DBT, mental health

Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviors

ThoughtsBehaviorsFeelings

Thoughts, feelings, behaviors. They are all connected and the relationship is transactional.  This means that while one influences another, that change will in turn influence another factor.  None of the three can exist without the other two.

This begs the question, where do we make the change in our lives if we have suffering?  Do you change what thoughts you have, do you change your actions before or after the thoughts, or do you change how you feel about the situation?  The answer is ANY of the three will elicit change; however, I will tell you that I believe that it is easier to BEHAVE your way into thinking differently than it is to THINK your way into behaving differently.  Feelings will happen.

Think about it: You wake up to your alarm.  You are very tired as you didn’t sleep well.   You were up late crying, emotional about something that had happened.  Is it easier to get yourself to think “gee, I am so glad to be awake early! The fact that I have a headache from crying is no problem! I look forward to seeing people today who may ask me how I’m doing!” OR is it easier to get out of bed, turn on the radio to some upbeat music, and pour a bowl of fruity pebbles?  I imagine that if you try to change your thoughts, you may end up with anxiety, dread, sadness (and you may never get out of bed, at least not on time!)…whereas if you try to change your behavior, you may actually feel pride, competence and contentment.

We know it is one of the HARDEST things to do, to act differently than we may feel.  Think back to the last time you were feeling depressed, I bet it would have been REALLY hard to get you to go exercise!  The last time you were really anxious, I bet it would have been REALLY hard to convince you to go lay down and listen to a meditation.  And the last time you were fuming mad, I bet it would have been difficult to get you to go for a walk…and yet this is what I suggest! Why would I suggest something so radically difficult? Mainly because if you do, you will see how quickly it remedies the intensity of the emotion and thoughts.  I propose that if you do it a few times in a row, you will begin to trust the process…this is pretty much what all people with good habits say about how they stick to their routines!

So work on doing the opposite of your (ineffective) urge and see if the thoughts and feelings come along in a helpful way!

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Self Care

As a mental health professional, self care is paramount to my well being and ability to do my job well.  I often say that I won’t preach what I don’t practice, so I wanted to share with you five of my self care rituals.

1. Sleep.  My sleep is mandatory and highly schedule! I typically allow for 10 hours of sleep each night, knowing that sometimes it takes 15-20 minutes to unwind and fall asleep.  The longer block of time also allows for me to wake on my own (BEFORE the alarm startles me awake).  If my body happens to need more sleep, it is not difficult to get it with a 10 hour block.

2. Skin. I use a lot of lotion! I have a large bottle at every sink in my house, on my dresser, on my nightstand, in my purse and work bag, at my desk, etc.  I find putting on lotion to be a kind gesture to my body; whether it’s hands, elbows or feet.  It also allows me to pause for a moment several times a day just to reflect on the sensation.

3. Scents. I am an avid candle burner.  One of the first things I do when I get home is light a bunch of candles all over the house.  The warmth, flickering light, and scents are all very relaxing to me.  I also choose my body wash wisely, using a citrus in the morning and lavender in the evening.

4. Music. I always have music on. Records, playlists, Spotify, Pandora, radio, etc. Music to me is very soothing, both listening to it, searching for it, etc.

5. Me time. To me, this means scheduling time to explore.  From new stores, the library, trails, taking the scenic route or walking around the block.  I love to spend time exploring and learning about new places, people, and parts of the city I live in.

What do you do for self care?

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Mindfulness

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What is mindfulness? I love this topic and the practice; yet even I have a difficult time finding the words to describe what mindfulness succinctly.  In simple terms, mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on purpose.  The concept is that you control your mind/thoughts instead of letting them control you.  Mindfulness has been around for hundreds of years and is often traced back to Buddhism.  The literal Sanskrit translation is awareness.  

Mindfulness is a skill and thus requires practice.  There are six core mindfulness skills according to the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy model, which are broken into “what” and “how” skills. The “what skills”, or what you need to do in order to be mindful, are to observe, describe, and participate.  The “how skills” encourage us to be non-judgmental, effective, and one mindfully in the moment.  Observing is about noticing your internal and external surroundings in a curious manner.  Describing encourages factual statements that everyone would agree with (note this requires you to be non-judgmental and thus becomes effective in reducing anger and gossip). Participating requires you to get out of your head and into the moment, targeting the anxiety that people often feel in new and/or social situations.  In order to be effective in the what skills, you need to apply the how skills. Using them together allows more time between a trigger and a response which reduces anxiety, depression, obsessions, and maladaptive behavior patterns such as self harm, substance abuse, and aggression. 

Examples of mindfulness practice are limitless, almost anything can be a mindfulness practice if done with intent and focus. Taking a walk is a practice if you open your eyes, take in your surroundings through all 5 senses and block any other thoughts from entering your mind.  Eating is often done mindLESSly; however eating mindfully-with no distractions and full awareness has been shown to reduce binge eating and overall meal enjoyment.  Art, dancing, building, meditating, breathing, applying lotion, showering, listening to music…all can be done with full awareness and can increase your ability to live in the moment fully, thus reducing depression and anxiety.

If you need to plan, as is essential in life, mindfulness would tell you to sit down with pen and paper and plan with your full attention. Take that time to worry, think and make decisions; then return to the here and now.  Mindfulness would also tell you that if you need to feel sad, you should reminisce and be sad as is justified; then return to the here and now.  As you notice your self judgments, mindfulness tells you not to judge your judging! 

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