Category Archives: strategies for self-care

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:

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.
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.


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

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:
National Domestic Abuse Hotline:
Embolden Psychology:

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.

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.

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

Embolden Psychology

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