Tag Archives: self-care

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.

The Morning Routine Checklist for Anxiety

Wake up at 7 AM.

Stretch.

Check day planner or calendar to mentally set the day.

Brush teeth and wash face.

Take care of companion animals and younger children.

Drink water.

Respond to important overnight texts.

Make bed, tidy room.

Eat healthy breakfast.

Write or journal.

Meditate/Pray.

Go for a twenty minute walk. Even just on your street.

Shower and get dressed.

The foundation holds up the house.

The Psychology of Houseplants

Plants are a metaphor for our lives.

The average person spends more than 85 percent of their time indoors, maybe more so now because of COVID-19. So it’s no surprise that quarantine has made plant parents of a lot of us. But the human connection with plants is ageless; countless studies have analyzed the mental health benefits of keeping indoor foliage.

People have been keeping potted plants as far back as ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Rome. Wealthy Victorians embraced houseplants as a way to brighten the dull, dreary English winters. In the 1970s, the decade of the world’s first Earth Day, there was an indoor foliage boom. There are many mental health advantages to having plants in your home and office spaces that have been documented across psychology studies.

Houseplants give you a taste of nature.
Houseplants are an easy way to bring the outside in and reap the restorative benefits of being in nature, even when you can’t be outside.  A Japanese study that explores Shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) found that spending time around nature lowers stress levels, reduces blood pressure and has an overall relaxing effect on the body. Forest bathing is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

Tending to plants models self-care.
Caring for a plant, giving it water and sunlight, cutting it back when needed, repotting to a better space, the simple consistent habits required for plants to thrive, lay the foundation of doing these things for yourself.

Plants improve executive functioning.
Caring for plants creates a positive feedback loop, in which you are taking on a measured responsibility, following through, and witnessing the effects. Tangible evidence of what can happen when we are consistent, do what needs to be done, and adapt to our environmental needs. Plants teach us the outcome is worth the effort and that we are constantly growing and evolving. The sequential aspect of plant care is good for our mental functioning.

Plants can boost your creativity.
Plants are good for brain storming and creativity. A Texas A&M University, department of psychology, study found that having indoor plants in the workplace greatly improved idea generation, creative problem-solving, and boosted sustained effort.

Plants can make you more productive.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the presence of plants in the workplace led to increased productivity, energy, and higher levels of concentration. Maintaining plants actually appears to stimulate your brain and increase your attention span.

Plants reduce feelings of anxiety.
Exposure to indoor plants has positive effects on mental health. When we’re in the presence of indoor plants, the activity of our sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight-or-flight portion of our nervous system, decreases. Indoor plants promote a sense of relaxation, comfort, and calm.

Plants promote mindfulness.
Most people with anxiety worry about the future. They may be mentally living in the future, worried about what’s going to happen next, or what could go wrong. Mindfulness brings emotions and feelings to the present. Taking the time to tend to plants can be considered a mindfulness activity.

How To Feel Better: 12 ways in 30 Days

At Embolden, we emphasize self-care and self-compassion as an essential part of the therapeutic process.

Simple tips that make a difference:

  • Sleep 8 hours. If you cannot do it in a single stretch, divide sleep into phases, known as polyphasic sleep.
  • Hydrate. Drink a minimum of 2 L of water per day. Make a large jug of water in the morning, adding anything that you enjoy, such as citrus, cucumber, ginger, mint. Sip it throughout the day.
  • Meditate. 15 minutes a day of meditation, including seated, walking, or even lying down calms the mind and body.
  • Avoid sugar. We know that sugar causes inflammation. For mental health, sugar gives us a quick mood/energy spike, followed by a crash that is detrimental for people struggling with anxiety and depression.
  • Enjoy the bounties of nature. Eat fruits and vegetables daily, especially greens.
  • Care for an animal. A number of studies have shown the beneficial mental health effects of caring for a companion animal, including reductions in stress, loneliness, and even blood pressure.  For more see Mental Health and Companion Animals.
  • Write. Writing in a journal, in paper or digital format, for as little as 10 minutes a day reduces anxiety.  Read more on Journaling.
  • Go outside. Get sunlight daily.
  • Read. Just 30 minutes a day is good for cognitive and mental health.
  • Connect. Speaking with close friends and family members on a regular basis; online, by phone, or in person has clear benefits for emotional well-being.
  • Exercise.  At least 3 to 4 times per week, move your body. Whatever format you choose, consistency is the key.
  • Unplug and reboot. When our technology is failing us, we turn everything off and reboot. For mental health, when things are not going well, the reboot can be a short nap, taking a break, walking away from the situation, or even starting again the next morning.

How to Self Respect

I frequently write about self-love and self-compassion. The final and perhaps the most important third of the triad is self-respect.

Take time for self-care
Society puts busy people on a pedestal. It’s good to be busy, but what’s better is allowing yourself times to not be busy at all. You are not a machine, thankfully. The brain needs time to decompress so it can function at full capacity. Take that bubble bath, nap, or read or watch for leisure.

Choose partners and friends who adore you.
You know the first place all of us tend to throw self-respect out the window? Yup, you guessed it: relationships. I speak to countless people who have so much to offer but are stuck in a relationship that forces them to compromise some part of themselves and live in a state of numbing self-sacrifice or falsehood. Though scary, breaking off a relationship will be less painful than being with people who do not want to, or are incapable of giving you what you need.

Let whatever you get done today be enough.
Show self-respect means not being overly self-critical, judgmental, or restrictive. It’s so easy to chain ourselves to a to-do list and then gauge our worthiness on its completion. Practice making purposeful shifts toward self-kindness by saying to yourself as you finish one task and contemplate the next: “I could do this, or I could not. If I choose to stop now, I will allow whatever I have completed today to be enough, and I will not beat myself up for it.” I sometimes have my clients make completed or done lists, instead of to do lists. They are often astounded by how much they have accomplished, that was never acknowledged.

Surround yourself with positive energy.
You are who you surround yourself with. The people you choose to surround yourself with largely impacts your self-image and decisions. You will know it’s a positive relationship, when you walk away from an interaction, and you feel motivated, engaged, and encouraged.

Know that you are not your genes.
You could spend a lifetime untying the knots of your family life—but that’s your choice. Conversely, at any point, you can reflect on our childhood influences and declare, “This is not my story. I am not my genes.” No matter what you’ve inherited, it’s not your fate.

Apologize. But keep your self-respect.
Saying “I’m sorry” is seldom pleasant or easy to do, so if you’re going to do it, do not lose yourself. It’s important to offer a genuine level of contrition to someone you have wronged. However, belittling and diminishing yourself should not be part of the equation.

Que Sera Sera.
You must be willing to see things and people as they are. It can be painful to acknowledge that there is a problem with ourselves, our loved ones, or a situation, that cannot be fixed. Knowing when to fold is important. Continuing to struggle to fix things that cannot be fixed is not very respectful of your time and energy.

Write love letters to your body.
Our health, like everything else in our life, is a relationship. The more we pay attention to it and nourish it, the more our body thrives. Often when we consider becoming healthier, we find ourselves in front of the mirror looking at our bodies and wondering what we need to “fix.” Instead of making self-deprecation your morning ritual, stand in front of the mirror and list three things you love about yourself. Later, write them down, preferably on sticky notes. Then pick the one or two that make you feel the way you want to feel every single day and leave these love notes on your bedroom mirror, in your wallet, on the remote, or anywhere you can read them every day. Your body is your never ending partner. They deserve kudos.

Love yourself endlessly.
Being in love with someone comes with no strings attached. Love comes unconditionally. It’s necessary to apply the same mentality to your self-image. I do a visualization with my patients: imagine that you are on a gorgeous beach and you look up and you see the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen. Just like in a movie, they start coming towards you. You move towards them. You run into each others arms. You look into their eyes. It is YOU. You wrap your arms around them. It feels amazing. You are the love of your life.

Express how you feel when you’re hurt.
People can’t give you the respect you deserve if you don’t demand it of yourself. It’s not pleasant to tell someone you care about that they hurt you, but in doing so you respect yourself. If someone hurts your feelings, it’s better to say it in the moment rather than let things build up. The people that actually matter will care about your feelings. Drop the people who don’t.

Know your worth.
Your time is important. You are important. Please do not ever downplay your worth to yourself or anyone else. For example, you’re a skilled professional at what you do. By knowing your worth, you can shut down anyone who says otherwise.

Stay active.
You only have one body. It will carry you through the best and worst times, your steadfast companion. That being said, you can respect yourself by respecting your body. Staying active has benefits like releasing happy chemicals called endorphins. It also just makes you feel good in general because you can run to catch a cab, walk your dog, carry bags of groceries, travail flights of stairs, and hike with your uber fit niece, all without feeling exhausted.

Stay true to who you are.
Never water down who you are. Working on yourself is great because everyone can always improve, but not if it means changing your identity completely. Don’t stand for people who want you to diminish parts of yourself.

Define your values.
You owe yourself respect more than anything else. A way to respect yourself is by knowing who you are as a person and what you stand for. By taking the time to really reflect on what is important to you, it becomes easier to know what violates your schema. Take the time to figure out your values in order to honor them. You are your own hero.

Learn how to set boundaries.
A big part of self respect is the ability to set guidelines about how you feel and want to be treated. Respect yourself by being completely comfortable with the idea of only doing what makes you feel comfortable.

Don’t downplay emotions.
A part of respecting yourself is acknowledging that your feelings are valid. If you are sad about something, let yourself feel that way. The same goes for being angry. I have a patient who lived with someone who mocked her every time she cried. She learned not to. Medically and mentally, bottling up your emotions is unhealthy in the long-term.

Learn from mistakes without beating yourself up.
Every mistake is a lesson. If you really respect yourself, you will take notes on these lessons. It doesn’t help your self-worth by demonizing your actions. Just pick yourself up and move on with your life. Similarly, don’t allow others to hold your past transgressions over your head. First, they have no right. Most importantly, the past is past, and nothing can be gained from it except data.

Also see: The Power of the Self Hug.

Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.

It is making a spreadsheet of your debt, enforcing a morning routine, cooking yourself healthy meals for the week, and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution. A therapist friend says that the what and the why are both important. 

It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic family member you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time, and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from living to do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Vogue and Foreign Affairs, and turn your phone off for the day.

Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure. True self-care is not bubble baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. And that often takes doing the things you sometimes least want to do.

It often means looking your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is not satiating your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is disappointing some people. It is making sacrifices for others.
It is letting yourself be normal. Regular. Unexceptional. It is sometimes having a dirty kitchen and a sink full of dishes, and deciding your ultimate goal in life isn’t going to be having abs and keeping up with your fake friends. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening. Relationships are repetitive, so if you grew up not feeling great about yourself, chances are you are in friend and romantic relationships that parallel that.

If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with shopping or “treating yourself,” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness. It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor, junk food, or procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to “fix yourself” and start trying to take care of yourself; and maybe finding that taking care lovingly, with compassion, attends to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place.

It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good on social media over a life that feels good. It is giving up on some goals so you can care about others. It is being honest even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious on a regular basis. It is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be. Someone who knows that bubble baths, wine, and chocolate cake are ways to enjoy life – not escape from it.

Put your oxygen mask on first

Photo: Central park, fall, 2018.

Put your oxygen mask on first.
That’s what I always say to my patients.

Be healthy.
Rest.
Be organized.
Help others.
Be financially stable.
Be independent.
Be cultured.
Be confident.
Be in peace.
Be knowledgeable. What did you learn today?
Be calm. Breathe.
Be centered.
Here’s a challenge for you: For 28 consecutive days, do one thing to take care of yourself. Every single day. It creates new neural pathways. It takes a month of consistency.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Sleep 7-8 eight hours a night.
Wake up 30 minutes earlier than the day before.
Workout 30 minutes a day.
Go to yoga. Or Pilates. Or the gym. Or your home gym.
Meditate.
Go outside. Get some fresh air. Every day.
Eat breakfast.
Meal prep.
Bring lunch to work.
Take a walk.
Hug your companion animal.
Enjoy intimacy, with a partner or self.
Say no to something you don’t want to do.
Say yes to something you haven’t done before.
Get a massage.
Get a facial.
Get a manicure and pedicure.
Get a haircut. Change your hair color if you want.
Clean your room.
Organize a drawer.
Give away possessions that you don’t use
Wash your sheets and blankets.
Clean your refrigerator.
Read 10 pages of a book. Every day.
Read a blog.
Write in your journal.
Find some podcasts, follow them.
Look at beautiful pictures online or in a book.
Study your hero.
See a movie.
Read a poem.
Cook a new recipe.
Dance
Sing to your favorite song.

Stones Across the River, or Mindfulness as Practice

In my practice, I teach a personal mindfulness strategy, that I have previously written about, and named “Stones Across the River”. Think of a wide river that you must cross. I help patients to notice moments (stones), by learning a daily practice of paying mindful attention to the seemingly small activities in a day that, together, can help ford the rapids of life without falling in.

Meditation.
Take a few moments of your day to observe your breathing. Take a longer inhale than you usually do, and then take a longer exhale than you usually do. Do it again. This practice will help you to calm yourself down during stressful situations, while simultaneously observing your physical and emotional state.

Look at yourself in the mirror.
Looking yourself in the mirror or even taking a selfie helps you see YOU. You can see how you look when you smile or when you frown, even when you are feeling angry. This helps you connect with yourself.

Savor every bite while you eat.
Focus on chewing while eating. Put your devices aside, and turn off the television. Enjoy every bite of your meal. This will help you practice focusing on your current action and appreciating the food you are eating.

Listen to soothing music.
Turn on relaxing and soothing music and really listen to it. Lay down or sit in the most comfortable position, close your eyes and feel the music in your soul. You can even use it while you’re working on a long or tedious task. Classical music has been shown to create brain waves that are very similar to meditation. I personally also enjoy trip hop, which has a steady beat that can help with focus.

Read a book or poem everyday.
Reading helps you form a focused meditation. While you are going through every word, you are practicing mindfulness and attention skills at the same time.

Go for a walk.
Our legs are our unsung heroes that are there for us, day in and day out. Going for a walk gives you the opportunity to show gratitude to your legs as well as your entire body, while appreciating the things around you. Research shows that you also get a clearer mind after a good walk.

Organize something at work or home.
Having your home or workplace in disarray can contribute to anxiety and stress. Environment matters. Getting organized is a way to reduce your stress and improve the quality of your life. While you are picking up objects during the process, you are also practicing mindfulness as you consciously observe each placement of the object while organizing.

Write in a journal.
Research shows that people who practice writing in a journal reap physical and emotional benefits. Dr. James Pennebaker, clinical psychologist, found that writing stream of consciousness in a journal for just 10 minutes a day (without editing or filtering), helped reduce clinical depression, across several studies.

Cook a meal.
The aromatic scents of cooking have beneficial effects to your mood. The process of cooking, like chopping vegetables and the various steps involved can actually take the edge off a stressful day. Interestingly, because preparing a meal is a multi step process, it is also good for executive functioning. I assign cooking a meal for the family or for friends, including planning the menu, making a grocery list, preparing the meal, and serving it, as a regular assignment for my teenagers and young adults who have executive functioning problems.

Set small daily goals.
Breaking down your goals into smaller ones helps you be more specific to what you aim to achieve on a daily basis. It can be as simple as taking your dog for a walk or cleaning up a closet. Take the time to acknowledge each goal that has been accomplished. For several patients, I have had them make a list of things they have accomplished that day, rather than the ubiquitous “to do list”. People are often astonished at how much they actually do in a day, because we are always focused on the things that are not done.

Help someone.
Research indicates that individuals who regularly engage in community service and volunteering show lower rates of depression and stress. I believe this gives people a mindful awareness of a purposeful life beyond their immediate family or circle.

Laugh.
Laughing releases endorphins and brings more oxygen and energy into your body while also improving your immune system. Talk to a friend who is witty, watch a show that makes you smile or laugh, play with a pet.

Create.
Engaging in creative work helps you get into a flow state of heightened awareness and consciousness. Creative activities like drawing or doodling help you quiet down your mind and help you focus on the moment, improving your practice of mindfulness. For my clients with ADHD, I actually encourage them to doodle while they are listening to a lecture or seminar. It creates more focus than attempting to sit still.

Turn off your devices.
Every once in a while, turn off your devices and engage with the people around you.

Work out.
When you exercise, you focus your attention on your sensations, breathing, and the movements of your body.

Write sticky notes.
Jotting down your thoughts in a few words is an incredible way to train mindfulness. Simply write down things that you want to remind yourself to remember and stick them around your house or your desk at work. You can jot down “smile” or “breath” to remind yourself to do the simple gesture you normally get distracted from.

Take a bath or hot shower.
A soothing hot bath relaxes your tired muscles and provides you with a relaxing atmosphere. It helps your breathing become slower and deeper, allowing you to stay in the present moment. I work with many patients who have sleep disorders. Taking a hot bath and then going to bed as your body cools off actually parallels REM sleep, during which your body temperature also drops.

Give a compliment.
Give someone you know a genuine compliment at least once a day, and be specific with it. For example, you could tell them something like, “I appreciate the way you smiled generously in the waiting room earlier today,” or “you are so generous to pick up all these supplies for the office.” One of my friends said to me, I love the way you become so excited when you learn something new. This practice of noticing what people around you do well and giving genuine compliments adds warmth, intimacy, and responsiveness to your connection with them.

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.