Posted in Life Lessons, Mindfulness Matters

How Do You Practice Gratitude?

When I think of practicing gratitude, my first thought is, “Well, I guess I’m grateful for what I have,” but that’s not what it means. Practicing isn’t generally being grateful, it’s about actively finding and building gratitude for things (people, places, animals, moments, etc.) in your life.

A good place to start learning about gratitude practice is this article from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC aka a cool research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happiness and altruism). When you’re done with that, check out this article that goes over four different ways to practice gratitude. It isn’t a one size fits all kind of thing so if something isn’t working it’s worth it to try something else.

I’m currently practicing ‘counting my blessings.’ GGSC suggests spending 5-10 minutes writing out three things in detail on a daily basis. I might grow to that eventually, but instead these first few weeks I’ve been boiling it down to 2-3 minutes writing down a few words (ex: getting out of class early, pizza lunch at work, taking the long way home).

It’s funny, lately I find myself appreciating things more in the present. On my walk a few days ago, the same walk I do several times a week, I saw a yellow bird and spent a few moments watching it. I thought to myself how grateful I was for my stillness and for the return of nature and wildlife after an endless winter. I felt happy, calm, and hopeful.

If you’re not sold on the benefits of gratitude practices, check out more of the research:

  • Read this piece on TIME that goes over 7 incredible health benefits of gratitude.
  • Harvard is also hip to the gratitude jive.

Both of these were posted close to Thanksgiving. It’s interesting how we seem to reserve gratitude for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Father/Mother’s day, birthdays etc. I don’t see anything wrong with addressing specific gratitude on these days, but it’s so worthwhile to incorporate gratitude into your daily life.

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Posted in Life Lessons

Holiday Survival Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and for many it’s also the most stressful. The intent of gathering with friends and family is to celebrate and spread happiness, but often we lose the meaning and end up stuck on the logistics of gift giving and the strain of dealing with difficult personalities.

So, how do you cope and keep yourself from having a breakdown when you burn the casserole and Uncle Jim brings up politics at dinner? I turned to the wealth of knowledge that the internet provides for answers.

Mental Health Today has a great article written by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W. on How To Survive The Holidays with a ton of helpful advice. Brief highlights for me are their suggestions to:

  • “Be careful of “shoulds” – it is better to do what is most helpful for you and your family. If a situation looks especially difficult over the holidays, don’t get involved if possible.”
  • “There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. “
  • “Stop putting unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy during the holidays. When you have legitimate reasons for being happy, acknowledge them and be gentle with yourself.”

I have a habit of getting stuck on what a family oriented holiday should be, how I should feel, and what I should do. This is problematic because I end up putting pressure on myself to perform family verses experiencing it. Wherever you end up whether it be with your family, your partner’s family, in a soup kitchen, on a trip, or at home alone there is no right way to celebrate.

Even Kesha can relate to the holiday mental health struggle! In a recent essay for TIME she wrote, “Around the holidays, I often feel like I’m supposed to be everywhere, with everyone — all with the added guilt that it’s the season of giving.” To combat this societal pressure and maintain her mental health she constantly reminds herself, “It’s not selfish to take time for yourself.” When you make it a priority to take time for yourself, “you will actually be much better company for those around you.”

Be kind to others, be kind to yourselves, and let’s leave the stress and pressure of getting the holidays right behind us.

Posted in Life Lessons

Am I Doing Friendship Right?

Without exception every single day in our digital age we need to interact with other human beings. Most times the people we interact with aren’t even the one’s we care about. When we finally get to those we love we need to listen, respond, follow up, make plans, keep plans, check in…. it can be daunting. I constantly find myself asking the question: Am I doing this right? 

I frequently worry that I’m not doing enough and the reality is that I’m probably not. I’m an introvert by nature so it’s difficult enough for me to approach people in general, let alone keep up with the delicate process of building and keeping a healthy relationship. I forget to call, respond to texts, make plans, or worst of all if I’m feeling extra anxious or depressed I’ll cancel plans last minute. Should I just face the fact that I’m a bad friend?

Often I wholeheartedly agree that I am a bad friend, but today I’m going to take a stab at playing devil’s advocate: maybe I experience friendship in a nontraditional way. Don’t get me wrong, most of the behaviors described in the last paragraph are destructive and have/will continue to damage relationships. And I can understand why.

At least once a year I go through an outgoing phase where I make tons of plans and try to connect with lots of people. Inevitably I am faced with last minute cancellations and unanswered calls or texts. I try my best not to be hurt, but I am and in that moment I understand exactly how I make others feel when I cancel plans or fail to return messages. It sucks, but things happen and sometimes plans fall through or people get distracted.

Maybe sometimes we’re all bad friends, so instead of focusing on my failings I can focus on how I can be a better friend, but how does one go about leveling up in friendship? I know that I’m a broken record, but it seems the answer lies once again with mindfulness. Sophie Dembling asks some good questions in her post for Psychology Today:

“What is our role in creating intimacy in our relationships? And what roadblocks might we put in our own way? In what ways do you feel you “can’t” contribute more to the relationship?”

Dembling’s questions should get you started on a good path. Instead of evaluating relationships in your life piece by piece, start thinking about relationships as a whole, the elements involved and how they function.

Another reason we fail to connect with our friends is because we are just too busy. Life moves at hyperspeed now and sometimes there isn’t enough time to take a breath, let alone remember to reach out. The tips in this Fast Company  article are clear and seem easy enough to implement, particularly practicing random acts of kindness.

I’ve thought about bringing the Pen Pal tradition back with friends it’s harder to meet up with so we still have a space to connect that isn’t as easy to tune out of like social media or texting. Will I ever get to it? Maybe, maybe not, but at least I’m trying!

If you’re curious if you might be a bad friend check out this article from Vincent Nygen that goes over eight different warning signs.


This is a side note on how grateful I am for the friends that I do have. Yesterday was hell for me. My mood plummeted and I couldn’t seem to stop crying and pull myself out of it. I was insecure about all the relationships in my life, questioning everything I have ever done… I was so ready to call it quits. My bestie texted me later that day to tell me she was there for me and it brightened me up enough to make it through. I don’t know what I would do with that woman, but once the appreciation wore off the insecurity that I don’t reciprocate enough and don’t deserve her friendship began to consume me again.The dark cloud of doubt, sadness and insecurity threatened to stick with me today, but another observant friend was determined to snap me out of it and she succeeded:

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I’m 100% sure I do not deserve this awesomeness and it’s so tempting for me to feel guilty that she went out of her way for me when I’m not worth it, but I keep telling my brain that is not the way to receive this support and love. I am so grateful and glad to have her in my life. I am excited to see how our friendship will evolve over the next few decades and will do my best to spoil her and the other friends in my life with my own random acts of kindness ❤.

Posted in Free Time Fun, Life Lessons

Comedy Can Be Cathartic

Pain is often expressed through art. We can point to exhibitions of torment across almost all mediums, but comedy is an area where it’s still uncomfortable to explore difficult topics. There’s a social understanding that certain topics are off limits. If a comedian speaks about loss, suicide, or their own mental illness there’s a chance that the joke is going to be met with awkward silence.

One reason is that the joke might not be funny (haha). More likely, though, the audience tensed up as soon as the subject matter was announced. We’re conditioned from a young age that these topics and feelings are meant to be worked out internally and go unspoken, but that isn’t healthy. There are many comedians that have been making efforts to add these ‘dark’ topics to their comedic routines.

I’ve mentioned Paul Gilmartin’s Mental Health Happy Hour (MHHH) in a previous post on podcasts and it’s worth bringing up again. No topic is off limits. People of all ages (over 18) and backgrounds come on the show and talk about the really dark things they have thought and experienced. And there’s laughter! A term of theirs I love is “awfulsome” and it’s something that is truly soul-crushing, but looking back on it there’s something kind of awesome about it, even if it’s just the riotous laughter that sometimes happens when one reflects on life experiences.

Anna Akana is a former guest of MHHH and one of my top five favorite humans. Her younger sister committed suicide at age thirteen and Akana actively advocates for suicide prevention. Whether it’s through skits on her YouTube channel, her larger creative work like Riley Rewind, or a regular part of her comedic routine she challenges us to talk about suicide and the darkness we can easily be consumed with. She has a book out called So Much I Want to Tell You: Letters to my Little Sister that I cannot wait to get my hands on during winter break.

Maria Bamford is my hero. She is an established stand up comedian, an incredible voice actor, and she’s the star of Lady Dynamite, a Netflix show she stars in that’s loosely based on her life experiences. Bamford has bipolar two and is open about her struggles with hypo-mania, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and her recent hospitalizations. On the show she whirls though dark lows to vivid surreal highs and everywhere in-between. It’s one of the first pop culture representations that has found a way to joke about mental illness without making mental illness the joke (if that makes sense). It’s also the hardest I’ve ever laughed, possibly because of how close I can relate. I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to listen to and watch someone with a similar diagnosis be so raw and honest.

I think what I’m getting at here is that pain no longer needs to be a solitary experience. If isolating during your troubles helps you process, that is amazing and I am not trying to take that away from you. I’m merely suggesting that there are plenty of people out there who don’t necessarily want to be alone while they are in pain or going through something, but have been so culturally reinforced that it’s something they need to do alone. You don’t need to be alone, we can suffer together and find the laughter in the lows.

Posted in Free Time Fun, Life Lessons

Hour of You

I challenge you to spend one hour each day in November focusing on your dreams. Why? In conversations lately I’ve been running into people who get themselves stuck in the same situation that I find myself in now. There are so many things that we WANT to do, but when we get home from work/school/social obligations we readily let go of those things we hunger for and settle for the quick escape that presents itself instantly in the form of television, movies, and social media. It makes me wonder what we could accomplish if we spent the first hour we got home tuning into ourselves.

You might be wondering what that looks like and I don’t have an exact answer for you. For me it’s going to be writing as my dream is to one day be a published author. Here are some questions that will help you determine how a daily action can bring you closer to achieving your dreams: What are your dreams? What is a goal that you have wanted to accomplish, but never had enough time for? What are your values and morals? What do you want your life to look like in 5 years? In 10 years? What’s something you’ve wanted to do that you never allowed yourself to believe was possible?

If there isn’t anything you want to work on that’s fine, but you should still take an hour to be present with yourself. Spend some time meditating, go for a walk, journal, the options are endless. Who knows, maybe when you’re taking this time a desire or passion that you weren’t aware of might present itself! For more on the power of connecting with yourself check out this interesting read on Wired written by Robert Wright: How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America.

Posted in Free Time Fun

Podcasts are Neat

When I’m not doing homework on my commute I still need something to fill the time. I tend to recycle the same music playlists and get easily distracted so I finally checked out the world of podcasts. Oh man, have I been missing out!

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There are endless free podcasts to listen to out there on ANY topic imaginable. Fun podcasts that I like to listen to are 2 Dope Queens, The Dollop and The Lady Gang. When I’m not interested in laughing I look for podcasts to help me think more positively like Optimal Living Daily and Happier with Gretchen Ruben.

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Something I never expected to get from podcasts was a greater sense of my own identity. As I explored the podcast landscape more I started finding mental health themed podcasts that made me feel like I was part of a larger community, but more than that, normal.

I found myself relating to the hosts and to the guests on podcasts like Psych Central and Mental Illness Happy Hour. In the rare event that I didn’t relate to the speaker listening to them talk about their own issues and how they cope with them was informative and enlightening.

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The importance of verbalizing your mental illness cannot be understated. Paul Gilmartin, creator/host/executive producer Mental Health Happy Hour, explains it best during an episode with Mike Levine. On the topic of speaking openly about your experience with mental illness he phrases what it does perfectly, “it gives us a chance to own our issue instead of it being owned.”

In sociology we talk about the politics of reclamation and I think this is a fascinating turn in mental health discourse that we are witnessing. The once predominant view that mental illness is a weakness or made a person bad or wrong or should be kept hush hush to prevent embarrassment for the family IS shifting. I think the driving force behind this change is that people living with mental illness (myself included) are done with hiding our pain and pretending we’re okay. It’s exciting and liberating to feel like I can be mentally ill and not feel guilty or shameful about it. Despite all of the incredibly frightening/saddening/soul-crushing things going on in the world, for the first time in a long time I feel like there’s still hope.