Category Archives: strategies for self-care

A Note From Dr. Siddique, on the end of the year

If you find yourself feeling anxious for the holidays, you are certainly not alone. Here are a few steps you can take to prioritize your mental health during this hectic season:

1. Accept Your Feelings
The holidays can bring up a range of emotions for people. Sometimes you can even experience seemingly contradictory emotions all at once. Try your best to acknowledge and accept your emotions rather than place judgment on them. It’s OK to feel happy; it’s OK to feel sad; it’s OK to feel anxious about being anxious; it’s OK to feel both happy and sad. Give yourself compassion and allow yourself to sit with whatever you’re feeling.

2. Maintain Healthy Habits
For many people, the holidays lead to a massive disruption in your day-to-day routine. But maintaining healthy habits like going to therapy, getting enough sleep, eating well, going outside, taking prescribed medications, and exercising are critical to keeping your mental health on track.

3. Set Boundaries
People like to be generous during the holidays, but that generosity doesn’t have to come at the expense of having healthy boundaries. If hosting an event or buying an expensive gift is too stressful, it’s OK to say no. It’s also OK to limit the time you spend with family or others that you may have a complicated dynamic with.

4. Make Time To Connect
Connection and meaning are critical to our mental health. Make time for your important relationships and connect with yourself through self-care. You can even connect with loved ones who are no longer with you through a family tradition or a personal remembrance ritual.

This holiday season — and as the year winds down, whether you find it to be the most wonderful or most difficult time of the year — I hope you’ll be taking care of your mental health by accepting whatever emotions come up, maintaining healthy habits, setting boundaries on stressors, and making time for meaningful connection.

Be safe, be kind, be generous. Lots of people are not doing great.

Please know you are not alone.
Suicide Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org
Embolden Psychology: https://Embolden.world

Hope is a decision

To many, Buddhism seems esoteric, a hard to grasp concept of inner life. The practice of non-attachment to things and people (elimination of desire), understanding and connecting with universal pain (dukkha), and compassion for self and others as flawed beings, often seems antithetical to what we were initially taught.

We can’t eliminate desire. Some of the things we crave are needed for our survival, such as food, water, safety, and sex. And other things we crave are often motivation for us to do and be better. Buddhism doesn’t actually condemn desire itself and doesn’t ask us to eliminate it.

The true Buddhist meaning of desire is to want something that is absent. But even when we get what we desire, we can become greedy and crave something more, something gone, or something ‘better’. We can always exist in a state of wanting. This is the opposite of mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to what is right in front of us and acknowledging it is impermanent. We can miss the loved ones we lost, the companions who are gone, our beloved family animals, our health or youth; but the missing can take over the moment.

Although Buddhism is primarily known as a spiritual tradition, it is also a lifestyle that encompasses the mind in almost all forms of practice. It is very commensurate with mental health practice.

Reflection
The practice of Buddhism puts the individual in the role of “personal scientist,” running experiments on their own mind to see what works for them. The idea is that through this process (known as mental training), a person can achieve greater comfort (inner peace). Buddhism is self examination, reflection, and introspection.

Meditation
The main form of mental training is meditation. Numerous neuropsychological studies show that meditating has many mental health benefits such as reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. It accomplishes this over time through teaching people to experience painful thoughts from a different perspective. Rather than letting a thought nag at someone’s state of mind, meditation teaches them to recognize that it is a thought; that we give it power, and we can thereby also deflate the power of thoughts and feelings to hurt as much.Read more about the Neuropsychology of Meditation.

Making Social Connections
Basic Buddhist teachings are about practicing kindness, humor and compassion towards other people. One of Buddhists’ primary principles is that there should be no agenda other than to help someone. This includes starting with extending compassion to oneself as a flawed being. In Buddhism, all people are equal. Buddhism can give practitioners a profound feeling of connectedness without loss of identity, and never in terms of superiority or inferiority to others. Sangha is a Sanskrit word meaning “association”, “assembly”, “company” or “community”. Your Sangha encourages you in your goals and journey. Your community matters; in my work as a clinical psychologist, I strongly encourage positive social connection as a primary source of mental health care and therapeutic goal.

Being in Charge of Our Actions
Karma is an often-misunderstood Buddhist concept. While many people see it as “what goes around comes around,” karma in Buddhism actually is the idea that a person has the ability to change any circumstances they face in life. Karma is an accumulation of all of your actions across time and the mark they leave on the world; it is non-judgmental. Karma is meant to be a doctrine of responsibility and empowerment, not a punishment.

For a Buddhist, hope is a decision. Resolve is a practice.
#neuropsychology #Buddhism #mindfulness #meditation #community #mentalhealth #resolve #hope

Seven Natural Anxiolytics We Love

What do psychologists personally use to manage stress and anxiety?
Like any other strategy or tool, individual preference matters.

Weighted Blanket
I use one that is 20-25 lbs. It’s for grounding through weight and pressure. Pressure preferences are highly variable. Start low.

Vibrating Foam Roller
I use one that’s blue tooth enabled. Releases muscle tension with a variety of massage routines included in an accompanying app.

Leather-bound Writing Journals.
Moleskine is a brand that holds up well over time, no matter how many times you stuff your notebooks in your tote or suitcase.

Soothing Playlists
I like piano and trip hop. Find what clears your head. Important: only use the specific anxiety coping playlist you put together when you are in self-soothing mode. This creates neural associations.

Acupressure/Acupuncture Mat
Lying on a spiky mat may sound more like torture than treat, but once you get past the initial discomfort, the ancient relaxation of acupressure creates deep well-being. I like the Shakti mats.

Brown Noise Machine
We are all familiar with white noise machines. Brown Noise is a deeper version of sound, one that has a much lower pitch. Think of a heavy waterfall or distant thunder.

Golden Milk
Golden milk, also known as ‘haldi doodh’ in Hindi/Urdu or as turmeric milk in western cultures, is a drink with a lot of history. The basic recipe involves combining warm animal or plant milk (coconut, almond, cashew), turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and some kind of sweetener. It has soothing properties that range from the gastrointestinal to the soporific.

(*Embolden Psychology has no third party interest or financial stake in any of these products).
Coming next week: top meditation and relaxation apps, based on the research from neuropsychology.

Also see:
Making Sleep Your Best Friend.
Anxiety toolkit

A Few Things I Learned From Being a Psychologist (and from life)

  • Grief is not linear. A surge can take you by surprise; other days, you wake up lighter. Give space for both.
  • Saying mean things about yourself starts eroding how much you like you. Tell yourself: ‘please don’t talk about him/her/them like that.’
  • Variability is life. Having a bad day happens.
  • Learn to recognize quick sand. Before you get sucked in, don’t ignore the slippery feel under you.
  • Sometimes it’s important to give yourself a timeout. Send yourself to your room.
  • Routine and rituals reflect intention. What you do daily matters.
  • You do not have to wait for the perfect words, ideas, or inspiration to express yourself.
  • Boundaries are not just about other people – you can set them with yourself.
  • The Five Pillars that hold up your foundation are: nutrition, sleep, movement, meditation/prayer, and social support. Don’t ignore them.
  • No good decision came from a place of exhaustion.
  • Everything is therapy: Your physical environment, the company you keep, your music, art, activity, apparel, writing.
  • You cannot force, bribe, seduce, manipulate, or wish someone into loving you.
  • The ache to be accepted as you are is nearly universal.
  • Pretending to be uninjured does not heal wounds.
  • The tapestry and story of your life is incredibly nuanced; no one is ‘boring.’

Also see 13 WAYS TO PRACTICE NON-COMPASSION.

13 ways to practice non-compassion

  • Saying yes to things you don’t want to do.
  • Returning to relationships that have decidedly not worked out in the past.
  • Giving in because you don’t like conflict.
  • Telling people you’re OK when you’re not.
  • Making an unhealthy decision even when you know better.
  • Forcing yourself to stay awake when you need to rest.
  • Not asking for clarification when you don’t understand something.
  • Not soothing yourself when you’ve had a bad day.
  • Messing up and not forgiving yourself.
  • Not making time for things that mean a lot; music, reading, whatever your craft or personal passion may be. The ME time.
  • Refusing to treat yourself- Not buying yourself the plants/flowers, the perfume, the book, that you really want.
  • Saying mean things about yourself.
  • Overriding your intuition.

See also Why Self Compassion is More Important Than Self-Esteem.

What is Low Self-Esteem?

Your self-esteem is the opinion you hold of yourself. When you have healthy self-esteem, you tend to think positively about yourself, and optimistically about life in general. When you encounter challenges, you feel confident that you will be up to the task. People with healthy self-esteem know that they are valuable and will be able to name at least some of their positive characteristics such as “I am a good friend”, “I am kind”, “I am honest”, or “I am a good parent”.

When you have low self-esteem, you tend to see yourself, the world, and your future more negatively and critically. When you encounter challenges, you doubt whether you will be able to rise to them, and you might avoid them. You might talk to yourself harshly in your mind, such as telling yourself “You’re stupid”, “You’ll never manage this”, or “I don’t amount to anything”. Individuals with low self-esteem often feel anxious, sad, overwhelmed, or unmotivated.

Nobody is born with low self-esteem – it develops as a result of experiences throughout our lives. At the center of low self-esteem are the internalized beliefs and opinions we hold about ourselves.

Longterm Effects of Low-Self-Esteem
The cycle of self-criticism can sap a person’s joy in life. They may stop doing hobbies they once enjoyed for fear of judgment. Feelings of anger, guilt, or sadness may keep them from enjoying what activities they do try.

Self-doubt can interfere with productivity at work or school. A person may worry so much about others’ opinions that they don’t focus on the task at hand. They may avoid taking risks or making goals out of a certainty they will fail. A person with low self-esteem may lack resilience in the face of a challenge.

Self-esteem issues can also impact one’s social life. Someone with low self-esteem may believe they are unworthy of love. They may try to “earn” the love of others and accept negative treatment. Others may bully and criticize others to compensate for their own insecurities. A fear of rejection can prevent people from seeking relationships at all. Social isolation can further feed into a negative self-image.

Forms of Low Self-Esteem
Imposter Syndrome: A person uses accomplishments or false confidence to mask their insecurities. They fear failure will reveal their true, flawed self. The person may use perfectionism or procrastination to deal with this anxiety.

Rebellion: A person pretends they don’t care what others think of them. Their feelings of inferiority may manifest as anger or blame. They may act out by defying authority, confrontations, or breaking laws.

Victimhood: A person believes they are helpless in the face of challenges. They may use self-pity to avoid changing their situation. They often rely on others to save or guide them.

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Negative early experiences are very important for the development of low self-esteem. Some of the factors that make it more likely that a person will develop low self-esteem include:

  • Early experiences including punishment, neglect, or abuse.
  • Children who suffer these kinds of experiences often form the belief that they are bad and must have deserved the punishment. Shame is often a companion of low self-esteem.
  • Failing to meet other people’s expectations. People may feel that they are not good enough because they failed to meet someone else’s expectations – this might have meant your parents’ unrealistic standards – note that this does not mean that the expectations were fair or balanced in the first place.
  • Failing to meet the standards of the peer group. Being different or the ‘odd one out’ during adolescence, when identity is forming, can powerfully impact self-esteem.
  • Not receiving enough warmth, affection, praise, love, or encouragement.

It is possible to develop low self-esteem even without overt negative experiences, but just through a deficit of enough positive ones. Without enough reinforcement that they are good, special, or loved, children can form the impression that they are ‘not good enough’.

What Keeps Low Self-Esteem Going?
Dr. Melanie Fennell, clinical psychologist, developed a cognitive behavioral model of how low self-esteem is maintained. Fennell’s model posits that throughout life, people form negative beliefs about the self, called the ‘bottom line’. The bottom line is a description of self and might be summarized as something like “I’m worthless” or “I’m no good”. For a person with low self-esteem, the bottom line is always there, dormant, but becomes activated in particular situations. When it is activated you are more likely to use some maladaptive strategies:

  • Speaking to yourself in a critical way. Often intended as a way to motivate yourself, more often this ends up paralyzing you, and it reinforces your bottom line.
  • Setting inflexible rules about how you should be. People may set personal rules that are not very flexible, and breaking the rules can lead to more self-criticism.
  • Making anxious predictions about what might happen. When people don’t see themselves as competent and capable, the world often feels full of danger. The anxious mind tries to help by predicting potential threats, but this just makes us feel even more incapable.
  • Avoidance and escape.  Avoidance is the hallmark of anxiety. People with low self-esteem often refuse to put themselves in positions where things could go poorly and their failures would be potentially exposed. By not taking a chance, they remain ‘safe,’ but their capabilities remain untested.

Psychological treatments for low self-esteem
A number of psychological treatments have been developed which directly target low self-esteem. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Strategies include:

  • Testing your anxious predictions, approaching situations that you have been avoiding, reducing your safety behaviors (behavioral experiments)
  • Identifying and challenging your self-criticism (thought records)
  • Retraining yourself to focus on the positive (self-statements)
  • Challenging your bottom line and building a new one. If your bottom line is “I’m a failure” then you are much more likely to pay attention to your struggles than your successes
  • Using mindfulness strategies to calm the anxious mind
  • People with low self-esteem often have a harsh and critical inner voice.
  • One way of overcoming low self-esteem is to change the way we speak to ourselves, or to have a different relationship with your inner voice (self-talk)
  • Embracing all aspects of the self without judgment (self-compassion)

Also see Brain Lies: Internalized Negative Thoughts.

13 Things Mindful People Do

-They enjoy the outdoors and the beauty of nature
-They enjoy moments of levity; laughter matters to them
-They enjoy the routines of everyday life
-They challenge their beliefs and are mentally flexible
-They really try to take in information while reading something
-They listen fully during conversations
-They don’t try to avoid or deny emotions. Negative and positive.
-They don’t feel the need to judge others or themselves
-They are naturally curious and love to learn
-They take mini-breaks every hour when working or studying
-They scan their body: am I fatigued, anxious, overwhelmed, irritated?
-They nourish their body with delicious food
-They treasure genuineness in relationships and communicate without subterfuge.

Also see Adding Mindfulness to Treatment.

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.

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.