Category Archives: strategies for self-care

How Can I Be More Self-Compassionate?

A frequent discussion with patients is how to be kinder… To oneself.
According to clinical psychology research, self-compassion includes three major components: self-kindness, mindfulness, and connection with humanity. Scientifically, self-compassion promotes well-being, decreases depression and anxiety, and can be a buffer during difficult times.
See The Neuropsychology of Self-Compassion.

Become aware of your inner critic. The Ping.
When you notice your self critical thoughts like “I am a failure”, “I am such an idiot” or “No one likes me”. Pause and intervene with thought stopping (picture a stop sign) and replace it with another thought. Another method that my clients have found to be helpful is what I call ‘the ping’. Wear a stretchy style bracelet and ping it on your wrist when you find yourself being mean to you. It’s a quick reminder that this is an automatic thought. Self- denigrating thoughts can become internalized and require mindful vigilance to address them.
See Why Self-Compassion is More Important Than Self-Esteem

What would you say to a dear friend if you heard them saying these things aloud? The No-Trash-Talking.
If you heard someone you care about beating themselves up, you would likely tell them to be kinder. You would remind them that they did their best and help them remember what makes them special. Just as you wouldn’t let somebody else trash talk your bestie, being mean to yourself is not helpful.
See 13 Ways to Practice Non Compassion

Take a self-compassion break. The Timeout.
I also call this the reboot. When a laptop is glitching, you shut down everything and reboot. When people feel like they are in a downward spiral, stop everything and take a break. Use affectionate breathing, loving kindness meditation, or the self-hug as strategies to show yourself compassion.
See On the Power of the Self-Hug

Realize your suffering is a part of collective pain: Dukkha.
In Eastern thought, understanding that suffering is a part of common humanity versus your own isolated experience may help put things into perspective and to feel more connected. Pain makes people feel alone. Understand that although you may feel you are the only one suffering, you are not. Suffering is a part of the human range of experience and brings us closer to the bigger world.
See The Science of Compassion

Mindfulness. The self-scan.
Mindfulness is a receptive mind state where one observes thoughts and feelings as they are without suppressing or denying them. This state helps you become mindful of both positive and negative emotions and keep it in a balanced perspective. This can be combined with journaling, if desired. Writing how you feel in the moment from a stream of consciousness (no editing) perspective has been linked to a decrease in depressive or negative thoughts in numerous studies.
See Restorative Writing and Mental-Health

Kindness to others: Giving.
Community work and volunteering is strongly linked to an increase in positive mood. Somehow the act of helping others boosts us along with them. There are fewer things that are a bigger win-win.
Also see The Kindness of Strangers

Hurts so good: Neuropsychology and Chili Peppers

Ghost peppers
The world’s hottest peppers, originally grown in Assam Province, Northeast India, epitomize the lure of pain and pleasure. Also known as raja mircha (king chili), ghost peppers or bhut jolokia originated in a region of the country where the cooler temperatures, heavy rains/monsoons, and soil quality made them grow naturally.

Currently, they are served most delectably as a condiment with mounds of rice ladled with curry, lentils, salad, and vegetables. They also pack a punch served with Maggi noodles, a South Asian comfort food, leaving you with a runny nose, sweating face, and a slow burn of volcanic heat.

The neural science
Brain pain receptors are proteins that have a certain shape that only fit specific molecules. Some pain receptors have the correct shape for capsaicin, the heat component of all peppers to fit into, like a lock and a key. When a capsaicin molecule binds to one of these pain receptors, there is a release of neurotransmitters that send a message to the brain. All neurotransmitters are chemicals that are transmitted from one neuron to the next, instant messaging, saying this is HOT. There is a quick burst of endorphins, the pain alleviating neurochemicals. Capsaicin also stimulates the thermo receptors that perceive heat, stimulating sweating and flushing. This actually has a cooling down effect, crucial in hotter climates. Not surprisingly, many countries with extremely hot menus are found in Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean (the Trini Scorpion chili pepper will make you gasp), and South America, where the temperatures are often steamy.

Why yearn for the burn? A sample of the research.
-Longevity: All chili peppers have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer (free radical), and blood-glucose regulating effects. Many of the health benefits have specifically been attributed to capsaicin molecules. Additional benefits include lower levels of bad cholesterol, increased metabolism, better gut health, analgesia (increased pain tolerance), and a general boost in immunity.

-Personality: A number of studies have found that more adventurous people are drawn to spicier and more stimulating foods. Chili 🌶 lovers are eager to try new things; willing to take risks; have a higher level of mental flexibility; and may be hungry for a variety of strong emotions, visceral experience, and adventures. This means they have a high degree of curiosity; or in other terms, they may be easily bored.

-Mood: Spicy foods create a safe high. The burst of endorphins produced by biting into a searingly hot pepper creates a burning sensation and then a sense of euphoria.

-Social Interaction:  Sharing hot food creates a sense of connection or similarity. Couples and family research shows that arguing over ‘what to eat for dinner’ is a common source of potential conflict or compromise.  “Because what I eat, what I drink, is in itself the ‘second self’ of my being,” wrote the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. Figuring out what each person would like to eat, or not, is part of relational negotiation: do we fit together?

Also see: On nutraceuticals and mental health – Turmeric and Mental Health.

Me, Myself, and I: Self-Care as Daily Practice

At Embolden Psychology, we term the foundations of self-care the Five Pillars: Sleep, Nutrition, Movement, Meditation, Connection.

The foundation holds up the house. Beyond these essentials, self-care can take many forms. The essence of self-care requires twofold mindfulness.

1. Making decisions that make daily life more efficient and efficacious.
A client finally bought a comfortable new mattress after many years of discomfort and back pain from a sagging old one. Another replaced her aged laptop that was frequently crashing and slowing down her work. A third example was a client who bought an app that went through all of her subscriptions and yearly payments, often for products that she was not using. She found that she saved close to $900 per year by getting rid of superfluous charges and subscriptions. At times, people don’t believe that they deserve or should have something for the sake of making life easier. Self-care is saving time and frustration. And money.

2. Consistently building in healthy Me Time.
Many people juggle obligations all day, from work to family. Self-care comes last, if they have time. I have written elsewhere about sleep procrastination. Folks who seemingly stay up late on social media or binging on TV shows have very busy lives. They may crave something that requires no obligations to others. What seems to be an unwise act of staying up late and being tired the next morning often stems from a desire for agency at the end of the day.

Past the Five Pillars, I have people actually schedule Me Time on a daily basis in their calendar. A big M to signify “this is for me and I need it.” Whether it’s a 20 minute nap, walk, quiet time (essential for everyone, especially parents), or even a massage or a movie, your brain and body sense that you’re doing something for yourself. This makes it less likely that you will subconsciously carve Me Time out later by skipping a workout, eating those hot Cheetos, watching trash TV, or staying up late.

While a resort vacation, a splurge meal at a great restaurant, or a new outfit provide a different type of short-term outlet, self-care is daily business.

Also see Five Self-Care Statements and Self-care is Often a Very Unbeautiful Thing.

 

 

What is mental health?

On the last day of #mentalhealthawarenessmonth2022

I am finally writing about one of the most profound personal and professional experiences I have had in my field. It took me a while to unpack this enough to say a bit.

#EmboldenPsychology was founded on the principles of culturally competent practice, DEI as a value system, and the belief, after 20 years of work in the field of mental health and clinical psychology that #mentalhealthisforall.

These values were severely tested during the last 2+ years, during which my company offered mental health services at little or no cost to first responders and healthcare professionals, the restaurant industry which was reeling, and support for the huge challenges facing students and parents. Need far outweighed resources.
I termed the Pandemic the ultimate compassion project: How could we help each other get through, when small businesses were boarding up, financial hardship was rampant, the health system was beyond capacity, and the summer of 2020 brought the highest level of clinical depression ever recorded in the United States since they started keeping records. I had incredible volunteers, community support, dear friends, colleagues, and peers who were there.

Even with all this, my belief systems were taken by the shoulders and shaken gently but firmly this past year. In February 2022, I was sought out by social workers and advisors working at two private schools in the DMV and asked to work with several STEM students; girls who had been evacuated from Afghanistan in August 2021, when the Taliban essentially closed down their state-of-the-art all-female boarding school in Kabul. After a nightmare journey on foot to the airport with a single backpack and with no notice or time for goodbyes to family, they were evacuated from their country of birth by US military aircraft. Education as a life and death decision.

I am human, and was quite overwhelmed with my schedule and commitments. These determined and incredibly caring schools pinged me every day for a week, and I finally agreed to speak with them to see what I could possibly offer in the face of a human rights crisis. I was known for work with refugees and new immigrants, my love for STEM, and deep interest in multicultural mental health projects.

I have no regrets about my decision to proceed forward with this endeavor, because since that time, I have been able to counsel some of the bravest, sweetest, smartest, most down to earth girls in the world. Although they sacrificed so much for education and their personal and family safety, they manifest joy, resolve, and just every day giggliness.

Certainly, we have sessions that are painfully detailed, harrowing, about the traumas they have faced. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so brave as these young women. But we also discuss hairstyles, academic goals, friendship, how cool horses are, college, soccer, my terrible accent when I’m speaking Pashto, fave foods, henna, and Bollywood. I have some new recipes and songs under my belt.

Together, we also planned and helped implement psycho-educational programs at their schools about Afghan culture, Ramadan, and of course, delicious world cuisine. I learned slang in Dari, Farsi, and Pashto. The crisis in Ukraine struck close to their hearts, particularly the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homes, and we spent several sessions processing what that means.

  • Mental health is flexibility. Of body and mind.
  • Mental health is finding joy even when everything seemingly sucks.
  • Mental health is curiosity, academic and personal.
  • Mental health is crying, and then still getting on with things.
  • Mental health is caring about others in the world who are suffering.
  • Mental health is interacting with teachers, students, customs, cuisines, and a psychologist you had never met with grace, humor, and openness.
  • Mental health is switching between languages, at a moment’s notice.

Clearly, mental health is an essential component in all lives. We don’t need a month, we need 24/7 everywhere for mental health awareness. I have great teachers.

Also see: https://www.sola-afghanistan.org/

An Everyday Meditation+Mantra

I have been combining meditation with psychotherapy in my professional work for years. My kid clients are so proud when they finish a 10-minute meditation, often having started with a 3-minute goal initially while learning. They ring the singing bowl or strike the gong in the office at the end of the meditation, to signify they ‘did it!’

Meditation is a practice of the everyday. To choose a meditation that fits mood, need, setting, and timing, is important. As clients learn more strategies to add to their toolkit, they are more able to focus on what works in a situation.  A meditation can be calming, energizing, healing, even a reset in the middle of a stressful day.

Monday Meditation: the Lotus Mudra
Often people feel tired, hectic, or jarred on a Monday. This simple strategy, the Lotus or Padma Mudra, channels energy. It stirs your dormant energy (kundalini) that may still be in the nap zone after the weekend. A mudra is a symbolic gesture (hand or body) used to enhance meditation and breath work.

Lotus symbolism and imagery is common throughout the East. A lotus flower takes root down in the muck and mud and rises up through the water to blossom. The mud represents our ego, habits, origin stories, grief, challenges, injustices done, and even inertia.

To practice padma mudra, bring your hands in front of your heart, with the palms of your hands touching. Keep the heels of your palms touching, your pinky fingers touching and your thumbs touching, as you peel the palms of your hands, index, middle and ring fingers away from one another. The three middle fingers of each hand blossom away from one another like a lotus flower in bloom. Hold the mudra for ten minutes or longer while doing meditative breathing.

See my post on deep breathing for reducing anxiety for tips.

If desired, holding the position, move your hands up slowly to the middle of your forehead. You are connecting your heart and wisdom (third eye).Now, combine the mudra and breathing with a mantra/self-statement.

Breath, hand positions/chakras, mantras: meditation as a tool for anxiety management.

Making a Nest

Photo: Renwick Gallery, DC, 2019

A client tells me after going hard all week, she retreats on Friday evenings to a corner of her sectional sofa. She dons her softest hoodie and brings with her a favorite pillow, fuzzy blanket, books, warm beverage, journal, pens, aromatherapy candle, headphones, and healthy snacks. Often, her dog joins her. During the tumult of the week, she can picture her nest in her mind and looks forward to the comfort it brings. She is no couch potato, she has two jobs, lots of personal responsibilities, and wins awards at Pure Barre.

Nesting can be any means of turning a living space or area into a place of comfort, belonging, and physical and emotional stability. In animals, the nesting instinct is all about preparing a home space/cave and making it safe from predators. For humans, nesting can mean creating a living space that provides warmth and stability, especially in times of danger and stress. Our threats may be different than other species, but the safety component is the same.

Creating your own, personalized “escape zone” where the focus is on comfort and soothing can create another strategy to add to the anxiety toolkit I frequently discuss with clients. Your space could be as basic as a favorite chair draped with a warm quilt, or one part of the sofa set aside with puffy throw pillows. Dedicate that space as a place to read, nap, meditate, sip a cup of tea, or simply sit in quiet for awhile.

Nesting can be any means of turning a living space into a place of comfort, belonging, and physical and emotional stability. Nesting is also about taking mental control. The comfort of a chosen physical space can be internalized and brought into mind during a difficult day or meeting.

Some nesting principles that are common include physical comfort: coziness, a few personally significant items, and a change from everyday routine.

*Many people are also drawn to being embraced on three sides. Literally, in a nest, you are safe and yet able to see what’s in front of you.
*A nest invokes a sense of curling up in a small space.
*A nest is personal. What you bring with you that invokes comfort and a sense of security is different for everyone.

The Nest. An internal and external place of nourishment and refuge. Also see Anxiety Toolkit

The opposite of uncertainty is not certainty: it is presence

When we feel uncertain or insecure, our brain tries to rescue us by activating our dopamine systems. This dopamine craving encourages us to seek rewards, making temptations more enticing. Avoiding depletion is investing in yourself. It’s making personal deposits consistently to weather hard times.

Presence is:
-What you have in your refrigerator
-How you talk to yourself. Your Inner Warrior is always listening. Avoid disheartening words.
-Who you share your energy with
-What your personal sanctuary looks like, whether it’s a room, dorm, apartment, office, garden, or house
-Your morning routine. How you start, matters
-How you connect to the earth
-What you read
-What you scroll
-What you watch
-How you move your physical being: stretch, walk, run, lift
-Who has access to you
-What you edit
-How you forgive-yourself and others
-What you do before you fall asleep

For more, see Self-Care is Often an Unbeautiful Thing

Pandemic fatigue

Pandemic fatigue

  • Difficulty with focused and sustained attention
  • Feeling irritable or more easily frustrated
  • Lack of energy; easily tired
  • Pit or knot in stomach
  • Not keeping up with regular tasks and chores
  • Not listening when people are talking to you
  • Feeling blah: as one client said, not up not down, just blah
  • Running late for appointments or canceling plans
  • Feeling overwhelmingly behind with stuff that needs to get done
  • Endless online scrolling
  • Losing track of time
  • Physical symptoms: Health professionals are seeing a significant increase in patients with bruxism, migraines, body aches and pains, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, and skin problems
  • Poor hygiene when you don’t have to leave the house
  • Not responding to emails or phone calls

Check out these small steps to take when you feel like you are in a rut.

On W’s

*Wins can be:
Meal prepping something delicious for the next couple of days.
Organizing and updating your planner or calendar.
Cleaning a closet you’ve been wanting to get to.
Catching up with emails.
Getting some movement at the start of a day.
Meditating.
Remembering to take vitamins/supplements.

*Wins can also be:
Remembering to hydrate. And repeat.
Resting when you’re tired. For short periods.
Taking a hot shower.
Scheduling a haircut.
Doing a load of laundry or doing dishes/pots and pans.
Calling or texting with a caring friend.
Watching a TV show you enjoy or reading a book that is uplifting.

Everything accumulates.
Not just laundry, but the Ws.

Also see The Morning Routine Checklist.

Self-Commitments

Kanji: Gratitude as Action

The philosophy we follow at Embolden is to add seemingly small but significant things to your life. Instead of taking things away; which actually leaves a vacuum that often fails to be sustained. Our strategy is Stones Across The River. Adding a few small things every day, every week, every month creates new ways of being (neural pathways). It’s important to think of things that personally speak to you.

Here are some ideas for our New Year:
-Drink more water. Most of us are more dehydrated than we know.
Not drinking enough water causes fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, attention and concentration difficulties, even hunger pangs. Get a water bottle that you love. You can prepare it in the morning and add fresh sliced fruit, lemon, lime, or cucumber if desired. Start with drinking that throughout the day. Once it becomes more of a habit, you can even refill it halfway through the day.

-Support local restaurants. If you’ve always been drawn to the familiarity of larger or chain restaurants, get to know your neighborhood businesses. You will meet some great folks, and probably establish relationships, not to mention eating some delicious food that you may not have experienced otherwise. You can try new spots every month. As a bonus, you are helping sustain businesses that may need it.

-Make specific playlists. This is actually a mindfulness exercise. What songs or music make you feel energized? Sleepy? Relaxed? What helps you work? Music is a very powerful medium that can evoke different moods and activities. When you use specific playlists, your brain goes into a certain mode, from working out to unwinding. Listening to music actually makes you exercise or work for a longer duration.

-Journal. If you dislike writing, there is a new strategy that I’ve been recommending called one line a day. Buy a journal or notebook that speaks to you; whether it’s a sleek black leather-bound one, pictures of cats or dogs, or just beautiful photos/art. At the end of the day, write a sentence or three about how you’re feeling or what’s on your mind at that moment. Doing this consistently is good for your mental health.

-Go outside. Go for a stroll or even a hike. You can pick a time of day that works for you. Do you like sunrises or sunsets, do you prefer to be alone or with somebody? You can find a walking partner, canine or human. If you don’t love being outside, start by simply being on your own street or block, and back.

-Compliment someone. This actually neurologically creates a boost in endorphins both for the giver and the receiver. It doesn’t have to be creepy. Just think of something you genuinely admire or observe about that person and try it out. Very often we are trained not to speak to somebody’s traits or strengths because we will “turn their head, seem fake or a brown-noser, or make them vain.” A compliment given properly is a gift and can actually make somebody’s day better. Yours and theirs.

-Clean/organize one thing. If a closet or an entire room is too daunting, start with a drawer, a cupboard, or your car. This is an area where people become easily overwhelmed especially if they haven’t cleaned or organized in a while. Each time you accomplish one goal, it builds self-efficacy. Self-efficacy expectations are your own ability to believe that you can accomplish something. Like working out, it requires one step at a time. You literally build your own confidence.

-Grow or tend something. If you are daunted by gardening, start with a house plant or two. Many are low maintenance. If you like to cook, you could start a small kitchen herb container garden.

-Read. Start with one book a month. It can be a graphic novel, fiction, or something that you’ve wanted to learn more about. You can have a reading buddy if you don’t believe that you can sustain being in a larger book club.

-Do as you go. If you are someone who ends up with large piles of laundry, a sink full of dishes, and copious amounts of pet hair on your floors, it often becomes a Herculean task. Taking care of a few dishes after a meal, putting things back where they should go, and completing and folding laundry regularly actually ultimately saves time and helps unclutter your mind.

-Pay off one bill at a time. As you notice your interest rates and penalties going down, it increases mental flexibility and a sense of freedom.  For three months at a time, see what it’s like if you give up one thing, whether it’s Starbucks or saying no to that extra pair of shoes, and pay off a bill instead.

-Keep in touch. From a group chat, to a couple of friends that you care about or text/email regularly, connection decreases anxiety and depression. If you don’t have the energy for a phone call, keeping in touch even briefly creates a sense that you’re not alone.

-Pick your battles. Although it might create a brief adrenaline rush when you vent online, argue with relatives, or comment on somebody’s seemingly astounding content, you just lost an hour of your life, probably raised your blood pressure, and the psychology research indicates the chances are extremely low that you made a dent in their thinking. If you want to vent, get an online therapist, commiserate with friends, or journal.

-Ask for help. This is often something that’s very hard to do. Vulnerability is not easy. Like anything else, practice helps. Here are some practical tips: How to Ask For Help Without Feeling Weird.

-Rest. People have reported feeling unusually tired. It’s a pandemic. We have an all time high allostatic load (elevated stress levels and hormones, without sufficient alleviation). We require sleep for consolidation of memory. We use REM and deep sleep for metabolizing experience (day residue). We must have rest for muscle recovery, no matter how fit we are. We need downtime from work or else our attention is going to wander anyway. We can’t focus efficiently without rest. Yes, we can muscle through temporarily, or take medication. When it wears off, you will be completely worn out. Sleep disorders are at an all-time high. Your body is going to force you to rest eventually. Make it a conscious decision.
See Making Sleep Your Best Friend for more info.

-Ride your best horse first. I learned this from a friend of many years. She emphatically believes you should always use your good candles, your best lotion or skin products, drink your favorite wine, use the gorgeous glasses or mugs, buy that great food at the market, enjoy your softest blanket/wear your fancy outfit/get that massage/ use the special jewelry, use the stunning purse you generally store in its bag. As humans, we want to hoard what feels special. For what?

-Where you can, make your life easier. One client who is very frugal, struggled with his laptop that was creating a lot of problems in his daily schedule. He spent hours daily fixing kinks and slow speeds, leading to frustration and even tears. He finally invested in a fairly modest but extremely updated life machine, as I term it. Not everyone can afford it, but where you can without creating hardship, make life a bit easier. If you truly despise cleaning bathrooms and you can afford to have somebody clean for you once a month, the mental relief is worthwhile.

Small but powerful.

See Stones Across the River, Or Mindfulness As Practice

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.