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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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Leave Me Alone!

I want to take a moment to remind you of the value of alone time! Whether you are a parent, a student, single, married…you need to take time for yourself.  Optimally this would be time for you to do an activity you enjoy, alone.  I note that of the top ten things I like to do in my free time, they can ALL be done solo or with a partner.  I find value in both.  Hiking, gardening, and crafting can all be done with someone…which is great for the relationship and can be great fun; however, doing them alone allows time for introspection.  Engaging in fun activities alone can help you get to know yourself, bond with yourself, and increase self confidence.  

Often, people who avoid doing things alone because they are afraid of how they will look, they will feel anxious, or they are judging themselves.  I encourage you to challenge yourself on those theories.  I have gone out to eat alone, gone to movies alone, taken rides on my bicycle alone…all can be incredibly freeing if you let yourself enjoy the moment! I assure you, most people are far too busy with their own lives (or smartphones) to care what you are doing.  Give it a try…choose something that you’ve been wanting to do with a friend, and go it alone!

 

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Do you love yourself?

It seems that negative self talk comes around much more frequently than self praise.  Our negative thoughts can seem loud and chaotic…as if they are overcrowding our brains and drowning out any tiny positive thoughts that try to bloom.    In fact, almost all of the clients I work with (starting at a very young age) describe the habit of self deprecation.  Much like the large trees in a rain forest, the thoughts we give the most attention to will rise up and choke out other thoughts. So what can we do about it?

1. Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true. Period. Let your thoughts come and go.  Notice thoughts without attaching yourself to them.  I prefer the imagery of a train: you have the ability to watch a train roll past you without getting on it right (even if it is annoying and making you late)? Do this with your thoughts…one train car may say “I’m stupid”, another may say “I’m worthless”, another may say “I wonder what’s on TV tonight”.  These thoughts may annoy you and get in the way of productivity; however you can practice the art of letting the thoughts enter and exit your brain.  Let the thoughts roll on down the track without boarding the train and trying to prove the thoughts true.  

2. Thoughts and feelings are two different things. You may THINK that you are worthless; however you are likely FEELING sad.  You may THINK that no one likes you; you are likely FEELING anger or sadness.  You may THINK you are a terrible person; you are likely FEELING shame or guilt.  Recognize thoughts for what they are (and practice #1) and recognize feelings for what they are.  Feelings will rise and fall, they will morph and change.  Realizing that they aren’t forever can help you get unstuck.  

3. Just as you practice any skill, practicing positive self talk is a skill that can be taught, honed, and improved.  I hand out this worksheet to my clients regularly…and regularly receive blank or partially filled out pages in return.  (http://jessicamullen.com/2011/02/19/the-daily-self-love-worksheet/) Do it completely and do it often.  Post what you have written on the fridge or bathroom mirror.  Remind yourself regularly of the things that you like about yourself and your life. Practice thinking content thoughts about your life and you may be surprise by the effect it has on your outlook.  

4. Remember that the Golden Rule works both ways…just as you should treat others as you would want to be treated, you can also treat YOURSELF as you would want others to treat you.  Lets call that the “Platinum Rule”.  

Are you willing to practice these suggestions? Are you ready to let go of the suffering? Are you prepared to be patient with yourself?  I urge you to TRY it…what have you got to loose?

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Social Media for mental health

Social media is almost unavoidable in 2013.  Let’s take a look at how we can use it for mental HEALTH instead of anguish.   There is an analogy that everyone has a good and a bad dog within them (although I dislike the judgments there).  This is similar to the angel/devil on your shoulder analogy…however take a moment to consider which dog you feed more often? If they are your pets, which one do you spend more time nurturing?

Social media can be used for both.  You can subscribe to blogs that fixate on negativity, make you feel worse, join in your pity party, etc…or you can subscribe to those that are POSITIVE!

There are two types of social media sites.  Those that will remove negative and inappropriate posts and those that don’t.  Pinterest, LinkedIn, Youtube, and Facebook all permit users to report inappropriate content and will remove those posts*.  Tumblr, ask.fm, Instagram and twitter do not*.  This is not to say that the later group of sites are BAD; however they have more risk.  If you struggle with impulsivity and self discipline, these may not be the sites for you. 

On all networking sites, the users and topics that you search, subscribe to, and follow are up to you. Try following inspiration, funny pictures, cute animals, users that make a point of being encouraging, and/or appropriate family members.  There is even a sub-network called “Fitspo” which is a type of posts that are fitness inspiration, these would be an example of something great to follow.  Some sites even give you the option of “blocking” other users or “hiding” them so you don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings.  A big NO-NO here is following triggering topics, users that bring you down, encourage behavior you are trying to stop doing, or highly judgmental users, and topics that normalize behavior you don’t want to continue.  If a user or topic makes your conscious put up a red flag or if it’s something you feel ashamed to follow…REMOVE It!!

 

*these statements are made after my own investigation and use of each site.  This may or may not be the policy of each website and/or app.

DBT

Eat. Sleep. Exercise

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 would use them.

 A balanced diet helps alleviate mood swings.  We (generalizing for Americans) live on a cycle of sugar highs and sugar lows. We eat a low quality breakfast…if we eat any breakfast at all…which floods the brain with chemicals and overwhelms our neuro-functioning; this results in hyperness, motivation, and energy.  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.  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.

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.

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? That may explain why you don’t remember the details of yesterday or last week as clearly as you would expect.  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.  It also helps you to 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 or 30 more minutes of your activity…