Giving to Others Improves Your Mood

When our mood is low, giving to others can seem pointless and way too hard. Our impulse is to hide, avoiding others and withdrawing to soothe ourselves or indulge our bad mood. Yet humankind has known for centuries that helping others makes us feel good too. Understanding How Giving to Others Improves Your Mood Augustine of Hippo, one of the early church fathers in Christianity, fussed about this. He argued pure charity couldn’t happen because giving to others made us feel good. This link meant pure altruism was literally impossible. I doubt any of us are going to fret too much that our altruism can’t be without personal gain. Yet it is notable that a 4th Century theologian was aware of the connection. Trey Ratcliff via Compfight Fast forward to our present technology. Neuroscience can explain why giving to others makes us feel better. At its core, the human brain is wired for connection. Fundamentally our brains are designed to ensure that us human animals make connections with each other. One of the parts of our brain that makes this happen is the mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are responsible for reflecting or mirroring the state of mind of others around us. As soon as we interact with another person, our mirror neurons start to adjust our internal experience to harmonize with the other person. Don’t believe me? Consider the last time you came home after a great day, totally pumped and happy. Then your roommate or loved one came home completely frustrated and unhappy. How long did it take for your buzz to fade? That’s mirror neurons at work. When we...

5 Ways Our Physical Health Impacts Feelings

Physical health impacts feelings. Sometimes we forget human beings are still essentially animals with better thinking skills. When we feel poorly physically, it hurts us in many ways. During the winter cold season here in Indianapolis, many of us are fighting sinus infections, strep throat, flu and plain-old cold viruses. Facebook is full of status updates about how being physically ill is bringing our friends down emotionally too. Human being: Part Rational, Mostly Animal Physical health impacts feelings. The symptoms of illness make us miserable and make the survival-oriented animal part of us anxious. Temporary illness, like a winter cold, leave us feeling fatigued, frustrated, irritated by symptoms, and annoyed by our inability to get things done. The animal side of us worries about our survival. In the western world, we tend to forget that our rational mind – the part that reads and understands this article – is a small part of us. The larger part (like 80%) of our brain is caught up in feelings and survival instincts. Our rational mind can influence this part of the brain only a bit. The limit of our rational influence is the beginning of how our physical health impacts feelings.  TheGiantVermin via Compfight 5 Ways Physical Health Impacts Feelings: 1. When we’re sick, our physical energy is being used to fight the infection, leaving less energy for our regular responsibilities. On average, most of us will take only 3-4 days off work because we are sick this year. When we are sick, most of us do our best to keep going. This choice can set us up for negative feelings, because our performance while...

Juvie and Alkie: Two One-Acts on Teen Issues

Last weekend, I had the honor of supporting Young Actors Theatre in Indianapolis. I spoke after their Teen Issues series show, Juvie and Alkie. The show has two one-act plays that can stand alone or have a high impact when combined. The show occurred at the Fringe Theatre near Mass Ave. The relatively new venue for live theatre supports excellent low-budget live theatre. Glad they are part of the Indy art scene!  qthomasbower via Compfight Teen Issues: Juvenile Detention Juvie, the first act/show, uses a combination of engaging crowd-scenes and monologues to show the wide array of reasons teens get involved with the juvenile justice system, one of many important teen issues. The stripped down stage echoes the stark walls of juvenile detention itself. Early in my career, I counseled teens on juvenile probation, including visiting them when they were in detention. Through my clients, I learned that juvenile detention increases how strongly a teen believes they have no value and takes pride in their thuggish ways. While in detention, weakness can never be shown, and troubled youth increase their  social connection to each other. Research has shown that teens who are incarcerated are seven times more likely to be arrested as adults, then teens with similar criminal histories but no history of incarceration. The characters in Juvie demonstrate why this statistic is true. The teens are hard on each other, the “strong” ones showing that they belong by how they pick on others. A majority of the characters are confused about why they are there, knowing its the direct result of an impulsive situation. Only one detainee is truly deranged....

Taking a Personal Day

I hate trying to decide whether or not to use PTO when I’m not taking a planned vacation or hacking up a lung. This post will be unique in few ways. First, it is partially in response to Marissa Bracke’s excellent posts on The Now and Busy-ness. I am rarely moved to respond by other folk’s blog posts, so this is new. Second, it will be a bit more stream-of-consciousness/self-disclosure than I normally write. Finally, I’m hoping for some advice or ideas from my readers – a bit of role reversal if you will. I feel compelled to first identify the ways I am incredibly privileged to even HAVE this dilemma. First, I work at a job where I have paid-time-off. Second, I have a boss that understands mental health days. Three, I don’t have other distractors that enter into the equation. Now that that’s off the chest – please observe my rant. I am a person who is chronically prone to busy-ness and worrying about the future (see marissabracke.com). It’s a chronic condition in my family of origin. So there are moments, maybe twice a year, when my busy-ness gets so out of hand I need an unplanned day to either catch my breath or catch up on my to-do list before I go spinning out of control. I realized last night I was starting to hit tilt. I still deliberated six different times about whether or not to take the day off. And this was after I determined there were no problems with me doing so – I have PTO to use and my job performance will...

Nature of Change

I’m not sure school does a good job of preparing us for the so-called “real world.” I spend my days working as a mental health therapist at a local high school and last weekend I attended my own high school reunion. Needless to say, it stirred up plenty of thoughts about my formative years. The main thing that stood out in my reflections was the nature of change. This area is one place where I think the distance between school and adult life is exceedingly great. The structure of school, built around class expectations and 16 week semesters, teaches us to expect change to happen in a linear, defined fashion and with a specific end date. You have 8, 9 or 16 weeks to pass or fail a class. You have clear expectations of what will be required to pass. This is nothing like positive or negative change outside of school. Change is an incremental process. Progress unfolds over time, with no clear timetable. We can set deadlines for ourselves, like a promotion in two years or trying to have another child by 2011; however, these deadlines are arbitrary and not reinforced or rewarded by the outside world. Change tends to be circular in nature, with plenty of deviations from the goal. Here’s one visual diagram of chnage: So positive change in the real world is not at all like succeeding at school. We set our own deadlines (or not), choose our own criteria and steps, and the progress will probably take years to play out. My advice, do a little better tomorrow than you did today and be...

Forgiveness

Today’s topic is the flip-side of hate. Forgiveness. Something we all know is a good idea and often struggle to do. Whenever someone wounds us or someone we love, we always have the choice to either maintain our outrage or to forgive. There’s an old saying, To err is human, to forgive Divine. Do we really have that kind of divinity within us? It might help to examine forgiveness further. First of all, forgiving is not the same as forgetting. We can forgive someone for hurting our feelings and still remember they have a tendency to say really mean things. Forgiving does not require allowing ourselves to continue to be hurt. We can forgive someone and then decide we will no longer be a close friend and spend lots of time with them because they like to say mean things. Forgiveness does not require the other person to apologize or require us to even communicate with the offending party. We can choose to forgive someone for hurting our feelings without even telling them. I think forgiveness is divine becuase the experience is divine, not because it takes divine strength to do it (although sometimes praying to the divine can help!). Forgiveness is a conscious choice to release hate, hurt and anger, to stop stewing over how someone hurt us. Forgiveness releases both parties from the anger and the  guilt. Forgiving someone, whether they apologize or not or we even tell them, gives us permission to stop drinking a little bit of poison each day. It reconnects us to our warmth and compassion. For the person being forgiven, the relief can...