Category Archives: strategies for self-care

Walking as Mindfulness

Mindfulness in everyday life is a big topic in my work with patients. Most of the time walking is utilitarian: we go from point A to B. Our mind is focused on our destination, what we aim to do when we get there, or various other concerns. Even when out for a stroll in the park or nature, we can find our attention captured by thoughts, engrossed in conversation, or lost in planning. How often do we miss hearing the birdsong, or seeing a tree in bloom, because we are absorbed in something else?

When we can learn to walk with full awareness (mindfulness), ambulation can become a force for soothing and training our minds to dwell more completely in the present. In fact, mindful walking confers a pretty wide range of benefits, including decreasing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD:

  • It strengthens concentration and focus.
  • It can help release worries or concerns about the past and future.
  • It can facilitate creativity and new ideas.
  • Mindful walking can calm difficult emotions; it lifts mood and calms anxiety.
  • It increases mindfulness and all of its positive effects.
  • Walking is great for physical health and digestion.
  • You can do it anywhere.

There are many ways to walk. This is a walking mindfulness that I teach patients, but walking has infinite possibilities.

First, walk while keeping your eyes still and watching the view change as shapes and objects shift in and out of your line of vision.

Next, focus just on the soles of your feet, aware of different sensations there as the surface changes.

Then, focus on sounds. Those of your own footsteps, as well as the changing sounds in the world around you as you move.

Lastly, focus on smells and tastes in the air, and how they change depending on where you are.

If desired, you can add a personal mantra as you step. Mine is: No One to Be.

See also Stones Across the River, or Mindfulness as Practice.

Personal Prescriptions

One of the questions I get asked most frequently by patients: What can I do, if I don’t want to or cannot take medication for anxiety or depression? I say: even if you’re taking medication, you need these. I actually write a prescription for the following recommendations.

* Sweat. Whatever exercise you love or can tolerate, do it most days of the week. Move.

* Sleep. Rest fiercely. We live a life with more obligations and responsibilities than one could imagine. The internet stole the rest. Sleep is the friend we take for granted, but forget that it needs tending. Constantly. For more info see Making Sleep Your Best Friend

* Sunlight/Earth. Get outside, every single day. Even when you cannot, bring nature inside. For more info see The Sun and Mental Health and The Psychology of House Plants.

* Bark/Purr. Spend as much time as possible with companion animals. It lowers your blood pressure, creates oxytocin, and beats loneliness. See also Mental Health and Companion Animals.

* Help. Innately, we need to help others. Whether it’s a neighbor, charity, volunteer opportunity, or community service, giving creates feel-good hormones.  See also The Mental Health Benefits of Random Acts of Kindness.

* Eat. Food is medicine. There is no diet that works for everybody, but figuring out what gives you maximum energy, nutrition, and satisfaction is key. Master cooking a few delicious dishes. See also Turmeric and Mental Health.

* Express. Dance, sing, write, draw, create. Give voice to your experience. Depression stifles our feelings. Anxiety makes it hard to even express them. See also Relaxation Place.

* Play. Watch your favorite shows. Read for pleasure, not work. Play your favorite game: board game, word game, video game. Work on a puzzle. Have regular chats or Zooms set up with your besties if you cannot see them in person. Our brains need downtime. It is essential, not a waste. See also Why It’s Hard to Say Goodbye to Our Favorite Shows.

*Breathe. Martial arts, meditation, yoga, breath work. These activities performed regularly drop tension and stress, empirically. See also Meditation For Troubled Times.

*Pray. Personal spirituality or prayer improves mental health, with robust findings for reductions in anxiety and depression. See also Personal Praying May Boost Mental Health.

*Forgive. Yourself and others. We collect wounds through our years. We often can’t let them go. As important as letting go of the aggression sent our way by others, we MUST let go of self hatred, self blame, and self denial. See also Why Self-Compassion is More Important Than Self-Esteem.

Six Paradigm shifts: mental tweaks that matter.

  • Other than your closest friends and the family that matter, you don’t owe anyone anything. Just because you’re good at (fill in the blank), you don’t have to help somebody else with it. If they value your skill, they will offer to compensate you for your time, help, and energy. You are under no obligation to give away your protocols, strategies, and knowledge without a clear consensual understanding on both sides.
  • Learn to ask for help. It will save you time and grief. Being able to rely on the skill sets of another is a great gift.  See How to Ask for Help Without Feeling Weird for tips.
  • Don’t over-explain but be gracious. Many years ago, I watched a male friend turn down an invitation to a major event. ”Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not going to be able to make it.” Another friend: “I am so sorry… I am just so busy… The kids and work deadlines… I feel awful, I would totally come if I could.” These are just examples, of course, but frequently we have a propensity to over explain and over apologize.
  • Don’t personalize hurts. Your friends might be busy with their work commitments, children and families, and hopefully self-care. If they are not readily available, it’s not because they don’t love you.
    Also see What to Do When You Don’t Feel Valuable.
  • Ask, don’t assume. Every single time. In my couples therapy sessions, one set of research I use in the work explores the ‘stories’ that everyone brings into their intimate and romantic lives. Universally, there are certain beliefs that people bring with them to most of their interactions that are left unspoken and yet are assumed.  Speaking them matters.
  • Do not put your values and standards on another person. We all need different amounts of rest, sleep, recreation, challenge, hustle, and social time. Differences are not hierarchical.

What are some mental shifts that helped you?

The Daily You

Your relationship with yourself is the most defining factor in shaping the kind of life you live, especially in interactions with your friends, colleagues, work, and family.

Think of the people in your life that you love and respect. How do you treat them? Do you want to protect them when they are hurting? Do you listen to their dreams and goals? Do you tell them that you appreciate them and they are cherished?Do you believe in them and what they want to accomplish?

Chances are, you are kind to them, patient with their thoughts and ideas, fierce when they are in pain, and you forgive them when they make a mistake. You give them space, time, and opportunity; you make sure they have the room to grow because you love them enough to believe in the potential of their growth.

Now think of how you treat yourself.

Do you give yourself the love and respect that you might give your closest friends/loved ones?

Do you take care of your body, your mind, and your goals?

Here are ways that you could be showing your body and mind self-love in your everyday life:

  • Sleeping properly
  • Eating well. This includes meal prepping, trying delicious new foods, and sitting down to eat in a mindful way
  • Giving yourself time and space when you’re having a bad day
  • Exercising regularly
  • Engaging in physical touch, affection, cuddles, intimacy
  • Thanking yourself and those around you
  • Spending time in nature
  • Playing when you need it
  • Praying when you need it, or other spiritual practices
  • Avoiding vices and toxic influences
  • Reflecting and meditating. Meditation does not have to be seated. You can lie down, walk, move while focusing on your breath.
  • Saying no

I’m starting a weekly accounting with clients. What has worked to support you this week, what was not so great? The daily you, 24/7, with edits.
Also see: Self-Care is Often a Very Un-Beautiful Thing.

Why Self-Compassion is more Important than Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a positive evaluation of self and self-worth. While there is some overlap, self-compassion doesn’t require that we evaluate ourselves positively or that we see ourselves as “above average”. Instead, the positive emotions of self-compassion still kick in when self-esteem falls down; when we don’t meet our expectations, suffer a loss, fail in some way. It is a way of relating to yourself. This means that the sense of intrinsic self-worth inherent in self-compassion is highly stable. Self-compassion has been linked to higher resilience, better physical health, and increased life satisfaction.

External circumstances, skills, friendships, intimate relationships, even physical capabilities, may wax and wane. Self-compassion, as practice, is a constant. 

Also see The Neuropsychology of Self-Compassion.

What To Do When You Don’t Feel Valuable

It takes work to shift your thoughts, but what is most important that you start taking small actions that signify “I have value.”

Take Small Actions

What does that look like on a daily basis?

  • Offering your opinion.
  • Speaking up in a crowded room.
  • Sitting in the front row.
  • Sending your order back when it’s wrong.
  • Buying yourself a gift that you really wanted.
  • Sharing the artwork or writing you keep secret with a friend.
  • Saying “thank you” (and just “thank you”) when you get a compliment.
  • Saying “no” to things you don’t want to do.
  • Not buying friends. You don’t have to pay for stuff to be loved or valued.
  • Asking for what you need.
  • Asking for what you just want.
  • Giving yourself a day off, an hour off, or even a few minutes off. You don’t have to be on all the time.
  • Making a habit of exerting yourself. You can do this without being an a-hole.

Be Prepared for Pushback
Be aware that when you start practicing “I have value” in your daily life, it can upset the people who have benefited from you not valuing yourself. They’ve been getting a pretty good deal, and now you’re changing the rules! So be prepared for a little push-back, and gently keep pushing forward. Some people might even drift away from you if your value was predominantly for their good, not yours.

What’s ONE action that you can take TODAY that signifies “I have value”?

Deep breathing and anxiety

When you feel a wave of anxiety, these are tools that you can use wherever you are.

Your breath is your friend.

  • Acknowledge to yourself that anxiety is occurring.
  • Remember that you’ve dealt with this before, and you made it through.
  • EXHALE a long breath. Yes, exhale. You’re letting it out first.
  • Give yourself a self statement. I’ve done this before, and I will be OK.
  • Breathe in deeply.
  • Exhale. Repeat.
  • Place your hand on your belly. Feel the air going in and out. You are solidly being there for yourself.

Deep breathing lowers your heart rate, reduces stress hormones, and lowers your blood pressure.
Your breath and you: Allies.

Also see: The Anxiety Toolkit.

Six tips to improve your resilience

RESILIENCE: The capacity to recover from difficulties; toughness. Elasticity.

(Photo: Halifax, Nova Scotia).

Six tips to improve your resilience:

  • ​Get connected
    Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends virtually can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad. Establish other important connections by joining a faith or spiritual community online.
  • ​Make every day personally meaningful.
    Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
  • ​Learn from experience.
    Think of how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through rough times. You might even write about past experiences in a journal to help you identify positive and negative behavior patterns — and guide your future behavior.
  • Remain hopeful.
    You can’t change current events, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
  • ​Take care of yourself.
    Tend to your own needs and feelings. Participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet. Practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing or prayer.
  • Be proactive.
    Don’t ignore your problems. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan, and take action. Whether it’s job hunting, completing training or classes online, or networking, it can help set the future as we come out of this challenging situation.  Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event or loss, know that your future situation can improve if you work at it a little bit daily in the here and now.
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.

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