Take a moment and listen to yourself. Listen to the thoughts you are having. What are you often telling yourself? Are your thoughts supportive, critical, negative or positive? Based on Cognitive Therapy, we all have automatic thoughts throughout the day. When we are journaling or just talking to a friend, we are sharing these automatic thoughts. They make up your self-talk, which is also known as your inner dialogue or inner voice. Most people think of it as the running commentary that is going on in the background.
Your self-talk can have a big influence on how you feel and what you think about yourself. The research studies have proven that the way we think affects the way we feel. So “If you are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, or depression you are also having thoughts that feeds into these feelings. For example, when you are feeling guilty or ashamed, you are telling yourself that you are bad or a failure. If you are feeling hopeless, you are telling yourself that things will never change. If you are feeling angry, you are telling yourself that someone is treating you unfairly or trying to take advantage of you. When you are feeling anxious, worried, or panicky you are telling yourself that you are in danger and that something terrible is about to happen” (When Panic Attacks by David Burns, MD., pg 11-12). There is a vicious cycle where your thoughts feed into the feelings and in turn feelings “prove” the thought is accurate. When you understand how your thoughts are shaping your feelings, then one way to learn to manage your emotions is through changing your self-talk.
Self-talk can also shape your overall opinion of yourself and your self-esteem. When you have a specific pattern of a thought all day long or across situations, then you will start to make conclusions based on these thoughts. For example, every time you run in to a problem at work and think “I can’t do this” or “this is too hard,” then you will develop a more deeply rooted belief about your self as “inadequate” or “incompetent.” You will start to feel self-doubt and insecure. In contrast, if throughout the day or across different situations, you are able to have an inner voice that says “I did my best,” “let me give this a try,” or “I might solve this,” then you are more likely to see yourself as “competent” or “good enough.” If you like to test this out, then in a moderately difficult situation, check in with your thoughts, and ask yourself how does that particular thought make you feel about yourself? You will quickly find out that a positive thought leads to positive feelings and opinions of yourself.
Given the multiple benefits of positive self-talk, let’s review some helpful tools to practice:
1) Start with paying attention and noticing your thoughts. In the early stages of therapy, most people keep track of their thoughts by writing them down. There are different forms of thought-recording sheets that can assist you in this exercise. This will start giving you awareness of your inner voice.
2) The next step is to identify them as unhealthy, unhelpful or negative. If you don’t notice that a thought is unhealthy or negative, then you are more likely to continue to think that way. If you are unsure of how to label a thought as unhealthy or unhelpful, then think about someone else having that thought. Would you think that particular thought is helpful if someone you love said it to himself or herself? Often it is easier to objectively evaluate our thoughts if we can step back and take a look at it.
3) The last step is to challenge your negative self-talk by replacing it with more neutral and positive thoughts. Positive affirmations are phrases that you can use to replace your negative thoughts. For example, if one of your negative automatic thought sounds like “I can’t do this,” then you can replace it with “I can handle it,” “I have what it takes,” or “let me give it a try.” Similar to above step, if it is difficult for you to think of a replacement statement, step back again and think how you would respond if someone you love had the negative thought. Once you can think of how you would respond to your loved one, then you would practice it saying the positive statement to yourself. As Brene Brown says, “talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.”
Comparison trap is a dead-end street. It always ends with feeling bad about yourself. It leaves you feeling unaccomplished, not good enough and unworthy. It can lead to feeling resentful, angry or jealous. It never leads to positivity, self-confidence or motivation. Theodore Roosevelt is quoted to say; “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So why do we do it? I think part of it is the downside of being a social being. We are hard wired for connection and belonging. We seek interactions and relationships. Sometimes this attention to others for connection and belonging can take an unhealthy turn and lead to comparing and contrasting. By definition, when we are comparing ourselves to others, we are trying to conclude who is better. Comparison often sets us up for failure because we often compare our worst if not imperfect quality to someone else’s good or perfect one. As a result, our comparisons often conclude that the other person is better than us. This can then be used as a “proof” by our negative thoughts. Comparing ourselves to others play a major role in the negative belief that “I am not good enough.” It feeds into the negative belief about our selves as inadequate, incompetent, or flawed. It’s also quite exhausting and draining. Once you get caught in it, it wants to compare more. Often people you compare yourself to compare themselves to other people. There are also other people who compare themselves to you and think negatively of themselves.
Now that you have a change of heart about comparison and understand that it does you no good, let’s talk about how to change and prevent it. Here are some tools to stop comparing yourself to others:
1) Since any change starts with awareness, the first step is to notice when you are engaging in comparison so as to intervene. Maybe you tend to compare yourself to others most often at work, social gatherings or the gym. Notice when and where you are doing this. If you can’t catch yourself doing it, it will be quite impossible to change it.
2) As soon you notice that you are comparing yourself to others, begin to redirect your attention. Comparison can be thought as a misplaced attention. What we want to do is shift our attention to something else that is more helpful and healthy. It is best to redirect your attention onto yourself; after all you can only control yourself. However, in the beginning, if this is too difficult, then use your 5 senses to redirect your attention to what you see, hear or feel in your environment. This will help you practice being in the present moment, rather than in your head where it wants to play the comparison game.
3) Another great tool is to learn to tolerate, accept and even celebrate your own imperfections. In the greater picture, I believe once we are comfortable in our own skin with all of its strengths and weaknesses, we will establish more stable sense of self-esteem and self-love and in turn be less interested in others and what they are doing.
4) One of my favorite skills is to practice gratitude, which is effective in dealing with comparison. By practicing gratitude once a day, through journal entry or in your meditation, you can take a moment to recognize the good things in your life that will bring the attention back to you and elicit a sense of contentment, fulfillment and peace.
5) Lastly, you can create an inventory of your comparison history. Like many others experiences, the act of comparison also has an onset, i.e. a time or an age that it started. In creating this inventory, you can write about your first memories of comparison and explore these questions: Was it at home, at school or in a neighborhood park? Was it something your sibling, parent or friend said that triggered it? How did you continue to engage in comparison through the different stages of your life? Once you create this timeline and inventory, you will also start to understand how the things you compared yourself to others may have changed. For example, during your adolescence maybe you were comparing yourself to others on your look or physical abilities? In your young adulthood, it may have shifted to income, job title and ownership of property such as cars and houses. During our therapy sessions, we will explore your responses to these questions so as to help you resolve them.
Everyone feels anxious once in a while when you worry about major things in your life. However for those that have anxiety it is much different. Clinical Anxiety presents itself through excessive worry, sleep problems, intense panic attacks, irrational fears, headache, muscle tension, poor memory and concentration. No one person may experience anxiety the same way. However, most people suffering from it feel as though they have very little control over it. They may even have a hard time remembering what it was like without it. Due to the long and intense relationship with anxiety, most people also feel quiet hopeless and pessimistic about things getting better. Therefore it is normal to ask yourself, “Will I ever feel normal again?” “Will this ever go away?” or “Will I ever feel in charge again?” Anxiety not only involves physical sensations and symptoms, but also has a set of negative and irrational thoughts. Anxiety is often accompanied by catastrophic and all-or-nothing thinking that often minimizes the positive and magnifies the negative. Living with anxiety can get even harder if people who do not understand it surround you. They can love you and still not know how to support you with your anxiety.
We know that anxiety symptoms are treatable and manageable. Depending on the specific type of anxiety you are experiencing, research findings conclude different modalities. For example, we know that Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) is the best form of treatment for OCD where as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is effective for treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). You often avoid the things that make you feel anxious. Therefore, a big part of managing anxiety is learning to challenge the avoidance. Instead of running or shying away from it, we need to find the courage to face our anxiety. This may be a bit hard to imagine at the early stages of therapy, but there will even come a day when you will face your anxiety, but also tolerate it, accept it and be friendly towards it without judging it.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (2006) by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., is one of my favorite books on anxiety. It has multiple techniques to turn fear, indecision and anger into power, action and love. I like to share with you how she breaks down Fear into 3 levels. According to Dr. Jeffers, Level 1 Fears are “surface story,” which are the events that you automatically and quickly identify as the cause of your anxiety. Some examples of level 1 Fear are being alone, change, illness, making decisions, being interviewed or making friends. Level 2 Fears are different as they are not situation oriented, but involve the ego (pg. 6). Examples of Level 2 Fears are rejection, helplessness, being vulnerable, failure or success. Level 3 Fear is the core such that “At the bottom of every one of your fears is simply the fear that you can’t handle whatever life may bring you (Pg. 7).” This quote sums up all that we need to know and understand to conquer our fears. Fear brings along a very specific belief about you, which says “I don’t have what it takes to make it through this.” It’s this doubt in self that feeds the fear. For example, level 1 Fear then translates to “I can’t handle illness” or “I can’t handle making a fool out of myself.” Level 2 Fear translate to “I can’t handle failure” or “I can’t handle being rejected.” The truth is “If you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what would you have to fear?” The answer is nothing. Dr. Jeffers goes on to say, “All you have to do to diminish your fear is to develop more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.” There are so many tools and techniques to help improve your trust in yourself. However, the first step is uncovering the core belief that’s feeding the fear. If you like to learn more about how to manage fear, anxiety, or worry then therapy can be the right place for you.
As therapists, we are trained to self-disclose with a purpose. When we share a piece of personal information with our clients, it is done so that we are not simply talking about selves but our experience can be used as a tool to help the client process their own. So when I share with you that I am a mother to a fun, independent, and caring 2-year-old girl, I have a good reason behind it. I don’t want to just share with you that I have a daughter but more importantly, share with you 3 of my favorite lessons I learned from this little human about life and living.
Lesson #1: Celebrate every accomplishment no matter how small! My daughter has shown me how success isn’t defined by only big, remarkable, impossible achievements. She has shown me that every moment in your day, you can find something to celebrate. The way she can cheer herself and raise her hands up for “hoorays” and share high-fives reminds me that we are doing the best we can in each moment and it is up to us to pay attention and praise ourselves.
Lesson #2: Don’t take everything so seriously! Let me tell you, 2-year-olds have very big emotions. Sometimes the littlest things can upset her and trigger a very intense cry. While during those moments I am taken back and often feeling nervous about how to consult her, I also noticed how quickly she can move on once it’s over. It is often my husband and I that look at each other in shock that the girl who is laughing and dancing was crying her eyes out a few minutes ago. The lesson here is to not hold on to things! What upsets me in one minute doesn’t have to carry over to the next minute. How often do we find ourselves dwelling and ruminating on things that happened earlier in the day or the week, even when they are resolved? It is important to feel our feelings at the moment and learn to move on.
Lesson #3: Start your day with fun! My daughter has a routine where every morning starts with playing with her toys. Well right after her morning milk. I find myself 7 in the morning sitting on the floor, legs crossed, playing with puzzles. Even though most morning I wish I had a little bit more time to sleep, I am always taken back by how she can start her day by playing and having fun. How often do we start our day thinking about everything we need to get done while running around the house? How much more enjoyable our lives maybe if we started our day with one of our favorite activities, whether it is listening to music, meditating, and enjoying breakfast. My daughter reminds me that you have to start your day doing one of your favorite things and never put it off.
Have you been in a long-term relationship with perfectionism? Has it been your partner in crime for a while? Would you like to end it but don’t know how? Whether it’s our personal or professional life, most of us have been a perfectionist in one area or another. Initially, perfectionism may seem innocent as a force that motivates you to “do your best.” We now know that perfectionism is different than striving for excellence. First of all, Perfectionism is a trait and like most traits, it has been learned and reinforced through experience. Once you know the signs of perfectionism, you can be ready to part ways with it. Here are some common signs of perfectionism. If you are experiencing perfectionism, you also like to be in control. You have a hard time delegating responsibility and trusting that others can do it well too. You may double or even triple check your work. Sometimes, you may never complete a task because there is always something more to add. Did you know that people who procrastinate also struggle with perfectionism? The reason you may be procrastinating is that it may never be the “right” time to start. As a perfectionist, you may also have a big fear of making mistakes. So you may seem indecisive, have a hard time making choices or starting something new. You also may have a very clear way of doing things. If there is a change in schedule or something doesn’t go as planned you can get upset and either blame yourself or others. Perfectionism also comes with its own way of thinking. Black or white thinking, also known as all or nothing. As a result, you may be thinking in extremes and not tolerating things in the middle. Most importantly, Perfectionism can influence your self-esteem and self-worth. You come to measure your worth based on your accomplishments and validation from others. Dr. Brene Brown has pointed out that perfectionist people may have dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it” (Gifts of Imperfection). Lastly, perfectionism can bring along other “friends” like depression, anxiety, irritability, addiction, and poor sleep.
There are many tools to help you overcome perfectionism. It is important to start with changing your thinking patterns. Perfectionism lives off of all or nothing thinking. Therefore, you will need to practice more balanced perspective which means “it can be both,” “this is good enough” or “this will have to do it.” More importantly, make sure your inner critic takes a back seat! You must practice positive and compassionate self-talk that is cheerful and supportive. You can do that by acknowledging your accomplishments and identifying your strengths daily. Give yourself permission to do things imperfectly and incompletely. Try to let go of control by asking for help and letting others take charge of some aspect of a task. If your perfectionism gets in the way of you starting or completing tasks, then remember that something is better nothing. Break a task down to small steps and start with one part of it. Maybe have a deadline such that you will decide to work on something for 2 hours and at the end of the 2 hours you commit to moving on to something else. It also never hurts to lower the stakes at times. One of my favorite activities is to ask my client “if someone you love had the same perfectionist thought, what would you say to them.” This question always helps the person reframe and reduce the pressure by coming up with a more rational and realistic goal. Lastly, increase your self-care activities. One of the best ways to combat perfectionism is to take breaks and get rest. You can find balance in your life by creating a quick schedule of your weekly activities. On the schedule, you can allocate time for leisure activities to make sure there is a healthy balance of work and personal life and goals. If you like to learn more about how to end your relationship with perfectionism, then therapy can be the right place for you!
Given the variety of social media platforms out there, it is quite fair to assume that we are all involved in the social media world in one form or another. Social media accounts have evolved significantly during the past decade as now there are multiple different platforms where we share our thoughts, activities, needs, and important life decisions and changes. Having these social media accounts available through our phone app makes it even more accessible. Seeing that our use of social media platforms have become more frequent than ever before, it can be important to explore how is our relationship with social media and how it may be influencing our lives, mood, and personalities. This isn’t a post that would put social media on a pedestal or criticize its existence; but more so to explore its benefits vs. costs.
There are undeniable benefits of social media. Social media for many years now has become an effective platform for connection. It has allowed us to connect with families that may live far or stay in touch with friends who have pursued different paths in life. I remember those first few years after moving to the States in late 90s when I was writing letters back and forth with my best friends. With many different social media platforms, we can stay connected with the tip of our fingerprints. Social media seem to also play a crucial role in reducing the stigma around mental health. Many people share their personal struggles and experiences in social media that has an undeniable positive impact on topics that use to be a taboo. These stories are especially impactful when they remind us that we are not alone and that we can find the courage to win the battles we may be fighting secretly. Social media platforms can strengthen feelings of acceptance and diversity if used effectively.
So why do I have mixed feelings when there are so many benefits? Like most things, there are two sides to it. Social media can have a negative influence on people’s lives. It feels as though more than ever we compare ourselves to each other only to either judge and shame the other person or feel not good enough about ourselves. Knowing where people are eating or what they are wearing or doing has created endless opportunities to compare and contrast. This comparison can have a significant negative impact on our self-esteem as we may end up feeling inadequate, unsuccessful, and not good enough, which can lead to depression and anxiety. I identified connection as one of the advantages of today’s social media world. However, one can also argue that social media gives as an illusion of control. Let’s think about this, how often do you “feel” like you are in close communication and or contact with someone simply because you “know” about their lives from their social media posts and engagements. Imagine if you haven’t read or seen a post/picture from a close friend lately, will you be more likely to think “hey I haven’t heard from her for a while, I wonder what she is up to” I sometimes wonder knowing about our friend’s lives and whereabouts through social media posts and pictures sends messages to our mind that we are “connected” where as we may have not actually seen them for a while or call them. In addition, social media has become a venue in which cyber-bullying occurs. According to statistics on cyber-bullying, 34 percent of students acknowledge that they have experienced cyber-bullying (www.teensafe.com).
Unfortunately, there is not a quick solution to the benefits vs. costs of being active on social media. However, this important discussion can help us become more aware of our actions and ask ourselves some important questions. How can I find a balance in utilizing social media? How can I set healthy boundaries where we can take advantage of staying connected but not be enmeshed in the culture of judgment and comparison that can hurt us? Do you feel like your relationship with social media has caused you stressed or hurt relationships around you? We can address these issues in therapy sessions to improve the overall quality of your life.
I am excited to share today my very first guest blogger, Janet Bayramyan, MSW. She is a wonderful clinician with extensive experience working with adults on trauma, addiction, and intimacy issues. Here is her very informative post on EMDR and what it would look like to use it in therapy. Happy Reading!
As a mental health therapist, I used to be the biggest skeptic when it came to EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. EMDR involves the movement of the eyes back and forth in what's called bilateral stimulation. Earlier in my career, I thought to myself 'How can moving eyes back and forth help heal someone from trauma and minimize anxiety?' Luckily what changed my opinion is in my own experience with EMDR as a client. I can now say that I successfully drank the EMDR Kool-Aid.
Accessing Beyond the Pre-frontal Cortex
I am a big believer in talk therapy, and feel as though this is a necessary part of mental health treatment. We need talk therapy to build a positive relationship with our therapists, and verbally share the information we need to share. Thought process occurs in the pre-frontal cortex but what’s so missed with talk therapy and trauma is that trauma is stored beyond the prefrontal cortex. Trauma is stored in our nervous system. Trauma additionally is stored in our limbic system, the mammalian part of our brain. This part of the brain is where our survival mechanism exists (fight, flight, and freeze) and information and experiences get translated into emotional responses. This occurs beyond the frontal lobe. And that’s why EMDR therapy works. It’s a non-talk therapy where you don’t need very many words in this intervention. You actually access more body, and somatic experiences through the mammalian part of the brain.
Role of the Eye Movements
EMDR attempts to mimic REM sleep during the intervention process. Therapists typically, in a formal sequence of EMDR therapy, instruct the client to move their eyes back and forth for a period of time, in relation to a particular traumatic experience. The point of the eye movements are to mimic REM sleep, the most restorative time during sleep. This is where cellular regeneration occurs, and this is where short term to long term memories get transferred in the hippocampus. So the point of this exercise is to allow for an unconscious memory, core belief, fear, body memory, or really, whatever was stored in the memory network to come to surface in conscious memory for healing and re-defining. The brain has been made to heal itself, however a traumatic experience prevents the brain from fully healing. A traumatically stored memory is stored in an isolated bubble of an experience, which means that the sight, thoughts, smells, emotions, and feelings get frozen in time. Therefore, the past is the present, according to the brain. In addition, the developmental age with which the traumatic event occurred is stored in the brain. Hyperarousal as well as hypoarousal freeze time and space, which can mean that external events that are similar to the past trauma can trigger the same reaction from the time of the developmental age. How we think of ourselves get frozen at the time of the trauma. So what I'm trying to say here is if you experienced some form of trauma at age 7, a part of your brain stays about 7 years old as a survival mechanism for you.
My Own Experience With EMDR
In my own personal experience with EMDR therapy, I was astonished. After bilateral stimulation (my eyes moving back and forth), all of these memories and thoughts came forward that I hadn’t thought about in many years. What I'm describing here was my brain was reprocessing a past memory. Additionally, some of these thoughts were thoughts that I had never known existed in my conscious brain. I had conscious access to a new part of my brain, the part that stored and froze my past pain. I also had access to the negative beliefs that were stored in those places. This therapy is also not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to think and feel distressing things, while handling the intensity of those memories. If you’re interested in exploring this, you’ll need to find a really skilled therapist who will prepare you and who will guide you. EMDR is not just eye movements. There's a comprehensive format that therapists follow. It’s not recommended to jump right into this therapy either, especially the bilateral eye movements. Of course every case is different, however I would caution people to start bilaterals right away because you need to learn how to manage your triggers, and learn how you will manage and take care of yourself when negative thoughts and challenging memories come forward. You have to learn how to calm down your nervous system, you have to learn how to manage emotions and anger.
It took me a year of talk therapy to even be open to this, because I really needed to establish trust with my therapist, and I also needed a reality check. While I had a lot of intellectual insight, my behaviors weren’t changing. The adult part of me was not connected to the child part of me. Much of my symptoms were not improving, and through just talk, it turned into venting and re-exploring the same issues over and over. My relationships and my challenging experiences in present day, as well as how I reacted to those experiences were all connected to my challenging past in early childhood. Remember, trauma freezes the mammalian part of the brain, and often freezes people at that time of their development when the trauma occurred. How I reacted in my early years, was much of how I was reacting today. And thus, my early past needed to be looked at with EMDR.
The other beauty with EMDR is that it points to the psyche’s incredible gift and drive to wholeness and health. The brain knows exactly what to do. By storing the trauma in an old memory network, it’s helping people survive that trauma. EMDR helps get the brain out of survival mode. And the brain helps us to connect to our compassion, wisdom, and empowerment, our true core selves. In EMDR, the brain helps from moving from a distressing emotion to an adaptive resolution. It’s quite magical.
If you're looking for an EMDR therapist, you can find either EMDR trained therapists or EMDR certified therapists on www.emdria.org.
Janet Bayramyan, MSW, ACSW# 71442
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When getting help for your mental health needs you may end up considering whether adding medication will be helpful or necessary.
There are two significant benefits of medication. The first would be symptom relief and the second would be to make therapy more effective. Some challenging experiences such as insomnia, sad mood and anxiety partially caused by chemical imbalance in our brains. Medication is often an effective tool in repairing the chemical imbalance and as a result, leads to improvement with these challenging experiences. In addition medication helps with sleep, anxiety and concentration. As a result, you may become more able, present and receptive to the discussions and tools offered in your therapy sessions. Similar to your relationship with your therapist, it is crucial to find a psychiatrist that you feel safe around and trust, who spends an ample amount of time with you and in understanding your needs. The goal is for you to make an educated decision with the guidance of a professional.
One of the most challenging aspects of medication management is that most people may have to try multiple medications with varying dosages before they find the right one that works best with their brain chemistry. Unfortunately, due to this trial and error process, most people either become hopeless that medication will never work for them or become too overwhelmed by their ongoing mental health symptoms to keep trying.
There are common questions people have about medication. Such as “is medication right for me” and “when is the right time to take medication?” First of all, no, medication isn’t for everyone and not everyone has to be on medication to see an improvement in his or her mental health. However, it is also important to note that many research studies have found a combination of medication and evidence based treatments such as CBT to be effective in treating anxiety and mood disorders (Bipolar & Major depression).
Other questions that people often contemplate are “will I rely on it too much, like a crutch?” and “will I become addicted?” These are also great questions to ask and discuss with your psychiatrist and your therapist. Utilizing medication can become a barrier only if medication management is the only tool in your toolbox! Therefore, it is important to always incorporate medication management along with other effective coping skills to see the best results. Seeking medication can be a short or long-term treatment option that depends on multiple factors, such as severity of symptoms, other medical conditions and individual circumstances.It is also very common to have fear of taking medication. Some people view medication as a weakness. Therapy sessions can be utilized in addressing the underlying worries and stigma you may have around medication that has become a barrier to you reaching your goals.
In his book, Everyday Mindfulness for OCD, Jon Hershfield, MFT, and Shala Nicely, LPC, outline three tools to live joyfully with medication. The first is to incorporate mindfulness to manage the side effects. The essence of Mindfulness is to be present of one’s experiences and non-judgmental. So according to the authors this would look something like this: “my mouth is dry” instead of “I hate these meds and nothing ever works for me” and “I am frustrated that I am still having symptoms” instead of “my medication was waste of time and money.” Through mindfulness, you can observe your experience without attaching a meaning to it. The second tool is to practice common humanity statements, such as “many people are wary of the idea of taking medication” or “these sensations are common for people on this medication, and nobody enjoys this part of it.” These statements focus on how universal your experience is so that you remember you are not alone. The last tool to practice is self-kindness. The authors define self-kindness as “opening yourself up to the feeling out of control and not having all the answers each step along the way” (pg.180). A self-kindness statement would be “I am doing the best I can, and I’m going to invite myself to stay off of Google, and if I’m still feeling this way tomorrow, I’ll call my psychiatrist” (pg.181).
If you are currently taking medication or may be considering it, therapy can be the right place for you to seek support in your treatment options.
Let’s play a trivia game! Can you name the author whose first children’s book was rejected by 23 different publishers? What about a famous athlete who was cut from the varsity basketball team his sophomore year in high school? Who is a famous author who lived on welfare for years in an apartment infested with mice? Drum roll...The answers are Dr. Seuss, Michael Jordan, and J.K. Rowling. Can you tell what these famous people have in common? Their stories remind us that path to success is not linear. Despite having ups and downs or fallbacks, success is attainable.
I am always drawn to autobiographies because true stories can install the highest form of hope, inspiration and motivation. While these famous people are widely celebrated it seems as though our culture is still prone to only celebrate victories while hiding away the failures. If we were to take a poll, I believe people would say that failures and past mistakes most often trigger feelings of insecurity, embarrassment, guilt and shame. Partly due to these feelings, it becomes a big challenge to learn to accept failures. Past failures may also be hard to accept because they remind us of our imperfections and shortcomings. We often view them as sign of weakness and I think that’s where growth is blocked. I believe the key to accepting our failures is recognizing that many good come out of failures! Let’s revisit the stories of Dr. Seuss, Michael Jordan and J.K. Rowling. Michael Jordan is quoted as saying; “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed, I have failed over and over and over again my life, and that is why I succeed” (Greatist.com). Can the tips and tools to success be lie in our failures? What is that we can learn from failures? Once we can see that growth happens while having failures not in the absence of them, we then can explore ways we can learn from our past failures and mistakes.
I like to share with you few benefits of failure I have come to learn. Most often we find out what we like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work, what we want and don’t want through things not working out the way we planned. It has been quoted that it has taken Thomas Edison 10,000 tries before he got the filament right for the light bulb. Edison was quoted as saying: “I have not failed 10,00 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work. When I eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work” (Forbes.com). When things don’t go as we planned, our problem-solving skills as well as ability to tolerate the discomfort and distress improve. In addition, our ability to stay on task and remain accountable is well tested through times of failure. Many of our strong traits such as determination and ambition can be born out of past failures. Failures not only build our character but can also improve our relationship with others. Most often we learn to be more empathetic and non judgmental towards others due to our own past history of failures. After all if we have been there and done that, we are more likely to show understanding, patience and support to those struggling with the same challenge. I believe that there is a strong correlation between number of past failure and capacity for empathy. Being able to shift our perspective on past failures can provide us with all these benefits as well as arriving at a place of acceptance and peace. If you have some past failures that are unresolved, then therapy can be the right place for you!
The summer has ended, the schools have started and you start to see holiday decorations in the stores. You know another very busy season is ahead. A busy life can offer some sense of satisfaction and fulfillment as we can multitask and attend to different areas of our lives. However, one big fall out of such business is that taking care of ourselves becomes the first thing we neglect. Let’s do a quick test! Look over your to-do list and tell me how far down on the list is there an item about you? How often the first few things on the list are about running errands, completing tasks and attending to others’ needs. Let’s be honest, was there even an item on the list about you? It seems like there is a lot of talk around self-care but not enough action! It feels as though we are creating some type of a culture that promotes and support self-care but how well have we integrated this notion of self-care into our daily choices and actions? In order to truly engage in self-care, I like to tackle some on-going underlying believes we have around it. I believe there are still some of us who think self-care is just not the term for a busy person. Do you think how busy must I be if I have time for myself? Do you some how measure your sense of productivity and success with how busy you are? Most importantly how do you define self-care? Now this is the deal-breaker. For those of you that view self-care as some fancy word that mean you must be self-absorb, selfish, or self-indulgent, then it won’t make it on your to-do list. However for those of you that view self-care as a necessity and act of self-love and compassion, then you have the right mindset to master the art of self-care. A recent quote I read from Serene Williams effectively captures how self-care is a necessity.
Serena Williams recently shared one of her conversations she had with her trainer who mentioned to her the Oxygen mask theory. Before taking off, all flight attendees review the use of oxygen mask in the case of a change in altitudes. All passengers, especially parents, are advised to put on their oxygen mask first before helping the one next to them, even if it is a minor. This safety tip has now become a very popular analogy to help people understand the concept of self-care. The moral of the story is that you cannot help others if you don’t take care of yourself first. In the context of physical health, most of us can agree quickly that we do need to secure our oxygen levels first before helping anyone of else. However we tend to minimize that this works exactly the same way when it comes to our emotional and mental health. The truth is we are not going to be good or effective in being there for others if we are feeling exhausted or burnt out. So self-care is the “oxygen mask” of our emotional health. We have to make sure we are emotionally well rested, re-charged and refreshed in order to attend to those around us. Here is another popular quote to make my point: “You can’t pour from an empty cup; you must fill your cup first.” When you take care of yourself and make sure you are feeling good you become a better version of yourself for those around you.
Like all changes, it starts with having the right mindset. I hope reading this blog has helped challenge and reframe some of your viewpoints around self-care. Once you truly believe in the power self-care, then I suggest you start with small changes. Throughout your day take 5-minutes break from work or when kids are napping, to take a walk, get some fresh air, shower, text a friend or meditate. With practice, increase the duration. Once you can allocate longer periods for self-care, it can include activities such as getting a haircut or massage, taking a trip or eating at one's favorite restaurant, as well as attending to one's basic daily needs.