Tag Archives: health

Wellness Monday: What is Stealing Your Joy?

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What is the thief of joy? Comparison.

Among other things, comparing yourself to others can be a thief of your joy, happiness, and contentment. However, comparison is an automatic behavior (source) so it is nearly impossible to quit completely. Fortunately comparison may be harnessed toward a healthier form than typical comparison. First, let’s unpack comparison.

In the field of psychology, comparison is studied as the term “social comparison” and Leon Festinger is an initial theorist. Festinger proposed “that individuals are motivated to gain accurate evaluations of themselves by examining their opinions and abilities in comparison to others” (source). In short, people compare themselves to others in order to know themselves. He also hypothesized that people are more likely to compare themselves to people who they recognize as similar to them. While this process is perfectly normal and seeming harmless, there are a few detrimental downsides. (As well as some upsides.)

There are two kinds of social comparison, upwards and downwards.

Upwards consists of seeking out people you perceive as similar, for comparison. In one respect, this is fortunate because this can prompt one to make life improvements to measure up to better models. Alternately it can cause you to discount yourself and lower your regard for your sense-of-self. For example, you may earn a 90 out of 100 on a test, yet you compare yourself to the person who earned 100, and feel that your performance is substandard. If you notice from the past example this can lead to feelings of inadequacy as well as fierce competitiveness. Further, upward comparison encourages uniformity and there is a tendency to conform to the comparison subject or group (especially as you consider the person or group to be similar to you).

Downwards comparison involves comparing oneself to those who seem dissimilar from you. In moderation it can help one to feel better about their self and situation. Yet some downward comparison is partly the source of a superior attitude that supports stereotyping and other destructive behaviors. Interestingly, this defensive strategy serves to help people, “dissociate themselves from perceived similarities and to make themselves feel better about their self or personal situation”(Source). In other words, you may realize you aren’t as bad off as others in more grim circumstances, so it boosts your sense-of-self.

Can people just one type of comparison for a better outcome? No, it is not that simple.

Only engaging in upward comparison encourages uniformity, sacrificing your authentic self to be like the rest, and you may wind up with lower self-regard. Conversely, downward comparison alone may cause you to have and inflated sense of self, and with such high self-regard there is no motivation to try self improvement. So, both types of comparison are important, but problematic. Luckily, it is possible to guide this automatic, and sometimes subliminal compulsion to compare toward a healthier end.

I propose, to first work to gain a general awareness of how you compare yourself currently. Next, make adjustments as necessary to compare yourself to yourself. This way you may evaluate your own efforts and circumstances relative to your past self, rather than in contrast to others.

Using social comparison to compare yourself with yourself (most of the time), will likely help you keep more of your joy, contentment and happiness in place. Ultimately, social comparison is something you already engage in, it is simply a matter of how you wish direct your comparisons.

Wellness Monday: Bee Style Healthcare

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

In a TED talk, Vikram Patel reveals a drastically different approach to healthcare than the current status quo. Patel outlines how common mental health illnesses like depression are among the leading causes of disability that contribute to larger health needs on a global scale. He suggests a human-centered approach using ordinary people.

Patel’s approach is to enable average community members to effect positive changes in their community, rather than the current model where limited mental health care providers are available, particularly in developing nations. While the approach is powerful where there are few mental healthcare providers among large populations, Patel envisions the possibilities in any nation.

I compare this behavior, of equipping larger groups of everyday people within the community to treat the most common types of mental illness, to the integrated functions of a honey bee population where bees assist and point to larger resources in the environment.

Honey bees are known for their complex social behaviors.  Not one or a few, but the majority of honey bees act in a distinct way that benefits the larger bee community. What do they do?They take action.

Like many other insects, honey bees use odors and chemical releases to communicate, but they are distinct because they also use visible actions. Antennae movements and dancing convey information on the type of resources available in the environment and their quality to other bees. Similarly, many people may be taught to treat the most common mental illnesses, a task shift to enable many willing people for good, while allowing health care providers to act as mentors.

Following Patel’s approach, it is beneficial to train groups of community members to help treat the most common mental health issues. Places with limited healthcare professionals could shift their priorities to reach the maximum amount of people by mentoring and training others to replicate the psychotherapy and behavioral therapies to treat the most common mental health challenges such as depression. This creates greater access to resources in the environment for positive mental health.

Patel and others have implemented this approach and the results are significant. Watch this compelling video for more.

Lastly, Patel defines this approach using the acronym SUNDAR, which mean “attractive” in Hindi. The acronym stands for:

Simplify the message of medicine

UNpack the treatment

Deliver healthcare to where the people are, using whoever is available

Affordable and available resources

Reallocation of specialists to train and supervise

This approach is attractive, to be sure. Following the honey bee model, any willing honey bee can point to resources, and this ability isn’t limited. So too, are ordinary people able to treat common illnesses to promote positive mental health changes. If the bees can do it, so can we humans.

Patel’s healthcare proposal is different from the current model, yet it seems replicable. In other words, this approach could be a sustainable model in any society, no matter the scarcity of mental healthcare professionals.

Join me, to explore this healthcare task shift proposal further as I follow Patel’s journey via his online presence.

Wellness Monday: Tend and Befriend

Bee and thistle.

A post shared by Elya Simukka (@elya365) on

This past weekend I vacationed with an all female group to celebrate a dear friend for her bachelorette weekend before her wedding. The retreat lasted a few days, yet I returned home feeling incredibly refreshed and happy. I don’t think I was alone. After the adventures, laughter, and special memories we enjoyed together I was emotionally elated and knew I had been engaging in something the field of Psychology has termed tend and befriend.

It is with this experience fresh in mind, the ladies’ time spent withdrawn from our normal environment, that I plan to introduce the phenomenon referred to as “tend and befriend”. While there is much more to explain beyond this post, this is supposedly a behavior that is more common in women when they reach out and use social connections with other women as a way to manage life’s stressors. It is a form of coping, and I argue a form of thriving as well.

This past weekend is a perfect example of tend and befriend, as an all women getaway was meant to celebrate a bride-to-be while also encouraging a sense of calm in everyone involved in this dramatic and positive life change. So, tend and befriend is a sort of coping that provides a calming effect as women engage fully in social connections with other women. Some studies have recognized the habit of sticking with female groups during duress to be true of human females and female rodents, while male rodents and male humans often prefer to be alone. Why is this so?

The answer to the sex differences is not be entirely certain, but there are a number of suggestions offered by researchers. As this behavior is noticed in both humans and other animals, it is likely to be related to an evolutionary need. One story, found here, suggests that mothers throughout time have needed to care for their young in order for the offspring to survive. In other words, staying put was a choice most likely to promote the survival of the young, while fleeing or fighting were less likely selections because of the low survival rate of the kids after abandonment or physical conflict.

Related to this question of sex difference, some research found here points to the chemical reaction that occurs in women physically as women tend and befriend. There is an additional release of the hormone oxytocin, that has an overall relaxing and stress reducing effect in individual women. It is possible that the same hormone may release in males, although the higher levels of androgens in the male body would counteract the hormone and thus have little to no effect. Men, also, may be socially conditioned (or trained by society’s norms) to choose solitude during times of stress.

All in all, tend and befriend is a behavior that is noticed most often in women as they gather in groups. Doing so has a calming effect related to chemical releases in the body. Read more about tend and befriend in the Wikipedia post on the subject by clicking here, but read with healthy skepticism as not all of it is cited properly.

Have you noticed the benefits of tend and befriend behavior? Do you notice others engaging in this way?

Wellness Monday: Hooked on a Feeling

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Photo source: http://www.collapseboard.com.

Did you know that cows have seven chambers to digest food? The process is called rumination because the grass eaten by the cow, must be digested seven times to digest fully. Thankfully, today we will discuss the human coping behavior referred to as rumination. We will not discuss multiple stomachs further, but we will discuss the repetetive act of focusing on the past.

Before diving into rumination, I’ll preface this post to explain that I will begin a mini series on mindfulness soon. Mindfulness is a behavior that can promote wellness in leaps and bounds. It also helps you avoid the negative psychological outcomes associated with rumination.

Rumination

Rumination is a behavior that does not promote wellness, yet I suspect many of us are occasional ruminators. While rumination may be an unfamiliar term, is is important to learn about it along with the signs. This knowledge could equip you with the ability to recognize and perhaps quit this habit, if you catch yourself or another ruminating.

What is rumination?

Basically it has to do with getting hooked on negative feelings of the past. It is defined as, “the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions” according to this article.

Rumination is similar to worry. Worry is a sort of anxious obsession with the possible negative outcome of future events, whereas rumination is an anxious rehearsal of past negative experiences, feelings, or events while excluding problem solving.

Signs or red flags that may indicate rumination:

  • negative thinking
  • trouble with problem-solving
  • interference with instrumental or proactive behaviors
  • loss of social support
  • a persistent focus on the self and one’s own problems
  • self-critical or blaming self for current problems
  • low self-confidence in the ability to overcome problems
  • a sense that problems are unsolvable or overwhelming
  • depression-like symptoms

Rumination is referred to as a maladaptive coping strategy. In other words, it hinders rather than helps. Coping strategies help us effectively cope with adversity and problems when they are adaptive, while maladaptive coping strategies disrupt coping altogether. (Most, if not all adaptive coping strategies are fall under the category of problem-focused coping-strategies. Likewise, maladaptive coping-strategies such as rumination are part of a category called emotion-focused coping-strategies. More on this another day!)

Equipped with the definition and red flags of rumination, you are ready to notice ruminating on your own. Recognizing and acknowledging is the first step. Developing adaptive strategies in the problem-focused coping-strategy is the next and final step.

Rumination is not the same as nostalgia, an emotion that also involves memories of past events. I will discuss nostalgia in the upcoming Wellness Monday post next week.

To prepare yourself for the talk on nostalgia, have fun taking this quiz to measure your own level of nostalgia by clicking here.

Wellness Monday: The Basics

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Thanks to the Beatles for this catchy and feel good tune, “All You Need is Love”  and for the sentimental reminder that is marked in graffiti on a nearby neighborhood wall in my city. While I am a firm believer in the necessity for love, is this truly all we need as humans? Simply put, no.

Last week, I posted regarding time management and the sort of activities that are worth spending time on. However, time management is an attainable goal when you have some of your most basic needs fulfilled. Unmet basic needs can limit individual wellbeing, and make self management or time management a challenge. To discuss basic human needs, I refer to American psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

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Source: Wikimedia

The two base tiers to Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid labeled physiological and safety are often considered basic needs. These are necessary to our well being as humans. How, for example, could one plan and optimize their time best if they lack an adequate food, space to use the restroom, or basic shelter?

If you find yourself, or someone you know without some of these basic needs, you (or someone you know) are likely working day and night to satisfy them. In other words, time management and warm fuzzy-love feelings may not be top priority. That is completely okay, and human.

Luckily, some of the other needs from anywhere on Maslow’s hierarchy such as past achievements, relationships with friends/family and so on can help during this time of transition.

Overall, this hierarchy of needs is a useful factor to keep in mind and remember to sustainably work on efforts toward advancing wellness in yourself or others. At times we humans are in a good place to excel and thrive to reach our goals, and yet in other instances we may need to focus on the basics.

Wellness Monday: Move it for Willpower

Psst! Willpower acts as a muscle and you have the power to strengthen and train it!

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As I wrap up my personal 90 day physical challenge that I wrote about last week, I am determined to continue moving. Mostly because I feel really good staying active. The rest of my motivation is related to the link between cultivating willpower and exercise.

Recent studies point to the conclusion that physical exercise can contribute to willpower. Here is an excellent video to sum up recent findings explained simply by Kelly McGonigal, PhD off the nicabm website.

Here is a summary:

  • In a study by Oaten and Cheng (2006) people whose exercise level was at zero was gradually increased over time. Participants measured their progress in exercise and simultaneously tracked other unrelated areas of willpower challenges (aka, alcohol and caffeine consumption, eating habits, anger levels, etc.).
  • The outcome points to the finding that regular, consistent exercise leads to a spill over effect. Willpower increased in many areas outside of exercise alone. Changing one thing with exercise seems to facilitate the spread of healthy habits and promote greater sense of wellbeing.
  • Quitting the exercise, however, reversed the effect of increased willpower so all the more reason to keep it up!

Willpower is so important to cultivate and even easier to work on with more information thanks to the efforts of researchers. Learn more here for a site that lists many studies for further inquiry. I found the section, “Increasing Willpower” enlightening.

Wellness Monday : The Un-pursuit of Perfection

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Nature’s best: View of a lake near Portland.

Welcome to wellness Monday! As this is the initial post aimed at the wellness side of this little  virtual slice of space, I find it important to make clear my take on “wellness”. This is the disambiguation of wellness in the sense of this blog and wellness elsewhere. To be directed to wellness outside of this blog, Google it.

To me, wellness is the earnest, learning-filled journey to live as well as one is able, with the best intention for self and others at the foreground. An intentionally lived life that is balanced in mind, body, and spirit is the goal of wellness in my opinion and guess what else? Perfection is not required!

I confess I sometimes equate wellness to a perfect life. While wellness may mean a lot of things to a lot of people, I strongly believe it is not achieved by the trivial pursuit of perfection. It’s simply not realistic. Look at nature. Think about your own life. You do not have to be 100% healthy, always happy, and the perfect person to practice wellness.

Here’s a glimpse at what the “un-pursuit of perfection” has looked like in my daily life. Have I arrived? Heck no. Baby steps. Here we go.

I was stuck in a rut exercising seldomly each week and decided to challenge myself. The challenge? To move every day on purpose for at least a quarter hour for a ninety day challenge. Yep, 15 minutes every day for 90 days. My impulse was to shoot for all ninety days. Also known as perfection. Reason and the lived experience that the expectation of perfection has often yielded disappointment lead me to aim for an eighty percent perfection rate. As of today it’s day seventy something and I am happy to report that I haven’t been perfect. My goal has been do-able, and I’ve done a little better than my less-than-perfect goal.

Are you pursuing the un-pursuit of perfection in your life? What’s your experience?