It’s Remarkable – Your Subconscious Mind is Always Talking. Stop and Listen.

The Subconscious Mind - Young girl is floating on the ocean late at night with a full moon on the horizon.
Written by David Davenport – Contributing author Healing Arts Institute of South Florida
Image by Canva

You may not be aware of it, but there is so much more happening in your mind than you realize.

Your brain functions as an extremely complicated computer, taking in information, processing that information, and then providing you with a conclusion. Your brain is managing enormous volumes of information every single day, and all of it is being filtered through the lens of your experiences and belief systems. 

In a way, you can think of your brain as computing hardware. This hardware needs to be given instructions about how to function, in other words, it needs a software operating system.

Continuing with this tech-based analogy, I want you to think about what it is like to use your computer or smartphone. While you have a broad range of apps that you can choose to use (consciousness), there are many other processes running in the background that you do not directly control (subconsciousness).

Much like your computer, the apps you chose to run (actions and behaviors) will affect the programs running in the background (subconscious thoughts and beliefs.). The opposite is also true. Your subconscious thoughts will affect your actions and behaviors.

Our background software is always processing information and sending back output. We just have to listen to what it is telling us.

Your brain is like a computer

Like any computer your brain needs input, and this data comes in many forms:

  • Your immediate surroundings and environment.
  • The people you interact with.
  • The actions you take, and activities that you participate in.
  • Sensory information such as smell, touch, sight, taste, and sound.

All this input is processed continuously whether you are aware of it or not. Truthfully, let’s be thankful that we aren’t aware of all of it. Can you imagine how difficult life would be if we had to make conscious efforts to move every single muscle every time we took a step? Every time we took a breath? Every time we swallowed and digested food? There would be no room to process higher thoughts. All our mental energy would be focused on physiologic survival.

Similarly, many of our emotions are processed through subconscious channels. This allows us to focus on more pressing and immediate thoughts and actions.

Our background software is always processing information and sending back output. We just have to listen to what it is telling us.

Feeling uneasy around certain people or situations

We can be quick to dismiss uneasy ‘gut’ feelings when being introduced to certain people or situations. We might minimize this feeling as being the result of social anxiety, nerves, or perhaps personal biases. However, these feelings are coming from somewhere. Our past experiences and the conclusions we reach from those experiences can shape our perceptions of future interactions.

That ‘gut feeling’ you have maybe your unconscious mind warning you that you are about to repeat something unpleasant from the past. You may be picking up on signals that are similar enough to previous experiences to where your brain is registering a warning not to do it again.

You should listen to that inner voice when it is telling you that something is wrong. The next time you get that unsettling feeling when you encounter a person or situation, listen to what it is telling you.

Having recurring dreams

There are still debates among medical scientists and psychologists as to why humans (and seemingly other mammals) dream when they sleep. On the surface there does not seems to be an obvious evolutionary advantage or purpose to dreaming.

It is not until we open ourselves to the idea of subconscious processing that we begin to formulate a possible explanation for why we dream. 

Dreams may reflect our internal state. They may be a way for our minds to sort through and untangle complicated thoughts and emotions that we experience throughout the day. Recurring dreams may hold clues as to why we feel the way we do or may even reveal emotional dilemmas that we were not aware of. 

Dreams may be amusing, bizarre, joyful, or even scary. If you are having the same dreams over and over again, it may be your mind’s way of trying to communicate with you.

Experiencing an unexplained feeling of clarity

Have you ever suddenly felt an almost euphoric feeling of peace, relief, or gratitude? If you have, it could be a message from your subconscious. Under stressful or uncertain circumstances, we may make decisions that we are uncertain about. We may doubt ourselves and our ability to do the right thing.

Our subconscious mind can process information much faster than our rational conscious mind can. But sometimes there can be a delay in our emotional state, especially in times of stress and uncertainty.

New information received by your subconscious mind can result in new emotions, but we are not always in sync as to when that update occurs. 

Think of this emotional state as being anti-anxiety.

If you ever suddenly feel as if everything is going to be okay, embrace it. It may be your mind’s way of telling you that you have made the right choices. 

Recurring thoughts

Much like recurring dreams, recurring thoughts can indicate a desire to finalize an unresolved emotional block. Some thoughts can be negative and intrusive and may require the help of a therapist to help you resolve them.

Don’t ignore recurring thoughts, especially if they are hindering your personal or professional life.

Allowing your subconscious mind to better communicate with you

Practicing mindfulness can help your deeper consciousness process and communicate new information. Many of our negative emotions and intrusive thoughts are from our suborn reluctance to listen to what our consciousness is trying to tell us.

Read more about Mindfulness here and associated breathing techniques here.


Citations:

Bargh, John A, and Ezequiel Morsella. “The Unconscious Mind.” Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science vol. 3,1 (2008): 73-9. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00064.x

Carey, Benedict. “The Subconscious Brain – Who’s Minding the Mind?” The New York Times, 30 July 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/07/31/health/psychology/31subl.html.

Martinez-Conde, Susana. “Subconscious Sight.” Scientific American Mind, vol. 19, no. 2, 2008, pp. 48–53., www.jstor.org/stable/24939848. Accessed 3 May 2021.

Psych2Go. “6 Signs Your Subconscious Is Trying To Tell You Something.” YouTube, uploaded by Psych2Go, 31 July 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrJ0mN-l5AI&list=PLbPJLaLL5_ENqax0xTBoEGV5mxNmkseHQ&index=43.

Breathing Techniques that Will Dramatically Improve Your Life

Woman laying back on sofa, breathing deeply, wearing headphones.
Written by David Davenport: Contributing Author Healing Arts Institute

Did you know that you can literally change your state of mind, body, and focus by learning how to breathe properly?

I know, I know…

You’ve been breathing for as long as you can remember, and I shouldn’t be telling you how to live your life. But trust me, this is for your own good.

Last week we talked about mindfulness and how it is important in reducing depression and anxiety. Mindfulness training helps to bring your mind into the present moment. Breathing is an extremely important component of mindfulness, and so this week we are dedicating a whole article to do just that.

The calming effect from deep breathing is not mental, but rather has a physiological explanation.

The science behind how and why we breathe

Our breathing is regulated by a mostly automated process that allows us to bring oxygen into our bodies and release carbon dioxide. We need the oxygen to help our bodies produce a much-needed energy molecule called ATP, and we breathe out the carbon dioxide by-product from that very process.

Unlike other automated systems, we can take control of our breathing. In the past, you’ve likely been told to breathe deeply when you are getting a little worked up. You may have even caught yourself taking deep breathes when you are feeling nervous or angry. The calming effect from deep breathing is not mental, but rather has a physiological explanation.

When you breathe in deeply, you are pulling down on your diaphragm muscle. That action sets off a chain of events that stimulates an extremely important nerve—the Vagus Nerve. This is the nerve that is responsible for your ‘rest and digest’ state and works to calm you when your sympathetic nervous system has become too active.

In other words, learning about deep breathing techniques will help you to invoke the systems of your body that can turn off your fight-or-flight mode. This is what is meant by ‘belly breathing’.

This is how you can begin to achieve a more mindful state.

Let’s learn a few techniques that can help you calm your nerves and become more focused.

Woman standing with hands on chest, breathing deeply.

Diaphragmatic breathing technique

The diaphragm is the primary muscle used in breathing. It is located just below your ribcage and contracts in a motion that pulls downward. When it does, your chest cavity expands allowing for more air to come in.

So, to get the fullest breathes possible you want to pull down on your diaphragm.

  1. Sit up straight or lie on your back.
  2. Place one of your hands just below the ribcage (where your diaphragm is), and the other hand on the upper part of your chest.
  3. Breathe slowly through your nose and envision your diaphragm being pulled down towards your feet. Let your belly extend, paying attention to the feeling of your hand moving outward with it. The hand on your chest should remain still.
  4. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  5. Slowly exhale through your mouth, again paying attention to the feeling of your hand as it slowly moves back to its original position.
  6. Wait a few seconds before taking another breath and repeating the process at least 3 times.

Once you are comfortable with practicing diaphragmatic breathing, there are some things you can do to make the technique even more effective.

4-7-8 technique

  1. Place your hands in the position for deep breathing as mentioned above.
  2. When inhaling, slowly count to 4.
  3. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  4. Exhale for 8 seconds, making sure to push out as much air as you can.
  5. Repeat at least 3 times.

Once you are comfortable doing this, you can incorporate the next step:

Upper chest ‘roll’ breathing

  1. Position yourself for deep diaphragmatic breathing and go through 10 cycles.
  2. On cycle number 11, concentrate on filling your upper chest with air after you have extended your belly as far as you have been able. You should pay attention to the hand on your chest rising as you do this. As you inhale, your belly hand should rise, then your chest hand should rise.
  3. As you exhale through your mouth, your chest hand should lower followed by your belly hand.
  4. Repeat several times and perform a body scan as discussed in our mindfulness article.

Deep breathing can help you become more focused, reduce stress, lower anxiety, and has even been linked to reductions in processes that produce pathological inflammation. Once you incorporate these techniques as part of a routine, you will be on your way to experiencing the benefits of a more mindful life.

Citations:

Gerritsen, Roderik J S, and Guido P H Band. “Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity.” Frontiers in human neuroscience vol. 12 397. 9 Oct. 2018, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397

Harvard Health Publishing. “Learning Diaphragmatic Breathing.” Harvard Health, Mar. 2016, www.health.harvard.edu/lung-health-and-disease/learning-diaphragmatic-breathing.

Moore, Keith, and Arthur Dalley. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. 4th ed., Philadelphia : Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1999.

“Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation | Michigan Medicine.” Michigan Medicine: University of Michigan, 2020, www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255.

Living in the Present is not as Easy as you Think

Mindfulness - Woman concentrating while seated at her table - Healing Arts Institute
Written by David Davenport – Contributing Author Healing Arts Institute

What if I told you that I know of a way to improve memory, lower anxiety, reduce pain, and even help with improving your overall state of physical health?

Normally a claim like this might be followed up with a request for your credit card number and a 30-day money-back guarantee, but I assure you this is nothing of the sort.

I propose that there is a clinically proven way to realize these benefits and more without a doctor’s prescription. You do not have to spend a single penny.

It’s not a pill or a dietary supplement, but it can regulate the genes that are responsible for the way your body metabolizes sugar, how you fall asleep, and the processes that are involved in inflammation.

Do I have your attention yet?

This ‘secret’ is a well-studied and evidence-based technique chronicled in studies conducted by Harvard University and the Mayo Clinic. It has been known for centuries but has only recently found its way into mainstream practice.

It may be the simplest thing you ever learn how to do, and yet one of the most difficult things you will ever try to master.

And no, it’s not meditation…

At least not meditation in the traditional sense – I’m talking about mindfulness.

We talk about mindfulness a lot here at Healing Arts Institute. I figured it was about time that we finally go into more depth about what it is, and how you can begin to benefit from it.

“Mindfulness is essentially the ability to train your mind so that you are more aware of your current surroundings and your state of emotions.”

What mindfulness is (and what it is not)

Mindfulness is essentially the ability to train your mind so that you are more aware of your current surroundings and your state of emotions. Without even being aware of it, we often obsessively fixate on past events or worry about the future.

This creates two big problems.

  1. We spend too much emotional energy on things that we may not have any control over.
  2. We work ourselves into a near-constant state of depression, anxiety, and emotional stress.

As smart as we are, our brains have a difficult time telling the difference between a real and perceived threat. If we spend too much time worrying about future events, our brains will keep our bodies in a heightened state of alert. That means stress hormones, weight loss (not the good kind), nerve pain, and digestive issues.

Ruminating over the past isn’t much better. We tend to develop depressed emotional states.

Practicing mindfulness is not something we have to schedule into our day. It’s not some weird addition to our routines or personalities. Mindfulness is often associated with meditation, but that’s only partly true.

Mindfulness is a way of life that helps us to focus on the here and now – after all, that’s where we live.

How you can live a mindful life

Wherever you go, there you are

Next time you find yourself taking a walk, sitting at your desk, or enjoying a beautiful sunny afternoon, don’t allow your mind to wander. Pay attention to everything around you – the sun on your skin, the sound of your footsteps on the sidewalk, and the scents around you. Pay attention to the colors and objects you are seeing at that moment. You don’t have to have an opinion or appreciation for any of it, just be aware that they are there.

Breathe. Focus on every sensation.

When you find your mind wandering and the nervousness creeping in, bring yourself back to the present and focus.

Scan your emotions

I will bet you rarely take the time to make yourself aware of how you react to stress, but your body knows. Negative emotions tend to manifest physically as muscle tension.

When you find yourself sitting at work or at home, give yourself a quick body scan.

Close your eyes and concentrate on your toes. Slowly work your way up each part of your body and see if you can recognize the presence of tension. Chances are you may notice muscles that are tense or sore. People tend to concentrate tension in the same parts of their bodies. 

Once you notice where your tension manifests, it becomes easier to recognize when you are entering into an emotionally stressed state.

Being aware of your body’s reaction to stress can curtail many of the negative emotions associated with it.

Be aware of what you are feeling

Irritability and anger are common emotions for people who are not tuned into their emotional state. They are our base reactions when we are feeling confused or in an unfamiliar situation.

By slowing down and identifying our emotions as we experience them, we can train our minds to recognize adverse or negative emotions.

When we become more aware of when we are feeling, we become better equipped to calmly handle the situations that create them. As you go about your day, give yourself a quick survey. Identify any emotion that you are experiencing at that moment.

If you are having difficulty expressing or identifying certain emotions, reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or trained therapist might help to start you down the right path.

Healing Arts Institute trains and employs only the most qualified licensed therapists to help you in your healing journey. We will work together at your own pace to discover your best self and to live your best life.

Citations:

Knox, Richard. “Harvard Study: Clearing Your Mind Affects Your Genes And Can Lower Your Blood Pressure | CommonHealth.” WBUR.Org, 6 Apr. 2018, www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2018/04/06/harvard-study-relax-genes.

“Mindfulness Exercises.” Mayo Clinic, 15 Sept. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356.

Moore, Catherine Psychologist. “What Is Mindfulness?” PositivePsychology.Com, 17 Mar. 2021, positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness.

Powell, Alvin. “Harvard Researchers Study How Mindfulness May Change the Brain in Depressed Patients.” Harvard Gazette, 9 Apr. 2018, news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients.

“What Is Mindfulness?” Mindful, Mindful.org, www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness. Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

Exciting New Study Confirms Science Behind Healing Arts’ School Programs

Mindfulness is at the core of Healing Arts Programs - Smiling child in front of blackboard
Written by David Davenport – Contributing Author Healing Arts Institute

Exciting new research in the field of neuropsychology has revealed a connection between mindfulness training and a dramatic improvement in task-oriented attention. What makes this study interesting is that it was conducted with an experimental group of sixth-grade children. 

For the first time, a study has made a positive correlation between mindfulness and improved cognitive function with this age group.

Healing Arts Institute was founded to help children perform better in school, improve social conduct, and reduce the frequency of behavioral challenges commonly found with children in income-challenged communities. Our school programs and therapies incorporate similar mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques discussed in this study.

Although we have known for some time that mindfulness training improves cognitive control in adults, evidence was lacking when it came to the developing brains of young children.

With the publication of these research findings, we can say with complete confidence that our methods of helping children in Broward county schools are extremely effective.

What is cognitive control?

Cognitive control refers to the ability of focusing on tasks without becoming too distracted. Children are especially prone to inappropriate behaviors and daydreaming when they become bored because the parts of their brain that control focus is not yet fully developed.

There is a balance between the central executive network (CEN) and the default mode network (DMN) of our brains. The CEN is active when focusing on a task, making decisions, or solving a problem. [3] By contrast, the DMN is active when we allow our minds to wander. A highly active DMN is associated with difficulty concentrating, inappropriate social responses, and reduced emotional control. [1] The CEN and DMN activate in opposition to one another, meaning that when one is more active, the other is less active.

Children tend to have higher DMN activity, but that changes as they grow older. [2]

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve the cognitive control of children by increasing the activity of the CEN and reducing activation of the DMN.

This is possible because of the ability of the brain to create new neural connections in a process called neuroplasticity.

Mindfulness, children, and neuroplasticity.

We discuss mindfulness often here at Healing Arts.

Essentially mindfulness is the ability to bring your mind’s attention to your immediate environment and focus on what is in front of you at that moment. Mindfulness helps detract from activating parts of your brain that are associated with worry and anxiety – like the amygdala. [2]

Neuroplasticity is the capability of our brains to form new neural connections. We can therefore form new thoughts, behaviors, and associations. Although we used to think that our neural connections could not be changed, we now know better.

Our brains can reform and reinforce new neural connections throughout our lives, giving us the ability to reshape how we see the world in positive and healthy ways. [6]

Mindfulness training helps children focus.

The study conducted by Dr. Clemens Bauer et al. took two groups of children and tested their ability to remain focused using the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) assessment. One group of children were provided with 8 weeks of mindfulness training, while the other group was given 8 weeks of training in computer coding.

While both groups performed equally well with the SART assessment at the start of the eight weeks, the mindfulness group outperformed the coding group at the end of the 8 weeks. They showed an increase in CEN activity and a decrease in DMN activity with a better ability to focus.

Even more interesting, the mindfulness group was able to maintain this ability over time and preserve their attention indicating that the effects of the training were long-lasting. [1]

Dr. Bauer stated in his findings, “I envision a future where mindfulness will be part of the school curriculum as is math or literature.”

Healing Arts’ Mindfulness School Programs have already helped hundreds of children.

Our flagship Awesome Kids Program (AKP) is designed with mindfulness training at its core to help children navigate their daily lives and perform better in school. We already have a proven track record of delivering our life-changing program directly to schools throughout Broward county. Now, we have even more evidence to show how well it works.

Read more about how growing up in poverty affects children.

Healing Arts Institute will continue to lead the way in delivering mindfulness programs to school children in underserved communities free of charge. We envision a bright future for our kids, and it is our tireless mission to reach as many as possible.

To learn more, please visit us at healingArtssfl.org/programs.

Contact: Dr. Thelma Tennie LMFT to schedule a presentation to learn how Healing Arts can transform the lives of your students.

info@healingartssfl.org

Citations:
  1. Bauer, Clemens C. C., et al. “Mindfulness Training Preserves Sustained Attention and Resting State Anticorrelation between Default‐mode Network and Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Human Brain Mapping, vol. 41, no. 18, 2020, pp. 5356–69. Crossref, doi:10.1002/hbm.25197.
  2. Bauer, C. C. C., Caballero, C., Scherer, E., West, M. R., Mrazek, M. D., Phillips, D. T., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2019). Mindfulness training reduces stress and amygdala reactivity to fearful faces in middle-school children. Behavioral Neuroscience, 133(6), 569–585. https://doi.org/10.1037/bne0000337
  3. Borders, Ashley. “Rumination, Cognition, and the Brain.” Rumination and Related Constructs, Academic Press, 2020, pp. 279–311.
  4. Ellwood, Beth. “School-Based Mindfulness Training Is Linked to Neural Plasticity and Improved Cognitive Control among Sixth Graders.” PsyPost, 23 Mar. 2021, www.psypost.org/2021/03/school-based-mindfulness-training-is-linked-to-neural-plasticity-and-improved-cognitive-control-among-sixth-graders-60149.
  5. Shaffer, Joyce. “Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 7, 2016. Crossref, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01118.
  6. “Neuroplasticity.” Physiopedia, 2021, www.physio-pedia.com/Neuroplasticity.

Stop Chasing Happiness: Try These Simple Things Instead

Happiness is something you create - woman smiling on a sunny day.
Written by David Davenport – Contributing Author Healing Arts Institute

Conveying our idea of happiness to others is difficult because we all have different expectations of what it means when we say that we want to be happy.

Happiness and the emotions that we associate with it can feel elusive to us because what we are seeking is not actually happiness.

Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds but hear me out.

When often we say that we want to be happy. What we are expressing is the want for fulfillment and a lasting satisfaction from our daily interactions and activities. We want to take pleasure in our day-to-day lives and the people with who we share them.

Of course, pleasure is not the same thing as happiness, but we can say with a high degree of certainty that pleasure can be a component of happiness.[3] The difference is that pleasure is by definition shallow and short-lived in its duration. Constantly chasing pleasure is not the same as achieving that feeling of fulfillment and lasting satisfaction.

That’s not to say that once we find lasting satisfaction, we will never feel negative emotions. There will always be times when we feel angry, sad, or nervous. The idea here is to learn how to start down the path that leads to lasting happiness over time and have the tools to hold on to it for longer.

Here are five areas that you can start working on today to help you live a happier life!

Develop and strengthen social interactions

Our brains change as we interact with our environments and the people who are part of them. As we engage with the things and people around us, we also begin to think differently.[2] When we surround ourselves with positive people and have positive interactions, we are more likely to release serotonin neurotransmitters. These tiny molecules are partly responsible for feelings of pleasure.

Studies have shown that animals are just as important to our brain health and feelings of happiness as other people. Having pets can dramatically improve your outlook on life, boost immunity, and strengthen your social bonds with other people.[4]

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is something that we talk about a lot at Healing Arts. Mindfulness is essentially being aware of your environment and your emotional state. It can become so easy to get lost in your own head. 

When this happens, you are unknowingly allowing subconscious thoughts to snowball small inconveniences into (perceived) huge dilemmas.

People who allow their emotions to be dictated in this manner can experience intense feelings of anxiety. They are essentially unaware of the root cause of these emotions.

This does not lead to happiness.

Mindfulness means living in the present. Challenge negative thoughts and don’t give in to feelings of despair because your emotions are telling you to.

Stop. Breathe. Clear your mind. Focus

Learn about gratitude and how to muster it

Gratitude has been linked to the facilitation of feelings of well-being and emotional stability. When we are grateful for our lives, we also develop a greater awareness and sensitivity of the people in them.

By fostering an awareness of why we should be grateful, we are detaching from toxic emotions and negative thoughts. We are helping to facilitate a more holistic understanding of who we are and what is important.[1]

Developing lasting gratitude and the positive effects that it has on our brains does not come quickly.

We should incorporate and foster gratitude into our daily lives as best we can and in any way that will sustain us. Some suggestions for doing this include:

– Writing down the things you are grateful for and make it a regular exercise. If you are having a hard time feeling gratitude, begin with feeling grateful for the clothes you are wearing or the food you eat. Add to the list a little at a time. Read your list often and meditate on how you can feel grateful for the things on your list.

– Praying can be a valuable therapeutic tool in developing gratitude.

– Spend some time showing kindness to others (more on this in the next section).

Set a little time aside to be kind to others

Giving some of your time to others is one of the most rewarding activities you can engage in and brings together all the elements that we have discussed up to this point. It helps to strengthen social interactions. Volunteering helps you to become more aware of your own life circumstances by helping someone in need. It makes being grateful for your life much easier when you can guide someone else out of despair.

You don’t have to rearrange your entire schedule, just find a little time each week to be selfless for the benefit of someone else.

Volunteer with an established organization, social group, or local non-profit like us. There are so many out there who would love to have a helping hand, even for a short while!

Set a lot of time aside to be kind to yourself

Self-care is among the most important aspect of finding sustained happiness. Too often we associate being good to ourselves with being selfish. Some of us even feel as if we do not deserve it.

That’s ridiculous!

We cannot fulfill our desires and our life’s purpose if we do not care about the physical and emotional state of our own body and mind.

Exercise, nutrition, and the occasional spa day may be the perfect way to recharge and replenish.

Don’t take yourself for granted.

Explore new ways to find excitement in life, even in the little things.

To read more about helping you find meaning and fulfillment, read our blog article ‘Defining a Meaningful Life – 5 Steps to Building Your Inner Resilience’.

Citations:
  1. Brown, Joshua, and Joel Wong. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Greater Good Science Center – UC Berkeley, U.C. Berkeley, 6 June 2017, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain.
  2. Gilbert, Jane. “Social Interaction and Brain Health.” Hometouch, 13 Apr. 2019, myhometouch.com/articles/social-interaction-and-brain-health.
  3. Kringelbach, Morten L, and Kent C Berridge. “The Neuroscience of Happiness and Pleasure.” Social research vol. 77,2 (2010): 659-678.
  4. Healthy Brains by Cleveland Clinic. “6 Pillars of Brain Health – Social Interaction.” Healthy Brains by Cleveland Clinic, 11 May 2020, healthybrains.org/pillar-social.

Choose to Challenge (and Overcome) Mental Health Stigma

Overcome mental health stigma. Mother hugging her daughter, smiling.
Written by David Davenport – Contributing Author Healing Arts Institute

We don’t like to talk about mental illness.

Most of the time we pretend it doesn’t exist, we avoid discussing its effects, and therefore end up propagating the effects to the people closest to us.

The truth is we treat people with mental health challenges much different than if they had a physical illness.

Why though?

Our brains are like any other organ. Sometimes things go wrong, and our brains can get hurt. Sometimes it’s genetic, sometimes it’s from trauma or stress. Whatever the cause, our hurt brains can change our behaviors and emotional states.

We wouldn’t hesitate to seek a doctor’s help if we seriously injured our physical bodies. But the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health conditions prevents almost HALF of all people with depression or anxiety asking for professional help. [3]

As a society, we can’t go on like this. But there are a few simple things that you can do to begin chipping away at the stigma of asking for help.

Cultural Stigma Can be a Real Problem

As if it weren’t challenging enough to address the taboo of mental illness, some communities will shun people who they perceive to be suffering from mental or emotional challenges. [4] This outdated point of view is still too prevalent in African American and Latino communities which makes it even more difficult for people who are suffering to speak up.

Healing Arts Institute treats many clients from these underserved communities. It is part of an unfortunate reality that we are fighting to correct every day.

Support People that You Know Are Suffering 

There is no feeling that is more desperate than that of isolation. People have an uncanny ability to adapt to adverse conditions. Sometimes that means pretending that everything is alright, even if they are desperately suffering on the inside.

We oftentimes hear about people who have taken their own lives who we thought were happy and well-adjusted individuals. Don’t hesitate to show compassion towards anyone that you believe may be struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental challenges.

Strive to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Always encourage others around you to do the same.

Talk Openly About Mental Health

Don’t be afraid to bring up topics of mental health with your friends and family. You might be surprised how many of them will open up to you with their own experiences. People will be silent as long as they feel marginalized. The moment they realize others are willing to accept them, it could change their entire worldview.  

Social media for all of its faults is an amazing avenue to reach out and connect with others struggling with mental illness. The internet provides an anonymous haven from ridicule and judgment allowing people from all walks of life to share their stories. [2]

Treat People with Mental Health Challenges No Differently Than if They Had Physical Injuries

We wouldn’t shun someone if they broke their leg or twisted their ankle. We wouldn’t be afraid of someone who is recovering from surgery. Why then are we so quick to do so with people grappling with depression or other mental health challenges?

Our brains are the physical organs responsible for our emotional and behavioral health. And like any other organ, sometimes things can go wrong. We should always remember that effective treatments are available to help people when they do.

If You Are Struggling, Don’t Give in to Shame

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions are incredibly common. If you are struggling with one of these, don’t think that you’re alone! You are not the problem, and there are millions of others just like you who are going through similar difficulties.

Be brave.

Reach out to whoever you can and let them know that you need help. Tell a friend, a trusted family member, anybody who you trust.

Don’t live another day thinking that you have anything to be ashamed of! You don’t. And you don’t need to justify that to anyone.

Healing Arts Institute trains and employs professional therapists who can help you or someone you love who is having trouble with depression, anxiety, trauma, or other mental challenges. We specialize in delivering culturally competent therapeutic care to our clients in a safe and welcoming environment.

Visit us today and ask how we can help.

Citations:
  1. “Addressing Stigma.” Center for Addiction and Mental Health, 2021, www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/addressing-stigma.
  2. Betton, Victoria, et al. “The Role of Social Media in Reducing Stigma and Discrimination.” British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 206, no. 6, 2015, pp. 443–444., doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.114.152835.
  3. Greenstein, Luna. “9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2017, www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/october-2017/9-ways-to-fight-mental-health-stigma.
  4. Seeman, Neil. “Use Data to Challenge Mental-Health Stigma.” Nature, vol. 528, no. 7582, 2015, p. 309. Crossref, doi:10.1038/528309a.

The Simple 3-Step Method to Stop Catastrophic Thinking

Woman laying in bed with a worried look - catastrophic thinking
Written by David Davenport – Contributing Author Healing Arts Institute

We all worry about things that have yet to happen. Looking to the future while expecting a negative outcome is a natural human behavior, but catastrophic thinking can distort our perception of what is actually happening and bring about the outcomes we are trying to avoid.

Worrying is kind of a strange thing when you think about it. While it can help to motivate you into taking action, it can also have the completely opposite effect and paralyze you from doing anything at all to alleviate your fears.

Sometimes worrying can become so bad, we begin to predict the outcome of almost every hurdle, challenge, or setback as a catastrophic disaster.

When worrying becomes this bad you become paralyzed by fear. You may spiral further into a self-imposed pit of despair and depression. 

Today we are going to learn a little bit about why we develop catastrophic thoughts as well as a simple 3-step method to stop catastrophic thinking.

Why do we catastrophize anyway?

Believe it or not, catastrophizing future events to expect the worst possible outcomes is a form of protection. You read that correctly, your brain is trying to protect you by imagining the most horrific possibilities that could result from a given scenario.

When you’re done shaking your head in disbelief, consider this. 

If you KNEW beyond a reasonable doubt that jumping into a dark and bottomless pit would result in your demise, would you do it? Would you plunge into that unknown chasm knowing that there would be no chance that you would ever come out alive?

No, of course not.

You would stay away and warn everyone else not to go either. You would worry that your life would come to a premature end, so you would avoid jumping into the void.

But what if we’re not talking about some hypothetical death cave, but instead about your career. Maybe your finances. How about your relationships?

Why would worrying about my career or family cause me to go into a survival-driven panic? Because your brain can’t tell the difference between a real threat, and one that is completely hypothetical. 

It’s an evolutionary survival mechanism that is trying to steer you away from certain death. Now here’s the thing. Not every challenge or setback in life is as impactful as the result of plunging yourself into a bottomless pit. But for some people, their brain can’t tell the difference.

For some, catastrophic thinking has become a coping mechanism in response to years of disappointing outcomes. For others, it is the result of prolonged trauma and abuse. Whatever the cause, the result is the same.

Anxiety, depression, and a severe lack of motivation.

They become stuck. They worry. And it only ever gets worse.

A simple 3-step method to stop catastrophic thinking

Step #1: Be able to identify what you are feeling

This step is the most important of the three. When you begin feeling nervous, take note of it. It doesn’t matter what you are nervous about, the idea is just to become aware of what your emotional state is.

Many times, we allow our anxieties to amplify if we are unaware of them. If it goes unchecked, your mind may make the possible outcomes seem worse than they really are.

You can remind yourself that you are safe. You are not in a life-threatening situation. When you are starting out with this exercise, it helps to write down words to describe the feelings and sensations that you are experiencing.

This helps by removing these anxious and distorted thoughts away from the realm of emotion and begins to place them into the realm of logic and rationality.

Describe the situation that is making you nervous in the most factual way possible. Do not include descriptive words or any kind of qualifier. Just the facts. 

We want to begin training our brain to respond with our rational thoughts, not our emotions.

Step #2: Directly challenge your catastrophic thoughts

Using the completely factual description that you wrote down in the previous step, begin to challenge your predicted catastrophic outcomes.

From a completely logical standpoint ask yourself: Are there ANY other possible outcomes other than the one I am afraid of? If so, what are those possible outcomes?

If I cannot change any aspect of what I am worried about, why would worrying help me? Will worrying change the outcome to be in my favor?

Can you think of any other questions that you could ask yourself to challenge your catastrophic thoughts?

Step #3: Replace your negative catastrophic thoughts with logical and productive thoughts

Once you begin to challenge your catastrophic thinking, it rarely stands up to rational scrutiny. When your mind is clear, you can begin to see things the way they really are.

Calming your mind and reducing negative thinking is not enough. You must train yourself to replace those negative catastrophic thoughts with positive ones.

Is there anything that I have control over that will increase the chance of a positive outcome? If so, what can I do?

Taking action in areas you have control over can help alleviate anxiety and reduce time spent worrying. The only way to guarantee failure in anything that you do is to not even try. 

If you have already done everything in your power towards achieving a positive outcome, then spending time worrying will accomplish nothing. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Do not invite failure into your life by focusing on that possibility as the most probable outcome.

You control your thoughts; your thoughts do not control you!

For more techniques (and a great workshop) on controlling fear and anxiety, read our article Learn How to Reach Your Goals by Defeating Your Fears.

Healing Arts Institute offers specialized therapeutic services from highly trained and empathetic professionals. Call or visit our website to learn more about how we can help you through your healing journey and realize your full potential.

Citations:

Therapy in a Nutshell. “Catastrophizing (How to Stop Expecting the Worst) Depression and Anxiety Skill #7.” YouTube, uploaded by Therapy in a Nutshell, 21 Mar. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY6f8kvBSyM&list=PLbPJLaLL5_ENqax0xTBoEGV5mxNmkseHQ&index=39&t=131s.

Wong, W. S., et al. “The Effects of Anxiety Sensitivity, Pain Hypervigilance, and Pain Catastrophizing on Quality of Life Outcomes of Patients with Chronic Pain: a Preliminary, Cross-Sectional Analysis.” Quality of Life Research, vol. 23, no. 8, 2014, pp. 2333–2341., www.jstor.org/stable/24727656. Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.

Five Warning Signs of a Manipulative Personality

African American couple arguing on couch - Five Warning Signs of a Manipulative Personality
Written by: David Davenport Contributing author Healing Arts Institute

There are at least five warning signs of a manipulative personality of which people should be aware.

The average person will interact with dozens of different people each day. Sometimes we might feel that some of these people want more from us than we are comfortable providing. Relationships with most people in our lives will likely be positive (or at the very least neutral). Some people may try to use you to attain their desires in manipulative ways.

Long term and repeated contact with people like this can make us feel uneasy, suspicious, and given enough time – resentful. They can chip away at our self-worth and our mental well-being. 

Below are five warning signs of manipulative personalities that you should watch out for.

People Who Take Advantage of Your Kindness

If you are the type of person who is willing to help anyone in need, it may be difficult to discern that someone you are helping may be taking advantage of you.

In a healthy relationship, there should be a reciprocation of kindness from the other person. They may not be able to give back in the same way that you can, but the expectation is for them to show kindness where they are able.

A manipulative person will often take the kindness provided to them and then expect even more without returning anything. 

They may point to a physical or emotional ailment (real or perceived) to garner sympathy and continue to extract the attention or adoration they desire. But to a manipulative person, it will never be enough. They will always want more, and they will rarely give back to you.

People Who Make You Feel Guilty All the Time

Master manipulators know that they can get what they want by making you feel like you owe them something. They may use phrases such as “If you loved me, you would…” or “You always do this…”

If you find yourself becoming angry when someone makes you feel guilty, perhaps you are already subconsciously aware of the manipulation. Do not ignore this when it happens, as this will lead to increased anger and resentment towards yourself and that other person.

People Who Lie Often and Intentionally

Spreading rumors and inciting drama among friends, family, or work associates is a favorite tactic of people with manipulative personalities. In doing so, they can attempt to steer group perception in their favor. There is the bonus that they might be able to make you feel guilty about standing your ground.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

People Who Gaslight You

The term gaslighting refers to a tactic where someone tries to convince you that something you have seen or heard is not real. A manipulative person may fervently deny having said or done something even though you clearly remember it happening. They may do this to the point of absurdity but will never admit to it.

If you ever confront them about their behavior, the manipulator will often pretend as if they have no idea what you are talking about. They will make it seem that their behavior is completely normal, and it is YOU who is problematic.

They use gaslighting to hide their other manipulative tactics or out of embarrassment for having been discovered and called out.

Over long periods this behavior can make you feel like you are going crazy, constantly second-guessing yourself and your perception of reality.

People Who Never Accept Blame

Watch out for people who are quick to point the finger of blame towards others while rarely taking responsibility. While it never feels good to accept fault for something that went wrong, a mature and authentic person will readily do so without feeling threatened.

Manipulative people will often deflect blame even when they were responsible.

While it’s natural to want to deny fault for doing something wrong, a manipulative person will burn bridges and salt the earth behind them to avoid being blamed.

Be careful.

Some of these behaviors are practiced by people who are intentionally trying to manipulate, but there is the possibility some may not be consciously aware of what they are doing. Some people who have suffered abuse may have adopted these tactics as a means of social survival.

It is advisable not to accuse people you suspect of being manipulative. The underlying cause of the behavior may be a more disturbing psychological problem and you do not want to make matters worse.

If you suspect that you are being manipulated, read our blog article “How to Beat Narcissists With The Grey Rock Method” to learn about one possible way to deal with them.

Healing Arts Institute offers specialized therapeutic services from highly trained and empathetic professionals. Call or visit our website to learn more about how we can help you through your healing journey and realize your full potential.

Citations:

Kirmani, Amna, and Rui (Juliet) Zhu. “Vigilant against Manipulation: The Effect of Regulatory Focus on the Use of Persuasion Knowledge.” Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 44, no. 4, 2007, pp. 688–701. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30162512.

Nicki, Andrea. “BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER, DISCRIMINATION, AND SURVIVORS OF CHRONIC CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.” International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, vol. 9, no. 1, 2016, pp. 218–245. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/90011865.

Rudinow, Joel. “Manipulation.” Ethics, vol. 88, no. 4, 1978, pp. 338–347. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2380239.

Black History Month and Our Impact on the Future

Black History Month - African American father reads a book to his daughter
Written by: David Davenport Contributing author Healing Arts Institute

February is Black History Month, a time when we reflect on the accomplishments and contributions of the African American community to our society.

The origins of Black History Month officially date back to 1915 when the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. In 1926, the second week of February was designated as “Negro History Week”, but it would take another 50 years before the celebration expanded to encompass the entire month of February.

While the concept of Black History Month was conceived in the United States, other countries now recognize their own versions including Canada, the United Kingdom, and most recently the Republic of Ireland.

Theme of Black History Month 2021 – The Black Family

This year’s theme focuses on the black family which is at the heart and soul of our mission at Healing Arts Institute. While black families have integrated into many different cultures throughout the world, they face unique challenges and a shared sense of unity regardless of where they live.

The commemoration of black history offers representation to the diversity among black families as well as their shared cultural and national identities.

Challenges Facing Black Families

Social scholars, medical practitioners, and representatives in government have tried to address certain challenges facing black communities and families in the United States for decades. Among the most pressing is the fragility of the black family. Black children are far more likely to grow up in single parent households than other racial groups and are at higher risk for dropping out of school and becoming pregnant at an early age.

The emotional stress which is inflicted by these circumstances are compounded by an increased likelihood that black families may have limited economic support from friends and family during hard times. Black families are far more likely to have more than one family member unemployed, and the inter-generational inheritance of wealth is far below that of other racial groups.

As a result, these children may not have access to new experiences or perspectives that can change the way they see the world. They may not have positive mentors to guide them or role models to look up to. They remain trapped in a mental prison that makes it almost impossible to break the cycle of poverty and violence.

While struggling with these conditions, it is crucial that black children and families have the resources to navigate these socioeconomic complexities and maintain healthy family relationships.

Healing Arts Institute’s Service to Black Communities

Healing Arts delivers critical services to black families in Broward by providing mental and behavioral health therapy at no charge. Stressful social circumstances and economic hardship can put a lot of strain on families who are already struggling to succeed.

It is not uncommon for black families to rely heavily on public transportation. Without the ability to travel, making appointments with a therapist can be difficult. That is why we provide our services directly within the homes and schools of our clients. We believe in the tradition of making house calls so our families receive the care they need.

We strive to be a pillar of support and comfort to those who otherwise might not have access to us.

Healing Arts Institute’s Regions of Impact

The impact of children who grow up with emotional and social deficiencies can be felt throughout entire communities. It is a legacy that feeds upon itself creating multi-generational dependencies on government programs and a distrust of protective institutions such as law enforcement and education.

At least 58% of our clients are from communities whose residents earn below the individual median income for Broward county. These areas include Lauderhill, North Lauderdale, and the greater Fort Lauderdale area.

We operate in areas where we are needed the most to benefit children and families.

How You Can Help

You can help us hire more experienced full-time therapists. Help give them the tools that they need to go directly to the children who need our help. We want to be able to maintain one full-time professional for each program we offer in at-risk communities.

Donate to our Community Heroes Campaign today. Your donation goes towards providing tele-health, in home, and school based therapeutic services for students and their families who are uninsured or under insured. All of our services are free of cost to the children and families who need us.

Join us for another Tennie Talk – Black History Month – Wednesday Feb 10th 7:00PM EST on Zoom

Hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, join Dr. Thelma Tennie as she discusses:

  • Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in Black Communities
  • Tips on How to End Mental Health Stigma
  • How to Seek Culturally Competent Care
  • Questions to ask a Therapist Before Starting Therapy

Citations:

Nicole Arlette Hirsch and Anthony Abraham Jack. 2012. “”What We Face: Framing Problems in the Black Community”.” Du Bois Review, 9, 1.

“Disadvantage for Black Families Compounded by Economic Circumstances of Kin – Population Reference Bureau.” PRB.Org, PRB.org, 16 Apr. 2020, www.prb.org/disadvantage-for-black-families-compounded-by-economic-circumstances-of-kin.

ASALH – The Founders of Black History Month. “ASALH – The Founders of Black History Month | BLACK HISTORY THEMES.” ASALH | The Founders of Black History Month (Est. 1915), 25 Jan. 2021, asalh.org/black-history-themes.

How to Beat Narcissists With The Grey Rock Method

Written by David Davenport – Contributing Author Healing Arts Institute

The term narcissist is often used to describe someone who exhibits a haughty or overly confident persona. We use the term so frequently and under so many circumstances, it may have lost much of its actual meaning in colloquial use.

A pathological narcissist is categorized within a group of personality disorders referred to as Cluster B disorders. In this group, narcissists share company with other similarly related disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder.

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) will have an inflated sense of self, believing that others are inferior to them. They have magnificent expectations for their success but may or may not have the ability or drive to achieve those grandiose visions. True narcissists will be exceedingly sensitive to criticism and will react with extreme anger to anyone who challenges their sense of self-worth. Interestingly, (and tragically) the very people narcissists abuse are the same people that narcissists demand the most admiration.

According to the National Institutes of Health, it is thought that about 6% of the U.S. population has NPD and about 10% may have a dual diagnosis of NPD and BPD.

That is a lot of angry and toxic people who are walking around in society, and chances are good that you know many of them.

Narcissists can be extremely charismatic people but have difficulty maintaining that façade over time. Eventually, they destroy or subjugate every relationship that they are a part of causing extraordinary suffering to those who have the misfortune of being involved.

Fortunately, there is a way to lessen their manipulative and toxic effects, a method called Grey Rock.

A narcissist does not cope well with the mundane nature of daily life. They will often cause drama to satiate their desire for excitement and latch on to anyone who they believe will provide that excitement for them.

The idea behind Grey Rock is to learn how to be as uninteresting a target as possible. Let the narcissist become bored of you and seek their pathological need for toxic behavior elsewhere.

When was the last time you were fascinated by and drawn towards a boring grey rock? Get it now?

The Basic Principals Behind the Grey Rock Method

Do not let the narcissist know that you are trying to emotionally separate from them.

As tempted as you may be to let the narcissist know that you have had enough of their nonsense, that challenge to their self-esteem may provoke an angry reaction. Remember, the idea is to get them to lose interest in using you as a source for their emotional manipulations.

You don’t have to validate yourself to the narcissist.

Practice in small increments detaching from their verbal taunts and manipulative behaviors. Work with a trained therapist who can guide you through this process so that you don’t take the technique too far and begin detaching from everything and everyone.

If you must speak with a narcissist, keep the interactions as short as possible.

Be polite and civil if you converse with a narcissist but keep the conversation short and directly on topic. Gently guide the conversation back on track if it deviates into other areas of discussion. Many of the people with Cluster B personality disorders can be extremely charming and charismatic. Do not allow them to continue to lure you into their twisted web.

There is nothing wrong with succinct “yes” or “no” answers when no further explanation is required in a conversation. You do not need to act as the source of the narcissist’s emotional vampirism.

Disengage from the narcissist as quickly as possible.

Do not give the narcissist any more attention than is required. If possible, begin focusing on another task or activity which can give you an excuse to either leave the conversation completely. When they see that you’re not providing them with the attention that they desire, they may try additional manipulation tactics. 

This is when you must go back to step one and practice emotional distancing.

Do you have a friend, co-worker, spouse, or parent who you believe fits the description of a Cluster B personality? If so, please seek help immediately from a licensed and trained therapist. These individuals can produce a severe and lasting impact on your mental health and emotional well-being.

Cutting off toxic people from your life is only the first step. The process of healing and learning to interact with your surroundings in a healthy and balanced way is a long journey that should be taken with trusted friends and trained guides.

Citations:

Brown, Andrew D. “Narcissism, Identity, and Legitimacy.” The Academy of Management Review, vol. 22, no. 3, 1997, pp. 643–686. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/259409.

Meadows-Fernandez, Rochaun. “What Are Cluster B Personality Disorders?” Healthline, 28 Feb. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/cluster-b-personality-disorders.

Post, Jerrold M. “Current Concepts of the Narcissistic Personality: Implications for Political Psychology.” Political Psychology, vol. 14, no. 1, 1993, pp. 99–121. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3791395.

Raypole, Crystal. “Dealing With a Manipulative Person? Grey Rocking May Help.” Healthline, 13 Dec. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/grey-rock.

“The Gray Rock Method | Beat ‘Toxic People’ with Serenity.” YouTube, uploaded by Einzelgänger, 27 Jan. 2020, https://youtu.be/mUmycvTfH5Q.

Meadows-Fernandez, Rochaun. “What Are Cluster B Personality Disorders?” Healthline, 28 Feb. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/cluster-b-personality-disorders.