Inspiration, mental health

What if?

I’m sure you’ve heard of affirmations and positive self-talk by now. I am sure you know that on some level, they are useful tools to build your self-worth and self-esteem; however, I am also sure that there are times in which the statements are too much of a stretch for you. If the gap between your current mentality and the positive affirmation is too wide, you are likely to give up and avoid practicing. So, what’s the answer???

The answer is “what if”.

What if you believed them. What if you added “what if” to the beginning of the affirmation as a bridge to cross the wide gap? Take a look at the affirmations below and I’ll show you below how to implement the “what if” strategy!

You may struggle to believe “I have the power to control my thoughts”, especially if you struggle with anxiety and rumination. If it feels like Susie Sunshine is harassing you in reading that first affirmation, try reading git like this:

“What if I have the power to control my thoughts?” …does that feel any more realistic? I feel like it can make a huge difference in the choices you make because if there is a chance that you DO have power and control over your thoughts, you might be less likely to give into your next impulsive urge!

Let’s look at the last one on the pink page for a second example: “I am worthy of good things”. If you are struggling with that idea, try stating internally “what if I am worthy of good things?” and let your day unfold from there!

What do you think…are you more likely to use affirmations if you could add “what if” as the bridge?

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. 

accomplishment action adult adventure
Inspiration, mental health

Do the hard work!

I have found that most of us do not want to do the hard work.  We are impatient and want instant gratification.  We want the quick fix and as soon as our symptoms of distress are alleviated, we regress right back to what we were previously doing…despite evidence to the contrary, despite knowing what got us in over our head in the first place. 

Take some examples:

How many of you take your antibiotic prescription AS PRESCRIBED for the entirety of the recommended prescription? A lot of people quit taking it about 75% of the way through the recommended course.  A large percentage of these people also get mad when their symptoms return (with vengeance) and they need another doctor appointment and stronger medications the second time around. Furthermore, not taking antibiotics as prescribed is one of the top 5 causes of the antibiotic resistance we are seeing in the medical field. 

How many of you like commercial breaks? I remember when commercials would come on network TV during childhood (before DVR!!!) and it was NO.BIG.DEAL.  Yet now…how infuriating are the 30 second ads on Youtube or Hulu! We can’t handle having to wait. Fun fact: a study by Nielson found that 45% of DVR recorded commercials are still watched. 

How many of you would say you were a good driver when you started out? Always vowing to fill the car with gas when it hit ¼ of a tank, always wearing your seatbelt, never texting when driving, always abiding by the speed limit? And on how many of those things have you slid back from? According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of deaths from distracted driving has been steadily increasing, up to over 3400 in 2015.

How many of us have a “bedtime”, a “diet plan”, a “workout routine” …and how many of us keep them? The amount American’s spend on dieting each year continues to rise, up to $65 Billion in 2010 and 90-95% of dieters regain all of their weight. We reach for and pay for a marketed quick fix and (shocker) it doesn’t actually work, we never change our core habits related to our physical health and thus end up on a viscous cycle. If you actually want physical health, you have to live a physically healthy lifestyle every day.

As a culture, we have grown pretty lazy and entitled! We want all the results without the hard work!  We want what we want, when we want it!  Part of real therapy (the kind where you truly get better) is a willingness to do the hard work and a willingness to hear the hard stuff from your therapist without heading for the door.  I am asking your, begging you rather, to do some self-exploration on this topic.  Are you willing to delay gratification and learn to tolerate being uncomfortable for the betterment of your future?

GOALS THAT ARE WORTH REACHING TAKE WORK. HARD WORK. 

photo of white and purple painting
Inspiration, mental health

A short list of ways to increase happiness at anytime

1. If the task can be completed or mess can be cleaned up quickly, do it

2. Drink more water

3. Text someone (or 5 someones) “hey, I was just thinking of you! How are you today?”

4. Hug someone, if no one is available: hug a tree

5. Get 8-9 hours of sleep

6. Don’t watch TV

7. Go outside for 5 minutes and just observe nature, in whatever form you can (sky, birds, blades of grass, tree branches)

8. Eat a balanced and healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner

9. Wake up 20 minutes before you “have to”

10. Exercise. Even 10 squats before climbing into bed.

11. Look at funny memes/comics

12. Read something

13. Reflect on one happy memory

14. Fantasize about travel

15. Eat a piece of candy or chocolate

16. Unsubscribe to/unfollow something that annoys you

17. Subscribe to/follow something that inspires you

18. Write down 3 things that don’t suck today

19. Call a relative

20. Dance

21. Choose a few items you can donate

22. Tell yourself, seriously, that you are doing a great job

23. Open your mail instead of throwing it into a pile

24. Meditate (consider trying an app or guided meditation on Youtube if you’re new to it!)

25. Play a board game

26. Sing along to your jams from a simpler time

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?

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

Is life sucky right now? GOOD!

A friend of mine sent this to me recently after I was having a difficult time emotionally.  I got to thinking about what Jocko is saying in this video.  It is so easy (SO EASY) to fall into the pit of despair…the “it’s not fair” lifestyle…the woe is me attitude…

…and yet is is so POINTLESS to go there; stagnation doesn’t produce growth.  We have to WAKE UP to our lives and realize that we have CHOICES…every single moment of our life presents us with CHOICES…

I love when someone tells me that I can’t do something. This video reminded me of the “watch me” mentality that I adopt when someone doubts me.  I am not a weak, dependent female…I am not incapable…

I am:

  • a role model to my girls
  • a strong independent woman
  • a proud survivor
  • a motivator
  • a teacher
  • a brilliant thinker
  • a talented artist

 

….and I became all of these things out of the struggle! The hurricanes that life throws at us are an AMAZING gift because they make us who we are! They make us stronger and more resilient! Embrace the struggle and have faith that you will come through this and you will be able to help others once you are on the other side.

So I ask…who are you?

 

watch meI can

Inspiration, mental health

Stuck.

revisited from (and updated)

 

What do you do when you are stuck?

  • stuck in a meeting
  • stuck in traffic
  • stuck in line at the store
  • stuck at home?

The reasons for stuck-ness are innumerable…mandated attendance, weather, the person in front of you can’t move, illness (hello flu season!); however, the feelings associated are typically the same: anger, annoyance, resentment, frustration.  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! To my amazement, the longest wait time was 2 minutes 45 seconds.  Really??….the line was LONG when I walked in! 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 and I can cope”

  1. 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…

  1. 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 I am grateful for, or I can just enjoy this time to breathe!

  1. 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 a great way to make the situation worse.  Accept that you are where you are! (this will reduce suffering).

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

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Meditation 101

Formal Zen meditation is the 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! The basic components are:

  1. Sit upright and still on meditation cushions (zafu and zabuton) with three points of contact with the floor to stabilize you.  This should 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.  Frequent shifting is discouraged, I recommend that you experiment with different positions in your first few weeks.

download

 

  1. Clear your mind as best you can and focus on either nothing or your breathing.
  2. Practice non-attachment 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!
  3. 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.

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…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! Most major cities have group meditations or a zen center to provide this structure.