woman in red t shirt looking at her laptop
DBT, Inspiration, Journaling, mental health

STUCK.

What do you do when you are stuck?

  • Stuck in a meeting
  • Stuck in traffic
  • Stuck in line at the store
  • Stuck at home
  • Stuck at the airport
  • Stuck in quarantine
  • Stuck in the parent pick-up line

The reasons for stuck-ness are many…mandated attendance, weather, the person in front of you can’t move; however the feeling is typically the same.  Anger.  It may start off as slight irritation, moving into annoyance and frustration before moving into full blown anger; however typically, being stuck makes us mad!

So how are we going to get through this UNENDURABLE situation?  To start, stop exaggerating! It’s not unendurable.  It’s not typically as bad as we make it out to be in our head.  Let me give you an example:  I like Starbucks (fact), but the line at the drive through is absolutely ridiculous (opinion).  My problem solving skills lead me to park and go inside every time I go there.  I was very content with this decision.  One day, while inside, I was so excited to see that there is a screen for the baristas that tells them how long people have been in the drive-thru.  I expected to see 10 minutes….15 minutes…FOREVER, because let’s face it…waiting in that line is AWFUL! To my amazement, the longest wait time was 2 minutes 45 seconds.  Really??….the line was LONG when I walked in…like wrapping around the building and almost to the main road! Then it hit me: I’ve been inside for about 3 minutes too! Why is it that being trapped in my car causes me to perceive time moving so much slower?  I felt stuck!

How to guide to get unstuck:

  1. Realize that the trick isn’t actually to get unstuck, it’s to change how you feel about being (what you perceive as) stuck.
  2. Stop judging. Words like should, always, terrible, OMG, worst, never…are typically attached to a judgment.  Instead, be descriptive.  Explain how you feel and why. Ex: Repleace “this is the longest line EVER, I ALWAYS get stuck in long lines” with “I am sitting in line at Starbucks, this has happened before”
  3. Observe your posture. Ex: Take your fingernails out of the steering wheel, let your shoulders fall from your ears back to their relaxed state, remove the scowl from your face…
  4. Consider other possible alternatives to catastrophizing Ex: I finally have time to respond to those text messages (safely while not driving), I can plan the next few hours of my day, I can sit here and remember a positive memory to improve my mood, consider things you are grateful for.
  5. Stop fighting reality. In conjunction with #4, the reality is that you are in a situation that you can’t immediately get out of; catastrophizing is an example of the situation worse.  Accept that you are where you are (this will reduce suffering).

I am wondering if you are willing to give it a try?   It’s amazing what changing your interpretation of a situation will do for your mood!

green typewriter on brown wooden table
DBT, Inspiration, Journaling, mental health

Self-Assessment for the End of Year Pondering

As the year comes to an end, I believe it is a great practice for us all to slow down and assess where we are achieving and where we are struggling.

I have created this “worksheet” of sorts to to help people identify where they might have room for growth.  We all have areas for growth, we all have areas of strength. Consider these questions to guide you in your journey (with a therapist or without)! This is also a great exercise to do as a couple and as a family to set some goals, with intentionality, for the new year!

In what areas are you (or we) making emotionally based choices?

Consider the following areas. Do you (or we) tend to give into short term impulses in any specific areas?

  • Food/eating ____________________________________________________________________
  • Time management (working/playing) __________________________________________­
  • Anger impulses _________________________________________________________________
  • Social Anxiety ___________________________________________________________________
  • Fears ____________________________________________________________________________
  • Sleep schedule__________________________________________________________________
  • Self-harming behaviors__________________________________________________________
  • Substance abuse ________________________________________________________________
  • Emotional urges _________________________________________________________________
  • Trying to “fit in” __________________________________________________________________

Questions to journal on:

What changes would you like to see in those areas?

What are you doing to self-sabatoge?

What are you doing to set yourself up for success?

Are you able to identify any areas that you do well in exercising restraint against urges and making more mindful choices?

What changes are you willing to make in the next month, to work on moving in an effective direction for yourself?

If you want more help with managing short-term urges in order to achieve long-term goals, consider checking out my book Adulting Well (available in the Wellness Shop tab above)!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The OTHER Antidote for Depression

If you’ve experienced depression I am sure you’ve heard (once or twice) that you should exercise to improve your mood.  That advice isn’t wrong; and yet, it isn’t easy.  I am here to let you know that there is another very powerful antidote for depression and it takes the form of the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill of BUILDing MASTERY.

Build Mastery is a very small skill in the DBT manual (which makes me sad) but it packs a powerful punch.  To build mastery is to spend time developing a skill/talent/hobby/activity.  It is important that you understand the following table:

Too EasyNo effect, could backfire and make you feel infantilized
ChallengingBuilds self-worth/self-esteem
Too HardLikely leads to you feeling incompetent

The task that you choose to work on (let’s take running a 5k as an example) needs to fall in the middle row: challenging.  If you decide, with no prior training to run a full marathon (too hard), you will injure yourself, fail and probably feel worse about yourself.  If you choose to walk to 10 paces forward (too easy), you won’t feel any sense of accomplishment because that’s too easy! You won’t continue to work toward your goal of running and therefore will feel like the exercise was pointless. The sweet spot involves breaking your goal of running a 5k into reasonable and tangible steps (such as researching and purchasing running shoes, finding local trails/parks, downloading Couch 2 5k or joining a running club, sharing your plan with others, beginning to work up to short jogs and slowly lengthening the distance.

Lets say, you hate running and now you’re angry that I suggested that. Fair enough…you can build mastery in almost any area!

  • Gardening
  • Cleaning
  • Sewing
  • Painting
  • Learning a language
  • Computer coding
  • Playing chess
  • Cooking
  • Any sport
  • Reading (longer books, more complex books)
  • Home repairs
  • Budgeting
  • Crafting

I think build mastery is an attainable skill over this quarantine! I have been brushing up on my watercolor skills as a way to reduce stress and practice a challenging activity.  Take some time to think about what you could work on!20200318_1633398414760588646284697.jpg

anonymous young lady paddling boat in lake during trip in mountains
DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

I cannot express enough, the power and efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation. By and large, it is one of the best treatments for stress and anxiety.  For my clients struggling with chronic anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, and the stress of a chaotic lifestyle, I routinely recommend this type of meditation.  I encourage you to utilize this video as a way to sink into a calm mental place and enjoy the peace it brings.

If you tend to be an anxious person, progressive muscle relaxation is a simple and easy tool that can take your baseline from an 8/10 to a 5/10 which will improve focus, improve sleep, decrease racing thoughts, release muscle tension…all for free!

Modern technology is quite a blessing in this regard. Gone are the days when you would have to purchase relaxation CD’s…using YouTube, it’s quite simple to find a guided meditation that works for you and your style.  Consider searching terms such as “progressive muscle relaxation”, “paced breathing”, loving kindness, and/or relaxation meditation. 

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Breaking Down the Confusion Surrounding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not only a hot topic in our culture today; it is a fantastic tool that anyone can utilize to gain immeasurable benefits.  Many people equate mindfulness to meditation.  This is accurate and inaccurate at the same time.  Mindfulness is a large umbrella concept, meditation does fall under the umbrella; however so do many other techniques.  Mindfulness is merely choosing to focus all of your attention on one thing, one task, or one thought.

Under the mindfulness umbrella, there are two main techniques:

  1. Focusing your attention ON something or some task.
  2. Clearing your mind

Frequent feedback that I get is that the first type of mindfulness is easier.  In our culture, focusing on something is much more acceptable than focusing on nothing.  There is a judgment that focusing on something is still accomplishing something, while clearing your mind is a “waste of time”.

Focusing on SOMETHIING can take almost any form:  purposeful conversations with eye contact and no cell phones, choosing to read a book with limited distractions, painting, doing a puzzle, breathing techniques, body scan, yoga, fully throwing yourself into a sport or exercise etc.  The goal is that you control your attention as opposed to blowing through the breeze at its mercy.  When being mindful, you may notice distracting thoughts or urges; however you choose to let them pass.

Clearing your mind may indeed be more difficult; however the benefits are life changing.  What I hear most often is that it’s weird or the people don’t “know how” to do it.  Clearing you mind can happen in many forms.  Zen mindfulness suggests sitting upright and comfortable in a meditation position.  The only goal is to sit upright and still.  Thoughts will rise and fall, we don’t judge or cling to them if possible.  Sitting periods can be anywhere from 60 seconds to hours at a time.  There are of course other ways to meditate: prayer, reciting mantras, contemplating an issue, chanting, listening to classical or calming music etc.

So why should you buy into this? Because it works!  I will admit I was a skeptic at first.  I thought people would make fun of me or judge me (and perhaps they do…). I didn’t think I could “make time”…I was too busy!  I began practicing as to not be a hypocrite.  The benefits I experienced are right in line with the numerous studies out there and include: boosted mood, mental clarity, improved ability to problem solve, increased feeling of connection, increased wisdom, improved productivity, optimism, and confidence to name a few.

I urge you to give it a try.  Start with stopping several times per day to intentionally focus your attention on the task at hand.  If you are walking, walk.  Feel the knee swing through, the weight transfer from foot to foot, and stop ruminating.  If you are working, work.  Stop multi-tasking, pay attention to the ink on the paper, to your fingers on the keyboard, to the voice on the phone.  If you are watching TV, watch TV.  Stop eating, stop folding laundry, put your phone down and just watch TV.

Once you feel confident in your ability to control your attention in those ways, begin several times per day to stop and breathe.  Just stop what you are doing and take 10 deep, slow breaths.  Center yourself, and then carry on with the task at hand.

Finally, intentionally choose to block out time in your day to practice a formal sitting meditation practice.  Whether 5 minutes or 50 minutes, just take time to sit and be still.  What have you got to lose?

woman girl animal dog
DBT, mental health

How to Meditate

Everyone has questions about meditation. How to do it, why to do it, when to do it…

Formal Zen meditation is the specific type that I practice and encourage my friends, family, clients, etc. to practice also.  Notice I said practice…yes, sitting upright and still requires PRACTICE! In fact, most people avoid meditation because they’re afraid they will do it wrong or they will be bad at it (just like any other hobby); practice is required with any new task before you can feel competent at it.

The basic components of Zen meditation are:

  • Sit upright and still on meditation cushions (zafu and zabuton) with three points of contact with the floor to stabilize you.  I often sit in the position shown below “on a stool” but using cushions instead of a stool. My three points of contact are shin, shin and butt. Any position you choose needs to be a comfortable position and should not cause straining.  For example, if you cannot get yourself into lotus position, don’t! It is encouraged that you find a position that you can hold for the duration of the meditation without discomfort or your legs falling asleep. Having your rear end elevated (by a cushion, stool or chair) is recommended to reduce any blood flow issues.  Frequent shifting is discouraged, I recommend that you experiment with different positions in your first few weeks.
download
  • Clear your mind as best you can and focus on either nothing or your breathing. When you are anxious, your mind and body are detached from one another. Focusing on your in breath and outbreath can help realign them.
  • Practice non-attachment and non-judgment when you notice your mind drifting (as it will) by gently bringing your attention back to your breathing. The reality is that your mind will wander and it will wander more when you are new to meditation and/or when your stress is higher.  We can acknowledge this without judging ourselves or the practice.  It is simple, not easy! Many people complain that they feel MORE anxious when they try to quiet their mind…which may be true because they have removed all of the distractions that they normally put between their feelings and their consciousness.  Ride that wave, calmness will follow. It reminds me of snorkeling in choppy water…the water is only choppy until you put your head under the water to see the reef below! Meditation is more about strengthening your “coming back” muscle than your “staying present” muscle!
  • Length of meditation varies, the magic isn’t in the number of minutes; rather it is in the willingness to practice steps 1-3 over and over and over.  Meditation is a muscle that most of us forget we have, thus it is out of shape and needs to be worked consistently over time. I encourage you to start with ten minutes and stay with that time frame until you get comfortable, then challenge yourself to 20!

The benefits of sitting practice are innumerable.  Science finds that:

Benefits-of-Meditation

You can really meditate whenever your want, where-ever you want, with whoever you want. I recommend group meditation in the beginning (look up group meditations in your city and/or on Zoom). Think about how much you cognitively know about exercising and eating healthy vs what you actually do in your day-to-day life, I find that group meditation holds you accountable and achieves better results just as group exercise does!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The Right Kind of Fun

Are you having any fun? Are you having the right kind of fun?

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), we talk about “accumulating positives” as a skill to reduce vulnerabilities. What the heck does that even mean?? A vulnerability is something that happens in life that makes you more susceptible to falling into emotion mind (being overly emotional/impulsive). This factors are often things from that day: poor sleep, hunger, physical pain, argument with someone, traffic, etc. but they can involve historical events/traumas/memories. I think of these as the “straws” that build up and ultimately “break the camels back”.

Accumulating positives can help you to build up a coat of armor against the vulnerabilities that will inevitably happen throughout our days and weeks. Have you even noticed how much more emotional you are when you are physically ill or in pain? The same irritability starts to creep up when we go longer periods of time without socializing, engaging in hobbies and/or having fun!

Accumulating positives is split into two portions: short-term and long-term. Below we will look ast each idea!

Short-term:

First you must evaluate what things you enjoy in life! What is clearly fun to one person in life does equate to fun for another. You can find a list of pleasant/fun events here which could be a useful guide. For short-term accumulating positives, it’s important that the choices are realistic (climate, time of year, your financial situation, etc) and could be available without much delay. It is also very important that you throw yourself into actually enjoying the activity! We are very good at worrying… about whether we deserve it, what else we should be doing with our time, whether we can afford it, if we look silly and are being judged, etc. In order to reap the benefits, we need to give our brains a break and really allow ourselves to mindfully enjoy the experience!

A few of my personal favorite ways to accumulate positives are:

  • hiking
  • reading
  • laying in the hammock
  • taking a bath
  • creating art
  • writing

If we don’t make time (yes, schedule it), it’s unlikely to happen, which results in our moods dipping slowly and steadily over time. Depression and irritability will slowly creep up on you and before you know it, you’re not a very fun person to be around!

Long-Term

Accumulating long-term positives takes a little more effort to plan. First and foremost, you need to identify some of your core values! Luckily, values lists are fairly easy to find online…you can check out this one, this one or this one! It can be tempting to choose 20-30 values because they all sound so good; however, I encourage you to pick no more than five core values. My family has chosen our five core values and we posted them up in our dining room, when making major (and minor) choices, I try to be sure the decision aligns with one of our values.

After you identify your core values, DBT has a great format for walking you through the steps of breaking ONE identified value down into goals, steps and baby steps! After all, we don’t get anywhere overnight!

  • Step One: Pick one of the values to work on first (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Two: Identify some goals associated with the value
  • Step Three: Pick one of the goals (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Four: Identify some steps needed to work toward that goal
  • Step Five: Pick one step to work on now (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Six: Identify any baby steps that might be needed to work toward that first step
  • Step Seven: Pick ONE action to take THIS WEEK!

When you start taking steps toward larger goals that are aligned with your own values, it’s called values-based living and it is a huge leap away from depression, low self-worth and lack of identity. Values-based living will also help you feel insulated and protected from negative events because your confidence, self-worth and self-esteem will be intact!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The Other Antidote for Depression

If you’ve experienced depression I am sure you’ve heard (once or twice) that you should exercise to improve your mood.  That advice isn’t wrong; and yet, it isn’t easy.  I am here to let you know that there is another very powerful antidote for depression and it takes the form of the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill of BUILDing MASTERY.

Build Mastery is a very small skill in the DBT manual (which makes me sad) but it packs a powerful punch.  To build mastery is to spend time developing a skill/talent/hobby/activity.  It is important that you understand the following table:

Too Easy No effect, could backfire and make you feel infantilized
Challenging Builds self-worth/self-esteem
Too Hard Likely leads to you feeling incompetent

The task that you choose to work on (let’s take running a 5k as an example) needs to fall in the middle row: challenging.  If you decide, with no prior training to run a full marathon (too hard), you will injure yourself, fail and probably feel worse about yourself.  If you choose to walk to 10 paces forward (too easy), you won’t feel any sense of accomplishment because that’s too easy! You won’t continue to work toward your goal of running and therefore will feel like the exercise was pointless. The sweet spot involves breaking your goal of running a 5k into reasonable and tangible steps (such as researching and purchasing running shoes, finding local trails/parks, downloading Couch 2 5k or joining a running club, sharing your plan with others, beginning to work up to short jogs and slowly lengthening the distance.

Lets say, you hate running and now you’re angry that I suggested that. Fair enough…you can build mastery in almost any area!

  • Gardening
  • Cleaning
  • Sewing
  • Painting
  • Learning a language
  • Computer coding
  • Playing chess
  • Cooking
  • Any sport
  • Reading (longer books, more complex books)
  • Home repairs
  • Budgeting
  • Crafting

I think build mastery is an attainable skill over this quarantine! I have been brushing up on my watercolor skills as a way to reduce stress and practice a challenging activity.  Take some time to think about what you could work on!20200318_1633398414760588646284697.jpg

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Where Do I Begin?

As boredom sets in during this COVID-19 crisis, I have noticed the increased need for structure and a schedule.  So, the age-old question becomes even more pertinent: where do I begin?

I really can’t begin to label or quantify the value of good self-care.  Humans are equipped with amazing capabilities to self-regulate…if only we had the energy and desire to use them! In DBT, there is a skill (acronym) called the PLEASE skill, and I believe it is the answer to the question posed above.

I am going to focus on three components of PLEASE: Sleeping, Eating, and Exercising.

Sleep. Just do it, stop fighting it…put your Smartphone away and close your eyes.  Did you know that your brain cannot convert anything into memory until you are asleep? The Disney Pixar movie Inside Out had a lot of great content that helps drive this point home (it was quite factually accurate!).  In the movie, the main character Riley didn’t have her memory balls moved from short-term memory into her long-term memory until she slept! Our bodies are not machines; on a cellular level your body needs sleep to repair itself. Sleep allows time for the immune system to do its job and ward off viruses and bacterial infections.  During this time of illness-anxiety, sleep is a kind gesture you can do for yourself to maximize the immunity in your own body! Sleep will also help you reduce your overall stress level. So next time you want to watch the next episode on Netflix, play the next level on a game, or return one more e-mail, ask yourself what you need more: your health and sanity or screen time…

Eat. A balanced diet helps alleviate mood swings.  We (generalizing for Americans) live on a cycle of sugar highs and sugar lows. We have a habit of eating low quality breakfast (…if we eat any breakfast at all…) which floods the brain with chemicals and overwhelms our neuro-functioning; this results in you feeling hyper, a spike of motivation, and a burst of energy (yay!).  As a result of this flooding however; our bodies secrete insulin to suck up all the sugar like a vacuum leaving us feeling lethargic and moody (not so yay…).  This cycle repeats itself after lunch and dinner as well. Think about it…when do you reach for the candy bar? 10am, 2pm, 9pm…a few hours after each meal! Eating a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats ensures that our food (including a healthy amount of sugar) gets broken down over time and reduces that roller coaster of moodiness. While in quarantine, I want you to focus on mindful eating and try to keep it balanced and healthy!

Exercise.  I feel like this is a mute point in some ways. My goal is not to be preachy; it is to motivate you into action. The science behind working out is limitless and boils down to this: if you move your body your mind will feel better.  Physical exercise can helps your brain secret endorphins, adrenaline, and dopamine…all of which alleviate depressive symptoms.  Consider for a moment the cost of getting those chemicals elsewhere: prescription drugs, theme parks, extramarital affairs… Are those effective or realistic on a regular basis? Exercise also builds mastery. If you become fluent and experienced in a form of movement (yoga, running, lifting weights) it will build your confidence and overall satisfaction in life.  What can you do from home? I have seen a wide variety of online videos being posted on Facebook from different organizations, there are a seemingly limitless supply on YouTube, or you could go for a walk around your neighborhood.

For the full PLEASE skill, please refer to this graphic: 

please skill

DBT, Inspiration, Journaling, mental health

Self- Assessment

I have created this “worksheet” of sorts to to help people identify where they might have room for growth in therapy.  We all have areas for growth, we all have areas of strength. Consider these questions to guide you in your journey (with a therapist or without)!

 

In what areas are making emotionally based choices?

Consider the following areas. Do you tend to give into short term impulses in any specific areas?

  • Food/eating _____________________________________________________________
  • Time management (working/playing) ________________________________________­
  • Anger impulses __________________________________________________________
  • Social Anxiety ___________________________________________________________
  • Fears ___________________________________________________________________
  • Sleep schedule____________________________________________________________
  • Self-harming behaviors_____________________________________________________
  • Substance abuse __________________________________________________________
  • Emotional urges __________________________________________________________
  • Trying to “fit in” _________________________________________________________

 

Are you able to identify any areas that you do well in exercising restraint against urges and making more mindful choices?

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