Short talk about self-care, something that seems easy, but it’s actually kind of difficult to do. I feel this topic is covered so much, but yet, we all still struggle with it. I can’t think of a single person, myself included, who could be practicing self-care more frequently or in a way that’s more beneficial.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. What are you doing this month (and everyday because we have mental health everyday) to make sure that we are growing our knowledge and awareness of mental health? How are you supporting yourself? How are you supporting others? Please, share with me down in the comments what you’re doing for mental wellness. [I could use some fresh ideas.]
Mental health professionals cannot end the stigma alone and get everyone the help that they need, we need you to be a part of this mission.
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.
To help resolve any unfinished business that you have with another person, write a letter. This may be written to a person who has hurt or wronged you, and who is no longer a part of your life. DO NOT ACTUALLY SEND THEM (or anyone) THIS LETTER, this letter is for YOU. Keep it confidential.
I STRONGLY suggest doing this activity with a professional counselor and talking through the situation with them. They can support you.
Writing this letter will help you to:
Reflect and process
Think more slowly
Maybe to forgive the wrong-doer
Forgive yourself, if you need to
Put your thoughts and emotions to paper
Release pent up thoughts and strong emotions, like pain, sadness, and anger
Find some peace, healing and resolution
Empowerment and improve self-esteem
Increase self-care and self-love
There are no set rules for writing this letter. You may find it difficult to start this process, just dive right in. The letter can be edited and re-organized to how you would like. Start with the wrong-doer’s name, like you are writing a letter. If you’re unsure of how long your letter should be, try aiming to write one to three pages just to get an idea. Once you have that, you will better know if the letter should be any longer. The letter is to benefit you and to help resolve any unfinished business, the length of the letter doesn’t matter quite as much. End the letter with your name.
Important things to think about including:
Things that you want the wrong-doer to know.
Anything that you want to say to them.
Talk about what they did to you.
Talk about how you feel.
Talk about your reaction to what they did.
Talk about the impact that it has had on yourself. What areas of your life have been impacted? How has it been changed?
Write about what you wish went differently.
Write about how you wish things ended with that person.
Is there anything that you could have done differently?
Allow yourself to be open to writing anything that comes up.
This is a challenging exercise, so take a break if you need to, re-visit it. *Self-care is very important through this process.* Work on acknowledging your thoughts and emotions, know that they are natural and occur for a reason, but let them roll away (not sticking in your mind) as you write. Utilize coping strategies to reduce intense stress, anxiety, emotions, etc. Try to make sure that you’re in a good “mental space,” not overly anxious or panic when you write this. It is helpful to be able to think clearly and be focused. After you finish writing this letter, read it out loud to yourself. Reading it to yourself might be emotional because your brain will be processing the information slightly differently, hearing your own voice read what you wrote is powerful. Read it to a counselor, they will listen and be able to guide you. If you think that it would be beneficial reading it a second or third time, then do so. Notice if your thoughts and emotions changed the next time through. Lastly, when you are ready, you completed the letter and read it out loud, destroy the letter for resolution (and confidentiality). There is symbolism in destroying the letter. It isn’t returning. Allow yourself to be healed and empowered. Love yourself. Notice how you feel while destroying the letter and afterwards. Do you feel physically lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders? Do you feel empowered? Did you sigh in relief or smile?
Once again, please talk with someone if you need to, don’t hesitate to reach out. It is rewarding to speak with someone, brain imaging research shows that talk therapy (psychotherapy) can be impactful right away.
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.
10 questions to check in on someone’s mental well-being
1. How are you feeling, really? (Mental and physical) 2. What’s taking up your headspace right now? 3. What was your last full meal and have you been drinking enough water? 4. Have you been sleeping? 5. What have you been doing for exercise? 6. What did you do today that made you feel good? 7. What’s something you can do today that would be good for you? 8. What’s something that you’re looking forward to in the next couple of days? 9. What’s something we can do together this week, even if we’re apart? 10. What are you grateful for right now?
Print out and place this positive thoughts worksheet on your fridge, a bulletin board, work / office common area, etc… where ever you would like to choose a positive thought for the day. Share with your family, friends, and coworkers.
You can tear off the positive thought that you would like to carry with you throughout the day or week. – or stick it somewhere where you can frequently see it. Reflect on the positive thought and apply it, pay attention to how it can change your day and way of thinking.
This worksheet helps with recognizing what our bodies do for us and what is unique about us. Think about the abilities and all that our bodies achieve every day, there are several! Walking, speaking, reading, thinking, feeling, eating, and reproducing, just to mention a few. Our bodies are elaborate and designed to do absolutely astonishing things! This worksheet is for anybody to complete: children, adolescents and adults; use in the classroom setting with children; use in a group setting, so that you can learn from and relate to others. I have used this as a tool when working with people who struggle with body image, eating disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) in a group therapy setting.
We may be dissatisfied with certain parts of our bodies and find it difficult to accept them. The focus tends to be on our flaws and sometimes we long for our bodies to appear or function differently, in unattainable ways (distorted thinking). As you work through the uniqueness section of the worksheet, remember that everybody is different and that if we weren’t, then how dull this world would be! Things that make you unique are your talents, special abilities, personality, a birthmark, etc… again, there are several!
A word about going against negative body image obsessing… we can battle our distorted thoughts and beliefs about our bodies by really thinking through body positivity and appreciation. Positivity and appreciation will increase self-awareness, and when we accept our bodies as they are and their unique characteristics, we can find peace and satisfaction. As we focus on these positive qualities, stay clear from thinking about what we view as flaws or what we dislike about our bodies because it is most important to be grateful for them and not judge ourselves. For example, you may not like the appearance of your birthmark. Try not to think about the appearance as much, give thought to a meaning behind the birthmark. Does or did anyone else in your family have that birthmark? How does your birthmark make you unique? At times, we are our most critical judges. Through this whole process of learning, appreciating and accepting, we gain self-esteem and it becomes easier to love ourselves as we are. Don’t give up if you become stuck, take a short break or ask for help.
Lastly, about taking care of our bodies and meeting our basic needs. Self-care sounds simple, but when there is a struggle accepting and appreciating our bodies, it is complicated. It is key to know ways that we can take care of our bodies to help them stay strong and healthy. Eating well-balanced meals, exercising the appropriate amount, practicing good hygiene, going to the doctor’s, dentist’s, chiropractor’s office when necessary, are all perfect examples of taking care of our bodies. There is an endless list of creative ways to take further care, such as, feng shui the bedroom to get better sleep, practice dance or yoga therapy, head to the spa, do simple stretches for your muscles, breathing exercises, etc. Self-care means feeling better, having gained confidence and love towards our bodies.
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.