The Best Gift to Give Yourself is Authenticity. My view on why in the Irish Times.

The Best Gift of All is Authenticity… Find out why in my article in The Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/get-real-this-season-give-yourself-the-gift-of-authenticity-1.2879061

Perspectives

Perspectives

Perspectives

‘Welcome to today. Another day….another chance. Feel free to change.’

Sometimes, the world makes no sense. In the newspapers over the last few weeks, various articles report on the abduction of hundreds of girls from a school in Nigeria by a group who claim that girls should not be educated in ‘Western’ ways. These girls have been taken captive and reports are suggesting they may be sold into slavery. It is beyond belief to imagine the agony they may be enduring and the horror and fear felt by their families is beyond comprehension.

I know I will most likely never have to deal with a situation where my children are abducted from school. When I think of how much care and attention our children get in schools, how brilliantly the teachers teach, how much effort is often times made, I absolutely thank my lucky stars that I have been born to live this life. Life can be hard and in Western culture this is no less true than in any other. All sorts of societal pressures and constraints are placed on people, mental health is not given the priory by government that it deserves. But when it comes down to it, our perspective on things really matters. And it’s good, for me at least, to alter mine at times.  Why is it that some people (like us) can live in relative safety while other people in other societies cannot. Why is it that our girls grow up with an absolute sense of entitlement around education while young girls in other cultures have to struggle so much for what are basic human rights? We are lucky….And while it may feel like we are all in the gutter sometimes Oscar Wilde stated so eloquently, ‘We may all be in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. I love Oscar Wilde, I love that I have learned to read and have been educated, it has provided me with the opportunity to read and enjoy the beauty of his words. I never thought it was beyond what I deserved to be taught and to learn and it breaks my heart that it’s not something that other girls are given… the right to an education. I, for one, will look at the stars tonight and hope that those young girls in Nigeria can see them too. I hope that they can see the stars and mostly what I hope for is their safe return home soon… Hope matters. And so, to me, do each of those young girls.

www.annemccormack.ie

When It Is Hard to Feel Grateful

When It’s Hard to Feel  Grateful…..

There are times in life when being grateful just doesn’t seem to fit well. When times are particularly tough, when someone lets you down, when the deal doesn’t go to plan, when your heart is breaking. How can people be expected to  feel grateful when terrible disappointments and hurts come into their life path?

Some people are more optimistic than others, without really having to try that hard. And it’s true that we cannot always fully choose how we feel. On days a person may feel down, they can continue to feel down no matter how much they try not to feel it. And part of that is life, because life is sometimes tough.

Can gratitude fit in on these down days or difficult times? Is it not a lot to except from a person who is dealing with loss or pain to feel grateful? Research says that it is not the feeling grateful that makes a difference to a person’s well-being, it is the effort that people make towards trying to be grateful. Making a conscious effort to cultivate an attitude of gratitude across the board is the thing that matters most when it comes to building up resilience to stress. This does not mean  feeling grateful for every single thing that happens or every situation a person finds themself in. Rather it is about adopting a position that is in alignment with gratitude. Choosing the idea of gratitude and trying throughout the day to stand close to it. People can choose to see gratitude as something to add to their daily diet, even if it is gratitude for waking to another day, gratitude for the experience of having been loved. There is nothing in that sort of attitude that denies or in any way tries to  diminish the experience  of difficult emotion.

Often with loss and hurt, the pain can be really intense and even felt very physically but there is a way to think about loss that allows space for that attitude of gratitude.  To think of the pain of the loss as bearing witness to the love that was felt or shared is a way to bear holding it. As Tennyson once said it was ‘better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ and there can be gratitude for having experienced the love that caused the pain, even if a person feels very let down or hurt. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude helps people cope with crisis situations. It builds resilience and while we cannot always choose how we feel, we can make a choice about attitude.

Adopting an attitude of gratitude rather than trying to feel grateful is a mini-habit that enhances mental health. And it’s those small, daily, mini habits that matter most when it comes to mental health.

Training the Brain

‘ With neuroplasticity, extrordinary change is possible.’

Rick Hanson

Often I have wondered what it would be like to actually take my brain out of my head and have a look at what’s happening inside it. Brain’s fascinate me and I love how complex each of our brains are. We can’t take out our brain in order to try to understand it, but we can still come to know our brains by absorbing knowledge about how they work. Neuroplasticity is the potential of the brain to reorganise and change. We can train our brains to change so they work better for us. Here’s something useful to know……..

Everything that we experience, whether it is a thought, a sound, a sight or a feeling; it all requires underlying neural activity. Neural activity means activity in our brains, between the neurons that are there. The more our neurons fire together and join up in particular ways, the more patterns within or brain activity develop. These patterns become ‘the norm’ in terms of what our brains routinely do. Our brains take their shape and develop patterns from whatever perspective our brains routinely rest upon. If you wake in the morning and rest upon the idea that ‘I am alive, I am breathing, I have another precious day to live’, then this affects the structure your brain will take. If you wake in the morning and think ‘I really don’t want to face what I have to do today, it’s all just so mundane and monotonous,’ your brain structure will be affected. What your brain routinely rests upon can be down to choice, once you become aware of what is happening in your mind and this, in my opinion is good news. It means that once we are conscious of how we interpret our experiences, once we pay attention to what our brain is ‘resting upon’ on a regular basis, we learn that we have choice. Even if the experience is simply waking to a new day, we have choice about how we train our brains to interpret this experience.

The adolescent brain is at a stage of massive development. So much growth and change happens during adolescence which makes it a prime time to gain awareness of one’s ability to train ones brain. Treat the brain as you would any other muscle in your body. Approach it as you would any other muscle, knowing that you can’t control it completely but you can certainly train it to be strong. Step one in this process is to become conscious of how you are interpreting your experiences……….. of your one and only, very precious life.

Valentine’s Day and Teaching Children about Self-Worth

A Valentine Project to Develop Children’s Self-Esteem

 

It is often said that the greatest love you can ever possess is the ability to truly love yourself. As St Valentine’s Day approaches, let us look then at the opportunity it provides us with to reflect on the notion of love. A lot of adolescents are suffering because of low self-esteem. As adolescence begins, the psychological task faced begins to shift. No longer is the main unconscious process focussed on learning how to accomplish and how to complete various tasks. Rather the unconscious mind is concerned with identity formation, the adolescent mind becoming engaged in a process of coming to know who the self really is. With this stage of psychological development comes an understandable heightened sense of self-consciousness, particular in relation to how others perceive them to be. And hence the increased risk to self esteem, when so much attention regarding whether a person feels ‘of worth’ is on something that is external to the self. The key protective factor for adolescent mental health is to have instilled in them a solid sense of their own self worth. Valentine’s Day affords us with the opportunity to begin this process.

A simple way to begin to get children to focus on self-worth is to suggest that they make a Valentine’s card for themselves. By explaining the importance of the value of loving yourself, it becomes a fun, creative way for children from age of 6 to 11 to engage with the concept of self-worth. Children are more likely to engage with learning if it is taught in a fun, creative way and this simple exercise provides children with the opportunity to focus on what it is they love about being themselves.

It can be hard not to become somewhat cynical about the commercialisation of St Valentine ’s Day. But it is a day to celebrate love and it is one we should engage in with gusto. Let us seize the opportunity to teach our children that the most important relationship they will ever have is the one they have with themselves. They deserve the opportunity to develop skills to build self-worth. Mental health matters…. so too does love.

Mental Fitness

‘Mental Fitness’

‘The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.’
Tony Robbins

Being fit, getting fit, feeling fit; there is a lot of talk about it at this time of year… with new year’s resolutions abounding and RTE’s Operation Transformation on many people’s TV screens. And there is no doubt about it, fitness is fantastic and has a multitude of health benefits. But think for a moment just about the word fit…. think what it would be like to then focus on the term ‘mental fitness’ in your mind, instead of always associating it with the physical. Physical fitness has almost become one word but what if we were to broaden the word out…
What would you imagine this country would be like if RTE dedicated an entire series of Operation Transformation to our mental fitness? Yes, physical fitness matters a great deal and it is important to pay attention to our diet, our level of physical activity and our BMI. But is it more important than our level of mental fitness? Does our daily diet of thoughts not impact on us just as much, colouring our experience of living this life, influencing how we each feel?
We indeed have a crisis in this country. As a nation we are physically less active than we ever have been before so attention to physical fitness, particularly for children, matters an awful lot. But mental fitness matters too as the levels of depression and anxiety being experienced are at a very high level, for our young people growing up as well as for many adults. It’s just not as obvious as how a person is doing mentally is not immediately obvious when we look at them, whereas a person’s physical appearance which can hint towards a level of physical fitness, unlike a person’s mind, is readily available for us to see.
The phrase ‘mental fitness’ is one I tweeted about this morning. I stated that a person’s mental fitness level mattered as much as a person’s physical fitness level and I got an immediate positive response from Operation Transformation. So maybe the idea is catching on. Maybe a new journey could be beginning where people in the future will spend 30 minutes every day doing a ‘mental fitness workout’.
What do you believe would happen if people in this country took their mental fitness as seriously as they take their physical fitness? What would happen if as much effort was going into selecting thoughts for the day as is going into the planning of healthy meals? Would the mental health of the nation start to rise? I believe it certainly would. Do you?
www.annemccormack.ie