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

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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

Inspiration

I Have A Dream

  • I took my daughters of color to a Broadway show this weekend and I held them up to reach the water fountain
  • We stayed in a hotel several times last year together
  • We rode public transportation together through the city
  • We used the same stairwell and entrance to public buildings
  • I watch them walk into school where there are kids of all colors
  • We swim in public pools with people of varying races…

…these may not seem like a big deal to anyone in 2020, but in the lifetime of their grandparents, this would have all been impossible due to laws of segregation. Martin Luther King Jr’s speech in 1963 came ONE HUNDRED years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into effect by Abraham Lincoln, and yet segregation was still in action and actively enforced.

Today we can look at life 57 years after MLK Jrs speech and while great progress has been made, I’d say we still have a ways to go. Our worlds might be legally integrated; however, we still live in segregation. Most people aren’t choosing to socialize outside of their race, religion, ethnicity, or socio-economic class. (take a look at the last 5-10 people you texted…how different are they from you?)

We strive to celebrate connecting with others who are different in my family, and yet my life continues to be filled with people who are more “the same” than “different”. It takes active seeking and planning in our current culture to connect with people who look and live differently than you do. So I have a dream…I have a dream that it won’t be uncomfortable for people to approach someone of a different background. I have a dream that a diverse elementary school would not be an oddity. I have a dream that the world will continue to grow to be more tolerant and accepting of all kinds of differences! Help me with my dream…go talk to someone who looks or lives differently than you do!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr

Inspiration, mental health

#truthbombs about being judged

How do you handle being judged because you are different? I can tell you that my go-to is to judge “them” right back. I can tell you that my go-to is anger. I can tell you that I’ve had to WAKE UP about this in recent years…and it was a rough awakening.

I thought I was pretty woke when it came to stigma, racism, homophobia, being accepting, not judging, etc…but then my white privilege started to show and I had to do some work on myself.  (Don’t stop reading).  I didn’t even know what white privilege really was until a few years ago, in fact, the topic used to bother me because I felt like I was being judged for something that wasn’t my fault.  In short, white privilege is the freedom I was able to experience because I never had to experience the looks, stares, comments, eye rolls, and judgments of others over my skin. I never had to worry about whether people thought my parents were lazy because I acted like a damn fool (and I did act like a damn fool).  I never had to wonder if I would be asked to get out of my car when pulled over.  I KNEW in my heart that I could cry my way out of a detention in 6th grade (and I did).  These are not freedoms granted to persons of color and I woke up to this when I adopted my daughters, who are not white. I thought that because I had plenty of friends who were black, that I understood what their experience was.  I thought that because I earned an advanced degree in social work, that I knew about stigma.

I was not ready for the ceaseless comments about them, our family, their “situation”, etc.  I was so ignorant to the systematic racism that still exists and 5 years ago I would not have believed you if you tried to tell me.   I was not ready to experience (secondhand) the judgement of my kids by their peers, their teachers, the public…

Stay with me…

My first reaction was to judge them as ignorant. Live with anger. Try to shield my kids. But that was MY ignorance.  Ignorance is not an insult in this sense. Ignorance means “lack of knowledge” and I did have a lack of knowledge that led me to believe that my truth was the only truth and that my judging other people would somehow inspire them to change.  I was SO wrong. SO VERY WRONG.

So how do you become less angry when people judge you? You educate yourself. YOU educate YOURSELF. You learn about the other person’s point of view.  You need to wake the hell up to their reality and only then will you be able to have an understanding about why their truth has truth. Only then will you be able to put your own judgments aside and possibly have a relationship with the other person.

American culture is at quite a crossroads in my opinion.  We currently have people alive and interacting with one another that lived through segregation and integration. The criminalization of and decriminalization of gay marriage, women earning the right to vote, a first black president, the fear of radical Muslims after 9/11 and our current movement toward inclusion.  We are a nation divided on topics of sexism, racism, homophobia, religious freedoms, left vs right, etc.  I can tell you that the answer is not to judge and blame. The only way through this mess is to openly discuss our differences and WHY there is truth to “our side”…WHILE looking for the truth in “their side”.

Beliefs from childhood are very hard to change. So if someone is judging you, remember it isn’t personal…it’s likely that something about you is foreign to them and they aren’t sure what to do with it…so their natural inclination is to push it away/judge it/make a face of disgust. That is the same way you would probably react to something new/different/foreign.

 

 

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?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inspiration, mental health

DO HARD THINGS

So, I did a hard thing recently: I left my kids for a week and backpacked over 25 miles in 4 days around the Pacific Northwest in Olympic National Park. None of that was easy. There were seemingly a million things in the way of me leaving:

  • The kids got shigella (parasite, sick, ew) and I missed two weeks of work, three weeks before the trip which took a toll on my work, my finances, my sanity, etc
  • I have a connective tissue disorder (just think really wobbly joints) and I’m not “supposed” to do that kind of strenuous exercise
  • There were two mass shootings in the 12 hours prior to our flight, I did not want to get on that plane
  • I have food allergies that make it really difficult to eat when traveling….much less when backpacking!
  • Due to the kids’ illness, I hadn’t been conditioning like I should have been…

I’ll just pause there, on top of all the normal stress of traveling, there were a lot of things that made it seem “too hard” to follow through on this trip. And yet, I went. There were times that I was SO tired (oddly, sleeping by a rushing river kept me awake!) and SO sore (I mean…so many miles with 30lbs on my back), and yet I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The visual rewards were my favorite, it was impossible NOT to stay present with all that my eyes were taking in. I found that the solitude from social media and texting were a refreshing reset on my priorities. I’d encourage you to fast periodically from electronics to get clarity on what you really want to focus on, not on what your notifications tell you to focus on! Time away from your kids (or family) is also difficult (to be honest, this was my biggest struggle!) but I reminded myself that I want them to be strong independent women, and for that to happen, I need to model being a strong independent woman to them!

Please enjoy some of the peaceful moments I captured!

Inspiration, mental health

Choose Your Attitude

I am as guilty as anyone of falling into pessimistic thinking. I can throw a killer pity party…although no one ever wants to come. Sometimes I can even be downright judgmental. I think it is our cultures default to be negative…which is why we MUST exercise the muscle that allows us to find contentment.

Please hear me, the goal is not to turn you into Susie Sunshine…rather, my goal is to be a Neutral Nelly. It is a reality that no one wants to be near Negative Nancy…and that all humans are wired for connection. It isn’t a difficult equation to see that pessimism won’t yield a great deal of relationships (especially not any enjoyable ones). Learning to see the “ok”, “not awful”, “possibly decent” parts of life can be a difficult journey. It only takes one check-out lane to prove that point. Our media tends to be overly negative and overly panic-inducing. FEAR sells!

Initially, trying to be less negative for me was like trying to strengthen a muscle that I didn’t think I had. I would get so frustrated and I found myself thinking that other people were naturally born more optimistic and that it wasn’t a choice. WRONG! While biology (nature) and your environment (nurture) certainly play a role, we are all humans with free will! This means we can train ourselves to think differently! With (a lot of) practice and persistence, you will find your inner Positive Polly and begin to see the world in a less hateful way!

Here are my life hacks on how:

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Every.Damn.Day. Every single day you need to jot down and really savor a few things that you are grateful for. These can be really big things or really simple things. They can be things you noticed in the world or things you accomplished. Sometimes (on hard days) I ask myself “what doesn’t suck right now?”. There are several apps that exist for this. I prefer an old school journal or the Bliss app.

2. Follow more positive on social media. Almost everything has a hashtag, consider following #mindfulness, #positivepsychology, or hashtags related to uplifting interests such as #abstractart or #nature to increase your enjoyable scrolling. You can also look up and follow businesses such as mine that put out encouragement and uplifting content.

3. Limit your time around Negative Nancy. She isn’t good for you.

4. Take walks. It matters, trust me. Het away from your desk, get our of your head, avoid the couch slump. Go play Wizards Unite or Pokemon Go if that helps! Download an app that helps you raise money for charities based on your steps, challenge yourself or a friend with a steps challenge…find ways to incentivise yourself!

5. Get enough sleep (8-9 hours in a row)! You need a solid foundation.

When you find yourself sinking into a negative headspace, try to become aware of it without beating yourself up. Over time you will learn which hacks work for you, and you can say to yourself “You’re getting negative. Go for a walk, it always helps…”!

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.

20190603_124212

Take time. 20190603_124220

Be present.

20190603_125528

Try new things. 20190603_134649

Accumulate positives in your life!

Inspiration, mental health

How to Make a Change

 

sail

So many of us WANT to do something different:

  • drink more water
  • eat differently
  • exercise more
  • forgive
  • live with less waste
  • speak up for ourselves
  • be more playful
  • keep a gratitude journal

…and yet we don’t.  Why don’t we make these changes in spite of (sometimes YEARS of) intending to? How do we make changes when we feel stuck and immobilized by our anxieties?

Research.

I have found over the years that one must build up the wind that will blow their own sails, rather than waiting for the conditions to be perfect. Researching what it is we want to do, helps us to remember WHY it’s a good idea each time our procrastination or resistance to change rears it’s ugly head.

Change takes time and it seems many of us get stuck in the step of contemplation…not sure how to get to action. I see research as a way to build a bridge, or lay stepping stones for yourself.  You cannot wait for other people to motivate you. You cannot wait for motivation to magically wash over you. You must fuel your own motivation by learning as much as you can about what you want to do and why!

I believe that we all have the power within to make changes. I also believe we all have the power within to utilize self-discipline!

Try it…take the next month to just commit to learning about your idea. This could be books, TED Talks, Youtube videos, blogs, magazines, consult with others, etc…

What is it that you want to change? Share with us what it is and how you will research it!