A Therapist’s Journey: Learning The Art Of Self-Soothing

One day, I was standing on the back of my pickup truck and throwing away trash at the town dump when I had an experience that’s hard to describe. My head was swimming, my body felt electrified and I felt detached from the world and myself. A memory then trickled in: I was nine years old, being hit repeatedly by my father one evening because he thought I had lost a 25-cent screwdriver. I remember being scared that he was going to kill me. I remember going numb.

Thirty years later, there I stood, scared and numb again—wondering how or what to do to get out of this state, wondering if I would ever “come back.” I was by myself that day, and not only was nobody home, but I had no one to call. None of my friends had the kind of inclination toward giving me the help I needed, and I also wasn’t in therapy at the time. I was stuck—in more ways than one.

It would take me quite a while before I learned how to soothe myself when I wasn’t doing so well. And I’m still not always the best at it. The old phrase of “physician, heal thyself” rings true for me. Being a therapist, I sometimes think, “Jeez, if my clients knew how difficult it is for me to calm myself down sometimes, I’m not sure they’d keep coming to me.”

Working Through Challenging Symptoms

Therapist or not, learning to self-soothe is hard, but it’s something we all should learn how to do—especially if we have mental health conditions or traumatic pasts. Over the years, I’ve mostly grown past, but I’ve never forgotten, the harshness of my father. That doesn’t mean all my insecurities have gone away, and I don’t expect they ever will; it just means that I’ve concentrated on working toward being independent enough from my experiences. That way, I don’t get so wrapped up in my symptoms of depression and anxiety, and in the fears I still carry around.

Instead of being ruled by these symptoms like I have in the past, I have “worked” psychologically, spiritually and practically to learn and practice the art of self-soothing. I remember when I first started practicing, I latched on to one technique, thinking it would be the answer: breath. I would sit quietly, usually in the morning, and I would breathe in and out, paying attention to the noise of my breath passing through my nostrils. When I became aware of my mind wandering, I would try to refocus. I found this exercise helpful—for a little while.

The sense of peace and calm I once got during the exercise vanished one day, so, I started looking for other ways to self-soothe. This became my pattern. I try a self-soothing exercise, and it either helps me or it doesn’t, then after a stretch of time, I move on to something else.

Over the years, I’ve tried numerous self-soothing techniques. For about a year-and-a-half, I did daily meditations from A Course in Miracles, and once it became too spiritual for me, I stopped. I rode my bicycle for a couple of years. I took up “intentional walking” (a kind of meditation in movement). I tried yoga. I attended spiritual retreats. Jogging was more work than soothing. Walking did not work when I was in my 40s, but was effective in my 50s. Sitting quietly with my legs crossed in meditation was more painful than anything. Qi Gong was not helpful. Tai Chi did not work.

Now, in addition to swimming at the YMCA a few times a week, I meditate while stretching for about 30 minutes in the morning. I also read, at times, from spiritual, poetry or philosophy books, and when I get an “ah-ha” moment, I stop and repeat that saying or sentence or concept throughout the day. I also like to go to the movies and “lose myself” in what’s happening on the screen.

Getting Started

I think one of the most important aspects of self-soothing I’ve discovered is that not every technique works for everyone and it’s unlikely that one technique will be the only technique you ever use. I know that I will likely continue using different techniques, probably for the rest of my life. My initial belief that I would find “one answer” to my anxiety, obsessions and fears was a myth.

I see that a lot in my practice, as well. People want one solution to feel better: one medication, one single action to solve all their problems. The fact is, that’s not how life works. We have to try all kinds of solutions; some will work, some won’t, and some might for a period of time and then stop. Some might not work now, but might later.

That’s a difficult concept to get across to clients and even to myself. I want to feel better right now and forever. But that’s unrealistic. That’s why part of therapy is helping people be realistic in their expectations and to realize that growth, becoming more peaceful and calm as well as happier, is a process that evolves over time. Self-soothing is one of those things as well: It evolves over time. If you’re going to take on learning the art of self-soothing, I have a few pieces of advice.

Realize The Value

Too many of my clients hesitate to take time away from our sessions to practice self-soothing. They have convinced themselves there is little value in learning how to calm themselves when actually, self-soothing can help the recovery process immensely. When you are upset or stressed, it is important to know positive ways to cope on your own—that’s a skill important for our individual growth no matter who we are. Finding ways to self-soothe can help you feel at ease when you are dealing with frustration, excitement or having intense emotions. It can also reduce the amount of worry and fear we carry around with us.

Use Simple, Everyday Experiences

You don’t need to be a guru on the mountaintop raking sand to self-soothe “the right way.” A friend once told me she meditates when she irons. Try to think of something simple you do that you can focus on to relax and find some peace of mind, even if just for a short time.

Adopt A Calming Word Or Phrase

Finding words or phrases that help shift you to a calmer state is like having the right tools for a job. You can find these words, phrases or concepts by reading books or articles or daily meditations, by listening to podcasts or videos, or by making them up yourself. When you find something that makes you feel at ease, stop reading or listening and repeat it a few times to commit it to memory. Repeat the word or phrase periodically throughout the day during stressful and non-stressful times; it will likely bring you a sense of calm.

Practice Makes Perfect

Self-soothing is like any other exercise. The more we do it, the better we get at it. You don’t practice running for a marathon by only running the marathon. You practice by jogging shorter distances and building up stamina. When we practice self-soothing techniques even when we don’t “need” them, we are building a skill and more of an automatic response for when we do need them.

Therapy Can Help

I have used therapists in the past as coaches, supports and idea-generators. My therapists have given me great insight into the kinds of situations that trigger me, and helped me learn how to manage those triggers. Learning to manage my triggers reduces the need to self-soothe in the first place.

As you begin this adventure, remember to be patient. Self-soothing is a skill that develops over time. I’m still learning. But through my learning, self-soothing has helped me be calmer in my day-to-day interactions with people, and I’ve found that I’m more prepared for experiences like the one I had in the back of that pick-up truck.

Learn how to soothe yourself. It could make a difference in your life. I know it did for me.

 

Larry Shushansky has helped thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor and public speaker. He has developed the concept of Independent Enough and shares this when giving talks to businesses, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. Learn more about him at www.independentenough.com.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/June-2018/A-Therapist-s-Journey-Learning-the-Art-of-Self-So

Writing Tips That Can Reduce Symptoms

In 1985, psychologist James W. Pennebaker theorized that the effort it takes to hold back our thoughts and feelings serves as a stressor on our bodies. By confronting these thoughts and acknowledging our emotions, we can reduce the stress and negative impact on our bodies. The result? We feel better.

One of the best ways to confront our feelings is through writing. Decades of research have suggested that expressive writing can help improve mood, increase psychological well-being, reduce depressive symptoms, decrease PTSD avoidance symptoms, reduce days spent in a hospital and improve immune system functioning (to name a few).

Writing a letter or journaling is not a new concept; in fact, for many, it’s a fading art form. With all the recent technological advancements, individuals are no longer opting for the standard pen-and-paper means to express feelings, ideas and thoughts. Instead, it’s become much more common to use social media to express “tip-of-the-iceberg” feelings.

For someone with mental illness, taking time beyond a social media post to write expressively can be very helpful to your well-being. Below are a few ways you can use expressive writing practices to reduce mental health symptoms and improve overall well-being.

Focus On A Specific Subject

study conducted by the University of Los Angeles found that participants who wrote in detail about a particular stressor showed the most improvement versus writing about general facts of a stressful event. Participants who did not just recount events but rather wrote about how they felt about the event had marked improvement in their health.

This means: You should write about a specific experience and all its features—how it made you feel, and any thoughts or ideas you had as result. Don’t just rehash what happened.

Give Yourself Time

By dedicating a set amount of time to write, you can dive deeper into your feelings and experiences rather than just brush the surface. Studies have reported that short writing sessions have less impact on improved feelings/emotions in the long run. Giving yourself a focused time, day and schedule to write improves the ability for your mind to dive deeper into processing your feelings.

This means: Try to set aside at least 15–20 minutes a day to write, and try to do it consistently for two to three days in a row. Allow time after writing to collect yourself before moving on to other tasks.

Don’t Worry About Grammar Or Spelling

When writing a research paper or dissertation, spelling and grammar are crucial. However, this isn’t the case for expressive writing exercises. Worrying about grammar and spelling tends to pull an individual’s mind out of the free, conscious “space” they are trying to experience.

This means: Ignore the rules and write without stopping to re-read or edit what you have so far.

Use Positive Words

Using words like “because,” “realize” and “understand” helps increase the positive effects of the exercise. Studies found that writing that included “positive-emotion” words had higher rates of improved health. Words such as hope, love, anticipation and awe are also good words to consider using.

This means: The words you use matter. After writing, identify the number of positive words in your writing. You can also visit www.liwc.wpengine.com and paste your text into their system and see how your writing is translated in a positive or negative sense.

Seek Support

While extensive studies have been conducted, there is still much to learn about the implications of writing about emotional topics such as PTSD, anxiety or depression. Therefore, if possible, seek support from a mental health professional to help you through any challenges that may arise during these exercises. It’s important to have resources available while you uncover feelings and emotions through the writing process.

The art of expressive writing has been researched and studied for decades, and the findings demonstrate that it has a positive impact on symptom reduction and overall well-being for participants who use the process as it was intended. Consider the above five tips when beginning your “writing to wellness” journey.

 

Steven Swink has his Master’s degree in counseling psychology and has been working in the field of mental health since 2009. He has provided direct counseling services and provides supervisory-level work in the mental health field overseeing various programs and service delivery to consumers. In addition to his mental health experience, Steven is co-founder and CEO of www.Letyr.com, a platform for people to anonymously share their ideas, beliefs and feelings in a safe and confidential way.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2018/Writing-Tips-that-Can-Reduce-Symptoms

Strategies For Living And Working Well With ADHD

Starting from childhood, it’s critical for school counselors to use evidence-based interventions to help students with ADHD stay organized and manage their time. And those skills can translate into the workplace as adults. According to Counseling@NYU, which offers an online master’s in school counseling from NYU Steinhardt, small steps to manage a child’s time in the classroom efficiently and minimize distractions can make a big difference in the long run.

As an adult, you can use similar practical tactics that school counselors would use to manage your ADHD. You might not struggle with all these issues, and all these solutions may not work for you, but these tips may help boost your productivity at work.

Minimize Distractions

  • Start work earlier or stay later when it’s quieter.
  • Keep your desk clear of clutter.
  • Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your office. If you don’t have an office, find an empty office or a conference room.
  • Position your desk away from office traffic.
  • Ask if you can work from home on certain days.
  • Use noise-canceling headphones or listen to music (this can help the brain concentrate).

Track Time

ADHD means you may take longer to finish projects. So, it’s important to get help staying on track.

  • Bundle tasks. If you can, answer your phone, check your email and scan Twitter only at set times of the day. Otherwise, let your calls go to voicemail and stay off the Internet.
  • Clock yourself. Use an alarm or your phone to keep from veering off to another task. prematurely. A beeper also can be handy if you’re prone to hyper-focus and lose track of time.
  • Enlist your supervisor. Your boss may be able to help you stay on top of your deadlines with reminders and regular feedback.

Get Moving

If you’re prone to hyperactivity, you already know that moving any part of your body can bring relief. Turns out even tapping your fingers can help raise levels of dopamine and norepinephrine brain chemicals that help sharpen focus and attention, so:

  • Move around. If you’re restless, find an appropriate excuse to get up and walk. Grab a coffee from the cafe. Go to the bathroom. Take the stairs. Chat with a coworker down the hall.
  • Fidget. If you’re trapped at your desk or at a meeting, look for unobtrusive ways to release physical tension. You can discreetly wiggle your toes, tap your pen on your thighs, doodle, take sips of a drink or squeeze a stress ball.
  • Work out. Exercise can be a powerful antidote for hyperactivity. Just pick something you enjoy—whether it’s yoga, walking, biking or team sports—and get moving.

Don’t Forget Self-Care

It’s a myth that you can treat ADHD only with medications or professional therapy. Self-help strategies can also help corral your attention and energies, so you can focus and be productive. Here are some ways to help yourself:

  • Get out. Being outdoors, especially when the sun’s out, can boost your mood.
  • Eat right. Fuel your body with lean proteins, whole grains and vegetables.
  • Sleep well. Make getting quality shut-eye a priority. Avoid caffeine in the evenings, put away the phone and stick to a restful bedtime routine.
  • Chill out. Destress your mind and body with meditation, yoga, tai chi or mindful walking.

ADHD may be a well-known condition, but it’s often misunderstood. You may help yourself if you educate your loved ones and coworkers about how it affects your life and job. Then make these productivity and self-help tips your habits, and you might just turn chaos into calm.

Alexis Anderson is a Digital PR Coordinator covering K-12 education at 2U, Inc. Alexis supports outreach for their school counseling, teaching, mental health and occupational therapy programs.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2017/Strategies-for-Living-and-Working-Well-with-ADHD

8 Tips For Mental Wellness During the Holidays

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The holiday season is a busy time for most.  There is so much to do, attend and plan, which can bring up feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and depressed. Conversely, this is also a time where people may feel acutely aware of the void left by the loss of a loved one, and their own personal loneliness.

Who is affected?

Holiday depression, anxiety and stress can affect anyone at any age. Sometimes, these feelings are triggered by a specific event or life experience. There are many things happening around the holidays that can act as triggers.

What can I do about this?

Holiday depression, stress, anxiety can be managed by following the tips listed above. Many people who experience depression, anxiety and stress during the holidays may think that they should just be able to ‘get over it’ on their own. Others may need time to recognize how deeply this affects their life. If your holiday depression, anxiety or stress seems severe or is interfering with your job or home life, talk to your doctor.

Many people’s benefit plans run January to December. It could be beneficial to check into your plan before the end of the year so you can use sessions before they expire.

How can I help a loved one?

Supporting a loved one who is experiencing holiday depression, anxiety or stress can be difficult. You may not understand why your loved one feels or acts a certain way. Some people who experience this feel like they have to do things a certain way or avoid things or situations, and this can create frustration or conflict with others. You may feel pressured to take part in these behaviours or adjust your own behaviours to protect or avoid upsetting a loved one. Support can be a delicate balance, but you should expect recovery—in time.

Here are some general tips:

  • Ask your loved one how you can help them.
  • Be patient—learning and practising new coping strategies takes time.
  • If your loved one is learning new skills, offer to help them practice.
  • Listen and offer support, but avoid pushing unwanted advice.
  • Set boundaries and seek support for yourself, if needed.

Here are some of the most common holiday triggers and tips to prevent and/or lessen holiday depression, anxiety and stress. Remember, that you always have a choice and there are options available to you. We wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season.

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Practise mindful meditation

Mindful meditation is paying attention on purpose, without judgement, when we look at our thoughts and feelings.

At the start or end of the day, take a break and check in with yourself. We are on autopilot 24/7 from when we wake up. We are helping family, working, dealing with responsibilities, and we never really check in with ourselves. Our days impact us, and if we don’t check in with ourselves our stresses can blend into the next day, and then the next and suddenly we have compounded that stress. If we just take 10 or 20 minutes a day to slow down, ask ourselves how our day has impacted us and how we are feeling, we can mediate that pile up of stress.

It is okay to feel stressed, worried or angry, and if we allow ourselves the opportunity to explore why we are feeling these emotions with curiosity, and non-judgement, we can understand ourselves better.

Routine

It can be beneficial to create routine in your life. Routine can be the foundation of solid mental health. Routine can help you to cope better in times of stress, ensures that you get enough sleep, and can prevent additional problems from occurring.

By CMHA Alberta

https://www.mymentalhealth.ca/8-tips-for-mental-wellness-during-the-holidays/

16 Affirmations That Will Make You Feel A Little Bit Better About Everything

Toronto illustrator Hana Shafi — also known as Frizz Kid — frequently bases her work around feminist, mental health, identity, and pop culture themes.

That’s led her to make dozens of affirmation images that have been a hit on her Tumblr and Instagram.

Here are 16 — just in case you need them right now.

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Hana Shafi

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Opening Up To Others About Your Mental Health

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that tempted you to open up about something incredibly personal, but you hesitated due to the fear of that person’s reaction? Were you worried that telling them would alter their perception of you? Many people experience this feeling as they attempt to determine whether or not to be forthright about their symptoms and their struggle.

If you are considering opening up about your mental health condition, here are some tips.

Deciding Whether You Should Say Anything

Before telling someone, be certain that the decision is right for you. Making a list such as the following can help you determine if the pros outweigh the cons.

Pros:

• The person may be supportive and encouraging.

• The person can help me find the treatment that I need.

• I may gain someone in my life to talk to about what I’m going through.

• I may have a person in my life who can look out for me.

• If a crisis were to happen, I would have someone to call.

Cons:

• The person may be uncomfortable around me after I tell them.

• The person may not want to associate with me after I tell them.

• The person may tell other people that I know, and I could be stigmatized.

Dr. Patrick Corrigan, principal investigator of the Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, leads the Honest, Open, Proud program, which offers advice for talking about mental health conditions. He encourages people to open up about their mental health condition but to do so in a safe way. “Be a bit conservative about the process,” he says. “Once you’re out, it’s hard to go back in, but the important thing is that the majority of people who come out and tell their story feel more empowered.”

Also consider the potential benefits of telling someone. Perhaps being open would help your loved ones understand why you can’t always spend time with them, or you might ease their concerns by making them more aware of what’s going on in your life. Or maybe you need special accommodations at work or elsewhere. To learn more about accommodations at work, visit www.nami.org/succeeding-at-work

Deciding Whom to Tell

Once you feel confident in your decision to share, you should consider how the person you confide in might react. Think about what kind of relationship you have and whether it’s built on trust. If you still have concerns, try a test conversation. Mention a book or movie that includes mental illness and ask their opinion about it in a context that doesn’t involve you.

Deciding When You Should Tell

Once you feel comfortable about confiding in someone, start to think about when to tell them. It may be important to tell someone to receive help and support before you reach a point of crisis. That way you have a calm environment in which to be open and learn who in your life is most willing and able to help if you need support.

Initiating the Conversation

You have a few different options for telling someone about your mental health. Perhaps scariest is to come out with it without setting up the conversation because you might catch the person off-guard. Another option would be to let the person know in advance that you want to talk about something significant so they can prepare for a serious conversation. Once you have told them that you live with a mental health condition and experience certain symptoms because of it, use examples to help them understand what it’s like. For example, “Everything I do every day, even something simple like taking a shower, is exponentially harder when my symptoms are more serious.”

Share only what you’re comfortable with. Dr. Corrigan states, “You can disclose in steps, start with safe things and see how you feel, and going forward you can choose to disclose more. Anything that’s still traumatizing, you should consider keeping private.”

If someone is supportive and encouraging, let the person know how to help you, such as if you need a ride to an appointment or someone to listen. Tell them that you’ll let them know if you want advice and that you would prefer support rather than counseling.

Refer them to resources to learn more, such as information from NAMI. The more people who talk about their mental health, the more acceptable it will be for people to be more open about the topic. “The best way to change stigma is not education—it’s contact,” says Dr. Corrigan.

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2017/Opening-Up-to-Others-about-Your-Mental-Health