Toxic Friendships and Mental Health

It’s key to remember the environment we live in- that includes the people we surround ourselves with- has a profound impact on our well being. Studies have proven that having a solid support system of friends and family is linked to better mental, and even physical, health. Likewise, any toxic relationship will leave you feeling dejected, tired, and sometimes downright miserable. Why is it that some of us choose to stay in these relationships for so long, even when we know it’s not good for us?

(* Please read the disclaimer at the end*)

Speaking from personal experience, there are a variety of reasons for continuing to stay in a toxic friendship. For one, it’s difficult to leave once you have invested so much time into any relationship, whether it has to do with a friend or significant other. Once you are so attached to someone you don’t only see the poisonous side of them. You think of all the memories you share and the good times you associate with them. Unfortunately, these joyful memories tend to overshadow all of the trouble they bring into your life. Seeing the good in people is by no means a bad trait, but blissfully ignoring the fact that they are bad for you will only inflict more damage. 

Another reason it’s difficult to separate from these people is something that is not always noticeable right away. That is that sometimes, we cross paths with a downright manipulative person. Anyone who has ever found themselves in a toxic friendship knows how frustrating and hurtful being manipulated is. Sometimes it goes right over your head, and you can not pinpoint the source of the negative emotions you associate with them. Other times you know it is happening but feel like you can’t do anything about it. Manipulative people have a knack for turning the tables on you and making you question whether you are in the wrong for not trusting them.

If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, you have to seriously consider the kind of toll it is taking on your mental health. As a friend, someone should bring positivity to your life. They should bring honesty, support, and encouragement to the table- not deceit, confusion, and degradation.

Speaking from first hand experience, I know that separating yourself from a toxic friend or significant other can be complicated. But at the end of the day, we need to make choices to protect ourselves. 

I remember being in a certain toxic friendship at one point in high school and so much confusion and even hurt came from it before I finally went my separate way. Although I would never blame this person for my struggles at their time, their friendship did anything but help me when I needed to work on being happy with myself the most. This person was not satisfied with themself, and wanted the people close to them to feel the same way, which as a result hurt my mental health. While I was trying to improve myself they would always discourage me from doing so, and that is when I started to realize they didn’t really want the best for me.

Once I started to find my own interests and achievements they would instantly find a way to discourage me. This person said things to me sometimes, and although now I know it is because they were in a bad place, that severely impacted me and my confidence. It’s not that I really think that they were full of malice, but we were at completely different places in life and it became clear that staying close with them would prevent either of us from moving on and growing.

So at one point I decided to let it go, and even though it took a while, I found more supporting and good-hearted people to spend my time with. It was hard at first to part with someone who I associated with so many good times and cherished memories. However by doing so, I learned what the difference between true friendships and toxic friendships are. People who have your best interest at heart will build you up and be honest with you, while manipulative people will break you down. It should seem obvious what a healthy friendship is like, but once you are caught up in a toxic friendship for so long the lines between what a normal friendship and a toxic friendship should look like become blurred.

If you decide it is necessary to cut ties with someone, it is also important to know that you do not need to be hostile about it or leave any bad blood behind. If the other person involved is reasonable enough, it is always best to be honest and considerate when telling them you want to put an end to the friendship.

Again, I would like to emphasize that I know cutting ties with someone you share a long history with is not easy, but if you ever find yourself in a toxic relationship of any kind, it is crucial that you put yourself first. At the end of the day you are living this life for yourself, not them, and need to take care of your own mental health. The effects of toxic relationships can be devastating, especially when it is taken too far. You should never second guess how important your own health, happiness, and safety is for someone who doesn’t do the same for you. 

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Thank you for reading. This blog is based on my own personal experience and the advice I give is based almost entirely on that. If you have found yourself in a dangerous relationship or friendship of any kind, please seek help. Below I have linked resources to learn more, and a hotline if you feel you need outside help.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parenting/201810/how-identify-and-inoculate-toxic-friendship

thehotline.org

Practicing Mindfulness in Quarantine

It’s safe to say that the pandemic has affected every American in some way at this point. For some Americans this means the worst- coming down with COVID-19, unemployment, severe isolation from family, and much more.

For others, we still are not exactly sure yet. We’re patiently waiting. Anxiety is welling inside of us as we wonder what the full effect will be by the time this is all over, and just how long we will have to wait it out.

I’m lucky to say that I am on the more fortunate side of this. It has been hard temporarily leaving work and losing my sources of income, but at my age I’m still living with my family so this has not hit me as hard as it has for people on their own. I’m grateful to have a support system getting me through this. However, it has still been difficult to be out of work and separated from the people I care about. Like many people, I’ve been experiencing a roller coaster of emotions because of it.

What I and many others are especially concerned of is how this will effect our mental health.

In response to this, I have been focusing more on mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a popular practice discussed by many psychologists and counselors today. To summarize, it encourages people to focus on the present moment, rather than getting caught up in thinking of the past or future. To me this has been a hugely beneficial practice during self isolation, as my anxiety has skyrocketed lately.

(I highly recommend listening to “The Psychology Podcast” with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman as a simple way to learn more about this and psychology in general. I’ve been tuning in to an episode almost every day while I go on walks. The speakers on this show always have insightful advice on how to exercise mindfulness into your everyday life as well as other healthy ways to cope.)

So, what does it mean to practice mindfulness during quarantine?

First and foremost, I’ve been reminding myself of this: I can’t control or see into the future; but I can do my best to stay healthy, productive, and most importantly sane while I’m stuck at home. During social isolation it is especially important to learn how to manage negative thought patterns.

A huge reason many of us are experiencing increased anxiety right now is because how out of control we feel. Some of us are feeling out of control financially, over our health, over the safety of our loved ones, and our overall well-being during these times. For me, the root of my anxiety is grounded in my financial state and feeling uncertain of how long this will all last. I’ve been overwhelmed with guilt for feeling as though I’m not doing enough. By practicing mindfulness, however, I’ve managed to get some of that sense of control back.

One of the ways I have been maintaining this feeling of control is by focusing on my physical health through exercise and pushing myself every day. Exercise has always been one of the ways I manage stress. Exercise helps people get through stress (and the anxiety that comes with it) in many ways, from producing mood-boosting endorphins and helping with sleep. Knowing that I have complete control over my health during these times motivates me to get up and out of bed, and has given me something to aim at. Even if you aren’t feeling up to working out, I highly recommend walking or spending some time outdoors. Going on even a light walk has proven to be good for the mind, too.

Another way I have been trying to maintain this sense of control is by keeping a loose routine. Being at home has definitely given me more room to do what I want, when I feel like it, but in excess this is not a good thing. It can lead to unhealthy habits and sleep patterns that will only make matters worse. I have not been keeping a rigorous schedule, but have been holding myself accountable to keep some of the structure I had while going to school and work. For me this means making time for school work, my health, talking with friends, and creating time for the things I enjoy each day.

Overall, through mindfulness I have been able to keep a positive outlook on all of this. Each day I remind myself to simply live in the moment and focus on what I can do under isolation, instead of all of the things I can not. Rather than dwelling on all of the negative effects that this pandemic has had or might have in the near future, I’m focusing on what I can do each day. Instead of letting the time slip away I’m trying my best to use this time to improve myself and hopefully learn something new each day.

For me, this means getting back into art. I’ve been trying my hand at painting and sketching again- something that I never really had time to in between work and school. I’ve also been discovering new music and movies to keep me entertained during my down time.

I’ve noticed that the more I practice mindfulness and keeping a balanced perspective, the more I have been able to subside all of the negative emotions and anxiety. And I hope anyone reading knows that they can do the same; it is never out of your control.

It’s crucial to remember that in times like these, it is more important than ever to check in on ourselves and others around us, and to keep our heads up. No one is alone in this; we are all experiencing this new world together and are here to support one another.

Photo by Arthur Brognoli on Pexels.com

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I hope everyone is doing well by staying healthy and safe (indoors). Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts below, we are in this together.

Can You Always Be Positive?

True happiness isn’t forever, it might not even be for a while. It is found in the moments we least expect it, and sometimes hidden in the times we need it most. Happiness is fleeting.

When I say that happiness doesn’t last forever, I don’t mean that in a such a cynical way. I say that happiness is fleeting because the truth is, life happens and we don’t ever get to choose when. Mistakes are made, things are lost, and bonds are broken. And with these losses, there goes our expectation of infinite happiness right down the gutter.

Many of us feel unsatisfied with our current state of life because our ideas of happiness don’t coincide with reality. Our ideas of what real success and happiness look like are corrupted by social media and the fabrications we’re exposed to every day. We are lead to believe that happiness is perfection, and we convince ourselves that once we are finally happy that it will last forever.

This faulty perception of happiness only gets worse when we begin browsing through social media. I consistently come across a sea of lifestyle posts and ‘hacks’ on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram that I can’t take seriously. These influencers tell us that if we drink more water and get some sunlight each day, then we’ll grow into the person we want to be as if we are mere plants rather than complex, unique human beings. If it were as easy as drinking water and getting sunlight, then we would achieve perfect physical and mental health. For someone who has dealt with anxiety that interferes with everyday life, I understand that there’s a lot more to overcoming the downs of life than that and I’m sure almost everyone can agree.

The thing is, of course platforms like Instagram are going to be filled with picture perfect profiles. We all want the world to see the best version of our lives- even when it isn’t truthful. I can relate with the desire to create a positive image, and I do believe that platforms such as Instagram can be beneficial in that sense. When people land on my profile I want them to see the best version of myself.

The issue I have with this is the negative effect it has on all of us to be mislead by these perfect profiles, particularly the younger generations who are so invested in social media. When we scroll through all of these images, we’re seeing people living in a dream like state. These perfectly crafted profiles make us feel as though we’re missing out on the joy that all of these people we follow are experiencing, or seem to be experiencing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people comparing themselves to popular influencers that promote this image, or commenting along the lines of “I wish I was you!”

So there we go again, reaching for something out there, for that pure joy we see on social media.

But it’s not real.

We can convince ourselves that we can control our lives the way that we control our social media profiles, picking and choosing which moments we want to live out.  

But again, that’s not possible. If that was the case, then we’d all be manic.

In real life we live out the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the sunshine and the rain. We don’t get to slap a sunset filter over it and say that we had a perfect day. Sometimes things just don’t go the way we want it to, and that’s okay. That’s life. And the sooner we begin embracing the unexpected rather than running away from it, the closer we are to real happiness.

I came across this quote while watching Euphoria the other day that perfectly sums up my point.

“I had a therapist once who said that these states will wax and wane.

Which gave my mother relief, because it meant that in the bad times, there would be good times.

But it also gave her anxiety because it meant that in the good times, there would be bad times.”

Although simple, this episode does an excellent job of explaining how clinical depression works for most individuals. Not only does this episode accurately portray how it feels to live with depression and anxiety, but it holds true to the nature of life for all of us.

It can be somewhat frightening to realize that we don’t always know when the next low point will be for us. But if everything always went the way we want it too, we simply wouldn’t be alive. Think of it as the ups and downs on a heart monitor. If you see a straight line, there’s no pulse. If you see it consistently going up, well, that’s not exactly healthy either.

So at this point you might be asking yourself, what’s the point? 

Why am I writing this? As I began to write this post I didn’t know exactly what direction I was headed, I just wanted to remain honest above anything else. Even though I try to keep my writing on the positive side, it’s not always so easy. If I only covered the positive topics then I would be missing out on exploring so many other subjects surrounding mental health that other people can relate to.

So back to the question I set out to answer, it’s a little complicated. While I don’t believe there is a way to always be positive, I do feel that it’s important to always hold on to the hope that things will get better.

If I could give anyone advice on how to be a more positive person, it’s to accept that you don’t always know what tomorrow will bring, but hold on to the hope that the hard times will pass and you will find yourself living out those happy moments again. Don’t let that fill you with fear, let it fill you with excitement.

Instead of viewing happiness as perfection, instead of trying to keep it forever, view it as moments. It’s true that happiness is fleeting; like every other emotion it comes and goes. Happiness is found in moments that turn into memories we can cherish.

So stop chasing perfection and start chasing those moments. It’s that rush you feel when you catch the perfect wave, or that moment when you break through the surface of the water after taking a daring leap. It’s the sense of pride you have when you can finally feel your diploma in your hands and the warmth that radiates from those who supported you along the way. It’s in those moments when you find yourself laughing until your chest aches, or that joy you feel when you reconnect with a friend for the first time in what felt like forever.

Even on your absolute worst days, happiness is there, in that smile that illuminates someone’s face when you do something kind. Happiness is everywhere, even in the bad, if you would just open your mind to it. 

It’s like catching a firefly in your hands, even in the darkest nights. There will be times where the nights feel dark and you think the light has ran out, but it is still there, waiting to land on the palms of your hands again. And those moments, like fireflies, will come back to you when you least expect it.

Reflecting On “Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast” (Review)

“If I have a few drinks every single night before I go to bed, does that mean I have an addiction?” A friend said mockingly. “Of course it does!”

“The question you should ask yourself is why would you drink every night. It’s only an addiction if you depend on it,” Argued another.

The casual conversation that began about drinking at parties escalated into a debate, causing a domino effect of question and answers to which we all couldn’t quite agree on. Considering addiction wasn’t officially classified as a disease until the late 1980’s, grey areas and stigmas remain around the subject.

One thing we could agree on is that drinking is a risky gamble for those more susceptible to addiction. None of us personally claimed to have an addiction, but myself and a few others had seen addiction severely impact those around us.

What begins as a way to kick off a memorable (or should I say forgettable) weekend could turn into a serious problem. Those celebratory shots, evening glasses of wine, or even some fizzy champaign walk on a fine line of being your best friend or worst enemy.

By no means am I suggesting everyone who begins a drinking habit will fall into addiction. The danger is, you never know who will.

Naturally, conversations like this only further my curiosity of psychology. And as a new psychology student, I’m always on the lookout for interesting yet insightful reads to help me learn more about the subject.

Without any specific book in mind as I walked into the store, I came across Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast and I’m grateful that I did. Addicted*, edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, documents the stories of multiple writers who suffered from addiction.

Due to the graphic nature of the novel, readers should be cautious before opening the book. The writers do not hold back as they share dark, vulnerable moments of their lives. However, it is the authors’ courage to share these stories that makes it even more powerful.

Overall, I took away a great deal of knowledge and debunked some of the myths around addiction that I used to believe.

  1. Addiction isn’t limited to alcohol, or even drugs for that matter. It can take the form of food, gambling, sex and more, that stems from the need to cope with stress and other negative feelings. It’s more present in our lives than we may think.
  2. There’s an undeniable stigma around addiction around who is most likely to develop an addition. Like most stereotypes, we tend to paint an image of this person in our heads. Each writer who participated in the novel had a unique story, emphasizing the fact that people from all backgrounds can fall victim to addiction.

Diseases such as addiction are difficult to understand from an outsider’s perspective, which is why it is crucial that there are first hand accounts of addiction for people to read. Gaining a better understanding of it is necessary for someone supporting a loved one through an addiction, someone going through the recovery process themselves, or students specializing in disorders.

Although at times it is difficult to read, each story left an impact on me. Compared to other books about addiction you may read, Addicted provides a variety of first hand accounts that cover different forms of addiction. Each story is touching in its own way, while showing the harsh reality of the recovering process.

Have you read Addicted, if so what are your thoughts? If not, what are some books you recommend?

xx

Thank you for reading as always.

Have Faith In Yourself Today

A simple reminder that confidence does not mean believing that you are perfect, or thinking that you can go the rest of your life without making any mistakes. Confidence is never to be confused by arrogance.

Confidence is having faith in yourself, knowing you have the power to make your own choices each day. Likewise, it means having the strength to forgive yourself even when you make mistakes, because you know you are capable of growing and becoming a better person than you were yesterday.

Don’t let the word “confidence” intimidate you any longer.

There’s no better way to build you own confidence than to place trust yourself in every step you take.

Have some faith in yourself today.

xx

An Honest Review: “The Voice Of Knowledge” by Don Miguel Ruiz

I caved. I’ll admit it.

I finally read the infamous series I heard so much about.

My family told me to read it, every lifestyle blogger alive told me to read it, my dog told me to read it, even my my neighbor yelled over the fence, “You have to read this book!!”

I may be exaggerating a bit- but the point is, I heard a lot about the series before I finally picked it up for myself. For some reason, my very stubborn personality works in strange ways. Sometimes the more I hear about a book, the less I want to read it.

Despite this, the main reason I was so reluctant to read it was because it’s common for the reputation to precede books in this genre, and I couldn’t help but convince myself that this would be the case.

When I got stuck on a five hour flight I decided I would give it a chance, and to my surprise I couldn’t put it down. I was pleased to discover that The Voice Of Knowledge lives up to all of the praise.

After reading it thoroughly, I felt enlightened and refreshed with a more positive perspective on life. On some days when I’m feeling particularly stressed or negative, I find myself reaching for the book again.

Reading The Voice Of Knowledge took me on a walk down memory lane, reminiscing over the joy I experienced as a child before I let the the opinions of others affect my self image.

Any young adult will thoroughly enjoy this book because I’m sure we can all relate to Don Miguel Ruiz’s experiences growing up in a fast paced world. As he mentions in the first book of the series, so many of us let the opinions of others define our worth.

At one point Ruiz remarks that you must read his book multiple times in order to catch some of the details you missed the first time, and this definitely holds true. Depending on what your current situation is, you can apply lessons learned in the book to your own life.

Ruiz’s work in The Voice Of Knowledge stands out to me for his ability to take such a complex topic, finding inner peace, and breaking it down into a way that any reader can understand. Ruiz draws inspiration from toltec wisdom and applies it to the modern world.

There is a certain simplicity to the book that makes the message even more powerful. Ruiz stands by the “one simple truth”, inspiring readers to stay their most authentic selves. Ruiz motivates readers by telling them to take control of their own happiness again and embrace every little thing that makes them different.

Anyone who reads the first book of this series will take away so much knowledge, and get a step closer to a peaceful mind.

Now if you haven’t read the book yet- I’m adding myself to the list of people who recommend it.

xx

Thank you for reading as always. Have you read any of Ruiz’s work? Let me know in the comments!