3 Mindful Strategies to Increase Positivity During Hard Times

Limit Exposure

  • Limit the time you’re exposed to the situation. Be informed, but limit the amount of news, media, social media, that you take in. For social media, you can choose to follow and unfollow certain accounts and channels. Use social media to build yourself up, promote positivity, and connect with non-toxic people. Social media is a fantastic tool when used this way.

Practice reframing thoughts

  • Reframe your negative and distorted thoughts. Read about cognitive reframing here. To begin dealing with negative thoughts, we must recognize when we have one. Next, is to identify what triggered the emotion. Our thoughts and emotions are linked. Notice whether you are ignoring, minimizing, or exaggerating the situation. Challenge your thoughts, be curious about them. Keep in mind that thoughts are just thoughts and not fact. The final step is to reframe. Rewrite the thought so that it is no longer negative, personal, permanent, and pervasive. With the practice of reframing our thoughts, over time, positive thinking becomes a biproduct.

Allow yourself to feel peace

  • Let peace begin with you. What can you do or think that makes you feel peaceful? A few ways to begin feeling peaceful may include, guided meditation, going for a hike or walk, drawing, working on a puzzle, journaling, etc. Allow yourself to feel peace and notice what it feels like.

Limiting exposure to news and social media, reframing thoughts, and finding peace are 3 mindful ways to increase positivity, but there are other paths out there, as well. Participate in 2 to 3 mindful activities for a few weeks or a month to see what you enjoy. Build a mindfulness skillset to use during hard times.

If you would like to work on this with someone, reach out to a professional counselor who can help.

Would you like some positive affirmations? Visit a past article, Positive Affirmations to get through a Crisis or Difficult Time and download my free sheet.

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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

Connoquenessing Valley Heritage Trail, PA

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Distress Tolerance (DBT)

Distress Tolerance (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)

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.

Distress tolerance skills to learn

• Wise Mind: ACCEPTS acronym
• IMPROVE acronym
• Self-Soothe skills: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
• Radical Acceptance
• Everyday Acceptance
• Willingness
• Bridge-Burning
• Ride the Wave: Urge-Surfing
• Grounding
• Pros and Cons

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.

Dialects

Distress Tolerance

Wise Mind: ACCEPTS

IMPORVE

Mindfulness

Self-Soothe

Resource

Lane Pederson, PsyD, LP, DBTC

Connequenessing Valley Heritage Trail, PA

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Journal Prompts: Healthy Relationship to Food

Having a better relationship to food is about mindset, which takes unraveling the current messages you have been operating under and re-wiring the brain with messages that serve you.
This all starts out with discovering your current messages and limiting beliefs. After completing these questions, go back through your answers and look for behavioral and emotional patterns. What do you know now that you didn’t know before? How can you improve your relationship to food? How do you take action? Do you need to speak with a professional for support?

Download these questions below. Print them out and share.

  • What does “food” mean to you?  What do you associate food and eating with?
  • What is your relationship to food like? Describe it like you would a relationship with an actual person.
  • How does food make me feel? How do I wish I felt about food?
  • Why do I eat? What 3 words describe my relationship to food right now? What 3 words do I wish did?
  • What do I want food to do for me?
  • Do you consider where food comes from or do you think of food as an end product?
  • Are you a distracted eater or do you just eat? If you are a distracted eater, what usually distracts you?
  • Do you record everything that you eat and drink? If so, what are your intentions behind it? Are your intentions healthy and appropriate?
  • What are the negative thought before, during, and after eating? Eating very little? Eating just enough? Overeating? Binging?
  • When, Where, and What is happening when you feel intense pulls toward food?
  • If I eat when I am physically not hungry, its because….
  • If my emotional eating is trying to tell me a message, what would that message be?
  • What stresses me out the most? What do I do to cope with stress?
  • Describe your first memory of dysregulated eating. How old were you? What were the circumstances of it? How did you feel?
  • What did your parents (or who ever raised you) used to say when talking about your body? What did they used to say when talking about their own body?
  • What did your parents (or who ever raised you) used to say when talking about how you should eat? What did they used to say when talking about how they should eat?
  • Who had the biggest impact on your food habits growing up? Why?
  • Name the positive and negative messages you received around healthy eating.
  • What habit(s) did you establish early on that you would like to transform?
  • Name somebody who you believe has a healthy relationship with food.  What do you notice about them?  How is your relationship with food different, and is it similar in any ways?  What is between you and having a healthy relationship with food?
  • What are you craving in your life, what do you want more than anything, that you are using food to feel? Think of emotions.
  • Who do you see when you look in the mirror?
  • How will changing your dysregulated eating and improving your relationship to food affect your body, mind, and spirit in the future?
  • What parts feel the most challenging when thinking of a better relationship to food? Which parts feeling easy?
  • What patterns do you notice when it comes to nourishing yourself?
  • What inspires you to be healthy? How can you make more room for this in your life?
  • I feel the most like myself when…
  • I would love to do _____________, but I’m not sure I could. Why is that?
  • What do you believe you deserve in life? Thinking about that, what do you need to let go of to make it happen?
  • Imagine your life 3 years from now. If everything worked out the way that you hope for, what would that look like? Love? Family? Work? Wealth? Health?
  • To you, what does it mean to show up as your best self?
  • How could having a healthy relationship with food impact the rest of your life? Relationships? Health? Career?
  • Do you need additional support when working on having a healthy relationship to food? What kind of support do you need?
  • What is my body? How do I connect food and my body?
  • If I could wave a magic wand and have my dream body, what would it be?
  • When I look in the mirror, I feel…
  • What are my biggest daily challenges with food and body? If I didn’t have these problems, how would my life be different?
  • Dear body, I love you because…
  • List three positive intentions that you can use to motivate your journey towards intuitive eating and creating a healthy, sustainable relationship with food and your body. Example: “I will nourish my body every day and will speak kindly to myself to help support a healthy body and mind” Example: “I will speak kindly to my body and appreciate it for all it does for me every day.”
  • What are 3 things that you appreciate about your body?
  • Do you usually eat alone and or randomly? Do you eat with others at set times and places?
  • Write about your relationship to cooking. Do you like to cook or prefer someone else does it for you? Do you see it as a chore or as a fun pastime? Did you grow up in a household where one or both of your parents enjoyed cooking, or did you eat a lot of take-out and TV dinners? What are your favorite dishes to prepare?
  • How do you define the term “comfort food”? What is your favorite comfort food? Is it something your mom or dad or grandma used to make when you were little or an indulgence you only have a few times a year? Describe your ultimate comfort food in detail and reflect on why you associate it with contentment, coziness or well-being.
  • Is there anything about nutrition that you would like to learn more about?
  • Does your family have any special dietary rules?
  • How does your culture influence your eating habits?
  • How does the media / television commercials / social media / celebrities / models / etc. influence your eating habits?
  • What is your opinion on fad diets?
  • If you have tried a fad diet, which one? How did it affect you physically, mentally and emotionally?
  • Do you tend to eat the same foods over and over again? If so, why is that? Would you like to try new foods? How can you begin incorporating new food choices into your day? What would eating new foods do for you?

Download this journal prompt.

McConnels Mill State Park, Slippery Rock Township, PA

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Dialectics (DBT)

What are dialectics?

Dialecticss relate to our theories and ideas, in terms of the OPPOSITE way we think. Here are some thinking patterns that we all experience, and get caught up in, it does us no favors to become stuck!:

▪︎ “All-or-nothing” thoughts.
▪︎ “Either-or” thoughts.
▪︎ “Black-and-white terms.”

Instead of thinking this way, we should think in terms of seeing the shades of gray, between black-and-white thinking. Practice being flexible and find middle-ground options in your behavior. Trying to see the opposing side.

Examples

▪︎ When in conflict, find something to agree about in the other person’s perspective.
▪︎ Instead of procrastinating on a task, break the ice with one or two small steps.
▪︎ Make a list of at least five positive qualities you (or someone else you are down on) have.

If you’re stuck in the above thought patterns, try the opposite.

Look at the other side of things. We often default to the negative side of situations or ourselves. We can be critical and harsh. Look at the opposite side of the dialect.

Ask yourself

▪︎ Is there a silver lining or hidden opportunity in the problem that you are facing?
▪︎ What strengths, skills, resiliencies, and resources do you have? Play to your strengths.

A favorite quote of mine by Arthur Ashe, which is relatable, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

▪︎ What skills can you improve to better manage a crisis? Aim to be more skillful, trying a new skill can be helpful, too!

See other perspectives

There is no position in existence that accounts for every perspective. Think about other people’s perspectives and ideas that are the opposite of yours. Look for the pebble of truth in those perspectives and ideas. Where is the middle ground between the opposite perspectives?

Make gradual changes

Changes are often more gradual than dramatic, life changes slowly overtime. Reflect on a problem. If the problem were less severe or resolved, what are some behaviors that others would notice you doing?

To begin making gradual changes, practice those behaviors.

Examples

• If you’re feeling depressed, add daily exercise.
• When struggling with social anxiety, initiate a conversation with someone.
• When isolated, reach out to friends and family to talk.

Exception rule

This dialectical technique supports positive change. Think about your history and the times when helpful and healthy behaviors were prominent. Do more of those helpful and healthy behaviors now. Do more of what works!

Examples

• Keeping a planner or journal.
• Make self-care a priority.
• Engage more actively in your social support.

Embrace the things that are not problems

We’re easily preoccupied with our problems. You could write a “Gratefulness List,” or you could write a fun list including hilarious and dramatic problems that you don’t have.

“Not a problem” list examples

• I am not kidnapped and being examined by aliens.
• I don’t have smallpox.
• I am not lost in the desert.

Having compassion

It’s easy to feel powerful emotions, such as anger and disgust towards people, especially if we don’t like them because of mean, rude, and unskillful behavior.

The next time you’re in this situation, it can help to practice compassion by imagining what circumstances lead that person to be unkind and unskillful.

What unhappiness exists for such people?

Try practicing compassion the next time you feel hurt, upset, and wronged by somebody.

Being flexible

Our thoughts and feelings are often too rigid, causing us misery. Learning to be flexible and to “go with the flow,” will bend and not break those thoughts and feelings.

Consider other perspectives and practice being more flexible in situations, flowing with reality rather than imposing your will against it.

Resources

Lane Pederson, Psy.D., LP, DBTC

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Cognitive Reframing

How to deal with negative thoughts through cognitive reframing. 

The first set of sentences are examples of “all-or-nothing” and “black-and-white” negative thoughts. The second set is the reframing.

NEGATIVE thoughts

▪︎”I HAVE to have ___, ___, and ___ happen today, otherwise the day is ruined.”
▪︎”If I don’t get this job, everything that I’ve worked so hard for goes right out the window!”
▪︎”My life depends on ___.”

REFRAME

▪︎”I can choose to not allow my day to be ruined. Instead, I can remain hopeful and hold my head high because this isn’t the end, it’s a bump in the road. I can move on knowing that I did the best that I can.”
▪︎”I may or may not get the job that I’ve been working hard towards, but there will be other opportunities and new doors will open. I did learn more from this experience.”
▪︎”What I’m going through is temporary and in time, things change.”

Moraine State Park, PA

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The Benefits of Keeping a Journal and Journal Prompts

Choosing a Journal

When choosing what to write in, consider all of your options and what best suits your needs. A journal can be a spiral-bound notebook, which is an easy to find and cheap option. Combination code or lock and key journals can provide privacy and are usually well-made. A journal can be kept electronically in a secure computer. It is convenient to access and saves your hand from becoming cramped in writing position.

Benefits

  • Relaxing and stress relieving.
  • A coping tool.
  • A way to vent or express emotions and thoughts.
  • Makes your thoughts more apprehensible.
  • Improve and train your writing.
  • Sharpens skills.
  • Set and achieve goals.
  • A way to become more organized.
  • Develop improved understanding of yourself and situations occurring in your life.
  • Allows for creativity.
  • Provides you with a way to reflect and consider new ideas.
  • Record new ideas on-the-go.
  • Allows self-reflection.
  • A place to keep memories.
  • Boosts memory.
  • Provides you with a record of events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You can use this record to track patterns over time, which can lead to problem solving.
  • Can help you feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • You will learn new things.
  • Can provide you motivation and inspiration.
  • And many, many MORE!

Instructions

Use your journal however you’d like! Decorate it and add pictures. Slip a photo of a favorite memory, person or pet inside. Write in different colors or use black ink. When you start a new journal entry, include the date, so that you have that information if you ever need it. Write about your day freely or choose a prompt. It might take you a little time to get used to writing, you might encounter writer’s block, and you may struggle to find what time to write. Don’t stress, it’s okay! Writing should become easier overtime and this isn’t meant to be stressful, it is meant to be therapeutic and enjoyable! Aim to write everyday because it will help develop a habit and really reap those benefits. If you end up writing most days of the week, that is still good, just keep in mind that you might get out of habit of keeping your journal if you don’t write frequent enough.

Download the journal prompts below.

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Patterns, Patterns, Patterns

Patterns and Mindfulness Strategy

Pay attention to your patterns, they can be physical, mental and or emotional. Patterns will reveal your reactions to situations, giving you feedback on what works, versus what doesn’t work. When you are doing something that works, do a little more of it.

This is a mindfulness strategy that helps anyone suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, chronic pain, relationship problems, focus and attention issues, and painful memories and feelings.

Example

Here’s a short example:
A person who is suffering from seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder) is exhausted and lacking energy most of the time. Their usual routine is, they wake up, get ready for work, skip breakfast, head to work, work their usual shift, come home, eat dinner, unwind by watching television, clean part of the house, call someone over the phone, get ready for bed, try to get some sleep. They realize that this routine doesn’t work for them because it isn’t really addressing the depression or tiredness.

Looking at their patterns, they realize that they could start their day off better by eating breakfast before rushing out the door for work. Eating a healthy, balanced breakfast is added into their daily routine. They liked the idea of breakfast and coffee, and having fuel in the tank effectively addressed the tiredness.

After adding breakfast into their routine, they kept up with that for a few weeks. Reexamining their patterns, they felt like eating breakfast wasn’t enough in itself when battling their seasonal depression. Instead of watching television, they exercised for 30 minutes to an hour every other day. Adding the exercise boosted their mood and overall wellness. Making these adjustments of adding breakfast and exercise improved their seasonal depression.

What to do

Ask yourself these questions (maybe spend 5 minutes a day working on this):

Pay close attention to what happens when difficult thoughts and feelings arise – what do you do in reaction?

Why do you keep doing what you do?

What do you get from it?

It’s not always easy finding your patterns, solutions and making the adjustments, but stick with it. We go through several difficult and complex situations in life, so when necessary, talk with a therapist because they can support you through this process.

[This card is from the deck of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT Deck) cards, which I purchased through Amazon, online.]

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Reflect More On Everything That You Are

Sometimes we spend too much time wishing we were at a different place in our lives or wishing we were more like somebody else. We’re not content with how things are going or with who we are. We long for things to come, instead of living in the present. Setting goals, chasing dreams, having high hopes, and working on self-improvement are healthy habits, but our focus can too heavily be on thinking about everything we are not.

It is easy to fall into a negative thinking pattern. When stuck in that negative-like pattern, “I’m not good enough,” we usually become bogged down. We may even struggle with low self-esteem or depression if self-defeating thoughts take hold. Take time to reflect on everything that you are. There are great things about yourself to reflect upon, like personality, characteristics and things that you have already accomplished. When we spend time reflecting on everything that we are, we feel and function better, we are happier, and maybe in less of a hurry to get to where we’re going. Live in the present and be thankful.

Reflect on everything that you are, instead of obsessively thinking about everything that you are not.

Mount Vernon Trail, Arlington County, VA

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