reflecting on the past
Have you found yourself reflecting on the past lately? I think it’s safe to say that most of us have periods in our lives when we think about the past more than other times. Sometimes reflecting on the past can be helpful because it gives us the opportunity to acknowledge how much we’ve grown over the years. Other times, reflecting on the past can bring up old painful feelings which can be discouraging if we thought we had “gotten over” whatever (or whoever) we’re thinking about.
I think it’s important to reflect on the past for a few reasons. The first being that we can honor and reflect on where we’ve been (relationships, career, etc.) and help us to map out the path to the future we’d like to have. The second being that reflecting on the past gives us the opportunity to decide what has and what hasn’t been helpful in our lives, and to learn and grow from past mistakes we may have made. I believe it’s difficult to choose to do things differently in the present and future if we haven’t taken the time to reflect and grow from past decisions we made that didn’t have the result we wanted. Another reason reflecting on the past can be a good thing, is that we can take pride in our accomplishments, and again, how much we’ve grown. Life happens quickly, and we often get distracted by our daily responsibilities that we can forget to acknowledge the amazing person we’ve become because of the positive and not so positive adversities we’ve faced in our lifetime.
Like I mentioned, reflecting on the past can also bring up not so good memories that cause us to feel a sense of pain, regret, grief or anger. It’s helpful to get support when those memories resurface. Often with the support of others, sharing our memories about the situation(s) that caused the pain can be healing. Also, I think it’s important to remember that although painful memories don’t feel good, they also signal to us that there are parts of ourselves that still need to be healed so that we can move on.
Reflecting on the past doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Remember, it gives you the opportunity to take pride and joy in how your life has changed, helps with decision making during life transitions, and reminds us that pain can be a sign that a part of us has some unresolved stuff that needs some tender loving care so that we can heal and feel better.
Photo By Mohammad Gh
It’s natural to crave change when life isn’t how we want it to be. We may adopt a grass is greener on the other side mentality. What we need to remember is that change takes time and often multiple attempts. If we don’t see the results we desire after we started to set a change in motion, we may take additional action as an attempt to bring about the change we want see. It’s important to remember that with change, there are often setbacks and mishaps and it’s wise to plan for them, and not to give up if you experience a setback.
Change is a process and something that happens over time. The stages of change are well-known in substance abuse and recovery healing world. The stages of change can be helpful even if you do not consider yourself to be in recovery because you may go through a similar cycle when working on making changes in your live. The stages of change include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, relapse and maintenance, and termination. We are often in the pre-contemplation stage when life is getting funky, but we haven’t started thinking about making any change in our lives. When we experience the contemplation stage, we’re thinking or daydreaming about the pros and cons of how life would be better if we did something differently, behaved differently or had something that we perceived would raise our status (examples a college degree, a wife or husband, a CEO, etc). During the preparation stage, we do research and plan out how we’re going to make the change happen. An example would be looking into diets or exercise programs to try in order to live a healthier lifestyle. The action phase is when we finally take that leap of faith to make our lives better by changing something (starting something new or letting something go) in our life. Something helpful to remember is that when we go to make a change, it’s common to experience a mix of excitement and anxiety because we’re happy to make the change and nervous because we’re not 100% sure how the change will play out. A part of the next stage is relapse. If you’re not in recovery, you may initially think this stage will not apply to you. That’s not necessarily true. Have you ever ended a relationship and missed your ex-partner to the point of calling them to reconnect? Or have you ever decided to stop eating an unhealthy food but after a few days or weeks found yourself eating that food again? I know I’ve done both. It is helpful to anticipate that with any change, there is a possibility that there will be some setbacks or mishaps. It’s also helpful and healthy to create a list (call a friend, go for a walk, read, journal, listen to music, etc.) of things you can do when you have a desire to do something you said you weren’t going to do anymore. The other part of this stage is maintenance. Maintenance is important because most of us will have a setback, but the change we desire is still possible if we keep trying. Maintenance also helps us to apply what we’ve learned from our setback or multiple setbacks so that we can maintain the change we’ve started or created. For example, say you have a break-up, call your ex, hook-up with them and afterwards remember why you broke up with them in the first place. The next time you have a desire to call them, you’ll be able to reflect on the reasons why you left in the first place (they have different values, want something different than you need or treat you poorly or whatever the reason was) and you’ll be able to acknowledge that calling them is not the best idea and choose to keep doing something different. The more setbacks you have, the wiser and more resilient you may become because you’ll start to realize that the desire to do what you used to do in the past will eventually pass. Like I mentioned, setbacks should be expected. If you have a setback, learn from it and choose to do something different next time. The final stage is termination. Termination happens when you’ve hit that point where your efforts to create change have been successful, you haven’t had any setbacks for a while and you’ve been able to keep the change going without feeling the need to go back to life as it was before you made the change.
Remember that change is a process filled with many unexpected twists and turns but you can navigate them if you plan ahead for any obstacles you may face. If you’re creating change in your life, be gentle with yourself if you experience a setback, and remain determined to achieve whatever change you desire.
Photo by Adam Cao
Accepting failure is one of the hardest things we will ever experience. We can feel a sense of failure from a relationship that ends, to not getting a dream job at a dream company or not being accepted into a school we really want to attend. We are often faced with many challenges throughout our lifetime, and experiencing disappointments is inevitable. It can seem as though failure is a reflection of our worth as a person. We may think that we are not good enough, not lovable, not attractive enough or even that we are not smart enough. It is during this times that our self-esteem can take a huge tumble. What we can forget is that failure is a part of life. Sometimes situations that cause us to feel as though we failed, can also prevent us from seeing the many other possibilities that we have available to us. You may be thinking “but I really wanted or deserved that person, job, or position. Why are you mentioning other possibilities when I don’t want something else???” I mention other possibilities because if we’re fortunate enough to live long enough and to experience disappointments, we learn that sometimes the thing that we wanted the most, was in fact, not the best thing for us.
I’ll use one of my most painful life experiences as an example. I was in love with someone and thought that he and I would live happily ever-after. In my love-filled haze, I missed more than a few red-flags/warning signs including his unchecked substance use. He was not able to make a long-term commitment and after some time I eventually decided that it was best to leave. I remember feeling unlovable and not wanting to live because I was in so much pain and because life was “so unfair”. It wasn’t until some time had passed that I was able to look back on our relationship and see how dysfunctional our relationship was, and to realize how unhappy I had been with him. At the time I was unable to see the possibility of my life being happier without him, and even that there were healthier relationships available to me. I’m now able to recognize that not getting what I thought was going to be a happily ever-after relationship with him, was a good thing because our relationship was an unhappy and unhealthy one.
I know how hard it can be to not get something you really wanted. When you are struggling with not getting what you want, if can feel as though the world has or is going to end. If you’re struggling with not getting something you really wanted, I challenge you to think back on a time when you experienced something that felt like a failure that you didn’t know how you would bounce back from. How did you get through that painful experience? I think we can grow stronger with each failure if we take the time to reflect on how not getting what we wanted worked out for us in the long run. If we take the time to reflect and learn from the past, and be open to other possibilities, our present or future experiences of failure will not obliterate our self-esteem because our life experiences have made us wiser, stronger and more resilient.
Photo by Annie Spratt
Life can be painful sometimes, and especially during times of change and transition. It can feel as though our world is coming to an end when life changes. In some ways the life or the world as we knew it, does come to an end because when change happens something in our life fades away while something else is created. Nothing in life is permanent. Think about nature. Every season brings about transitions and changes to the weather, plants, the land and bodies of water. We too change with each life transition.
It can be helpful to remember during painful life transitions and changes that we grow and often grow into someone better than we were before. A week, month, year or years from now, you will be wiser, braver and stronger (emotional and possibly physically) than you are today. Transitions and change, although painful at the time, should be honored and celebrated because they can help shape us into the best version of ourselves. I imagine it’s safe to say that if you were to take a few seconds to reflect back on your life, you’d be proud of all of the painful life changes you survived and even may be very proud of the person you’ve become as a result of some of the painful life changes you’ve experienced.
If you’re going through a painful life transition or change, hang in there and remember that when change happens, you too will change and grow into someone better than you were before.
Photo by David Clode
Animals and mental health
Where to start. Animals have long been companions to people, and people have long been companions to animals. Over the years, more and more people have added animal companions to their lives. I am aware of people (including myself), that have allergies but still none the less have made adjustments so that they can have an animal companion in their life. I have also noticed an increase in the number of transient people residing in the San Francisco Bay Area that have an animal companions in their lives.
So why the attraction to animals? There are many reasons and I imagine if you were to ask different people with an animal companion why they have one, their answers would vary. I think it’s safe to say that there would be similar reasons as to why people have animal companions. One being that animal companions provide their human companions with a sense of unconditional love. When we arrive home after a being out in the world, our animal companion(s) greet us with so much joy and excitement that it can be overwhelming (in a good way) if you stop and think about. It’s rare to live with a person that is happy every single time they see and interact with us. With the consistent positive feelings for us, animal companions can cause us to feel safe, loved and help us to experience a secure attachment to another living being, which is priceless. Animal companions have a way of making us feel accepted and loved, even when the world and possibly loved ones have rejected or ignored us. The gentle nudges, touch and long eye contact from our animal companions, help to improve our sense of connection and mood.
Animals companions also help us to laugh, experience child-like joy and be fully in the present moment more frequently. From that laughter and joy, we experience an improved mood, feel less stressed, and or depressed. Science has found that we when look in to the eyes of loved ones, including our animal companions, the love hormone oxytocin is released, and we experience a sense of safety, love, security and belonging. Looking at pictures of your animal companions when you are away from them or at work, can provide you with feelings of joy and happiness when you are not feeling your best.
Another reason people enjoy animal companions is because animal companions require us to give our attention to something other than ourselves. For some, having an animal companion to look after and take care of, creates a sense of purpose. Having a sense of purpose for many people has been a way to decrease symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation. Having to take a doggie companion for their daily walks provides people with the opportunity to get some exercise and feel less anxious or depressed. Those walks can also help people to lose weight and help with arthritis. Petting a cat companion has been shown to lower blood pressure and help people feel less stressed.
There are far more benefits of having an animal companion that are listed in this post. I was only able to cover a few but it’s good to remember that animal companions help their human companions to improve their mood, sense of purpose and safety, and provide lots of laughs and positive memories in the process.
Photo by Anusha Barwa
Christina is a Psychotherapist in private practice in Wichita, Kansas.