Mind Health Blog

mental health guidance toward a blossoming mind

How to Start Making a Change…

Practice Smiling

Simple, right? Maybe not consciously. Think about how often you smile at strangers. Do you smile at coworkers passing by at work? Do you smile at people on the sidewalk when you’re outside? Do you smile when someone holds the door open for you? If you answered “no” to these questions, then ask yourself “why not?” Many times we are so caught up in our own trains of thought (or overthinking) that we aren’t even conscious or fully aware how our facial expressions come across. I’ll use the term “resting bitch face” here since people are using it now-a-days. tumblr_mf17n6qsvV1qdu0vro1_500All too often we walk around with this expression instead of connecting with other people in the most simple way: smiling. Not only will it make other people feel better, but it will make you feel better too.

Scientific Benefits Behind Smiling 

According to a study done at the University of Kansas, smiling reduces the body’s response to stress, lowers your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and even increases your life expectancy! It also reduces risk for chronic disease and improves your immune system to prevent you from getting sick. Even forcing a fake smile produces these outcomes as well – so fake it ’till you make it! What is found across the board is that our body mimics our facial expressions, not the other way around. Therefore, when we smile, our bodies and brains literally feel happier. We just have to trick ourselves in the right way.

Smiling Produces Better Relationships 

Psychologist Albert Mehrabian developed a ‘likability theory’ in which he found that 50% of our body language contributes to how much other people ‘like’ us or find us kind/easy to approach. Makes sense, no? No matter what language you speak, everyone knows that smiling is a kind and genuine gesture of friendliness. Why not make things better for each other and smile a little more often? What if everyone took this advice? How much greater of a world it would be. Whenever I start up a group at the hospital, I always make sure I enter the room with a smiling face. I have found that 99% of the time, just by smiling, patients are more willing to engage in the activity and I am able to build a better rapport with them. Same goes for working in an office. When I enter the room in the morning, I am trying to be more conscious of entering with a positive attitude, smiling, and saying “good morning.” After all, we spend more time with our co-workers than our families and friends, so why not make it an enjoyable space for everyone? Even remembering to smile to your loved one when you get home will bring you closer together in the simplest way.

Smiling is Contagious

It is the universal language of kindness. Researchers have been studying the power of smiling since the 1980’s. If the act of smiling makes you feel better, imagine what it does to the people you are surrounded by! Ever listen to someone else laughing and you can’t help but laugh yourself – even though you have no idea what they are laughing about? Same goes for smiling. According to Trends in Cognitive Sciences, we smile when others smile because our natural instinct is to try to connect to how other people are feeling and understand their emotions. When you see an expression on someone else’s face, you attempt to understand it and interpret it by mimicking it on your own face. If you notice your friend group is mostly negative, frowning, or dumping their problems on you, you may want to try surrounding yourself with more upbeat people – but first, try being that smiling person for them! More than likely, they will be able to turn their moods around or at the very least, smile back.

What are your experiences with smiling at a stranger? Did they smile back? How did it make you feel? Were you able to make someone smile once who was previously sad?

“People will forget what you said but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“If you don’t have a smile, I’ll give you one of mine.”

“Life is like a mirror – smile at it and it will smile back at you.”

“You’re never fully dressed without a smile.”

Unlinked Resources: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/smiling-contagious-study_us_56c20ea2e4b0b40245c75650

Write an Effective To-Do List

Thinking about everything you have to get done in the near future can be pretty overwhelming. If you don’t already have a good habit of making to-do lists, you need to start! For those of you who do write one, I am going to tell you how to improve it and get the most out of it. I know what you’re probably thinking… “Isn’t making a to-do list self-explanatory? It’s just bullet points…” Let me change your mind.

Here are some common mistakes people make when trying to follow a to-do list:

  • Losing the list/not putting it in an obvious spot
  • Being overwhelmed by everything on the list
  • Setting unrealistic goals
  • Setting goals without action/follow-up
  • Having things on the list for much too long
  • Adding to the list but not crossing anything off

What to Include in a To-Do List

Before deciding what to add to your list, choose the right medium that will work for you. I prefer to handwrite my to-do list and keep it in my planner, which I open everyday. Other mediums could be social media, phone apps, a calendar, phone calendar, sticky note on a mirror, notebook, etc. There is not a right answer when it comes to choosing a medium, just choose what will work best for you and make sure it’s something you access/look at daily. According to themuse.com, 41% of people who make a to-do list never touch it after writing/typing it, mostly because of the bullet points listed above. Ever hear of the ‘1, 3, 5 rule?’ When setting goals, your list should include (1) big item, (3) medium tasks, and (5) easy tasks. For example, here’s mine!

  1. Land a freelance writing job

  2. Research one new topic every week
  3. Apply to graduate schools
  4. Organize my debt payments/bill payments

  5. Email pitches
  6. Organize my closet
  7. Make the appointment for the Doctors
  8. Clean out my car
  9. Organize the basement

By distributing your list into easier and harder tasks, it makes it realistic to accomplish. Your tasks can be related to one another, but don’t have to be! Organizing my basement probably (and hopefully) has very little to do with my aspiring freelance career. Above everything remember this infographic: To-Do List "Do's".jpg

The Psychology Behind To-Do Lists 

It’s not about just being organized – our brains actually react differently to a task-ordered system. Just by making a to-do list, we tend to feel better about ourselves. My co-workers always tell me “You are so organized!” when I pull out my planner. My reply? “Thanks, it gives the illusion that I have my life together.” When you write out your thoughts, plans, and goals on paper, it’s easier to see everything that you have yet to accomplish – or the opposite; it helps you calm down when you think everything that you have to do is impossible. Bottom line is, making a to-do list is an easy way to see the whole picture and achieve our goals. As humans, we are wired to think about the future and things we have yet to complete. There’s a word for that!  The “Zeigarnik effect” says that we remember things we need to do better than things we’ve already accomplished. Furthermore, a study done at Wake Forest University proved that participants who wrote down concrete goals were more successful in completing the following activity (and with less anxiety) than those who did not write it down.

Remember to Reward Yourself

As the saying goes: Treat yo’ self. When crossing off a task, reward yourself! This might not include indulging after each small task is accomplished, but set a goal for yourself. For example, you could say “for every 5 small tasks I complete, I will buy myself that pair of shoes I’ve been wanting” or “when I complete my (1) big item, I will book a mini-vacation.” Rewarding yourself can be big or small. My favorite reward to give myself is simply: down time. It doesn’t cost me anything and it helps me unwind and recharge after all the energy I spent putting into erasing my hectic to-do list. Rewards are important to keep yourself motivated without over doing it/burning out. All in all, aim to cross off one thing from your list each week. Depending on the weight of your tasks, you might be able to accomplish more, and it even might take more time. It will all be up to you, which is probably the most anxiety provoking part. If you remember the To-Do List ‘Do’s”, you won’t have any problems conquering your goals. Take the time right now to make a list! Sunday’s are the best days to start.

Check out printabletodolist.com for a ton of lists you can print to get going instantly!

Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude and Relationships

How often do you take time out of your day to say “thank you?” It could be to a co-worker, boss, friend, family member, or even a simple stranger when they do a nice gesture. According to Pain Pathway Magazine, expressing gratitude to someone else will:8c30ce01348675bfff45ce45f6e84a67

  • Reduce negativity and increase a positive outlook
  • Relieve stress
  • Boost your immune system
  • Improve your relationships
  • Allow you to sleep better
  • and Make you feel happier!

Think about a time when you went out of your way to do something nice for someone…how did it make you feel? Did that person say thank you? Hopefully they did! And if they didn’t, you should know how it feels when someone doesn’t show you appreciation.

Here’s my favorite video on gratitude and the power of  showing someone else your appreciation. Take some time today to call your Grandma or Grandpa you haven’t talked to in months. Write that thank you letter to your boss for hiring you or to the person you recently interviewed for. Say thank you when the stranger in front of you holds the door. Tell your significant other how much you appreciate them and their patience. Life is all about forming relationships and making meaningful connections. The best way to build our support system and bonds with one another is to take the time every once in a while to tell one another that we care, appreciate, and are grateful for the small things.

Gratitude for the Things You Already Have

Gratitude isn’t just about telling other people what you appreciate them. It’s also about appreciating the material things that you have in life as well as the supports that you DO have. It’s about resisting the urge to wish you had something new or different. Be sure to take the time to reflect on all of the things in your life that you have, the experiences that you have, and the people in your life that you have. We will always want a bigger house, nicer hair, more friends, and even better mental health. Appreciate and acknowledge your progress! If you’re stuck in a rut and are having a hard time thinking of things to be grateful for – here’s some!


Meditation and Mantras

Upon finishing a really great book (-book review coming soon!-) I have tried meditating by using mantras that was suggested throughout the story. A mantra is ‘a sound or word repeated to aid in concentration during meditation’ commonly used in Buddhist practice.

To try this out for myself, I simply went on YouTube -during an emotional breakdown- and typed in “mantras for meditation” and BOOM! Hundreds of different videos and sound clips came up. One of my favorites is one that repeats “lengthen” where  you take a long inhale and repeat the word, then exhale while stating “let go.” Lengthen. Let Go. It was so simple yet worked SO effectively. My breathing went back to normal and I was able to relax myself. Try it for yourself! Even without the audio!

Benefits of using mantras in daily life are:

  • reduces anxiety and depression
  • enhances self-compassionmeditation-mantras.png
  • establishes body back to regular heart rate/breathing
  • boosts immunity in the body
  • encourages empowerment
  • helps to set clear goals
  • strengthens muscle memory
  • it’s easy – and free!

*To learn more information on how to use mantras and the history behind them, go to Mantras 101: The Benefits, How to Use, and Examples.

*Remember to relax your muscles and focus on your breathing while practicing this! Enjoy!

Coping Cards

With a free, printable download! 

I especially love this simple activity, because essentially it’s what I teach; Coping Skills! I always advocate for positive affirmations and believe that they are so powerful for it being such a simple task.

ec94c42f7f4a23679975fdca163ec479To make them yourself, all you need is:

  • Notecards OR construction paper cut into rectangles
  • Pens or markers

Once you have your materials, all you have to do it write affirmations/reminders on them that YOU find helpful or uplifting.


Some other examples are:

  • “This moment will pass, just breathe.”
  • “Reminder, reach out to a friend – DO NOT ISOLATE”
  • “Is this going to matter in 5 years?”
  • “Is what I’m worrying about rational?”

For more examples that are already written for you and ready to print (30 of them), go to: Mental Health and Wellness Blog – Coping Cards – OR – make your own and be creative! I like laminating them and keeping them in a box or envelope in a place that is fast and easy to access, like your bed-side or office drawer.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): technique to control and monitor the rate of muscular tension to decrease physical stress in the body.

PMR is one of my favorite relaxation exercises! It’s great too, because you can do it in pretty much any environment and at any time of the day. Personally, I like to do it right before bed to help me unwind and relax for the night. I also use this activity to do in group at least once a week and it’s always a favorite! 1200-539469-progressive-muscle-relaxation

The idea is mostly focused on isometrics, or isolating certain muscle groups one by one. I always start with the muscles in my right arm, then move to the left arm, neck and shoulders, to the legs, and finally feet. One “round” of exercises takes me about 15 minutes to complete. I do the first round at half-strength (so squeezing/tightening muscles half as hard as I know I can) and do one last round afterwards at full strength (squeezing/contracting muscles as hard as I can – without hurting myself.) Try it for yourself! Again, the goal is to feel more relaxed and decrease muscle tension. It feels like you have just gotten a massage, in a way.

The cycle I follow is:

  • Make a fist with your right hand (hold for 20 seconds for each movement)
  • Put your right arm straight out, fist with right hand, wrist flexed up toward you -knuckles facing you.
  • Right arm flexed to isolate bicep muscle.
  • Look straight up at the ceiling/sky, isolating neck muscles.
  • Look down, chin-to-chest.
  • Touch right ear to right shoulder.
  • Touch left ear to left shoulder.
  • Lift both shoulders as high as you can.
  • Sit forward in your chair a little, touching elbows behind your back.
  • Right leg straight in front of you, flexing right quadriceps.
  • Right leg slightly bent, flexing right calf muscle.
  • Right leg slightly bent, curling right toes under.

How do you feel after doing this exercise? Hopefully more relaxed! Remember to repeat the cycle a second time at ‘full strength’ to feel even less tension afterwards.

relaxFor more information on Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and for a better visual, check out: progressive muscle relaxation printable handout and guide.

TIP: Play around with different kinds of music while performing this exercise. Before bed, you could listen to a relaxing playlist. Be aware of your mood, what you enjoy, and how this will benefit you the most. You could listen to an environmental sound, such as beach waves, rain drops, lightning, thunder, birds chirping, etc. Or you could listen to upbeat pop-music in the morning to get you ready for the day. Find what works best for YOU! Enjoy.

10 Negatives Turned Positive

A couple months ago I read this really great article from theodysseyonline.com and have used the reference in my groups many times! It always turns out to be one of my favorite (and most meaningful) activities.

Bottom line, there is good to find in every situation, no matter what. Yes, it’s hard to think about at the time, but with practice and patience, it becomes easier to see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ or ‘the bigger picture’ or whatever other cliche you want to use to describe it. Just practice and be more mindful.

The exercise goes like this:2060226_1

  • One by one, go through each negative situation and read it out loud.
  • After reading it, challenge yourself to come up with at least FIVE good things that could come from each situation.
  • After, reflect on how you feel. The objective is to feel more optimistic and at-ease, rather than letting something small ruin your day.
  • Example: The situation is – Someone cut you off in traffic and you almost got into an accident.
    • The positives…
    • 1. I DIDN’T get into an accident, so lets not overreact for too long or dwell on it.
    • 2. I’m still going to make it to my destination.
    • 3. I am lucky to have a car in the first place.
    • 4. The other person probably feels sorry (and if they don’t, oh well! Sometimes we have to trick ourselves into believing so.)
    • 5. I can turn up the music, put myself in a better mood, and go on with my day.
    • and so on.

Here are some really good examples that I use titled: 10 Negative Situations Turned Positive from the Odyssey. The situations they give are –

  • Your alarm went off
  • The weather sucks
  • You feel a cold coming on
  • Someone took the last donut
  • You’re stuck in traffic
  • You thought it was Friday…it’s Wednesday
  • Your favorite clothing item is dirty
  • Everyone on Instagram has a better life than you
  • You failed an exam
  • Your expectations weren’t met

The idea is to make the situations as real or ‘everyday’ as possible. The ones listed above are very typical and happen day-to-day. So how are you going to choose to respond to them? Be creative with your positive outcomes!

Top 50 Most Meaningful Jobs

Here is a link to The Top 50 Most Meaningful Jobs in America! And Recreational therapy made #32! Not too bad, I’ll take it. I definitely feel rewarded every day and feel that I am 3aaefb63ac210cdd0b9af1cc628a04b0making a difference. I enjoy being the professional that patients see as “the fun one” or “the one where I can take my mind off things by doing the activities I enjoy.” I’m not forcing them to take medications, or determining their length of stay. All I do is provide new activities and new ways of coping!



Introduction to Recreational Therapy

I always get asked the same question when I tell people my job title…

“What is Recreation Therapy?”

I used to ‘dumb it down’ and say “well it’s kind of like social work but through groups and games.” But then I realized how degrading and untrue to the career that it is. Recreational therapy is more than playing games with patients. It’s being able to become independent in activities you used to enjoy doing before your injuries or diagnosis of a mental illness. Imagine your favorite activity – soccer, basketball, volleyball, drawing, coloring, playing videogames, or even watching TV – being stripped of your capabilities because of an auto accident, TBI, spinal cord injury, developmental disability, or onset of a mental illness. We underestimate the little things we do for leisure time and enjoyment to escape the stressors of life.

In my field, Recreational Therapy is an outlet for inpatient psychiatric patients to develop coping skills and identify new skills to use in their free time instead of resulting to drugs or toxic people/relationships. It’s a way for them to learn new activities that they didn’t have the opportunity growing up to experience. It’s a way to provide resources in their community to them through local recreation centers and crisis hotlines.

I’m excited and motivated to be into my first career at a young age right out of college in such an up-and-coming time for Recreation therapists and the growth of the field!

-Amber, CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist)

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