Monday, February 24th, 2014

Overcoming depression: Nine steps toward happiness

Today’s blog article was written by a person very special to me – my twenty-two year old daughter Hannah. Hannah normally so happy, energetic and optimistic has been through an incredibly stressful few years – good stresses and not so good stresses. Two days ago her beloved sixty-six year old grandfather Ted, died after a courageous battle with cancer.  It’s been devastating for us all. Earlier this year a close friend took his own life. And these are only some of the things that have been knocking her around. No wonder she has been feeling depressed.

But slowly but surely Hannah is finding her way back to happiness and I asked her if she would be willing to share her experience and wisdom with you with the hope that from her own experience others may benefit. Here is what she wrote:

Overcoming depression: Nine steps toward happiness

Happiness comes from within, from within ones soul. When one is battling depression I would say the best first step is to be your own best friend.  Don’t be hard on yourself about where you are.  Sometimes when you are depressed you can be really focused on everything that you don’t think is right about you.  I have decided to call these thoughts the Ra’s.  Remind yourself of all the beautiful things that you still like about yourself.  Mine, for example is my singing voice and that people positively comment that I am nice and tall and I have good looks, I’m intelligent and I do well at university.

When you have depression often you have low self-esteem so perhaps keep a journal of the positive things people say about you or say positive things to yourself about your appearance and your personality.

 Step 2: Notice the beauty around you.  The world is a beautiful place if one could only notice all the stunning things around that there are to see. Take moments in the day to practice mindfulness and take in the beauty of the things around you, the birds, the trees, the flowers, the fashion of people around you.  Take pleasure in the small things most people would usually only glance over.  Enjoy the local music in cafes or even do some people watching.  It’s amazing what you can see when you take in your local surroundings. This also helps you to stay focused in the present rather than worrying about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

Step 3:  Listen to some positive music.  It’s incredible how much just listening to a good song can lift your mood. Sitting with an iPod or taking one out for a walk can be great to boost the way you feel. Today for example I was feeling really flat and I put on uplifting Katy Perry songs and felt worlds better for it. I decided to create a playlist called “Gear me up.”

 Step 4: Exercise. Taking yourself out for a brisk walk can help a great deal to get the blood pumping. I know I feel so much better for just going for a walk with my iPod and getting out amongst the wind and into the sunshine.

 Step 5 – Meditate. Learning to quiet the mind and be in the now is a great practice to take up. Just spending 20 minutes a day can help a great deal with concerns of the mind and day to day worries.  I have started going to a meditation class to learn and I’ve joined up with a friend who wanted to learn as well.  It’s good because we are both encouraging each other.

 Step 6 – Journal. Writing down how you feel each day and keeping a mental note can be a really helpful practice.  Keeping tabs on how you are going and where you could improve can help you to feel better about where you are at and where you need to be.  In this journal keep a record of how your emotions are and perhaps write some goals.

 Step 7 – Keep active. Making sure that you are doing something with your days, keeping active and not allowing yourself to sit inside your own head is really important. Scheduling tasks and activities to get done is helpful.  Still keep social even though you may not necessarily feel like being social.  It’s really important not to isolate yourself.

 Step 8-  Follow your passion. Still partake in the things that you are passionate about.  Don’t forget to still be involved in your joys even though they may not necessarily feel like your joys at the time.  Also it is still OK to do things alone.

 Step 9 – Soak up the sun. When you are depressed you often feel like staying inside, in bed, in the dark- anything but going out in the light, which is the very thing that you need to do to feel better. Vitamins from the sun are proven to make you feel better. Don’t forget solar power can light up houses, building and resorts.  Just think what it can do for you!

All I can say is that depression is not something that will last for ever and with good commitment to working on and practicing some of the steps above you can expect to be feeling much better and be on your way to recovery.  Remember you’re a good special person who is simply going through a tough time, hang on to hope and be your best friend.



Image: big-yellow-sunflower-sandra-cunningham.

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Love thy self this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day is a day of love. Whether you are with a partner or on your own it matters not. What matters is love. Love of self. So many people struggle with this – looking for love in all the wrong places; looking for love in all the wrong faces. If you are with someone who loves and accepts you for who you are – warts and all – wonderful. That person is a keeper. If not…leave. As Richard Bach, author of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’, and ‘Bridge Across Forever’ once wrote, “So often half of a couple is trying to go up, the other half is dragging down. One walks forward, the other makes sure that for every two steps ahead they take three steps back. Better to learn happiness alone, I thought, love my friends and my cat, better wait for a soul mate who never comes than to make that dull compromise.”

I can’t think of a better love affair than to have a love affair with your self – your passions, your talents, your unique essence.

Sounds easy? No – so many people struggle to love themselves. So much seems to tear them down. People find it easier to hurl a criticism than to flourish a compliment. But we can take control back. We can do this for ourselves. Here are a few ways to cultivate self-love this Valentine’s day and beyond:

 1. Do what you are good at
It doesn’t matter where your talent may lie, whether it’s in chess, drama, or butterfly collecting, when you do something you like doing and have talent for it’s exhilarating. It’s a form of self-expression and it boosts self-esteem.’ ~ The Principal, Mackenzie College, NZ

 What activities and/or special talents do you have that give you the most satisfaction?


2. Write down 10 things you are most proud of

 Celebrate the goals you have already achieved. You are probably so busy focusing on the thing you have to achieve next that you can forget to give yourself an encouraging pat on the back for the things you have already accomplished:


3. Define life success

One of the most empowering things you can do for yourself is to define your criteria for life success. This requires reflecting on what the key elements are and the experiences you wish to have. What is success to you? For me success is being truly happy, authentic, free.


4. Choose to be happy

 ‘Are you happy? Are you doing, this moment, exactly what you most want to do in the world?’

Happiness is a state of mind. The Dalai Lama says that the very purpose of life is to seek happiness. He believes that if you train the mind to be happy, you will be. Likewise, you can train yourself for higher self-esteem. Some people affirm for what they want by writing in a journal how they want to feel for the day. Others work out the things that lead them to feel sad and find ways to remove these things – such as not watching the news. Others make a conscious effort to do something everyday that makes them feel happy.

List at least 10 things that make you feel happy. What are some steps you can help yourself to feel happier?

‘A human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to be happy.’ ~Viktor Frankl, Psychologist


5. Set challenging goals

How much you like yourself is often reflected in the level of goals you will set for yourself. Generally, people who like themselves and feel valuable set higher and more challenging life goals. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? How could you make this goal a reality? If this feels daunting try setting mini-goals.


6. Honour your core values

When you live by a clear set of values, it is easier to align your life with what is most important to you. When you honour your core values, (those things you would fight for), you honour your true self.

What are you doing now that is not congruent with your values? What steps could you take to “live” and “be” your values?


7. Enhance your energy

People with high self-esteem seem to have a reservoir of energy, and seldom get sick or let life’s set-backs keep them down. Their energy and enthusiasm for life encourages them to take care of their body, mind, and spirit.

What five things could you do this week that would make a positive difference to your energy levels? I know if I go for a walk, turn off technology, meditate, read something inspiring and eat healthily my energy soars – more so if I do something I am passionate about. Staying away from negative media and people also boosts my energy!


8. Maintain a positive attitude

Attitude determines your altitude. The more positive your thinking, the more positive your feelings, the more positive the outcome. There is nothing more powerful and creative than your thoughts, so you may as well make them positive and uplifting.

How can you stay positive?


9. Be passionate

Passion takes hold of you and feels like “fire in the belly”. It is a source of power that enables you to get fired about life and make a difference. The more passion and zest you feel, the more alive and brightly lit you are. Enjoy a daily tonic and make passion a regular event.  Do you regularly spend time doing things you enjoy? Can you do something every day to help keep your passion alive?  Only 15 or 30 minutes a day devoted to activities you love and that move you closer to your dreams can make a big difference to your health and happiness. If finding time or lacking energy is preventing you from doing more of the things you are passionate about develop a strategy to restore the balance.
What things can you do to experience more passion in your life?


10. Live by vision and work with purpose

When you know your life vision and purpose, life has more meaning and direction. Vision and purpose provide a sense that you matter, that you have a part to play, and that you truly belong here. What is your life purpose?


11. Take action

Underlying every procrastinator is a thought that they can’t handle or manage the task in front of them. Fear, laziness or self-doubt – all the hallmarks of low self-esteem – are often present. Whip procrastination into shape by listing all the things you are putting off and developing an action plan to take them off your “to do” list:


12. Reward success

Set yourself up for success by breaking big goals into daily action steps and take time to acknowledge and celebrate the small successes. This will feed your need for recognition and provides the extra push to keep you moving forward.

What are some ways you can reward yourself?


13. Make smart life decisions

When you care about yourself, you make smarter decisions. You take care to choose the right mate, occupation, and lifestyle that support you.

In the space below, or in your passion journal, list your decision-making criteria. What are all the things that are truly important to you given who you are, who you choose to be, and what you want to achieve and contribute to the world? Rank you list in order of priority. This list is your life map – keep it visible to help guide your decisions:


14. Break free of the comfort zone!

Humans are pre-wired to grow and develop. From the moment we are born we are set on an irreversible path of growth and exploration. Our fingernails keep growing, our skin heals when it is damaged – yet somewhere along the way some people tell themselves it is not okay to try new things. Trying to stifle this growth is a sure-fire way to limit your potential. How do you know what you are capable of until you try.

How could you break free of the comfort rut?


15. Recognise and celebrate your positive qualities

Circle 10 (or more) of your strongest positive qualities, or write in your own at the bottom! Post this in a prominent place where you live. Begin each day by reading your list and affirming all of your positive attributes. You may want to get a photo of yourself and write down all the things that are good about you beside it.

Able Accepting Accurate Adaptable
Adventurous Affectionate Alert Ambitious
Artistic Assertive Broad-minded Calm
Capable Candid Careful Caring
Cautious Charming Cheerful Childlike
Clear-thinking Clever Compassionate Competent
Confident Conscientious Considerate Cooperative
Courageous Creative Curious Dependable
Determined Dynamic Eager Easy-going
Efficient Empathic Energetic Enterprising
Enthusiastic Fair-minded Faithful Fit
Free Friendly Fulfilled Funny
Generous Gentle Glad Good-natured
Growing Happy Healthy Helpful
Honest Hopeful Humorous Idealistic
Imaginative Independent Individualistic Industrious
Informal Ingenious Intelligent Inventive
Kind Learning Leisurely Light-hearted
Likable Logical Lovable Loving
Mature Merry Mild Moderate
Modest Natural Neat Non-judgmental
Nurturing Open-minded Optimistic Organized
Original Outgoing Patient Peaceful
Persevering Persistent Pleasant Polite
Positive Practical Precise Progressive
Punctual Quiet Rational Realistic
Reasonable Reflective Relaxed Reliable
Reserved Resourceful Responsible Robust
Sexy Sincere Sociable Special
Spontaneous Spunky Stable Strong
Tactful Talented Tenacious Thankful
Thorough Tolerant Trusting Trustworthy
Understanding Uninhibited Unique Versatile
Warm Whole Witty Zany


16.  Embrace your flaws

Healing, growth and self-love come from embracing our flaws – those parts of our personalities that we may be told by others are our weakest links. The truth (sometimes) is that our greatest weakness can be our greatest strength (and vice versa).

Growing up I was told my sensitivity made me weak – now my empathy and intuitiveness are valued by others as amongst my greatest strengths. Similarly I have been told my creativity is one of my greatest assets. During most of my childhood I was actively steered away from this. Go figure!

What are you weaknesses? How could your weakness be a strength? How can you embrace it, cultivate it, own it – do something to help others with it? What is your Achilles heel – your spot of vulnerability that if you were to strengthen it could make you greater still?

Positive Self-Talk

Everyone has had negative experiences that cause self-doubt.  But faith in our ability to accomplish our goals can be re-enforced through affirmations.  Repeating affirming statements is simply an acknowledgement of what you may already believe but may have come to doubt because of a bad experience.

Think about a situation that might make you feel uncomfortable, hesitant, or even fearful.  Maybe it’s making a phone call to a prospective employer to see if they have any vacancies or going for an interview.  Whatever it might be, imagine yourself experiencing that same difficult situation in a way that you never have before – as your ideal self – confident, self-assured, at ease, etc.

How do look in this fantasy?  Describe yourself as you might look and feel.


The greatest thing you will ever learn, is to love and to be loved in return.

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