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?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

You ALWAYS have a choice

Are you living crisis to crisis? Are there particular people, places, times, areas, thoughts that continually trip you up and cause problems? DBT® reminds us first that we ALWAYS have a choice.  You always have four basic choices in every situation.

  1. Solve the problem – this is the “no brainer” that we do if we can. It is a choice and merits remembering.
  2. Feel better about the problem – you do have a choice in what interpretation you use which will change how you feel about the problem. The risk here is if you keep trying to convince yourself that “it’s not that bad” when in reality it (or he, or she, or they) ARE that bad and you need to problem solve in a different way.  This is a GREAT option if you are a pessimist and tend to see the worst in everything.
  3. Tolerate the problem – when we tolerate a problem we aren’t changing much in terms of how we see or relate to it (which actually changes our emotional attachment to the problem), rather we are accepting it as a thorn in our side and using distraction whenever it starts to bother us again. This is helpful short term but not always helpful long term.
  4. Stay miserable/make it worse – I LOVE that we have this choice. The angsty teenager in me needs to be reminded that I can always say the thing or do the thing or throw the thing or refuse to show up, etc.  I need to mentally walk down that path sometimes in order to get unstuck from my “it’s not fair” temper tantrum that I sometimes throw.  An example of this could be when you find yourself resenting an obligation to show up somewhere (ie: work).  Remind yourself that you do not have to go.  You could stay home. You might get fired and then you wouldn’t have income, but you really do have that choice.  Walking down that path can remind us that we don’t want to loose our housing, we do want to have money for food and fun…therefore we will now use strategy #2 and choose to go, but with a different mindset.  You might adopt the mental mantra of “I’m choosing to go to work so that I can choose to buy the shoes I want” …which is different and less problematic than “I have to go to work, I hate my job, this sucks”.
DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Get out there…literally

I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoy nature. There is something about being out in creation, alone or in company, that is truly awe inspiring and recharges my batteries.  What you may not know is that I am a generally fearful person…I am afraid of heights, speed, water, fish, large mammals in the wild…the list goes on…

In the spirit of trying new things and being out in nature today, I went kayaking for the first time! I have been boating, jet skiing and canoeing, but kayaking had always intimidated me because of the close proximity to the actual water and the increased (at least in my mind) risk of flipping! Today was the day though, I went…I paddled…I conquered!

Sitting so low to the water was incredibly peaceful. Being in the “rapids” (they were choppier, faster and deeper than I’d hoped for…) was exhilarating. Mindfulness was not a hard state of mind to achieve when paddling or floating down the river.  I spotted turtles, geese, ducks and numerous architectural oddities too!

DBT teaches us to accumulate positive events, which means to schedule fun stuff! As a mom of 3 that works full time, it’s hard. It takes effort. AND IT’S NECESSARY! If you want to have a relationship with yourself and others, you need to build into yourself and into your relationships.  I challenge myself to take off one day each month to just be.  It looks different every month; however, each month it’s crucial to reduce burnout and improve relationships. DBT teaches us to be mindful.  Mindfulness allows our brains to get a break from all of the STUFF that is ever-circling.  Mindfulness allows the dust to settle so that we can see clearly upon re-entry into our daily lives.

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Take time. 20190603_124220

Be present.

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Try new things. 20190603_134649

Accumulate positives in your life!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Hiking

I love to hike. At the risk of sounding like one of those health-nut hippie, save-the-earth types, I must encourage you to join me in my love of hiking! When I say hiking, I am sure most of you think of long, strenuous trips across rugged and lonely trails; and while sometimes that is true, often it’s a shorter jaunt down a simple path.

A hike, in my opinion, is any walk taken in nature with no electronic devices. A hike could be .25 miles at a local park or 4 miles at a larger campground, forest, nature preserve, etc

Here are a FEW (of many) reasons why hiking matters so much:

  • Metaphors – look at this tree.  Do you ever feel like you are barely hanging on? This tree gets it! I love finding trees near creeks that have exposed roots or like this, mid-forest, that remind me that all living beings have such hidden strength! When you feel like you’re going to fall apart, nature will visibly show you that you have deep roots and strength that you never thought imaginable!

  • Slow down – Scenes like the one below remind me to STOP.  Nature has a way of being serene and subtle…and in a world that seems to be going at break-neck speeds, a reminder to slow down is more than required for me!

  • Connect – as a parent, sometimes my kids drive me crazy! Whether you have kids or not, hiking reminds me to connect and bond with those I love.  I often hike alone, and still come out with more appreciation and love for those in my life! The quiet stillness of nature prompts a lot of internal reflection on relationships and where I want to put my energy.  When hiking with friends/family, I am reminded what I love about them.  Without all of the distractions in other life-realms, hiking lets me see their true self and appreciate why I have invited them into my life.

  • Listen – while nature is generally quiet, it really isn’t! Hearing something like the waterfall in this photo reminds me to tune into what’s really happening in my life. Listening reminds me to tune into what is really happening: in my body, in my home, at work, in my mind, etc. As a culture, we don’t always take time to hear what other’s are saying to us…we look but don’t see and we hear but don’t listen.

 

If you are familiar with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, I encourage you to find as many skills as you can within hiking.  I will tell you that for me, it’s almost all of them!

  • Within the mindfulness module: I observe, describe and participate in hiking.  I do it one-mindfully, effectively and non-judgmentally.  Hiking helps me get into my wise mind, when I am struggling with fiery impulses of emotion mind or analysis paralysis of rational mind.
  • Within the emotion regulation module: Hiking allows me to implement self-inquire needed to explore what is happening with my cycle of emotions. It reduces my future vulnerabilities.  Hiking reminds me to check the facts in situations that I am struggling with. It is a clear example of building mastery, accumulating positives (long and short term), prioritizing my physical activity/health,
  • Within the distress tolerance module: I do use hiking as intense exercise and while hiking I often do paced breathing (TIPP skill), hiking is a distracting activity that generates different emotions and some strong sensations (cold stream water, muscle fatigue) which are parts of ACCEPTS. I use a lot of the IMPROVE strategies in the woods (finding prayer and meaning, being on a mini-vacation, being one in the moment, etc).  Lastly, hiking is almost always a required component for me to work toward radical acceptance!
  • Within the interpersonal effectiveness module: hiking is a time that I can reflect on my current conflicts and plan out DEARMAN communication strategies.  It seems to put things into perspective faster than in any other setting.

 

So what are you waiting for? Get out there! Hiking is free and can open up personal change in a way you may have struggled to experience before!

 

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Mindfulness and Hot Tea

I was sitting here reflecting on what to write about when I noticed my mug of tea.  To some, it may seem irrelevant; however I try not to do things that aren’t on purpose (meaning, I like to be mindfully awake to my life: what and why I make choices).  Mindfulness means that you happen to your life, not the other way around.  When I used to be less aware and less mindful, I would often go all day without drinking anything…or i’d be half way through a frappachino before I realized that I had ordered it.

Being mindful and tuning into my body, my emotions, my urges, my sensations…has allowed me to notice when I am thirsty, when my body needs a hug, when I am feeling overwhelmed.  This is not a bad thing or a thing to fear as many believe; rather, it allows me the chance to make wise-minded choices.

Hot tea is like a warm hug from the inside.  When I sip my tea, I feel nurtured and cared for.  It reminds me to slow down.  The process of making tea can be a mindful practice on it’s own: experiencing the smells, sounds, sensations, etc.  Hot tea is not something I drink fast either, which makes it a lovely reminder to slow down and enjoy this one moment. The reality is, that all we have is this one moment. Now is now. You might as well enjoy it!

The reality is that my moment currently doesn’t look as beautiful as the photo above…yet when I close my eyes and take a sip, I can transport myself to that photo each time!

DBT, mental health

Noticing in Nature

Continuing with the message from my previous post, I would like to share some nature (landscape, animal, plants) photography from my Texas vacation.  Nature photography is a way for me to cue myself; to remind myself to slow down and really observe.  I am fascinated, in awe of the variety and uniqueness in each plant (the same is true of each human)!  I wish we all remembered to slow down and smell the roses more often, this practice is a hidden gem that will always calm me (I bet you too)!

Animals are also great teachers because they don’t fear judgment at all! The giraffe doesn’t worry about whether she will will be judged for sticking her tongue out, the unidentified animal from the safari doesn’t care that it is muddy, and the peacock cares not that the people watching want him to display his tail-feathers.  Animals just are.  They are masters of being in one moment.

DBT, mental health

Learning to be mindful

I am a mindfulness teacher, and yet…I am still learning to be mindful.  I was caught off guard two days ago during a moment with my children.  We were at a nature preserve and they were playing at a free-play mud-kitchen type set-up.  They were sharing, playing together and truly enjoying themselves….and yet I found myself growing restless.  My internal dialogue was “hurry up”, “c’mon, let’s go”, “let’s go find the next thing” “I’m bored” AND it was very cool that I was fully aware of these urges to live on fast forward.

It dawned on me in that moment (thankfully), that this moment was perfect just as it was.  Sure, there are times that we must hurry children along…but this was not one of them.  In this moment, we had no where else to be.  In this moment, everyone was content.  In this moment, everything was at peace.

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Fast forward to today: we were visiting a Japanese Tea Garden (which was stunningly beautiful) and we came upon a waterfall.  Two things I am teaching the girls is to notice and point out the different colors they see in nature and to close their eyes and “just listen”.  Here is a pic of them practicing mindfulness of sound at a waterfall.

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I am so grateful that I have these mindfulness teachers in my life! Take some time right now, in just this one moment and take a deep breathe, exhale slowly.  Just this moment is all that exists.  There is no need to rush.

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Four Options with Any Problem

I am struck by the quickness with which we feel we do not have a choice.  I hear myself (and others) saying things like “I didn’t have a choice…” or “I guess I have to…” on a regular basis and yet I am also equally struck by the concept that we do have a choice! In any given moment and with every given situation, you always have a multitude of choices!

I DBT we teach that a person always has four choices in coping with a problem:

  • Solve the problem

This is quite possibly the worst one on this list because if it were so simple, I think we all WOULD solve our own problems!  What is valid about this option is that we must take time to assess what the actual problem is and determine whether it is in our control or not.  If we are determining that the problem is: my spouse folds the towels wrong then I would challenge you and say that you need to dig deeper and look at what role you play in the scenario.  We might discover that the real problem is: I am clinging to my preference as to how the towels are folded and judging my spouse as incompetent.  In the second version of the problem, we now can apply the strategies below to solve the problem in a more creative way.

  • Change your opinion/thoughts/beliefs about the problem (one of my favorite…more below)

In continuing with the same problem above, we could work to change how we are thinking about the towels.  We could have a more comical thought: The way the towels are folded does not change their absorbency. You could have an attitude of gratitude: I am so grateful that my spouse took time to fold the towels.  You could have a change in your thought process: I never thought to fold them like that, I’ll give their way a try and see if I like it better.

  • Accept the situation (ie: stop lamenting how bad it is and accept that it just IS, letting go of your anger and resentment about the situation)

This option allows you to not get so angry every time you see the towels folded differently than you prefer.  It allows you to look at the towel and recognize that it is a towel, not a symbol of spousal defiance.  It allows you to see your partner as a partner, not a nuisance.  I also love this option due to the freedom it brings.  There is a freedom in not getting so angry about the “little things” or about the things in life that are out of your control.

  • Stay miserable (and/or make it worse).

This is the option we all tend to jump to! We belittle people we love, we yell and scream over things that really don’t alter our life’s course.  We throw things, we hurl insults, we give the silent treatment, we make passive aggressive gestures and comments that only serve to fuel the fire.  This option does not take into account the long-term goals (staying married) and only pays attention to the short-term urge.

 

Which do you jump to?

Which do you think would be the most effective one for you to start using more?

Take time this week to press pause when you feel yourself preparing to engage in a problematic reaction to a (perceived) problem and take a moment to ponder these 4 choices.  You may be able to free yourself from potential negative consequences!

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