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Get Physical With Mental Illness: 5 Mental Toughness Tips

Get Physical with Mental Illness

Mental Illness and Over-Diagnosis.

If you didn’t read our previous article about depression and over-diagnosis, then you may not be aware of the growing epidemic in current psychiatric fads, and the damaging effects they can have on our society. In this article, we will explore the link between mental illness and physical health, and how we can improve both by taking full responsibility for our own wellbeing. In particular, we’ll focus on how exercise and mental toughness can improve our mental health.

Mental and Physical Health are Interdependent.

We rely so heavily on our minds, that we often forget to pay attention to what our bodies need. The stress of ordinary life can distract us from some of the most basic tools we have to combat mental illness – exercise and a healthy diet. Neglecting these basic tools only increases one’s level of unhappiness, leaving us in a state of poor mental and physical health. However, when we do engage in regular exercise (even when we don’t want to) and eat properly (even though doughnuts), studies have indicated that symptoms of anxiety and depression can decrease greatly. The issue remains, that in a society filled with band-aid solutions it can sometimes be tempting to seek out an easier alternative. So, the need to recognise and accept that there is NO ALTERNATIVE for regular, sustainable exercise and a healthy diet is imperative.

Exercise Can Build Confidence and Self-Esteem.

This can have an enormous impact on our overall mental health. These two attributes shouldn’t be solely based on our perceived level of physical attractiveness, but rather on our physical and mental ability. We are all born with a predisposition for various strengths/weaknesses, but much of our mental/physical capabilities can be developed. If we are to be resilient in the fight against mental illness, then we should be building our resilience through exercise too. But what does this mean exactly? Well, exercise presents challenges both physical and mental. Overcoming the physical challenges, is largely attributed to our ability to ‘push ourselves’, which could also be defined as the mental challenges of exercise. The ability to push ourselves encourages the development of ‘mental toughness’. This gives athletes a competitive edge in the sporting arena, but also the confidence to face the challenges presented in their personal lives too. This principle is not exclusive to elite athletes, but rather for anyone willing to learn.

How Can I Be Mentally Tough?

The road to becoming mentally tough is a long and arduous one. In fact, the thought alone will scare most people away. That’s why so many of us are stuck in a loop, looking for the shortcut that isn’t there. So once you have accepted the fact that there is no alternative for hard work, what follows? Being mentally tough is quite an abstract concept. You can be mentally tough during stressful situations, and you be mentally tough when your body is under extreme exertion. However you look at it, your mental toughness is generally in response to performing a physical action. This being the case, let’s explore how we can develop strength of mind through regular, challenging exercise, which can then be applied to situations of mental stress too.

1. Start Exercising.

Regardless of your physical capability and level of experience, you can still challenge yourself with exercise. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the only way to understand what you are truly capable of is to get into it. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, its a good idea to chat with your doctor to understand limitations and precautions.

2. Find Your Mode of Exercise.

Mental illness presents in many forms. In the case of depression and anxiety, exercise is thought to prevent the onset, and possibly even treat symptoms. If you are new to exercise, or just getting back into it, there are an abundance of resources online to get you started. Perhaps you’re interested in functional training programs? Or yoga? Or martial arts? It’s also a great idea to engage in group training sessions, to ensure you are performing exercises correctly. Watching other people push themselves might also encourage you to do the same.

3. Find an Activity You Enjoy.

This is an important one, but it may take some time. As you become more active and aware of your capabilities, you can begin to explore some physical activities that interest you. This is a great way to motivate yourself during training, as it gives purpose to your blood, sweat and tears. When the reason for your physical exertion makes sense to you, it will be far easier to block out the voice in your head that is telling you to stop.

4. Set Yourself a Physical Goal.

This goal might relate to your new-found passion. Or perhaps reconnect you with an old one? Either way, goal setting is a great way to stay motivated. But don’t chase the horizon… Set realistic short-term goals. As you achieve these goals, you’ll begin to recognise the value of your hard work. These short-term goals will be the road to attaining your long-term goal. Keep your goals in the forefront of your mind as you continue to push yourself, both mentally and physically.

5. Positive Self-Talk.

Don’t beat yourself up! When your mind tells you that you can’t do it, shift from this negativity and fight back with positive self-talk. This should be practiced consistently, in order to remodel your self-talk strategy from negative to positive. You may lapse from time to time, but that will only highlight the effectiveness of your positivity. Next time you’re in the dirt, let it be you who picks you back up.

Final Note

Reading and writing about mental toughness is easy. It will be much harder in practice, but don’t let that get you down… All good things take time, so allow yourself some! As always, thanks for reading our article. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Depression: Over-Diagnosis And Management Strategies

The Short Advice Depression Post

Depression and Over-Diagnosis

Depression, along with other mental illnesses like ADD, has been in the media spotlight for some time. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, although some experts consider many of these diagnoses to be somewhat inflated. Allen Frances MD states that over-diagnosis of mental illness is making normality an ‘endangered species’, and threatens to increase the already alarming percentage of the population diagnosed as having a mental illness. So, with diagnostic inflation in mind, how can an individual presenting symptoms of depression know for sure whether they are diagnosable, or are simply facing the inevitable challenges of everyday life?

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

The internet can be a wonderful place. After all, it did bring you The Short Advice… There are a plethora of helpful resources online that offer support for various conditions, and can assist in making a diagnosis for mental illness. Whilst finding advice online isn’t totally unadvisable, it’s generally a good idea to confer with an expert before concluding that you have a medical condition. As stated above, over-diagnosis is currently considered an ‘epidemic’ by some medical professionals, and self-diagnosis has been highlighted as a contributing factor. So lets say you’ve done some online research, and decide to pay a visit to a psychiatrist. They tell you that, based on your symptoms and behaviours, you likely have depression. Let’s not forget now, that over-diagnosis by medical professionals has also been cited as a contributing factor to the epidemic… So who do we trust? Well, that’s a difficult question, and unfortunately there is no answer. Although, if you do agree that over-diagnosis is real, then anybody diagnosed should not rule out the possibility that perhaps their diagnosis is a stretch.

Depression vs Ordinary Life

So perhaps you are exhibiting some common symptoms of depression. It can be difficult not to be caught up in the hype of psychiatric fads. Yes, it is a mental illness. But, with the over-diagnosis of depression, it could also be considered a fad. Sometimes, trusting a diagnosis as widely-accepted and de-stigmatised as depression, is an easy way to explain, label and justify one’s suffering. Of course, de-stigmitisation is largely viewed as a positive outcome for patients. But it might also encourage others to buy into what is already an epidemic of over-diagnosis. So before you choose to medicate, take the time to engage in some critical self-reflection – at least make the pharmaceutical companies sweat a little… Lets start with 5 simple questions:

  1. Can you identify what exactly is causing you to feel depressed? i.e. Work pressures, bereavement, relationship woes, uncertainty about the future.
  2. When did you begin to feel depressed? (This might help to answer question 1)
  3. What (if any) changes were present in your life when these feelings began?
  4. What changes has your mood/current mental state caused in your life?
  5. Have you taken any steps to improve your situation? What are they?

Making Sense of Our Emotions

Hopefully you’ve been able to pinpoint some of the events in your life that have caused you to feel depressed. In this case, we are using the word ‘depressed’ as a temporary emotional state, rather than an illness. If we allow these issues to go unaddressed, what should be a temporary feeling of depression could turn into something far-less temporary. When we don’t properly deal with our emotions, and allow ourselves to fall into a ‘rut’, we get a snow-ball effect of poor decisions. These decisions only contribute to an elongated period of feeling depressed. And so, the hole gets deeper. A more effective management plan would be to address our emotions as they arise. Consider why you are suddenly feeling depressed. Is it an abstract concept, like fear of the unknown? Or perhaps something more concrete, like a fight with a loved one? Understand when you feel this way, and note other times you have felt the same.

Management Strategies for Building Resilience

Whatever the reason for your negative emotions, you need to develop strategies to counter this. It’s all part of ‘earning happiness‘, and developing resilience. If we immediately succumb to the challenges that are posed by ordinary life, and choose first to seek a diagnosis, it is almost as though we are ducking responsibility for our own emotions. So, the first and most important step is to:

1. Take accountability for your situation, and the improvement thereof.

Now you can start taking positive action to combat your negative emotions. It’s normal to feel depressed from time to time. We can’t always be happy. But falling too deep into self-pity is a trap that almost everyone can relate to. So feel sad, and pay heed to the negative experience. Understand the cause, and consider how you can minimise the effect of this should it happen again. This is a necessary process that helps us better manage our emotions the next time round. But, after you’ve focused on yourself, and improving your situation, the next step is to remind yourself how valuable you are. The best way to pull yourself out from under the blanket of self-pity is to:

2. Do something meaningful for somebody else.

Perhaps a family member, or friend, or maybe even a stranger. Helping others can be a humbling experience, that takes our mind away from our own problems. It is of mutual benefit for both the person helping, and the person in need of assistance. You might even be able to relate to some of the challenges that others are facing, and find that those challenges are indeed a part of ordinary life. Through helping others, you might also be helping yourself to find solutions to your own problems. Our third and final step for today’s article is an important one, which focuses on resilience:

3. Embrace the challenge.

Nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. Accept the reality that you will not immediately find your happiness again overnight. You will have ups and downs, but the quest for happiness presents amazing opportunities to explore new avenues towards achieving a better balance. Your experiences, both positive and negative will continue to shape you, and your response to such experiences will define you. If you have experienced immense sadness, then moments of euphoric happiness await if you choose to work towards them.

Final Note

Diagnosing clinical depression is difficult. There is no blood test or scan that can give conclusive evidence. Whilst there are many legitimate cases, there are also illegitimate ones. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should consider engaging in professional consultation (counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, GP). However, never waive the responsibility that you have over your own wellbeing. If you have been diagnosed, it may be worth seeking multiple opinions, or simply engaging in a management plan (developed by yourself and/or a professional), rather than medicating. The choice to medicate/accept diagnosis must be your own.

As always, thanks for reading and we’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

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Decision-Making Skills: Influential Factors And The 5 Decision-Making Markers

Decision Making Skills The Short Advice

What Influences Our Decisions?

Your entire life you have been influenced by your environment, circumstances and the people surrounding you. Your genetics may have pre-disposed you to developing particular traits and tendencies, but ultimately, your personality, views and opinions have been moulded by that place you call ‘home’. Each decision you make is influenced by these factors. Consider how damaging this could be for someone who has been placed in a negative environment. The main factors influencing their behaviour and ideals may be particularly misleading. The further ingrained these ideals become, the less likely they are to change. That is why it is important to consider how we have been influenced over the course of our lives, and by whom/what. Arguably, the strongest influence in the life of a developing young mind is our parents.

BREAKING: Your Parents Are Not Always Right.

What we want for our lives might be significantly different to our parents’ expectations. So, we begin to question things that they’ve had us believe, and attempt to recount influential childhood moments. This is all part of developing our independence, and a sense of self-worth. It doesn’t mean that your parents are wrong as such, nor does it mean that they have tried to mislead you. But much like yourself, your parents are not perfect. Maybe it’s time to consider if some of the opinions/views that you’ve adopted from your parents are right for you? We’re not saying you should trash every piece of advice they’ve ever offered. We’re just saying that they’re not the masters and commanders of the universe. So as with any advice you are given, you should consider whether or not it is right for you. Ultimately, each decision you make should be your own.

Take Control of Your Decisions.

You won’t always make the right decision. That’s okay. Accept your mistakes and learn from them. You are responsible for your failures, as much as you are for your successes. You cannot have one without the other. This is how you will navigate your own experiences, and re-program the way that you develop your views and opinions. For example, perhaps you’ve acted in a manner that you have been taught to act in, with a negative result. This negative result might encourage you to reconsider that behaviour, or perhaps change your point of view. Through this process, we develop independent thought, that can often challenge the influential factors of our past. The next decision you make will be better informed. Not only will it be based on a lifetime of various influences, but also on your own personal experience. This should be a regular process of endless refinement.

The Independent Thinker.

You’ve begun the process of deconstructing your ideas and past decisions. Some are relevant, and everlasting. Maybe some are outdated? Others might be plainly wrong. This is a constructive process that further develops your sense of self, and ability to be an independent thinker. You will still be influenced by your environment, and the opinions of people you respect. That is totally fine. In fact, it is a good thing. But rather than simply believing/adopting these opinions, you now have your own process of weighing each thought against the values and principles that you’ve developed over time. These values and principles can then be applied each time you are faced with making an important decision.

The 5 Decision-Making Markers.

It sounds simple, although in reality, most of us will be faced with a multitude of difficult decisions in our lifetime. So, lets summarise some important elements in the process of making sound-decisions:

1. List the Pro’s and Con’s.

Take your time (where possible) and consider the various outcomes of each decision. What are the possible positive and negative impacts? 

2. Apply Your Values and Principles.

A principle should be black and white, and unwavering. Your decisions should not compromise them. Apply your values and principles to every decision you make. Ask yourself, “is it the right thing to do?”

3. Commit to Your Decisions.

Once you’ve made up your mind, trust your good judgement and see your decision through. You won’t always get it right, but that’s okay – keep reading!

4. Manage the Outcomes.

Prepare for the various outcomes of your decision, and manage these accordingly. If you make mistakes, understand why, and learn from them. If you’ve reached a positive outcome, you can apply this to future decisions too. 

5. Review the Process.

Re-evaluate the values and principles by which you measure your decisions. Do these need adjusting? Is there a principle that you have overlooked that might be contributing to a pattern of poor decisions? What factors motivate your decisions? Reflect on the process and refine where necessary. 

Again, even following the above thought process, you may not always make the correct decision. Whatever situation you find yourself in, trust the process. If you are unhappy with your decision making process, you may need to refine some of the above elements. Reassessing the values and principles against which you are measuring your decisions is a great place to start. Perhaps you skipped some important steps in the process? Be less certain when approaching important decisions.

Final note…

Like any area of self-improvement, developing sound decision-making skills will be an ongoing process. Mistakes provide us with valuable opportunities to learn and re-evaluate. Our successes provide a benchmark on which to weigh our next decision. If you have any questions or comments, about this post we’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading!

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Conflict Resolution: The 5 Essential Skills

The Short Advice Conflict Resolution

Conflict management is an extremely important consideration for the well-rounded individual.

Simply avoiding conflict is not a viable solution in many circumstances, and certainly not one that is recommended. The longer we let our problems stew, the less likely we are to manage them in a rational, and solution-focused manner. And that brings us to our first essential conflict resolution skill:

1. Address the issue early.

Nobody is perfect. People will make mistakes and they will inevitably upset you. But communicating your feelings earlier, rather than later, can save you (and others involved) much heartache. A dangerous assumption that people often make is that their feelings are known, without them ever having communicated those feelings. “She knows what she’s doing, and she knows its upsetting me.” Hmmm, this may be so, but then again, it is equally as likely that the person is unaware of the stress they are causing. Or maybe there is an underlying issue contributing to their behaviour that you are unaware of. Either way, if you raise the issue early you allow the chance for everyone to better understand the full scale of the situation, and people’s emotions towards it.

2. Stick to the point.

Perhaps someone that you are not particularly fond of is doing something that you are also not stoked about. Always remember that the issue is with what the individual is doing, not who they are. It’s still okay not to like someone. There are a lot of people in this world, and we can’t be expected to get along swimmingly with everybody. But, we do owe all of these people a certain degree of respect, that is ultimately theirs to lose. So, set the example and treat the person with dignity as you address the actions that you have taken exception to. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be stern, or direct. Each situation will have to be judged on its merits of course, but you should always be mindful of presenting a factual, and less-subjective argument where possible.

3. Mind your delivery.

To ‘stick to the point’, is to focus on the actions and facts, not the individual’s personality with whom your qualm is with. To ‘mind your delivery’ is to be conscious of the way in which you communicate this message. Now, there are a thousand ways to deliver the same message, but only a few ways to deliver it well. Even the right message can be counter-productive if not delivered tactfully, so always bear this in mind when making your point. Whilst sarcasm can be heaps of fun, it’s generally not a good way to let someone know that they are in the wrong. Nor is yelling and berating. Rather, you should aim to take an informative, and educational tone (without being condescending). You are not assuming knowledge, but rather, informing them of the situation as you see it, and your emotions towards said situation. This is information that would be reasonable to assume this person does not know. Your calm and informative tone will hopefully encourage them to respond in a similar manner. We do all of this with the aim of creating a constructive conversation, rather than an emotion-fuelled argument.

4. Stay rational under emotional duress.

When we are trying to manage situations of conflict, we must also manage our emotions at the same time. It can be difficult to think clearly and make rational decisions when we are under such pressure, and so it is important to recognise that there is a tendency for people to become irrational during times of conflict. Unless you are made of stone, you have experienced this phenomenon before. You’ve said things you wished you hadn’t. You’ve done things you wished you hadn’t. So, as stated in a previous post about sustainable change, learn from your mistakes. Take a breath, and refer back to skills one, two and three. It’s okay to slow down and take your time. You don’t need to rush to a solution, because it may not be the right one. Next time you feel yourself becoming a bit agitated, change your tact, and remind yourself to be solution-focused.

5. Know when to walk away.

You can’t win them all. Well, it’s really not about winning or losing, is it? The right outcome for a situation of conflict might see you having to take responsibility for some wrong-doing. That is perfectly reasonable. But every now and then, we may find ourselves butting heads with an individual who is not as well-versed in conflict resolution as ourselves. Some people may simply be unwilling to allow you the chance to address your issue properly. Or maybe you are unable to appropriately manage your emotions in order to remain rational. Whatever the case, it is important to recognise when you are figuratively ‘banging your head against a brick wall’. In other words, you need to recognise when an argument is no longer constructive. Walking away might mean suggesting that the conversation be continued another time, after both parties have had a chance to consider the situation. This all depends on your relationship with the person in question, and the weight of the issue. If it is someone close, and likely to bother you in the future, it needs to be revisited. Don’t leave the matter unresolved.

Final note…

We hope you enjoyed reading about our 5 Essential Conflict Resolution Skills. If you have a specific matter of conflict you’d like some help with, head over to the homepage and give us the short story, and we’ll reply within 24 hours with the short advice. Thanks for reading, see you next time.