Do people tell you that you’re too “thin-skinned” or overly reactive? Do you tend to pick up on other people’s energy to the point where you “catch” their moods? Does being around a large group of people drain you? Do you need a lot of time alone to regroup and regain your energy? Are you frazzled by noise, odors, or chattering, more so than the next person? Do you compulsively overeat to try and manage uncomfortable feelings? Are you scared that you might “lose” yourself if you become involved in an intimate relationship? If you answer yes to most of these questions, you may be an “empath”, according to psychiatrist Judith Orloff, an intuitive psychiatrist who authored the book Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life. Being highly sensitive and possessing an exceptionally “permeable” system, empaths are generally: very passionate gifted at connecting to and helping others intuitive spiritual, and in tune with their physical sensations and emotions.
There’s no getting around it – food is an essential and often extremely pleasurable part of life. (That is, unless you’re a breatharian, a concept I personally cannot understand.) Not only is food necessary for our physical sustenance, but it also figures prominently in many social and religious events. Thanksgiving and turkey (or tofurky). The Super Bowl, chips, and dip. Easter, chocolate eggs, and Peeps. Passover, matzoh, and gefilte fish. Enjoying a leisurely meal with friends or family can also help us bond with others while nourishing our bodies. However, in too many cases food and eating can morph into a source of discomfort and potentially threaten one’s physical health and well-being. Downing a one-pound bag of M & M’s can become the response to be jilted romantically or losing one’s job. Grazing on bags of potato chips throughout the day can become a way to procrastinate about schoolwork. Ordering an extra-large pizza and eating it alone at home with the blinds closed, and then falling into a food-fueled comatose state, can be a way to block out feelings of low self-worth. This is serious business. What to do? How to regain a healthy relationship with food again? Or develop such a relationship for the first time?
"Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car." (Billy Sunday) Is it better for your happiness and health to belong to an organized religion or to be “spiritual”? Does it matter? Being religious refers to believing in a specific deity (or group of deities) and following the regulations of a particular religion. In addition, organized religion (as implied by its title) generally takes place in a relatively formal, organized context. In contrast, being spiritual may or may not involve belief in a particular god but does imply that the person is trying to follow a specific moral code, such as being loving and kind, and is seeking a meaning in life that’s bigger than him or herself. In other words, a person can be both religious and spiritual. In contrast, someone can be religious but not spiritual, as in the case of adhering to religious dogma such as tithing 10% of one’s income but being consistently cruel or unjust. Or, an individual can be spiritual but not religious.
Do any of the following statements ring true for you? My feelings of self-worth are dependent on what you and other people think of me. I focus on solving your problems, protecting you from the consequences of your actions, or “fixing” you, to the point of neglecting my own needs. My self-esteem is based on my ability to “fix” you. I abandon my personal values and interests and conform with your values and interests. I know how you feel and what you want, but I’m not clear on how I feel and what I want. My words and actions are chosen in attempts to avoid your anger or rejection. If so, you may be struggling with codependency, defined as becoming so preoccupied with someone else that you cease to take adequate care of yourself. This is not love – this is looking to an outside source to grant you happiness and a sense of purpose, much in the way that alcoholics or chemically dependent people use substances to numb their feelings and escape life. Although codependents may appear to be kind, gentle, and giving, these qualities can mask a wish to manipulate and control others in order to feel better about themselves. So in a sense codependency is a form of addiction.
Generally when we talk about being “stressed”, we mean that we’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious. However, we all need a certain level of stimulation and challenge in order to feel fulfilled, and this crucial amount of stress is termed eustress. Defined by the endocrinologist Hals Selye, eustress refers to “good stress”, or responding to a stressor as if it were a growth-enhancing opportunity, rather than as something to be feared, resisted, denied, or avoided. Of course, the chances of our viewing something as eustress have a lot to do with when and how the stressor occurs, as well as how much control we think we have over the situation and how welcome we view the stressor to be.
Healthy self-esteem is comprised of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-acceptance. It does not mean that we are proud, arrogant, or think that we're inherently better than other people, but that we feel worthy of respect and as if we are of value. In this state, we're able to let go of self-centeredness, because we aren't preoccupied with how we are or aren't measuring up. While we take appropriate action toward our goals, they don't define who we are as people. Thus, our self-esteem remains independent of our achievements or what other people think of us, although we still strive to maximize our potential. Some ways to bolster your self-esteem: Be realistic. Don't compare yourself with others, but just focus on doing your best. Also, recognize that your best may vary from day to day, based on factors such as how much sleep you got the previous night, the types of food you've been eating, how much work you have on your plate, and your social interactions.
Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone… Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use. - Carlos Casteneda When it comes to dealing with addiction, emotional problems, relationship problems, or having gotten off-course in life, recovery has two components: recovery from behaviors that no longer work and recovery of a healthy and fulfilling life. Focusing only on not doing something anymore or moving away from particular behaviors keeps us in a deprivation mentality. After all, what we really want is happiness grounded in a sense of purpose and things to wake up to with joy and enthusiasm each morning, to keep us going when the road gets rocky (as it inevitably will, from time to time). The cup can always be at least half-full rather than half-empty -- and at times the cup can even be overflowing!
“Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” Steven Covey Most of us agree that good communication is essential for healthy relationships. However, when we think of communication, we often focus what we want to say, rather than the quality of attention we can offer the other person. Stephen Covey, author of the best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, lists “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” as Habit 5, and states that when we practice empathic listening, we are giving the other person “psychological air”, the priceless gift of being accepted, and help in clarifying what they're really feeling, thinking, experiencing, and needing. Some hints for effective listening:
“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” (Friedrich Nietzsche) When we’re immersed in depression or anxiety, finding some semblance of happiness or purpose in life can feel almost impossible. Depression makes even the smallest task feel like a monumental effort, and anxiety tends to make us run from or avoid people and experiences. Our self-confidence decreases, as we tend to forget that at one time we were functioning more effectively. Our shrinking back from life makes our world smaller, and we lose touch with those things that gave our existence meaning. Without meaning, we are more prone to chronic anxiety and depression – it’s a vicious cycle. Even if we're doing fairly well at the moment, we may still be haunted at times by the sense that we're drifting somewhat aimlessly. So, how do we increase our sense of meaning and purpose?
According to a study published in the January 22, 2014 on-line edition of the journal Neurology, the higher the level of fish oils in your blood, the larger your brain volume is likely to be, implying that such oils may slow down the loss of brain cells as you age. The study team assessed the level of the marine omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA in the red blood cells of over 1,000 post-menopausal women. Eight years later, the women’s brain volumes were measured using MRI scans. The average age of the participants was 78 at the time of the brain scans. Study subjects with omega-3 levels twice (7.5 percent) as high as those in the lowest range demonstrated a 0.7 percent higher brain volume. In addition, higher levels of omega-3 were associated with greater (2.7 percent) hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is the area of the brain first ravaged by the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.