I do!  I go faster. I recover quicker. I have increased energy. As I approach my lifts for the day I worry about how heavy the lifts will be and how it will challenge my body. Yet every time I train I am shocked at how much stronger I feel. I have read other competitors lose strength during prep.  I have been prepared to use that as my excuse to not lift as heavy and as strong.  However I continue to progress in my strength and training.  I continue to get stronger. 

This is not because I have super powers, special genes, or unique talents. I am human and I am an average adult woman.   I keep growing simply because I can. 

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. 

Lou Holtz

 

Anyone can do anything. I have said this before and I will say it again. So many people sell short, do not reach their potential, and doubt their ability. I want to see people know they can do whatever they want. It is possible to set our mind on something and to be successful and achieve that something. All you need is ability, motivation, and attitude.

Abilities will vary from individual to individual. Some people have mental ability. Remember high school and how your class had a class valedictorian?  That person (if it was you – Way to go), probably worked hard. They may have also had more brain capability. Research has found that some brain development is related to IQ (Lange, Froimowitz, Bigler, & Lainhart, 2010). However not every valedictorian is a genius with a high IQ and a pre-wired brain. I read an article recently that discussed a study that indicated certain genes were related to athletic ability and performance (Eynon, Ruiz, Oliveria, Duarte, Birk, & Lucia, 2011).  This same article explained these findings are small and there is not enough collective research to claim that athletes perform well because they are genetically wired a certain way. 

What this means is that everyone is born to be able to do something. Ability is what you can do physically. I cannot physically learn to snow ski in North Texas. I can travel or move but I am unable to find a slope to ski down where I am currently living. I am not able to create beautiful paintings because I have not engaged and grown my creativity. I lack patience and therefore I am not very good at customer service jobs. I understand that sometimes we are limited due to our physical, emotional, and situational experiences. Someone disabled and unable to walk will have physical difficulty running a marathon. However ability is not the only thing required for success. People that are disabled physically, emotionally, and cognitively accomplish dreams and overcome obstacles every single day. Our limitations are used as an excuse and cage us, but understand, you are able to do something. Those who are able, can! 

Add motivation to ability and the chance of success increases. If you really want something you will do it. You have heard that saying, “when there is a will, there is a way”. Motivation is that will. If you want something what is stopping you? We have clarified you are likely able. Now your success depends on your desire and willingness to overcome. How hard will you work?  How bad do you want it?  How far can you go?  For me, I keep going because I want to stand on stage knowing I gave  my all. The package I bring, no matter the outcome, is because I kept going. I am motivated by my ability to succeed and be the best possible me. What is your motivation? 

We have determined you are able. Now if you are highly motivated then how you think about the situation will influence your success moving forward. I hate cardio. I just hate it. I dread it every time and minutes leading up to my cardio session I am anxious and question how I will get through it. My attitude about cardio sucks. This attitude is quickly followed by a desire to quit, take it easy, or cheat. Then I remember the only one being cheated is me!  I literally have to chant to myself, “you can do this!” or “you got this, almost there!” to improve my attitude about the interval approaching. I can do it because I am able. I can do it because I am motivated to do it. When I think I can, I get through each training session feeling proud, strong, and one step closer to my goal. 

I encourage you to make a list and answer the following questions: 

  • What are you able to do? Write down everything you can do!
  • How motivated are you?
  • What obstacles are in your way? If you identify obstacles, which ones can be removed or avoided. For obstacles that cannot be removed or avoided, consider what resources (skills, tools, people, etc) you have to help you overcome the obstacle?
  • List your feelings about the task you are about to start. Keep the positive thoughts and feelings to continue to motivate and encourage you. Take the negative feelings and get rid of them. Simply change the negative thoughts to positive ones and you will find your attitude will improve. 
  • Focus on the positive thoughts and feelings you have and you will find you are succeeding. 
It gets hard when working toward any task. We all need little tricks and tools to keep us pushing forward. My hope for you is that you will stop letting excuses, fear, and doubt keep you from your dreams. Use what you have to get you going and use what will learn to push you forward.  If you are able, and you want to, then you can!

 

Reference:

Eynon, N., Ruiz, J., Oliveria, J., Duarte, J., Birk, R., & Lucia, A. (2011). Genes and elite athletes: A roadmap for future research. The Journal of Physiology, 589(13), 3063-3070. 

Lange, N., Froimowitz, M., Bigler, E., & Lainhart, J. (2010). Associations between IQ, total and regional brain volumes, and demography in a large normative sample of healthy children and adolescents. Developmental Neuropsychology, 35(3), 296-317. 

Slow Your Role

We spend so much of our time being BUSY. We have work responsibilities, family obligations, social commitments, and leisure activities that compete for our time and attention.  Lately I have been focused on the future and all the things I need to do to complete my to-do list. I spend so much time making to do lists, setting goals, and planning my days that I have been forgetful to deal with my present moment. 

I am not the only one with lots to do. I am not the only one with goals, dreams, and aspirations. And although I believe we can do anything I worry we spend too much time looking forward. Recently I am working on being content and being in the present moment. 

Rather than worry about all I need to do later I want to be Ok with what I am doing right now. I want to strive to improve and strive to be a better version of myself.  I want to learn to be OK with who am I right now. I am trying to remember “I am enough”.  

 

Lately the above Scripture has been floating around in my head. Perhaps it is my soul telling me to slow down and be in the moment. I have all that I need right now.  I am fully equipped with the strength and emotional ability to manage whatever task I am working on right now. This verse reminds me to slow my role and be OK because who I am today is exactly who I am to be. This verse helps me slow down and reflect that I am truly blessed with so much love, respect, support, hope, and resources. All of those things will help me accomplish goals today and in the future. I can relax and be current with myself and others.

Psychologists refer to this as mindfulness. Psychology Today defines mindfulness as a state of active, open attention on the present. Mindfulness requires being ok with thoughts, feelings, and surroundings right now in the present moment. Mindfulness does not mean you enjoy being in a state of upset or distress but, rather acknowledging that and then accepting the upset so that steps can be taken right now to make the moment better. 

Focusing on the future or focusing on issues beyond our control keeps us from solving problems now. In order to be better problem solvers and more relaxed and focused we need to “slow our role”, accept the situation, and proceed. Here is why practicing mindfulness is in your (and my) best interest. 

  • Researchers found that individuals that practiced mindfulness had less worrisome thoughts and decreased depression.
  • Mindfulness reduces stress.
  • Studies found that mindfulness improved focus, attention, ability to ignore distractions, and improved ability to recall information. 
  • People that were more mindful became less emotionally upset and were better at self-reflection and self-awareness. 
  • Research studies support that mindfulness can improve the quality of relationships (Davis & Hayes, 2012). 
  • Mindfulness has demonstrated a strong ability to improve health as evidenced by improved immune systems. 
  • Mindfulness improves happiness. 
  • Mindfulness helped people remain practical and rational during a stressful situation (2011). 
Being aware in the present moment and achieving mindfulness requires some skill. However anyone can master it. You do not need to be a master at meditation or spend hours doing yoga or prayer to achieve mindfulness. Anyone can start practicing mindfulness at any time. The more mindfulness is practiced the easier it becomes. 
 
  • Observe your current moment and sense the current environment. This requires just looking at the current environment. 
  • Look at where you are, smell where you are, experience the sounds and feelings of where you are, and identify any feelings you are having.  Try describing the current environment and situation as if you wanted someone to read it and be able to see and understand your situation as well. 
  • Remember the “to-do” list will never be blank. We will always have something to do, unless we are dead. Rather than rush to clear a list that will never clear, slow down and take it one thing at a time. 
  • Ask yourself “what do I need to do right now”?
The key is to not label the situation and any feelings or people as good or bad. Mindfulness requires you to be an objective observer of the “now”. Once you are in the “here and now” you will relax, think better, and be able to focus. This will help you make a decision that will benefit you right now as well as in the future. For example over the weekend I had the difficult task of working to understand and efficiently communicate a very difficult statistical procedure. I was frustrated because it is a statistical method that is foreign to me and I was not sure how to proceed. To make matters worse I feel like I have been working on my dissertation for a very long time and I just want to be finished. I was focused on completing the tasks and finishing my dissertation. However that only frustrated me more. I realized that would not help me address the issue in the current moment. I chose to accept my frustration and let that motivate me to figure out the solution. I chose to stop thinking about the future and completing the task and I chose to think about what responsibility I had now.  Once I was more accepting I felt more calm and I was able to focus and solve my problem.  
 
Staying in the moment will keep us from missing opportunities. We will be better spouses, siblings, employees, coworkers, friends, parents, and ultimately a better self. I vow to work on being current, present, and aware. I vow to take one thing at a time and enjoy the time that I have right now. I know being present and mindful now will make me a better me in the future. Can you commit to be more mindful with me?
 
References: 
 
Davis, D., & Hayes, J.  (2012). What are benefits of mindfulness? Monitor on Psychology, 43(7), p 64. 
 
Doing and being: Mindfulness, health, and quiet ego characteristics among Buddhist practitioners. Journal,of Happiness Studies, 12(4), 575-589. 

Do the Blues have you Down?

Depression impacts millions of Americans.  In fact, reports state that 6.7% of Americans have Depression (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.).  Depression is the most common mental health illness.  That’s right an illness. Just like diabetes or hypertension depression is a disease. Depression is a disease of the mind.

Most people experience times of sadness and upset in their life.  This can be caused by external factors such as stressors, loss, financial upset, relationship upset, and daily frustrations (NIMH, n.d.).  The difference between general sadness and Major Depressive Disorder is that general life sadness will pass quickly, whereas Depression lasts for more then two weeks (NIMH, n.d.). Depression is a deep sadness that interferes with your daily routine.

If you are feeling depressed, it is OK. You are not the only one, and I will even be bold enough to say that we ALL have experienced times of depression. If you are feeling

  • Very sad
  • Are no longer interested in activities you used to enjoy
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Feel like things will never get better (helpless)
  • Feel like there is no point in trying to feel better (hopeless)
  • Feel worthless
  • Have difficulty sleeping (i.e., decreased sleep or increased sleep)
  • Experience changes in appetite (i.e., increased appetite or decreased appetite)
  • Feel guilt, regret, and shame
  • And even have thoughts of hurting yourself or thoughts of suicide

then you may have depression.

Depression comes in many forms. Major Depression is the most common form of depression and a person may have just one, single, occurrence of Depression or a person may experience Recurring Depression (APA, 2000).  Recurring depression occurs multiple times in a person’s life, whereas Dysthymic Disorder is persisting depression symptoms that are less severe but symptoms last longer. This is more like a general sad mood (APA, 2000).  Depression can be associated with giving birth.  Postpartum depression is related to hormonal changes and changes in responsibility due to delivering a baby (APA, 2000).  Lastly depression can be caused by weather changes.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is associated with depressed mood in the winter months when there is less sunlight (APA, 2000).  Life events and stressors, life changes, hormonal changes, the environment, and the weather cause depression.  However depression may also be caused by genetics and biological factors.

The brain is most influenced by depression.  For example individuals with depression had changes in their frontal lobe compared to individuals without depression (Nelson, Sarapas, Robinson-Andrew, Altman, Campbell, & Shankman, 2012).  Hormones and chemicals regulate the brain. One brain chemical associated with depression is serotonin.  Primarily individuals with depression have serotonin imbalances due to decreased serotonin levels, decreased sites to receive serotonin in the brain, or decreased chemicals responsible for making serotonin (Cocchi, Tonello, Gabrielli, & Pregnolato, 2011).  Furthermore brain studies demonstrate that areas of brain are impaired that involve mood, thinking, appetite, behavior, and sleep (NIMH, n.d.).  It is uncertain whether these brain changes cause depression or if depression causes the brain changes.  Perhaps genetics play a role in the development of depression.  This is supported by research that indicates there is a family historical component of depression (NIMH, n.d.).  However it seems that environment, life events, and other stressful situations trigger depression.

Depression will affect not only mood and brain function but it will affect physical health. Psychoneuroimmunology research indicates that depression and immune function are closely related.  Essentially recent research suggests that psychological changes and physiological changes are closely related (Kendall-Tackett, 2009).  A symptom of depression is somatic complaints.  Perhaps this is related to physical changes in the body as a depressed mood increases.  For example people with depression often complain of gastrointestinal problems.  Research suggested that serotonin was also found in the GI tract and intestines and as levels in the brain were impacted by depression so were levels in the other areas of the body (Cocchi, Tonello, Gabrielli, & Pregnolato, 2011).  There is other evidence to support the brain/body connection of depression.  For example individuals with depression also have inflammation in the immune system due to increased cytokines (Leonard & Myint, 2009).  Cytokines regulate immune functions but also trigger brain chemicals in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (Leonard & Myint, 2009).  The HPA is also triggered during time of stress and upset.  Individuals with depression have altered cytokines levels (Kendall-Tacket, 2009).  Increased inflammation will prevent the immune system from being able to fight off illness. People are more likely to catch a cold when they are feeling low because their body is trying to regulate mood and unable to protect against harmful organisms.

People with depression will have increased illness because a depressed mood causes the body to change physically. The body will have changes in cells, called natural killer cells, that fight illness (Howk & Bennet, 2012). How your mind feels your body will also feel. Therefore if the physical body is connected to psychological states, improving the body physically may also improve psychological functioning.

Depression is commonly treated with medications and psychotherapy (NIH, n.d.).  However given the current research to suggest that immunity and depression are related it is likely that behavioral lifestyle changes that improve health will also improve depression.  For example relaxation activities not only improve mood but also improve health.  One study found that individuals that received regular massage therapy treatment had decreased depression and improved immune functioning as evidenced by increased Natural Kill Cell production (Diego, Field, Hernandez-Reif, Shaw, Friedman, & Ironson, 2001).  Research is clear that cognitive-behavioral therapeutic techniques are most effective for reducing depressive symptoms (APA, 2013).  Therefore it is likely that cognitive behavioral techniques can be helpful to improve immune functioning.  This notion is supported by research that suggested that helping individuals improve negative thinking and gaining coping skills to manage upset also reduced adverse health and improved immunity (Crepaz, Passin, Herbst, Rama, Malow, Purcell, & Wolitski, 2008).  This research is intriguing.  Rather then treating each issue separately individuals can enjoy health and wellness when physical and psychological issues are addressed together.

Depression symptoms can improve.

  • Try daily relaxation – find a time every morning or evening when you can be alone for 15-20 minutes. Turn off any distractions. Sit or lie comfortably. Take a deep breath in with your nose and out with your mouth. Pay attention to how your lungs feel as you breath in and out. Pay attention to your chest filling with air and collapsing as you breath out. Close your eyes and contine this breathing. Think about how your body feels against the floor. Imagine a halo of white warm light above your head. This halo starts to scan your body and presses firmly against you as it scan each body part. Focus on this light as moves from each body part. As it leaves each body part it leaves you feeling warmer and it takes with it all the tension in your body. As the halo reaches the floor it pushes all tension, upset, and sadness to the floor. Take a few. Ore deep breaths and slowly open your eyes when ready.
  • Journal – write your feelings. Can’t identify them, draw them. Write words that describe how you feel physically. Scribble thoughts that come through your head.
  • Take a walk – walk around your house, walk around the block, walk around the park. Just walk. As you walk focus on the sights and sounds around you. Focus on how they smell, sound, and feel. Think about how in this moment you are in control. You are in charge of moving your legs to take that next step, you are in control of where you go, you control what you choose to pay attention too. In this moment you are the boss.
  • Eat healthy meals – increase the amount of fruit and veggies you eat in a day. This will make you feel good for doing something good for your body, but it will also improve the body. Those foods will improve the chemicals in your brain that are in short supply due to your depressed mood. Those foods will also improve your body by increasing cell production and improving the body’s ability to fight infection and illness.
  • Talk to someone – a friend, a family member, a colleague, anyone. Find someone you trust. Tell them, “I am feeling sad I just need you to listen and hear me. You may not have the solution but please just listen to what I have to say”. If you have no one you can trust, that’s ok! A lot of people do not have a trusted person to talk to. Call a therapist. They are there to help you!
  • Exercise – even if it is the walk I mention above please just move. Stretching, yoga, running, walking, cycling, lifting weights, or jumping will improve your mood. This will improve your mood by increasing chemicals in your brain called, endorphins.  Endorphins make you feel happy. This will help decrease your sad mood as well as increase chemicals I’m the body that improve immune functioning.
  • Reframe negative thinking – write down negative thoughts. Then challenge that thought. This can be difficult. If you struggle to challenge the thought just write the exact opposite. I have worked with many clients that told me it is challenging to reframe negative thoughts because the more helpful positive thought was not true. Well that is not accurate. It is true but the bad mood is supported by these negative thoughts. We think because we feel bad those negative thoughts must be true. To challenge a negative thought just repeat the opposite more helpful thought. For example if you think, “I am worthless and a failure” then write down and speak aloud “I am worthy and have been successful before and will be successful again”. Now say it aloud. Say it again. Say it again. Keep saying it. Speak it loudly. The thinking will catch up and this will more helpful thought will become more believable.
These are not quick fixes. These should become daily practices. Improving physical health can improve depression and improving depression can improve health. The one step you take today will lead to more steps tomorrow.

*Note: Depression is a real illness that may need treatment. Please seek medical advise if symptoms do not improve after 4 weeks. Please seek a therapist if you feel the urge to hurt yourself. You do not have to suffer alone.  

References

 

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of   mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

American Psychological Association. (2013).  Depression.  Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/depress/index.aspx

Cocchi, M., Tonello, L., Gabrielli, F., & Pregnolato, M. (2011).  Depression,         osteoporosis, serotonin and cell membrane viscosity between biology and      philosophical anthropology.  Annals of General Psychiatry, 10(9).

Crepaz, N., Passin, W., Herbst, J., Rama, S., Malow, R., Purcell, D., & Wolitski, R.          (2008).  Meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioral interventions on HIV-positive   persons’ mental health and immune functioning.  Health Psychology, 27(1),            4-14. 

Diego, M., Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Shaw, K., Friedman, L., & Ironson, G. (2001).  HIV adolescents show improved immune function following massage           therapy.  International Journal of Neuroscience, 106(1-2), 35-45. 

Howk, C. & Bennett, M (2010).  Immune function and health outcomes in women            with     depression.  BioPsychoSocial Medicine, 4(May 3), ArtID 3.

Kendall-Tackett, K. (2009).  Psychological trauma and physical health: A  psychoneuroimmunology approach to etiology of  negative health effects and            possible interventions.  Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and    Policy, 1(1), 35-48. 

Leonard, B., & Myint, A. (2009).  The psychoneuroimmunology of depression.    Human            Psychopharmacology, 24, 165-175. 

National Institute of Mental Health.  (n.d). What is depression?  Retrieved from    http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Nelson, B., Sarapas, C., Robinson-Andrew, E. J., Altman, S., Campbell, M., &      Shankman, S. (2012).  Frontal brain asymmetry in depression with comorbid         anxiety: A neuropsychological investigation.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology,      121(3),            579-591.