Do you prioritize your mental health? If your mental health isn’t one of the areas that comes to mind, consider moving it to one of your top priorities, elevate it. Here’s the short answer of why it’s important. When we work on our mental health, we improve all of the other areas of our lives. When we emotionally and mentally operate effectively and efficiently, other well-being pieces fall into place. Some pieces that are positively impacted are, sleep, problem solving capability, relationships, and productivity increases. All a ripple-effect benefit of elevating mental wellness. The benefits are truly endless.
Here are a few ideas of how you can focus on your mental health
What to intentionally focus on
Spend a few minutes a day addressing your mind. What areas need the most attention? Is it sleep? Anxiety? When was the last time that you did self-care? Focus on the area that needs it the most, not to feel overwhelmed, because there could be several areas that you feel could use love. Once there’s a rythm or a habit created for that particular area, move onto another area. Be gracious to yourself through the process of addressing the area, it might take some time and it’s hard work.
How to make it happen
Here are two ways to help you with planning that focus time
The first, is scheduling half an hour to an hour per day. The second, is sprinkling in the work throughout the day. The option of scheduling it in works well for people who like having structure or who are likely to procrastinate. Write it in your planner, including the time you will work on it and set an intention of what you’re going to specifically work on. – An attainable short-term goal. When the time comes, aim to do it for half an hour to an hour. Afterwards, notice or be mindful of the benefits of your achievement. Do what is helpful to you. If you’re having trouble thinking of something, reflect back to your past to see if maybe you did something helpful then, that you can apply to now.
What it could look like
This could look like journaling about your day or a problem that you have. Taking a long bath, free of distractions, and reflecting on the highlights of your day. When you wake up in the morning, thinking about something that you’re looking forward to in the near future. Participating in relaxing yoga before bed. Having a mindful meal.
The second way, sprinkling it in throughout the day, looks a little different and is go-with-the-flow. This strategy might work for someone who has a busy schedule or would like to see it organically integrated throughout their day.
What it could look like
This could look like doing a three minute breathing or mindfulness exercise while doing a simple tasks, such as household cleaning. Working on a gratitude list, jotting down what you’re grateful for as they come to you throughout the day. Stretch and do mindful movement when you’ve been sitting for too long. – When at a desk-job, get up from your chair once every 45-90 minutes for 5-10 minutes.
Doing mental wellness activities will be wonderful. Try both planning strategies, or other ways that you can think of, to see what fits best.
Elevate your mental health to reap all the great benefits. Start by identifying what needs the most attention and then figure out how to make it happen. Is it better for you if you schedule it or if you sprinkle it in throughout the day? Once you have a basic plan, just do it. There are multiple strategies and ways to improve your mental wellness. Do the ones that work for you consistently. Lastly, fully enjoy the benefits and continue the good work.
I met Roni Maislish through LinkedIn (he is in Israel), as we both work in mental health and specifically with eating and emotions. We both recognize the emotional aspects of obesity and that it can be an emotional-mental-issue. Roni says, “Most of the time, when people talk about eating disorders, they forget the field of overweight and the emotional side of this field.” Roni created this workshop for therapists, family physicians, dieticians, and related professionals, which I will talk about more below.
Find four downloadable worksheets on emotions, eating, and body image at the bottom this article. I have used these worksheets when working with people over the years. Shannon Mick, NCC, LPC, CCATP, CTMH
By Roni Maislish
Therapist workshop – The Emotional aspect of Obesity (Introspection through the relationship with food and eating as a gate to change, cure and healing)
Background – How many times you had been surprised by overweight patients that told you to “fix them quickly”, who for years after years trying to lose weight, sometime seceded and then back again, gain the weight back? How many time your faith in your patient dissipate and you felt anger and frustration that he or she is not committed enough to the process like you? And how many times you felt that you are not able to understand emphatically (near-experience) why those patients cant keep on fighting, controlling and avoiding in their food and eating’s issues? and how many time you realized and told yourself that something is missing?
For all of you therapist from a variety methods and approach who dealing with the emotional aspect of overeating, overweight, emotional eating, emotional non-eating, non-acute eating disorder, obesity and more – you all most welcome to workshop (short educating program) where you become familiar, study and also go in depth to a new dimension which will enable you to see, understand and experience the “food and eating’s issue” not as a “problem to solve” but as a unique way that a specific person use to “tell his story” while integrate and keeping safe his “self”. And From this kind of listening stance we will be able to make place to our patients, while helping them finding their subjective way toward healing and restoring their wounded, un-develop and neglected self.
The workshop – In the beginning I will present my attitude in the last 15 years (which changing and modifying in time) for dealing with emotional eating’s issues. I will share with you my straggles, dilemmas and personal questions that occupied me since early childhood and connect it to my journey (both personal, academic and professional) and how I established and combined theories which gradually help me to meet myself and my patients from a “different” perspective (that sometime we can feel as if you speak an ancient languish).
Doing so, I will manly focus in two theoretical and clinical paradigms to help us to understand ideas I formulate these years– I call it: “the fat remember”/”the fat’s emotional role” (or, “if the fat will able to talk, what it will say?”):
The first paradigm based on Didier Anzieu’s work (manly his book :”I-Skin”, which written in French “Le Moi-Peau”) who dealt on the emotional-sensorial clothing (“I-Skin”) that a human beings wear from early childhood and making adaptation trough the years to avoid invasiveness and secure the self from hurts and fragmentation. In his work Anzieu present 8 function of this psyche soma’s envelop like holding, handling, protecting and more. In my work, regarding Anzieu’s ideas, I explore the fat, the overweight, mostly in the abdomen (but not always) and its role to establish and contributing the building of those 8 functions in case that the self no longer develop normally. For instance we will learn together about the connection of the stimulation-shield function in the “I-Skin” clothing to the gaining weight process to build “fat armor” against attacks on the self.
Later on, I will present the “self-Psychology” paradigm while understanding deeply that defense and resistance is not something that the therapist need to break, remove, overcome, or even to melt so we can see emotional aspects and reasons of gaining weight’s process as a reminder from a depress self which struggle to survive non-emphatic world. This self, as I see it, is still hoping that someone (maybe the therapist) will see beyond the “fat story” and help the patient to restart its “inner self program” and recover those years of deprivation.
Regarding the topic of this workshop and self-psychology, In his second book, “The restoration of the self” (1977, pp 80-81) Kohut refer to the triad: oral fixation, pathological overeating and obesity and present the understanding of the classical approach that deals with drive-awareness and the ability to control the drive (via its suppression, sublimation, inhibition of its aim, displacement, or neutralization). Instead, Kohut’s claim is that “the child asserts his need for a food-giving self-object” and “the child needs empathically modulated food-giving not food”. If this need remains unfulfilled, Kohut continue, then the child retreats to a fragment of the larger experiential unit, i.e., to pleasure-seeking oral stimulation (depressive eating). Kohut add that increasing awareness to those process renewed movement toward psychological health.
The combination between Anzieu’s theory and Kohut’s perspective, while adding the work of Eigen (Toxic Nourishment, Emotional Starvation), Ogden (The Autistic-contiguous position), McDougall (Theatres of the Body) – will all helps us to build new platforms and ideas which open new possibilities to understand the patient’s pain, to find beauty in the defensive-structure of the patient (his overeating patterns) and further on to develop the patient self-ability to heal and grow himself while seeing us ganging and flexible in our empathy enabling him to change too.
During our learning and in between the theoretical conceptualization that we will create, I will share with you some example from my clinical work. The main part in this section will be the “mindfulness meal” where we will be able , to search different possibilities for introspection of the connection between our relationship with food/eating and others relationship (family, marriage, career, friends, money, faith and more). In this mindfulness-experiential process, we will use motive like: choice, miss, lose, regret, planning, disintegration, aesthetics and more, to understand how a certain movement from our eating place’s seat to the buffet table represent original selfobject needs. That will help us to vary and enrich our empathic capability and responses to those patients that their selfobject need didn’t met yet and have a very complex relationship with food and eating. For example: One of the participants in the workshop can become aware that the way he choosethe food was similar to how others choosing and he can realized that he didn’t ask himself what are his special and authentic needs. Then he can share about that kind of pattern in other relationship (for example – he choose where to study upon his unique need or was it a “social decision”). That mindfulness experience of understanding will take us, as a group, to discuss how some of our patients will prefer the “socially eating” pattern which can give them a response for their twinship’s (alter ago) needs (they eat the same food like everyone so they feel part of the group, and the world). Those kinds of introspections around the table will encourage us to think about more emphatic response’s possibilities for more kind of needs (mirroring, idealizing).
If we will have enough time we will practice in pair the question: “for what I am really hungry for? (The dialogue between emotional hunger and physical hanger) and mediate on the “role of the fat” and more. We will complete our journey with sharing our experience and understanding, we will ask ourselves what surprise us today and we will have some time for questions and answers.
About the instructor –Roni Maislish M.A (psychotherapist and clinical social worker).
From 2005 I am working with overweight’s patients dealing with emotional eating that come from emotional long-term neglected. I the last 2 year I am working in Tel Hashomer (Sheba) hospital in an overweight treatment center (part of the endocrine institute) while between 2006-2011 I saw eating disorder’s patients (and their parents) in Soroka Hospital. From 2007 working as emotional eating’s therapist. Leading groups both for therapist and non-therapist, short workshop and year-long dynamic-study groups. Beside working with patients, I involve deeply in education-prevention roles schools, pre-school, eating disorder’s clinics, accompanying nutritionist, mantel health department, and much more .in 2008 I participated in a 5 days retreat in California leaded by Geneen Roth (the author of the bestseller “When food is Love”).
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
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?
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
I: Imagery M: Meaning P: Prayer R: Relaxation O: One thing (or moment) at a time V: Vacation E: Encouragement
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
When people “cope” with stress and crisis, they find out ways (behaviors) that relieve stress, however, some of these ways come with heavy consequences. Examples of ineffective behaviors are drug and alcohol use, self-injury, gambling, spending money, and overeating.
We can learn distress tolerance skills to effectively manage the stress and crisis. These skills are more helpful than dealing with the consequences of the ineffective behaviors that make life worse.
Try it out
Make two lists, one is your ineffective coping behaviors, and the second is your healthy coping behaviors. If you’re struggling coming up with the healthy ones, keep thinking, because everyone has at least a few.
The goal is to work on eliminating the ineffective coping behaviors on the first list while developing the behaviors on the second.
This process is “doing more of what works”, replacing the ineffective with the healthy and effective.
Guidelines to improve distress tolerance skills
1. Practice the skills daily, even when you’re not feeling distressed. The skills tend to be enjoyable, so practicing shouldn’t feel like work.
2. Diversify the skills, try new ones, and practice every skill more than once because you don’t know which ones will “click” for you.
3. Organize a distress tolerance plan for when you’re in crisis and choose to follow the plan. It will keep you focused. Write down your organized plan on an index card. This would be your coping behaviors and any people who can provide support. Keep this card with you.
This index card plan works well for children while they’re away from home. Example: at school.
This is general information on distress tolerance and the skills to learn to better cope with stress and crisis, the next step is to learn the skills themselves, practice applying them, watch for improvements, and make necessary adjustments.
This is a popular grounding technique, and it is for everyone.
This technique engages all 5 senses, which reminds you of the present moment, and builds awareness. This is a calming technique that can help you get through tough or stressful situations. Taking a deep belly breath at the beginning and end of this activity can feel calming and will help prepare you for the next thing that occurs. As you do this activity, saying the things that you sense out loud will reinforce your present state of being and awareness because you are hearing in your own voice what your brain is telling you and what your body is actually experiencing.
Take a deep belly breath to begin.
5 – LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see and say them out loud.
Example: “I see a dog, a chair, a lamp, a window, and a cup.”
4 – FEEL: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel. Say them out loud.
Example: “I feel the dog, the cushion that I’m sitting on, the sun coming in through the window on my skin, and the carpet beneath my feet.”
3 – LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds and say them out loud.
Example: “I hear the dog snoring, the air conditioner running, and the birds outside singing.”
2 – SMELL: Say 2 things that you can smell. If you can’t smell anything from where you are, you may move to go smell something or say your favorite scent.
Example: “I smell the candle burning and the fabric softener on the chair throw.”
1 – TASTE: Say 1 thing that you can taste. If you can’t taste anything, then you can say your favorite thing to taste.
Example: “I taste the toothpaste mint from when I brushed my teeth.”
Take another deep belly breath to end and notice how you feel.
Download this technique below to store on your device or to print it out and share!