Category Archives: strategies for self-care

Mantras as Self-Statements

Many people are familiar with the classic psychotherapy strategies of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which include the use of self-statements to combat negative or intrusive thoughts and cognitive distortions (tricks the brain plays on you, particularly when depressed or anxious).

Personally and professionally, I like to integrate the ancient knowledge that comes from mantras as therapeutic work. A mantra is a repeated positive affirmation. It should reflect something positive you’re trying to invoke within you; anything that feels true when you speak it. I like mantras that begin with “I am” because they resonate deeply as truth. You end up speaking it into existence.

What is something you’re needing or wanting to create?
Your intention should come from your greatest place of self-compassion. Go into it without attachment. You may want your mantra to speak to a very specific desire that looks a certain way. But trust me when I say that when you arrive up on your mantra you will feel a sense of resonance.
It will just feel right.

When should we use mantras?
During meditation, walking, upon waking to set intention for the day, sitting in traffic, during a stressful day at work, to unwind at night, in the shower, and so many more possibilities. Verbalizing your mantra, speaking it aloud and repeating it, is powerful. Feel the vibration of the mantra on your lips pay attention as it reverberates through your body. Write it in your journal, on a post it, on an index card taped to your bathroom mirror.

I also use mantras with technology. Put it in your reminders, your Google calendar on repeat, Alexa, pop-ups, text it to yourself.

Some modern day mantras:
Awakening
“I ignite the many aspects of the goddess within me.”

Abundance
In Sanskrit: Om Shreem Maha Lakshmiyei Namaha, which translates to recognition of the potential for true abundance in all aspects of life.

Self-compassion and forgiveness
“I accept myself.”

Endurance/Strength
“This too shall pass.”

Love
“I am love.”

Calmness
“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”

Being present
“Be here, now.”

Allowing the universe to guide you
“I am open to the universe.”

Happiness
“I choose joy.”

Release
“Close your eyes, clear your heart, let it go.”

Empowerment
“I are capable of wonderful things”

How to be more introverted

You read that correctly. While traditionally Western culture has minimized the importance of introversion, most people have a mix of extroverted and introverted tendencies. We have a lot to learn from introverts when it comes to mental health.

1. Reboot
Don’t confuse being an introvert with being shy. An introvert acquires psychological energy or a “reset” after expending energy, by time spent alone.

2. Create
Nurture your individual creativity: Art, music, poetry, writing. Somehow, we lost track of the fact that the arts are important to our cognitive and social growth. When kids play they like to pile blocks, mold a sandcastle, fingerpaint, make a fort, build a treehouse, bake cookies with lots of sprinkles, draw on the walls. We derive an inherent joy in creating that rarely gets built into our adult schedules.

3. Enjoy solitary tasks
We live in an easily bored society. From an early age, learning to master the arts of self-engagement and self-soothing is invaluable. For example, I encourage parents and children to work together to put together a small backpack of goodies to take with them wherever they go; books, sketchpad, favorite pens and pencils, coloring materials, a small stuffed animal or action figure, word finds, squeaky toys for stress, and so many other possibilities. Being able to entertain yourself requires practice. And it’s great for your brain.

4. Practice mindfulness
Have you ever driven past your own exit or street? Mindfulness is the opposite of auto pilot, and it requires practice. Notice what is around you. I have teens practice walking into the kitchen (or any room) and observe/notice five things. Use all of your senses when you’re eating something delicious; when you’re washing the dishes, when you’re making a bed.

5. Reflect
Contemplate the mysteries of existence; the universe, quantum physics, nature, why your companion animal does what they do. The natural curiosity we had as children can be nurtured and stirred at any age.

6. Day-dream
One of my teen clients has an elaborate imaginary life, a running story with nuanced characters, dialogue, and interactions. Others I work with mentally design their dream house, sketch designs or patterns, collect a bucket list of things to do, solve problems. One young person I know has come up with an art theme spread across 12 different works/mediums of art to show how social media impacts the self-esteem of girls.

In a loud and bustling world, we have a lot to learn from introverts. See also Quiet.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Not everyone will emerge, post COVID, with biceps and abs, the great American novel, a third language, the work pivot, or other fabulous accomplishment. Most of us strive for the greatest accomplishment of all, survival. It’s all too easy for us to look to our colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family and feel like we have accomplished nothing while, somehow, they appear to be flourishing. One client writes me frequently. What am I doing wrong? Am I making the right choices for my family? What should we do next? What is going to happen to us?

The feeling of failure is pervasive.
Keeping up is a myth.

For most of us, the Covid life laid bare things we haven’t looked at in a long time. What are relationships really made of? What do we want to do as a partner/friend/parent? What are our goals, when the everyday structures are removed? Did the old ways even work, or were we fooling ourselves?

Looking through the window of what seems to be the perfect household is highly deceptive.
Mr. Smith is terrified. His company has already laid off employees. His Zoom keeps freezing in meetings. He can barely pay attention anyway. He’s tired of virtual meetings and even more exhausted when he has to go into the office. His Whiskey and Adderall habit is heavier than ever before, but it’s doing nothing to help his abysmal sleep. His boss is annoyed, his wife is annoyed, and his kids are certainly annoyed. He can’t do anything right. He and Mrs. Smith snap at each other about every small thing. There is rarely any intimacy, affection, let alone moments of levity.

Mrs. Smith is exhausted. She is buried by simultaneously being a mother, full time chef, house manager, therapist, and cleaner. She has a little gig on the side called a full-time job, that won’t leave her alone. White wine is her sanity. It starts at 9 am when she works from home. She has noticed that she “randomly” has anger outbursts, or is frequently in tears, for no specific reason. She wishes she could watch the movies everyone seems to be talking about. Her final precious minutes at the end of the day are for scrolling IG, disappointed by the number of her likes, and watching Netflix if she can manage to stay awake. Mr. and Mrs. Smith very rarely sleep in the same bed.

The kids are going out of their minds. No school was fun for a minute, but this is a bit much; masks all day, curt teachers, stressed out parents, not being able to relax at lunch, and no idea what’s going to happen next. They are hanging out with friends and not so secretly take off their masks.

We are all still in personal survival mode. From financial hardship, to medical concerns, loneliness, work worries, uncertainty, and nonstop parenting, there is no current decision that is easy. When you look at others who seem like they’re thriving, believe it when I tell you everyone is struggling. Including Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

What I Learned

I was recently interviewed for a piece on mental health for VerywellMind about things I have learned from the pandemic.

The question was:
As both one who is living through this and helping others live through this, what are the lessons that most come to mind for you?

Seven things I learned from the Pandemic
1. There was no ‘Normal.’
We say, I wish we could return to normal, I miss the old days. When will things go back?
The old days weren’t so great. We have seen businesses go under, people who were barely getting by already go over the precipice, huge upticks in mental health and substance abuse problems, how separated and isolated people feel, and how difficult it is to ask for and receive support. I believe The greatest lesson of these times is the absolute necessity for a paradigm shift. The concept of a paradigm shift, originally based in physics, refers to a major change in the worldview, concepts, and practices of how something works or is accomplished. Recently, people have sometimes referred to it in employment terms as the Pivot.  Why return to a supposed normal that never worked, completely fell apart under duress, neglected the vulnerable, and is certainly not equipped to address any future challenges?

2. Nothing is more important than connection.
People have deeply hungered for love, touch, intimacy, and affection during these difficult times. It is an essential part of being human. Those who felt most isolated suffered the most challenges to their mental health. I recently wrote a piece about loneliness as a marker of danger to mental and physical health. A recent study equated deep-rooted loneliness as the equivalent of smoking chronically, with regard to the impact on longevity and wellness.

It’s literally a killer.

3. Mindfulness matters.
Groundhog Day happens. Over and over again, I have heard people say they have lost track of time. ’It feels like it’s going by so slowly, and yet so quickly’. Each day can feel the same. Learning mindfulness strategies anchors our perception of reality. We cannot live in a blur, and it’s very easy to succumb to that. Before we know it, it’s September 2021. Also see this helpful post on a mindfulness practice.

4. Pain cannot be avoided.
We can numb our feelings of fear, resentment, anxiety, grief, and terrifying uncertainty. They are still there. How to cope without being overwhelmed requires numerous strategies. I was sent a photograph from a recent trash recycling day in DC, where house after house was lined up with dozens of empty bottles; liquor, wine, beer, soft drinks. Our pain is honorable and a marker of experience. It’s not going to go away just because we want to anesthetize.

5. Looking after your health is absolutely essential.
Health care that is consistent in the middle of chaos is one of the hardest things to do. When you’re just trying to juggle bills, care for children and family, deal with virtual learning, work from home, metabolize constant health alerts and daily fears, confront financial hardship and job changes, and combat isolation and ennui, survival needs take over. Self-care often goes on the back burner. And yet, it is the absolute foundation.

6. It takes community.
In previous work, I have referred to the pandemic as the ultimate #compassionproject. In short, thinking about ourselves and our immediate circle has never worked, is not working now, and will not work in the future. Only if we pull together with our amazing range of strengths, talents, skills, and vulnerabilities, are we going to make it through.

7. Creativity can thrive under fire
I have seen innovation, creativity, flexing, and hustle like never before. In line with number six, above, I have seen projects large and small making the world a better place. Resolve, Love, and Hardwork are unbeatable.

The Superhero Meditation

Art: courtesy of the fabulous Nicole Heere

When you’re doing therapeutic work with superheroes, this power meditation is a good way to help superhero clients charge for the day.

What I teach:
You wake up, and feel yourself in your body. You are a superhero, a protector making the world a better place. Every single day so many responsibilities are in your hands. Do you feel the weight of these duties? You also feel the roiling energy within. It’s already in you.

Close your eyes and find stillness in your body. Take a breath, slowly. Feel the energy that’s inside. Allow your body to vibrate with this energy, this strength, your personal charge.

Breathe in energy. Feel it recharging and swirling in your body. Exhale slowly. Breathe in energy. Savor it in your bloodstream. It might feel warm and peaceful. It might also feel like a tsunami that’s building or lava under the earth. Exhale slowly.

Feel the power that you innately possess swirling through your body, arms, legs, torso. It fills your head. Breathe in your power, breathe in your strength, breathe in your capacity.
Breathe in energy. Exhale slowly. You are a superhero ready to face everything. When you are ready, open your eyes.

Also see The Psychology of Superheroes, a tribute to Chadwick Boseman.

Work Martyrs and Mental Health

Do you avoid taking leave because you think you are indispensable at work? Do you equate being crazy busy with being important and valued? Do you work yourself to the bone because you believe no one else can do the work as well as you? At social events, do you mostly talk about work? At the end of the workday, are you still thinking about what you didn’t get done?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a work martyr. Work martyrs prize hours worked over actual productivity and believe that not taking a break will reap greater professional success. They think no one can do their work as well as them, so they rarely take leave. They strive to show complete dedication to their company and job, often sacrificing other life priorities.

While work martyrs may get a lot done in the short-term, this surge in productivity drops significantly in the long-term. They are also at high risk of burnout. A number of studies have shown that work martyrs have less work satisfaction and a higher level of anxiety.

Do you think your hard work and hustle may be veering into work martyr territory?
Here are a few red flags to watch out for:

  • You reply to emails as you see them, no matter the time of day or urgency.
  • If you receive feedback that is less than glowing, it severely alters your mood for the rest of the day.
  • You eat lunch at your desk or in the office.
  • You go into work even when you’re sick.
  • You complain to anyone who will listen about your long hours and crushing workload.
  • You silently judge others when they leave work early or take off for family reasons.
  • You can’t remember the last time you spent an entire weekend or holiday away from your computer or phone.
  • You have to do everything yourself because you don’t trust others on your team to do the job up to your standards.
  • At social events you don’t have much else to talk about besides work, because it constantly fills your mind.

If you think you’re a work martyr, here are some suggestions that will help you stop:
Say No
Work martyrs usually have no boundaries and rarely, if ever, say no. Commit to saying no more at work. This requires practice if you, your supervisor, and your team are not used to it.

Ask For Help
Work martyrs rarely ask for help because they worry about appearing to be weak. Consider setting a specific goal for yourself, such as asking for help at work once a day. Start with something small. Reward yourself at the end of the week if you meet your goal.

Stop Being A Perfectionist
Many work martyrs are perfectionists, believing that anything less than perfect is unworthy.

Take A Break
Work martyrs rarely take a vacation. Strive to take time off. Even on a staycation, do not check your email or work messages.

Accept What You Can’t Control
Work martyrs often try to control everything in their environment. If they are part of a team or group project, they feel that they are the one who has to make it work. If something goes wrong on a project, they feel they are to blame.

Also see my post regarding wellness in the restaurant and bar industry, a field that has a high level of burnout and work martyrdom.

On Emotion Regulation: Equipoise

Equipoise. It refers to a balance of interests or forces. It doesn’t diminish the importance or impact of the other. These are just a few examples of how you can actively hold and honor opposing emotional experiences with therapeutic effects.

Feeling:

  • Loneliness: Video call or meet with someone that you love and care about.
  • Unneeded: Care for your companion animal. With affection, massage them, groom them, validate how special they are to you.
  • Unwanted: Spend an evening or a full day nurturing yourself. Make yourself something nourishing to eat, curl up in your softest pajamas, watch a movie that brings you joy.  See On The Power of the Self-hug.
  • Anxious: Do mindful breathing to self-soothe, visual imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. See our Anxiety Toolkit for more info.
  • Not good enough: Remind yourself of your strengths. Coming soon –  The Self Resume: The CV that Counts.
  • Down/Blue: The Reboot: Call it a night. Or day. Sleep, watch your favorite movie or show, unplug. If you have to do something, focus on a mindless chore. Fighting our feelings is exhausting. Replenish first and come back to fight another day.

Equipoise, a momentary counterbalance with cumulative effects.

Cumulative grief

Cumulative grief is what happens when you do not have time to process one loss before incurring another. In an ideal world, you would get a chance to metabolize and heal from one loss before you are tasked with facing another.With cumulative losses, painful emotions which come from the initial loss bleed into the experience of the next one. As you accumulate losses or traumas, processing the grief from each one becomes harder to handle. For example, during the pandemic, a person may have suffered grief from impaired health, loss of financial security, role or job loss, death of loved ones, and prolonged isolation, often overlapping or in rapid succession.

The complexity of multiple losses includes a mix of painful and sometimes contradictory emotions. You may feel angry, numb, have bring-you-to-your knees sadness, loneliness, and even relief. I often state there is no timeline for grieving and loss is not linear. I have written elsewhere about mourning the living; where the person you are grieving is alive but there has been a permanent rift or rupture, so they are physically alive, but gone.

Over time, the wave of hurt that is sharp and distracting may move to one where it is quieter and softer. Anniversaries of loss can send us right back to the raw place.  Clinical psychologist and grief researcher, Dr. Katherine Shear, writes about characteristics of Integrated Grief, what I refer to as metabolized loss in my practice:

– We accept the loss.
– We adapt to a new world with the absence of the person or situation we are grieving.
– We begin to believe again in a positive future.

When self compassion hurts

Some clients have recently mentioned that when they start practicing self compassion, they feel a wave of pain that’s almost overwhelming. Their pain actually increases at first. You can call this phenomena backdraft, a term used by firefighters and emergency workers that describes what happens when a door in a burning house is first opened: oxygen goes in and flames rush out. What should you do? I believe in staying in place, hunkering down.

This can include breathing, meditation, going about your everyday tasks, making your coffee, petting your companion animal, going for a walk. Eventually the wave subsides.

 

Brain Lies: Internalized Negative Thoughts

Your brain can be a trickster. Depression and anxiety create automatic negative thoughts that can become our internal dialogue. They are obstacles that influence our everyday life. Therapy is useful for identifying and giving voice to these internalized beliefs. And actively combating them.

Some examples of negative thoughts that can be harmful:
– All or nothing
Binary thinking. If you stick to your exercise plan for a month, you think you think you are the most disciplined person on the planet. If you miss a day at the gym, you think you have no discipline and give up and go back to being a coach potato. Being able to hold multiple opinions and thoughts, often contradictory ones, is mental flexibility.

– Catastrophizing
Jumping to the worst possible conclusion, usually with very limited information or objective reason to despair. When a situation is upsetting, but not necessarily catastrophic, we may still feel like we are in the midst of a crisis.

– Shoulding
Our “shoulds” come from internalizing others’ expectations and comparing ourselves unfavorably. This is the hallmark of regret, the what if, the opposite of living in the moment.

– Overgeneralization
You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. These thoughts make you see only the negative aspects of situations and make you more inclined to give up on your efforts.

– Labelling
When you call yourself or someone else names or use negative terms to describe them. A lot of us do this on a regular basis. You may have said one of the following at some point in your life; “I’m a loser”; “I’m a failure”; “I suck,” or “I’m lazy.” The problem with repeatedly calling yourself names is that your brain starts believing them.

– Personalization
You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not responsible for. For example, you see someone scowling as they walk down the hallway. You automatically assume that they are angry with you, when they could’ve actually had a really bad day.

– Assuming
When you make assumptions, you’re usually filling the void of the unknown by imagining an undesirable outcome. In reality, a number of good things are often also possible.

– Fortune-telling
Predicting an outcome, usually negative, even though you don’t know what will happen is the hallmark of fortune telling. These thoughts disregard data.

– Mind reading
When you think that you know what somebody else is thinking even though they have not told you, and you have not asked them, it is called mind-reading. Listen carefully to the other person instead of trying to predict what they have to say. See also Active Listening.

– Blame
Blaming others for your problems and taking no responsibility for your own successes and failures.
Also see How to Practice Self-Compassion.

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.