It’s a “Positive Affirmation” Kinda Day

Today, I’m diving into my positive affirmations, as negative and distorted thoughts have crept in. This is completely normal and something everyone goes through. I like to write my positive affirmations, which include quotes and Bible verses, on index cards. Today, I wrote one about being a business owner. The affirmations are kept on a shelf next to my work desk. As I read through my cards, I reflected on them, noticing that I’m feeling pretty good about them and have not needed to use certain affirmations for a few months! I take them to heart, I know that they are true.

When I’m going through my day and notice physical symptoms of worry and anxiety, I know that a helpful strategy is to visit my cards. Having three to four mental coping strategies on hand, that aren’t going on a run, is key. Addressing anxiety by going on a run is my top way to manage symptoms, but I can’t always go out when I want, so I take deep breaths and incorporate mindfulness to create a different reaction. I read my affirmations as many times as I feel appropriate. There are tougher days where I keep them on my desk and will intentionally be more aware of my breathing throughout the day, as I know that an unhelpful habit is to hold my breath.

When was the last time that you read or recited positive affirmations to yourself? If it has been a while, don’t forget that this is a simple way to redirect your thoughts. Know your distorted thoughts and unhelpful habits. Know when you need to use your positive affirmations and other coping strategies, and pay attention to the benefits.

Find more on affirmations below:

Positive affirmations to get through a crisis or difficult time.

Being Fearless, Accomplishing a Dream

Think of something that you’ve always dreamed of doing. Travel? Opening a business? Contacting someone you haven’t talked to in a long time or ever? Dumping an unhealthy habit that you have been clinging to? It can be anything. It is probably overwhelming to think about and you might be afraid of the process. I’m talking about really stepping outside of your comfort zone and tearing down the protective barriers. Think about how freeing accomplishing that dream could feel… YOU DID IT! Think about all of the possible benefits of that accomplishment, like further opportunities, boost in self-esteem, feelings of gratitude and happiness, and reconnection.

Fear and Anxiety Holds Us Back

Being honest with yourself, what has kept you from doing that? If it is anxiety, you’re not alone. The feelings of fear and anxiety are there to protect us on a primitive level. These emotions help us to survive and make better choices. If we didn’t have these feelings, what would be stopping us from doing something dangerous? These are normal, healthy emotions and we can’t make them go away. We don’t want them to go away.

Our thoughts that hold us back can seem to come out of nowhere at times. Thoughts are naturally occurring and will come and go. Know that thoughts are thoughts and not reality. Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true. Identify the thoughts that hold you back, reframe them to better use, and learn how to better manage your anxiety. Even though we can manage anxiety, we can’t get rid of it, but we can keep it at bay.

What was that dream accomplishment that you thought of earlier? How can you make it work? What small steps can you take to get the ball rolling?

My Real-Life Example

Here is a simple example of a long-term goal of mine and thoughts that I struggle with. This is in regards to participating in the BADWATER 135 ultramarathon (I am a seasoned ultrarunner). This is a goal that has been several years in the making and there are a few more years to come in this journey before I stand at the start line. Many doubts have popped up in my mind over the years. Doubts that I’m not good enough, and doubts that details would never come together to make this dream a reality. Anxiety comes and goes. I experience anxiety over what people might say or think if I ever bring up wanting to run The World’s Toughest Footrace, so I rarely talk about it. Anxiety over becoming injured and never being able to run ever again. These thoughts have been bothersome, coming and going, since I got started. I want this goal bad enough, and I’m going to give my best effort, so the thoughts aren’t going to keep me from doing what I am passionate about.

Reframe Fearful and Anxious Thoughts

The unhelpful thoughts are identified, now let me show you how to reframe this fearful way of thinking. The doubt that “I’m not good enough” can be reframed to, “I am hardworking and have been thoughtfully and skillfully working towards this goal for years. I have grown so much, not just as an athlete, but as a person. I’ve come so far, I’m not going to give up now.” And “things won’t ever come together for me,” to “continue to be patient, every year you are steps closer to this goal, and you are diligent in catching all of the preparation details.” As for the anxiety, “I can’t ever tell anyone without being judged,” to “who cares what people have to say about it, this is something that I love.” For anxiety over injury, “I’m worried that I’m going to get injured in a freak accident on the trail while training,” to “I’m a careful and skilled runner. I rest my body and care for it enough, so that I can do what I do. My running coach is also mindful when it comes to injury prevention.” That is how to reframe, think realistically.

More Anxiety Management

There are multiple ways to manage anxiety. Self-care should be the top priority because it is the base from which we build upon. This includes proper diet, exercise, and sleep. Use the reframing skill from above. Learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy coping strategies. Talk with a licensed professional counselor to have support in sorting out the details and find what works for you. Practice yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. Practice these things consistently overtime to create helpful habits. The process isn’t always easy, there are challenging times, stick with it, and give yourself grace. It is a true learning process. I have been using these strategies consistently for years and they work. As you do the strategies, you will find favorites and learn when to use which strategy, as one will be more helpful than another in any given scenario.

When Your Dream Becomes a Reality

When the time comes to tackle that dream, reflect on your journey. How does it feel to be where you are, today? What is the biggest thing that you learned in those smaller steps? How can you apply what you have learned in the future? Continue the helpful habits that you have established or are continuing to work on. Honestly, the work never ends, and having a healthy mind is a ton of work, but we absolutely need to nourish it.

When that dream becomes reality, be connected and in the moment with it. Take it in. What does it feel like physically, emotionally, and spiritually? What is the greatest part of the experience? How proud do you feel? What have you learned? When it’s all over, would you do it again? It is important that we acknowledge the benefits of the hard work and perseverance. There is a mountain of experience to take away from accomplishing a dream.

I hope that you found this article insightful and are perhaps examining anxious thoughts that are keeping you from achieving your dreams. Incorporate the strategies that I have discussed into your day-to-day life and notice the benefits. Keep striving towards accomplishing your dreams, soaking in that journey.

Badwater Basin, CA

You Can Seek Help at Any Time: Rate Your Distress Scale

Use this distress scale to help you stay more aware of how you are doing. The scale is 0 to 10, where 0 is that you feel at peace and are completely calm, and 10 is distress that is so unbearable that you cannot function. Refer to the scale, as-needed. If you find yourself rated at 4, where negative thoughts begin to impact you, consider talking to a mental health professional because it is better to get help sooner than later. Don’t allow yourself to be in a distressful state for too long. When you feel change is needed, take action and contact someone.

Seek help from a mental health professional at any time, you do not need to be in distress to get help. A professional counselor can provide services for things such as managing stress and anxiety, examining thoughts and behaviors, support you in life transitions, and teach you how to strengthen your mind.

0: Peace and complete calm

1: No real distress, but a slight feeling of unpleasantness

2: A little bit sad or “off”

3: Worried or upset

4: Upset to the point that negative thoughts begin to impact you

5: Upset and uncomfortable

6: Discomfort to the point that you feel a change is needed

7: Discomfort dominates your thoughts and you struggle not to show it

8: Panic takes hold

9: Feeling desperate, helpless, and unable to handle it

10: Unbearably upset to the point that you cannot function and may be on the verge of a breakdown

Download this rate your distress scale below.

Red Rock Canyon, NV

Get In-Tune with Satiety & Hunger Cues: hunger scale tool and questions to consider

The hunger scale chart is one way to become more in-tune with your gut feelings and also, to have a better idea on whether or not you’re hungry and how much food to eat. Taking notes of how you feel will eventually lead to increasing your awareness and improving intuitive eating habits. The scale is 1-10. One, being that you’re feeling starving, weak, or dizzy and ten, is that you feel sick because you are so full.

When to Use

  • While deciding whether you should eat or not. Are you reaching for food because you’re hungry or because you’re feeling a particular emotion?
  • After eating a snack or a meal. Check-in with yourself to see where you are. Did you eat enough or did you eat too much?
  • Use this tool about twice per week, on a consistent basis, for about three to five months. This amount of time presents the opportunity to increase awareness and to settle into healthier habits.

How to Use

  • Pair this scale with practicing eating mindfully or intuitively.
  • Be non-judgmental of what number you are on the scale.
  • Feeling five or six after eating is appropriate. Seven is alright, every now and then, like during a holiday meal. The top goal is to feel comfortable.
  • Jot down in a journal or notebook your hunger scale number and a few other details, like what you ate, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Practice consistently, becoming more in-tune can take time. Practice being non-judgmental and patient with how long it might take you. It might take multiple changes and attempts, that’s alright.
  • Put the scale where you will see it and remember to use it. In a journal where you track habits, on the fridge, or on the dining room table. If you want to leave it on the dining room table, some people place it in a folder or a clear page sleeve.
  • Share what you’re working on with your dietician or mental health counselor.

Questions to Consider

An important point to mention is to notice thoughts and feelings while eating. A lot of times, we eat and are distracted by our phones, the television, or a conversation. Is this you? Are you feeling depressed or anxious while eating? Are you being judgmental or the food or yourself while you eat?

Another thing to notice is whether you are disassociated or non-present. Are you enjoying the food? Why or why not? Are you being mindful of the meal? Did you fly through the meal, eating fast? Did you eat at an abnormally slow pace? How big were your bites?

Be well.

Download the Hunger Scale below.

Struggling to Remain Strong for too Long?

Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are signs that you should ask for help

It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks in ourselves. When we experience these symptoms frequently, for longer than a few weeks, it is time to ask for help. Take action. We tend to go for far too long, trying to remain strong, that we become weak. The depression, anxiety, and panic attacks can begin to harm multiple areas of our lives. Social, relationships, school, work, etc. A counselor can teach you ways to cope and renew your strength.

Mindful Breathing Exercise

When you feel stressed or anxious, have you been mindful of your breathing? Notice if you’re holding your breath, taking shallow breaths, or breathing too quickly.

Take control of your breathing by trying a short breathing exercise:

Lay, sit, or stand comfortably, with good posture to allow yourself to breathe easily.

If you’re laying or sitting, maybe you want to close your eyes to increase focus.

You may place your hands gently on your stomach to physically feel it move in and out as you breathe.

Take note of physical sensations and then focus on your breathe.

If you find yourself becoming distracted by anything, acknowledge the distraction (distractions occur naturally and are reminders to return to what we were working on), allow it to roll through your awareness, and then simply return your attention to your breathing.

Breathe in for 3 seconds: 1-2-3

Brief pause

Breathe out for 3 seconds: 1-2-3

Repeat 3 times

Notice any differences in how you physically or mentally feel.

Calmly return your focus to the environment around you.

You may want to play around with the time spent in the exercise, do what works for you.

*Tip for severe anxiety and panic: if you find yourself holding your breath for longer than the brief pause during this exercise, skip the pause all together and just focus on steady in-and-out breathes.*

Download this exercise below.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania

Favorite Positive Affirmation?

What’s your favorite positive affirmation, right now?

Mine is, “I have everything I need.”

I tend to feel like I need MORE (belongings, money, approval from others, etc.) and it can create anxiety and tension. I don’t actually need any of these things. When I practice living in the moment and tell myself that I have everything that I need RIGHT NOW, HERE in the present, I feel less anxious.

Laurel Highlands, PA

How to Get Through the Day When the World Seems to be Falling Apart

These 12 tips are specific to living through a pandemic (COVID-19) where there are multiple tragic events and crisis occurring at once on a worldwide scale.

A brief overview of the destruction that COVID-19 has caused

• People are ill and dying from a virus.

• People are socially isolated from family and friends.

• People are restricted in where they can go and what they can do.

• People have lost jobs and are financially unstable.

– Connected to all of this is the person’s identity because people identify themselves through going out and participating.

• Political issues, finger pointing and name calling are a big part of this pandemic.

• People wear face masks to reduce spread of the virus, but the mask also hides smiles.

• Anxiety, depression and suicide is on the rise.

• People are silently hurting.

The benefits of these tips are (but not limited to)

• Increased happiness

• Connection to others

• Raising awareness

• Fostering positivity

• Finding value and meaning in life

• Learning coping strategies

• Finding help

Keep in mind that this article isn’t telling you to ignore, dismiss, or minimize what’s going on around us. It is important to sit with the difficult emotions and thoughts, to process, and personally grow from what’s occurring in our lives. We can’t run, there needs to be a resolution to do something about it, but there needs to be a balance and healthy approach.

Let’s cover the tips on getting through

1) Limit your time on social media and watching the news. Be informed and have proper understanding about what’s going on around the world, but don’t allow the information to overwhelm and carry you away. The information on social media and the news shouldn’t occupy a good portion of your day.

2) Mute or unfollow people on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if they are posting unhelpful information on the pandemic or are posting frequently on the pandemic. Always check the resource of what they post to make sure it is true and accurate. There is a lot of information being shared that is inaccurate or highly one-sided. Be your own researcher, fact-checker, and it is beneficial to try to see from both sides of an issue. Widening perspective allows us to have a more open mind and gives us a little more breathing room.

3) Use social media and technology to your advantage. Since we have to limit being around others or can’t be around people at all, use social media to connect and to lift up others. Post something kind or funny. Post a beautiful picture. Have an engaging conversation, but leave out the pandemic and political issues surrounding it. You can lift someone’s spirit and your own!

We use video platforms on almost a daily basis now, continue to use it to connect. Talk to a good friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Use video platforms to check-in with a person’s mental health, you don’t know who is suffering in silence.

Are you feeling unsure about how to check-in? This link will lead you to check-in questions:

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/05/29/just-checking-in/

Do you have a favorite hobby or interest? Join and follow social media groups and pages to motivate and fuel your interests.

4) Virtual tours, adventures and visits. If you are looking for something new and interesting to do without leaving your house, take a virtual trip to a National Park, zoo, museum, etc. Think of somewhere that you’ve never been and would like to go. Read about it, look at pictures, watch videos, and take a virtual tour. This is fun activity to do with kids and it’s educational.

If you’re religious or spiritual, consider attending a virtual service or practice.

5) Teach someone about your hobby or trade. Write, blog, create social media content, and make a video to do so. Engage with people, answer their questions, and provide them with credible resources so they can learn more.

5) Increase your self-care. Do more of what you enjoy and try new things, even if you don’t feel like it. Take care of your body and mind. Try to keep to a normal schedule, this includes proper exercise, diet, and staying hydrated. If you’re overwhelmed with work, schedule in self-care. Slow down, read a book, take a bath, watch a movie, call someone you care about.

6) Make a vision board to stay focused on your long-term goals. Read how here:

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/04/02/vision-board/

7) Journal. Read about journaling here if it interests you:

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/04/10/the-benefits-of-keeping-a-journal-and-journal-prompts/

8) Practice mindfulness, breathing and or meditation. Find someone who provides these services online if you need help getting started. Create a YouTube playlist of relaxing music and sounds that you can practice to. Don’t give up if these exercises don’t immediately benefit you in an impactful way, it takes time to learn them. It’s a process.

9) Use online presence to raise awareness or funds for a cause that you’re passionate about. Help people learn more, support people who need it the most, connect to others who care about the same thing as you. Feel good!

10) Use positive affirmations and practice them regularly. Read more and find examples here:

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/05/05/positive-affirmations-to-get-through-a-crisis-or-difficult-time/

11) Have a safety plan and an emergency plan. For the safety plan:

• Write down what triggers maladaptive behaviors.

• Write coping strategies for each trigger that you can participate in right away.

• Write down three positive affirmations or favorite quotes.

• List three people whom you can trust to call and talk to and receive support from (Do ahead of time: make sure that they know they are on your safety plan list and tell them how they can best support you if you contact them.) (Ideas on how they can help: this can range from a phone call to recall favorite memories or to meet up for coffee.).

• If your situation turns into an emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or your local mental health crisis lifeline. Add these emergency phone numbers to your safety plan.

Here’s a simple example of a safety plan:

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/02/11/safety-plan-on-an-index-card/

12) Speak with a professional counselor. They can teach you several coping strategies and powerful tools like cognitive reframing. They are someone who will be present with you, be non-judgmental, listen, and provide feedback. They will support you and give you space for you to process your strongest emotions and thoughts.

Check out these other benefits to seeing a counselor:

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/07/27/the-value-of-seeing-a-therapist-what-does-your-therapist-do-when-theyre-not-in-session/

Give teletherapy a try, it is convenient and you receive the same mental health benefits as you would during an in-office session.

If you’re not sure where to find a counselor, use a directory like Psychology Today or TherapyDen. There are several other counselor directories out there.

These are only a dozen tips on getting through a pandemic and crisis. Share your ideas and tips below. Please share this article to reach others.

Be well!

Baker Trail, Cook Forest State Park, PA

IMPROVE Skill (Distress Tolerance from DBT)

IMPROVE

IMPROVE the Moment is the next skill. The acronym IMPROVE makes life a little bit better when it is not going so well.

During a crisis, you have two options. You can sink into the distress or invest in behaviors that might improve how you feel in the moment.

The acronym

I: Imagery
M: Meaning
P: Prayer
R: Relaxation
O: One thing (or moment) at a time
V: Vacation
E: Encouragement

Imagery

Imagery is powerful because your mind can convince your body that you are elsewhere. A good example is being at the beach. When you’re actually sitting on the beach, your muscles are relaxed. When you imagine yourself at the beach (and you’re elsewhere), you can still get your muscles to relax, you convince your body that you are sitting there.

Ideas for imagery

Use an app or purchase a recorded guided imagery. You can also just use your own mind and create a guided imagery.

• Forest path
• Walk on the beach
• Favorite place
• Safe place
• Sunflower field
• Stroll by a stream
• Waterfall
• Garden of butterflies
• Sunset
• Star gazing
• Mountain summit hike
• Sitting by a campfire

Practice and enjoy the benefits! Also, imagine yourself doing well and practicing your skills.

Meaning

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), one of the founders of existential therapy, once said “If there is a why, then a person can figure out the how.” [Look him up, his life was remarkable. He wrote the book “A Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is about being a psychologist in a concentration camp. He is well-known for this book, but he has several other accomplishments.]

List and contemplate your “whys” for working on any problem.

Examples: Why stay safe?; why practice your skills?; why improve your self-care?

Having meaning motivates you; your whys will motivate you to act.

Prayer

Prayer is a calming ritual, it also provides connection, guidance, and peace.

Pray where you are at, or go to your place of connectedness or worship. This skill is useful anywhere and at anytime. Connect to your spirituality.

Relaxation

Everyone needs relaxation. What do you do to relax? What do you think could be relaxing that you would like to try?

Schedule in some of those relaxing behaviors every day. Keep in mind that relaxing also takes practice.

Tips for practice: Be mindful of your breathing; be mindful of tense muscles and release the tension; sit in a quiet place.

One thing (or moment) at a time

Take on only one thing in the moment. When we try to juggle or do too many things at once, we become overwhelmed and or shut down completely.

Example: You don’t know how to make it through your day, but you know that you can make it through the next hour, or through the next 5 minutes. Focus on what is manageable.

Vacation

Take a break from your stressors or crisis. These breaks need to be planned, like scheduling a walk in the park in the evening, or watching your favorite movie before bedtime. Taking quiet time to reflect, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises are also good ideas.

Allow yourself to take a break when you feel that you need it.

Encouragement

You need encouragement during those tough times. The things that you say to yourself matter, they influence how you feel.

During your self-talk, say affirmations, coach, and cheer for yourself.

Write down 10 affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout difficult times.

• This crisis will pass.
• I can do this!
• I have everything that I need to get through this.

Download affirmations to help get through a crisis here

https://finishstrongercounseling.com/2020/05/05/positive-affirmations-to-get-through-a-crisis-or-difficult-time/

Connoquenessing Valley Heritage Trail, PA

Wise Mind: ACCEPTS Skill (Distress Tolerance from DBT)

Wise Mind: ACCEPTS

The ACCEPTS acronym has skills that helps keep you busy and distracted when you would typically be preoccupied by a crisis. It is easy to dwell on what is going wrong, by focusing on the ACCEPTS behaviors, you can get yourself through hard times.

The acronym

A: Activities
C: Contributing
C: Comparisons
E: Emotions
P: Pushing Away
T: Thoughts
S: Sensations

Activities

Activities keep you busy and your mind off of problems and behaviors. The behaviors that you are focused on are healthy and helpful.

To start practicing this skill, write a list of activities you enjoy when life feels better. If you’re unsure or need ideas, go online and search for activity lists.

Add the pleasant activities into your schedule and mindfully do them.

Choose an activity and enjoy it now!

Contributing

Contribute to others. It is a way to take your mind off of your own problems, to feel connected and useful, and to create positive feelings.

Examples

Do a favor; acts of kindness; write a thank you note; bake brownies to share; volunteer locally.

Create a list of ways to contribute to others and begin right away.

Afterwards, journal about the experience, reflecting on your thoughts and feelings.

Comparisons

Draw healthy comparisons between yourself and others. There are people living without necessities, who have gone through tragedies, or who have tremendous obstacles to overcome. Remembering that other people are also suffering, often in worse ways, allows for you to gain perspective of what you’re going through. This perspective also increases your feelings of gratefulness.

Emotions

Emotions arise from the things we do. You can change your emotion by changing your behavior.

When you’re depressed, do behaviors that lift your spirits. When you’re anxious, do ones that are relaxing. When angry, do ones that are calming.

Check-in with your emotions in the moment, and if you find that you want change, then choose to participate in a healthy behavior to change your emotion.

Pushing away

Pushing away means that you decide to revisit the problem at another time. Imagine putting the problem in a box, locking the box, and placing it on a shelf for later.

Thoughts

You cannot think about two things at once, so choose to direct your attention to the most helpful thought.

Some ideas to try, crossword puzzles, read an interesting book, have an intriguing conversation, watch an action movie.

Do something to occupy your thoughts away from depressive thoughts, worries, and problems.

Practice in the moment.

Sensations

Direct yourself with healthy sensations.

Things to try, dance to loud music, eat a sour lemon slice, take a hot or cold bath, smell a strong scent, like peppermint.

These things wake up your senses in an invigorating way. Notice any changes in your experience.

Another idea, create a sensations toolkit, using your favorite ways to wake up your sensations. Use your tools.

Resource

Lane Pederson, PsyD, LP, DBTC

Occoquan Trail, Bull Run Regional Park, Fairfax County, VA