Tag Archives: mental health

The Power of Texting

Beautiful artwork, P. Cochrane

Sending a supportive text has been shown to be of significant benefit for someone struggling to cope.
What to say to a loved one:

8 Texts For Mental Health Support

  • The specific offer of help text
    Hey, I’m going to the store shortly, what are some things I can pick up for you? I’m taking the dog to the park later, can I come by and pick up yours to take with us?
  • The you are not alone text
    Why don’t we go for a walk this afternoon? Would you like to watch a movie together tonight from our own homes? Let’s FaceTime later today.
  • The checking-in text
    Just wanted to check on you, no rush to reply. I’m here.
  • The gratitude text
    I really appreciate you and having you in my life.
  • The thoughtful gift text
    I wanted to let you know I swung by and left some beer/wine/coffee and snacks at your front door.
  • The timing and dosage text
    I’m here to talk when you feel like it and as little or as much as you want to say. Or, I can come by and we can both sit quietly together.
  • The photo text
    Here’s a picture of this beautiful beach… It’s so soothing to imagine being there with you.
  • The solidarity text
    You are not alone.  I can come with you to…

SEVEN DAYS: A mental health challenge

DAY 1. Each day, clean up online. Block, unsubscribe, delete.

DAY 2. Each day, practice your morning and night time routine. Also see, The Morning Routine Checklist for Anxiety.

DAY 3. Each day, pick a mantra or affirmation to repeat throughout the day.  Say it loudly into the air. Write it on a post-it or card. Put it in your Reminders. Email or text it to yourself. Mine is: No One To Be.

DAY 4. Have a date night with yourself. Cook your favorite, or order a scrumptious meal. Put on your favorite music. Use your favorite bath oil or lotion. Watch your favorite show.Cuddle under your softest blanket.  Check out How to Self-Hug.

DAY 5. Each day, pick one of these:  Meditate/Pray/Yoga/Breathwork.
See Deep Breathing and Anxiety for more info.

DAY 6. Each day, go outside and engage your senses. Pretend you are an explorer on an expedition. Mentally record: what do you see, what does the air and sun feel like on your skin, what are the scents, what do you hear?
See The Sun and Mental Health.

DAY 7. Each day, spend 15 minutes writing. Don’t get discouraged if your first attempt at writing is not to your satisfaction. It’s the action, not the product. As a gifted writer told me, write about both the what and the why. It trains your brain to think about both.  Also see: The Psychology Behind Journaling and: The Way is Through, Not Around.

Neuropsychology research shows that new neural pathways start to form by practicing an activity or exercise for at least a minimum of 21 to 28 days.

Try it, 7×4.

On Friendship and Mental Health

Connecting with true friends is one of the best things we can do for our health and happiness. The research unequivocally shows that having true friendships is good for our medical and mental health, decreases stress, helps manage depressive and anxious symptoms, and contributes to overall life satisfaction. Friends help us live longer: Seniors with a strong connection to a network of social support live longer and healthier lives.

Like any powerful relationship, friendships can hurt and harm.

Transactional friendships
Some people are friends with you because of what you can do for them. Red flags include friends who repeatedly try to sell you something, ask to borrow money, ask your help to buy things or services, or keep tabs on favors. These friends routinely cross the line between friendship and business. Unlike business, friendships can emotionally hurt you, because what you regarded as care or love was actually convenience.

Narcissus friendships
This friendship works great, initially, because you have a common factor: you both adore the narcissist. As long as you are both on the same page, aligned on the superiority of one, you get along well.

When needs become mutual, the relationship breaks down. The relationship might also be more subtle — they may love you back when you consistently admire them, and they validate you with heart emojis. In return you get a shot to your self-esteem.

Mutually unhealthy friendships
In 2007, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked the spread of obesity through a “deeply interconnected social network” of more than 12,000 people, underscoring that social ties link to health behavior. Healthy (or unhealthy) habits can circulate within any friend group, too. For instance, unhealthy psychological habits like a tendency to put each other down, self criticize or denigrate, or to complain constantly can spread from friend to friend. Over-eating, substance abuse, and even overworking can become an acceptable and approved part of a friend group.

Emotional labor friendships
This is where you do all the emotional work — talking them down, shoring them up: “Of course you’re amazing. Sure, let’s talk about all the ways you rock. Again. Tell me about your terrible week.“ If you’re doing all the work in the relationship, you’re an employee, not a friend. Of course, over time the balance will shift back and forth — you will inevitably have a major life crisis at the same time your friend gets a promotion or falls in true love, but good friends are there to share in your successes and your struggles. You should feel sure in your friendship; winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call.

Historical friendships
Historical friends are those who have stayed in our lives as we’ve grown up, for whatever reason. They are not necessarily the closest friends we have, but they have stood the test of time. These are the friends we usually meet in school. We bond with them and the bond may fade but never disappear. We may meet up with these friends only once in awhile, but when we do, we fall back into the rhythms of the relationship in no time at all. Then after the meeting we all go ou own way until our paths cross again. But historical friends make up a piece of our identity. Lifestyles, interests, and values may have drifted apart, but it’s OK to hold them in your heart without having to force time together.

True friendships
Your “friends of the heart” are the people you can call at two in the morning when you have a problem. They listen to you, give you their full attention, and are on your side no matter what. They know everything, or almost everything, about your life. With them, you feel confident and don’t need to hide your true self because the foundation of your friendship is acceptance.

They make time to be with you. You may disagree, even argue, but neither one of you exits the relationship. They tell you when you have messed up, and pull you up at the same time. Research on friendship indicates that most people generally only have between four and six ‘true’ friends, because friendship requires dedicated commitment, time, communication, and growth.Our brains are only dedicated to a special few people.

Also see:
Nine Reasons Why Cross-Cultural Friendships Are Great for Your Brain
The Ingredients of Friendship

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?

What is Mental Health?

Foundations of Wellbeing
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am frequently asked by interviewers and websites about what defines mental health.

I believe there are seven interrelated foundations that underlie mental health: Physical, Intellectual, Environmental, Vocational, Social, Emotional, and Spiritual health.

Physical Wellbeing
Move More. Eat Better.
This dimension of wellbeing focuses on practicing healthy daily habits. It is important for building strength, flexibility, and endurance. Many of us have a genetic loading for chronic health conditions, including pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, or cholesterol. Starting early with self-care makes a huge difference. When it comes to exercise, variety and individual preferences are key. The biggest variable: Consistency.

Intellectual Wellbeing
Boost your Brain.
An active and open mind (mental flexibility) leads to a life filled with passion and purpose. To engage in a variety of creative and stimulating activities is ideal, helping to keep your mind sharp and your brain healthy and happy. In fact, when a patient suffers a brain injury or trauma, I prescribe a regimen of word and strategy games, reading, art, trying new recipes, and other activities to stimulate our juices. You can also challenge your brain with a thought-provoking seminar or class, learning a new language, or engaging in interpersonal topical activities, such as joining a photography club or reading group.

Environmental Wellbeing
Love the Earth.
Help the planet and bring a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing to your own life. Have you asked how your daily habits can affect the world around you in a positive way? One environmentalist, my mother, Salma Siddique, I have worked with in this area, cultivates small personal and family habits that have a cumulative affect on our niches in this world; not wasting resources, recycling, sharing with neighbors and community all protect our planet and contribute to our collective mental health.

Be in Nature.
From going for a daily walk, to raising house plants as green babies, to spending time with companion animals, nature is good for our mental health.
Have a personal environment that resonates.

Whether it’s an apartment, house, garden, office, or even a single room, create a space that is soothing and rejuvenating.

Vocational Wellbeing
Live and Work with Purpose.
This aspect of wellbeing focuses on enriching your life and that of others by sharing your special gifts, skills, and talents. Whether through work, your craft, or volunteering, you can make a positive impact and reap the documented health benefits of adding purpose to your life.

Social Wellbeing
Connect with Others.
Personal connections contribute to a long and fulfilling life. When you nurture relationships with family and friends, you create healthy support networks that I call a scaffolding for good and bad times.

Sustain caring relationships.
Humans are social creatures, and having ongoing meaningful relationships is crucial for mental health. Be intentional about regularly FaceTiming,  texting, or Zooming with your close friends and family. You don’t even need to talk explicitly about personal problems. You can connect deeply on anything—from your week at work to a fantasy trip or home project you are planning. Research is unequivocal that a not-so-secret path to a long and healthy life is through human attachments.

Connect with Self.
You also have a relationship with yourself, your most important connection.Celebrate your self-image. Real confidence is being true to yourself and recognizing your strengths and vulnerabilities. Give yourself space for those moments and remember you’re a unique, multidimensional person. Self-image affects every aspect of well-being.

Spiritual Wellbeing
Nourish your Soul.
Is your mind at peace? A set of core beliefs or values that shape you and how you live your life often creates harmony. Personal prayer, meditation, volunteering for those in need all contribute to a positive mental health.

Emotional Wellbeing
Incorporate stress-free activities.
Practicing relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi can serve as powerful tools to diminish stress and regulate emotions.

Decrease screen time.
Unplug from work, social media, web surfing, and anything that may be distracting you from being centered.

Write.
From Journaling, to poetry and creative writing, to just keeping a list of wins and losses for the week, writing helps you understand and ventilate emotions.

Love.
Surround yourself with positive people who bring out the best in you, encourage you, believe in you, and occasionally scrape you off the floor when needed.

Be kind to others.
Volunteering and community service can be the most powerful feel-good actions.
Promote knowledge and safety.

Microaggressions, racism, financial hardship, vicarious trauma from images on social media and screens, and an inability to access resources can create a pervasive state of internal danger and emotional dysregulation.

Mother, as a Verb.

Many people had a parent in childhood and adolescence who couldn’t meet mental, emotional, or physical needs. Perhaps the parent was struggling to do the best they could with the limitations of society and personal circumstances, but fell short. Perhaps they had mental health challenges, medical problems, trauma, financial hardship, personal struggles, and lack of validation from society. 

Whatever the reason is, many people are left with relationship wounds from their interactions with primary caregivers.

Mother wounds can show up in the following ways:

  • Unrealistic expectations in relationships.
  • An inability to practice consistent self-care.
  • Emotionally care-taking others to the point of personal exhaustion and disappointment.
  • Unconscious self-sabotage in work and in love.
  • An inability to ask for and receive support.
  • Disordered eating – or other addictions or numbing coping mechanisms.
  • Allowing and accepting poor or abusive treatment from others.
  • Living out the unlived lives of our mothers and not being true to personal aspirations and dreams.
  • Shame, believing that something is fundamentally wrong with you, or that you’re not worthy of love.
  • Keeping yourself small – physically, emotionally, or mentally – for fear of stepping fully into your power.
  • Feeling relentlessly needy in your relationships.
  • Feeling resentful and bitter, and believing that others have it better.
  • Never feeling good enough no matter what you do.

Everyone needs mothering. Mothering is that nurturing process that helps someone grow. In addition to physical nourishment, including gentle touch, care, safety, and food, emotional nurturing consists of meeting a child’s emotional needs.

These include:

  • Love
  • Play
  • Respect
  • Encouragement
  • Understanding
  • Acceptance
  • Empathy
  • Comfort
  • Reliability
  • Guidance

As an adult, you still have these emotional needs.
Self-love and re-parenting means working on meeting them as a life long process.

Practices:
When you have uncomfortable feelings, literally put your hand on your chest, and say aloud, “You’re (or I’m) ____.” (e.g., angry, sad, afraid, lonely). This accepts and honors your feelings.

If you have difficulty identifying your feelings, pay attention to your inner dialogue. Notice your thoughts. Try to name your specific feelings. (“Upset” isn’t a specific feeling.) Do this several times a day to increase your feeling recognition. Putting words to emotions is validation.

Think or write about the feeling and what you need that will make you feel better. You need to sleep, take a time out, drink a hot beverage, eat a snack, go outside, take a nap, call a friend. Meeting needs is good parenting.

If you’re angry or anxious, practice yoga, stretching, meditation, or simple breathing exercises. Slowing your breath slows your brain and calms your nervous system. Exhale 10 times making a hissing (“sss”) sound with your tongue behind your teeth. Vocalizing is ideal for releasing anger.

Practice giving yourself nurturance: Write a supportive letter to yourself. Have a warm drink or eat some comforting soup. Wrap your body in a soft blanket.

Do something pleasurable, e.g., read a book or watch your favorite show, cuddle your companion animal, walk in nature, listen to music or dance, create something, cook something nourishing, or stroke/groom your skin. Pleasure releases chemicals in the brain that counterbalance pain, stress, and negative emotions. Discover what pleasures you.

Adults also need to play. This means doing something purposeless that fully engages you and is enjoyable for its own sake. The more active the better, i.e., play with your dog vs. walking them, make a yummy meal while listening to music, take some selfies (My essay: The Selfie and Mental Health, coming soon).  Play brings you into the pleasure of the moment.

Practice complimenting and encouraging yourself – especially when you don’t think you’re doing enough. Remind yourself of what you have done and allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate.

Forgive yourself. Good parents don’t punish children for mistakes or constantly remind them of perceived failures. Instead, learn from mistakes and move forward.

Keep commitments to yourself as you would anyone else. When you don’t, you’re in effect abandoning yourself. How would you feel if your parent repeatedly broke promises to you? Love yourself by demonstrating that you’re important enough to keep commitments to yourself.

The point of re-mothering work is to have different experiences with yourself and with others to help you fill in any developmental gaps or unmet needs from childhood that are getting in your way as an adult and sabotaging your ability to fully engage with life.

The Art of Naming: Self Testimony and Mental Health

With almost the whole world confronting changes and losses, large and small, how can people cope as they mourn their pre-pandemic lives and move forward? Language. Historically, storytelling, spoken word, and writing have been ways that humans cope with times of great grief and loss. Testimony is an account of first-hand experience, usually to create meaning and bear witness.

In my clinical work, which requires bearing witness to the stories of hundreds of people, two themes are prominent: The need to not forget and the need to process and create a sense of meaning. Sometimes, these needs can be very vague, a nameless dread or suffering. Talk therapy, journaling, and storytelling share a similar foundation; putting words to nameless feelings and memories. I call it naming.

As the work of psychologist James Pennebaker, PhD, at the University of Texas, has shown, writing about emotional upheavals can improve both physical and mental health (see Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2018). Keeping daily journals can help put words to losses and to help identify ways to move forward.

Other ways to name your experience besides journal writing:
The Debrief: Have a regular scheduled date with a trusted friend or two, virtual or IRL, to discuss your week and catch up.

Letter writing: People treasure receiving written words or cards from friends and family. Letters, on paper, are a memento of our history with the writer.

Audio diaries: Many people have access to an app where they can record their experience. Speaking aloud the words that are in your head help create meaning, clarity, and coherence.

Family meetings: In my work with families, I encourage both children and adults to set aside a time every week to speak about their experiences, air their opinions, and discuss any matters that have import in the household. Busy lives, school, work, and sports schedules often do not allow for sustained conversation for many people. Carve out a space.

(Also check out this great book: The Other Side of Sadness: what the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss, 2019, written by the head of my doctoral committee, Dr. George Bonanno, Columbia University).

The Small Bits

-What you have in your refrigerator
-How you talk to yourself. Your Inner Warrior is always listening
-Who you share your energy with
-What your personal sanctuary looks like, whether it’s a room, dorm, apartment, or house
-Your morning routine. How you start, matters
-What you read
-What you surf
-What you watch
-Who has access to you
-What you do before you fall asleep

Small moments that define life.

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.