The Olympic Spirit

Last night, I watched the opening of the 2018 winter Olympics in South Korea, and it was a sacred moment to watch North and South Koreans walk together in harmony and peace under a united Korean flag. Seeing Olympic athletes from both North and South Korea hold the flag simultaneously was a moment of hope. Peace was in the air and it was as if the whole world let out a collective sigh of relief. Watching this chill provoking moment, gave me faith to believe that just as peace became a reality for Ireland, it can also one day be achieved in Korea.

After North and South Korea walked together, the Korean folk song, Arirang, was performed by an older man in his 70s. I love the reverence for elders in the Korean culture. It was moving to see the focal song of the night be sung by someone older, since in the West, we would likely offer this role to someone young. The NBC commentators shared that this song is over 500 years old and that it is a song that is known by virtually all Koreans from the North & South. The commentators went on to share that this song represents finding beauty in the midst of sorrow. And in the midst of a world filled with so much pain and division, the world did find beauty and hope on the opening night of the Olympics.

This experience of seeing the Korean athletes walk together and hearing the folk song, Arirang, was a moment when humanity was at its best. During the 2018 opening Olympic ceremonies we encountered the Olympic Spirit, which I would define as the commitment to finding peace in our own hearts and in the world. This moment made me think of the song I sang in choir as a child called, “Let There be Peace on Earth.” The first part of this song says:

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be
With God our creator
Children all are we
Let us walk with each other
In perfect harmony

But the opposite of harmony is the human tendency to get stuck in resentment. When we are resentful we replay our feelings of hurt and our own account of the events that led up to our anger. When we hyper-focus on a painful experience, we relive all the feelings connected with it and as we do it takes a toil on our mind, body, and spirit.

Why can’t we let go of this anger that we feel towards people who have hurt us? It seems to be a protective mechanism of sorts and we think if we keep the resentment festering, we won’t be hurt again. We know that forgiving our offender might work for others, but we decide it won’t work for us because the pain is too deep. We decide those who preach the benefits of forgiveness haven’t walked in our shoes and don’t know the deeply painful feelings our experience elicits.

It is no longer just clergy who are saying that resentment harms our health. Now many medical doctors and counselors believe that letting go of our anger helps us emotionally and physically. Our bitter feelings can literally make us sick. Dr Chris Aiken is a professor of clinical psychiatry at Wake Forest, and he shares, “In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles…”  One research study found that those with a greater propensity for anger were more likely to experience coronary heart disease.

Mental health professionals have a term for it: post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED).  Some counselors will use this diagnosis as a framework for understanding clients who struggle with keeping the candle of bitterness lit. If you are having trouble letting go of anger, seeing a therapist may help you to tend to your wounds and move towards forgiveness.

Let me be clear. It’s more than ok to be angry, and some people have the reverse problem of being so positive that they lose touch of their anger and pain. Feeling angry can be beneficial in the short-term. When we feel this emotion, the stressful event triggers reactions in our body called the fight or flight response, which can help us deal with the situation at hand. This response can help us to protect ourselves and set boundaries with others.

But if we stay angry we will likely end up with higher blood pressure and cortisol levels, and this will eventually take a toll on our body and mind. Jonathan Lockwood Huie said, “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” Is there someone you need to forgive in order to move forward in your life? Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves, but it is important to consider how forgiveness will allow us to experience more freedom and life.

Forgiving also does not mean that we need to reconcile with our offender.  If we have experienced any type of abuse, setting strong boundaries with our offender can be of the upmost importance. Reliving painful memories keeps us from moving on with our lives.  And even if we make the decision to forgive, this decision not only is freeing to us, but it ultimately creates a ripple of peace not only in our hearts, but in the world. Forgiveness becomes a gift we give ourselves and the world. I truly hope Korea will find peace, but I also pray that we would experience peace in our hearts. Seeking this peace, means we embody the Olympic Spirit and this will make a difference not only in our lives, but also in the world.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us,

Christy

References:

http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/101/17/2034.full

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201212/diagnosing-scrooge-syndrome-the-dangers-embitterment

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health

Technology & Depression

It’s called ‘The Web’ because once your in it, your stuck.  Terry Hall

Technology should improve your life…Not become your life.  Billy Cox

I am in shock sometimes by how addicted I am to my cell phone.  It’s almost like it has become another limb on my body that I can’t function without.  Some days it seems like I don’t go more than 15 minutes without checking my phone to see if I have new emails, texts, or news feeds. I hate to admit that I check my phone sometimes during dinner dates with my husband, and as I do so, any hope we had for a romantic dinner goes out the window.  You’ve probably been there too. You are at a nice restaurant with a significant other, and all of a sudden you realize you are both engaging in a courtship with your respective cell phones, instead of in a relationship with one another.

After a long day of work, the best medicine in the world is spending time with our significant others, family or friends, but instead of finding real meaningful connections with another, we find superficial ones with our phones. Most of us are addicted to this immediate gratification.  But the truth is, we are now a nation that is more depressed than ever, and so it seems the immediate gratification we experience with our phones, televisions, and computers is really not so gratifying.

In the article, What might explain the unhappiness epidemic?, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology, shares compelling research data that was collected from 1 million U.S. teens. Twenge and her colleagues evaluated how teens spent their free time, to determine the specific activities they did in their free time that led to greater levels of happiness or unhappiness. Twenge concluded that activities that did not involve a computer, cell phone, computer or screen of some kind produced more happiness, and that every activity with a screen was connected to less happiness.  She shared, “Teens who spent more than five hours a day online were twice as likely to be unhappy as those who spent less than an hour a day.” Twenge also cited a previous study she did that found that adults over the age of 30 were happier 15 years ago than they are now, and she suspects our addiction to our screens is part of this downward trend in happiness. In other words there is a strong correlation between our screen usage and the level of happiness in adults and teens.

For those of us who are old enough, do you remember what life was like without a cell phone or even computer? Were you happier during those days? I know whenever I go to a worship service at church or a yoga class, it is very liberating to spend 60-90 minutes without a cell phone. There is something about disconnecting from screens that is very healing, because it allows for real intimacy with God, ourselves or one another, as opposed to a fabricated intimacy with a screen.

We need to find ways to disconnect from our screens and reconnect to life and one another. What is your relationship like with your phone, television, and computer?  How can you set some boundaries with your screens?  What would it be like for you to:

  • Create a “Screen Ban” where screens are not allowed in your home for 2 hours per night
  • Give Up Television for a week
  • Refuse to use your cell phone at the dinner table
  • Only use facebook twice a week
  • Disconnect from all technology 1 hour before bedtime

Maybe your screen addiction is not as profound as mine is, but if we are honest, most of us over-use technology and this is affecting our mental health and level of personal happiness.  How can we dial back on our screen use and instead of plugging into our devices, start plugging into one another? If you are experiencing a season of depression, please consider how often you are connected to the screens in your life. As we spend less times with our screens and more time engaging in treasured hobbies and with loved ones, I bet we will notice a sizeable difference in our mood.

I’m turning off my computer right now,

Christy

Reference:

http://theconversation.com/what-might-explain-the-unhappiness-epidemic-90212

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health

Love & Connection: The Antidote to Mend Depression?

I originally wrote the article below for the Mountain Mirror. http://www.mountainmirror.com/

Perhaps we remember being roughly eight years old and experiencing the joy of decorating a shoe box to be used for all the valentine cards we were going to receive in class on Valentine’s Day. As a school child in the 80’s I received cards featuring many cartoon characters including: Barbie, Superman, Snoopy, Garfield, She-Ra, and my personal favorite, the Smurfs. Recently, I came across an old card from the 1980’s that said, “You’ve been smurfed by someone who smurfs you!”  As children Valentine’s Day is not about romantic love, but instead it is about the importance of celebrating our loving connections with friends, teachers, parents, and grandparents. But even as we grow older, Valentine’s Day can be an important time to celebrate and foster the connections in our lives. This time of year can be an opportunity to think about the power of love and how important it is to love others, ourselves, and the world around us.

In my work as a counselor, when I meet with a client for the very first time, an important part of my initial assessment is to find out about my client’s spiritual and social connections. As I evaluate a person’s level of connectedness, I am able to gain some insight into their mental health. I believe our level of connectedness to the Divine, others, our physical body, hobbies, nature, pets, and our view of our self can provide a good indicator of our overall emotional well-being. The more isolated we are from life-giving activities and from one another, the more depressed we will be. Allostatic load, is a psychological term that was coined in the 1980s, describing the wear and tear the body experiences physiologically when we are exposed to chronic stress. In their book, The End of Stress as We Know It (2002), Dr. McEwen and Dr. Lasley argue, “For decades scientific research has shown that we can guard against the ravages of stress by following advice our grandmothers could have given us: restful, plentiful sleep, a good diet, and regular exercise, as well as the support of family, friends, religious organizations, and community (isolation is one of the chief contributors to allostatic load), and a sense of control over and contribution to one’s life-often noticeably absent from those who suffer heart attacks or depression.” And so my role as a counselor is to help people lessen the allostatic load, by reconnecting to others and to parts of themselves that have become dim and are no longer shining with light.

I once had a client in a nursing home and she had one hand that was mangled because of arthritis. This client had once been a piano teacher and she shared with me that playing the piano was the greatest love of her life. Her face lit up as she spoke about her affection for music and her expression was equally grief stricken as she admitted to me how painful it was to no longer be able to play. She acknowledged that occasionally she would go to the activities room in her nursing facility and would play the piano with her one working hand. I encouraged her to do more of this, because it was obvious that playing the piano kept her connected to life and lifted her spirits. It was important for this client to talk to me about her love of piano, so she could express to me that this was an integral part of who she is and how she finds meaning and purpose. I also needed to affirm her grief over the fact that she could no longer play to the extent she once had played her beloved instrument. The early Catholic Saint Irenaeus once said, “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive.” For this client, in order to stay as alive as possible, she learned she needed to still play the piano, even if only with one garbled hand. These moments of playing the piano with just one hand, gave my client great joy, in the final year of her life.

When we seek out meaningful connections, such as going out with a friend or attending a spin class at the gym, these experiences can engender feel good chemicals in the brain that create results similar to anti-depressants. The problem is that the very nature of depression prevents us from taking measures to connect, and instead it steals our motivation and leaves us exhausted. Often at the time in our lives when we need connection the most, depression can cause us to fall into the abyss of darkness, despair, and hopelessness. We must do everything in our power during melancholy seasons to stay connected, and often we can seek help by seeing a counselor, medical doctor, or clergy person. Sometimes we need an outside perspective to offer empathy and encourage us to make some changes in our lives.

Mahatma Ghandi one said, “Where there is love, there is life.” I’ve noticed that my own mood is brighter the more connected I am with friends, family, and hobbies. Unfortunately, we currently live in world where we are very disconnected from life and one another. We find superficial connections via facebook and email, but we are now lonelier than ever. I believe the answer to this loneliness is to seek out many forms of connection in our lives. My own unique ways of connecting includes: engaging in a job I love, prayer, yoga, holding my cat, hiking, time with friends and family, playing with my niece and nephew, writing, traveling with my husband, and antiquing. What are your ways of connecting to life? In my work as a therapist, I invite people to consider if they are neglecting hobbies that have been important to their emotional health in the past. Our connections can be life-giving and can combat depression and anxiety.

In this season of celebrating love, can we remember that if we choose love it will bring us life? Where are the places in our life that we need to reconnect? The joy we felt on Valentine’s Day as a child opening our cards can be captured again, because we were simply plugging into the gift of love and life, which can be ours anytime we seek out loving connections. Oscar Wilde reminds us, “The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring.” If we are experiencing depression, seeking out social and spiritual connections, is one of the most important ways we can combat feeling down in the dumps.  So during February, this month full of hearts and love, let’s decrease our allostatic load by tending to ourselves and one another, caring for our bodies through good sleep, healthy eating and exercise, staying connected to life-sustaining hobbies, and maintaining our spiritual connections. Love truly is the most efficacious antidote to mend depression, because the more sources of connection there are in our world, the more life and joy we will experience.

Let’s stay connected,

Christy

Meditations for your mental, physical, and spiritual health