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Licensed Psychologist

Dealing with Difficult Feelings to Help Yourself & Your Relationships

Re-posted from an article by Deborah Fox, M.S.W. How to manage difficult emotions may seem counterintuitive to many people. We humans don't like to be uncomfortable or in emotional pain. How many times have you been told or tell yourself the following:
  • "buck up."
  • "don't wallow."
  • "move on." 
  • "don't feel sorry for yourself."
  • "think of how many others have it worse than you."
Plenty, I'm sure. The conventional wisdom of our culture is full of "think positive thoughts." The problem is that this wisdom doesn't chart the path we need to follow to that end. The answer to managing difficult feelings, we have to feel them before moving on and regaining our optimism and good cheer. This isn't easy. What may become common parlance, "oh, it's a total 2020," meaning a downer, things couldn't get much worse, is indicative of what many of you are experiencing. We are still in the middle of an uncontrolled pandemic, climate change, and political conflict. How can you not feel sad, or worry, or despair some days? Maybe your distress isn't about current times. Perhaps you struggle with a host of other uncomfortable feelings such as feeling unimportant, insecure, or anxious on an ongoing basis. For many people, the stress of what's going on in the world now exacerbates those feelings.

Managing Positive and Negative Feelings.

Our emotional system is not designed to feel positive feelings only and remove negative ones. That would be nice, but it just isn't so. To find our joy in simple pleasures and with those we're most connected to, we also have to feel our way through the tough ones. The key is to build your tolerance for feeling these difficult feelings and turn towards each other for connection and support. We are social creatures, and we need each other to go through the middle of turmoil to come out the other side.  Tuning into these difficult feelings will inevitably make you feel more vulnerable simply because you will not push the discomfort away. This is a challenge because feeling more vulnerable is uncomfortable, too. However, it's in that state of vulnerability that you can truly connect with another human being. You'll feel less alone, and you can walk through these uncertain times together, rather than just coping in separate silos.  There are moments--- milliseconds that you can grab before they slip away. These are the moments when you can identify that you're feeling down, worried, or despairing. When you're trying to "move on" or distract yourself, you'll find yourself feeling more and more blah or irritable---the perfect hiding places for vulnerable feelings. If you succeed in identifying that you're feeling sad or anxious at the moment, sit there with it. "Sitting with it" means naming it, feeling it, and not allowing yourself to prematurely make it go away by distracting yourself or starting an argument with a loved one. You will feel uncomfortable and vulnerable--- take a deep breath and stay there in that feeling. This sitting with the uncomfortable feeling allows you to know what affects you that you lose touch with when you shut down on the feelings.

Uncomfortable Feelings Have a Lifespan. 

It might be five minutes or five hours, and it may come and go. It's sitting with the feelings that allow you to build your tolerance for feeling vulnerable. You build it slowly, bit by bit. The more tolerance you have, then you can allow its life span to run its course. If you distract yourself by grabbing your phone or turning on the TV, it'll just go underground and lie in wait to ruin your mood for days on end.  Sitting with the feeling allows you to express, usually in a way your partner, or a close friend, can hear and empathize. Their ears open when they listen to you speak from that place of vulnerability. Feeling this connection is what can most alleviate the intensity of the discomfort. It won't make the pandemic uncertainties or anything else go away, but it can allow you to feel less alone. Feeling less alone goes a long way to walking through any crisis feeling stronger. Shutting down or arguing happens so easily because it's a momentary relief from the discomfort. The energy of arguing or the numbness of withdrawing doesn't feel great either, but it can be preferable to feeling vulnerable.  If you're already angry or withdrawn, ask yourself, "what else am I feeling, or what was I feeling earlier?" Maybe not immediately, but this question will allow you to pinpoint what feelings are hiding just below the surface. You know you're irritated, but you might be able to identify that you were anxious before you got annoyed. Then you can choose to sit with the anxiety.

Difficult Feelings are a Normal Part of Life. 

This is always true, but these uncertain times are causing tremendous turmoil and challenging our usual coping ways. What's critical is not to allow these feelings to overwhelm us. We're outside of our comfort zone, and we need to grow that zone to go forward and be able to grapple with what comes our way. We can't do it alone. Turning towards one another will serve us well and allow us to come out the other side to experience joyful moments amidst uncertainty.

How to Change Your Codependent Behaviors

Originally posted by Sharon Martin, LCSW Any long-standing pattern of behavior can be hard to change. We’re creatures of habit and tend to repeat the same behaviors over and over, often without even thinking about them — and sometimes we continue even when these behaviors create problems for us. This is the case with codependent behaviors.

What are codependent behaviors?

When I talk about codependent behaviors, I’m referring to things like enabling, perfectionism, self-sacrificing or martyrdom, obsessing about other people’s problems, trying to fix, change, or rescue others – even if they don’t seem very interested in changing. As codependents, we struggle to ask for help, we don’t prioritize our needs (so we get tired, irritable, resentful, and stressed out).

How do you change codependent behaviors?

Even though these behaviors are second-nature to us, we can change! The challenge, of course, is figuring out how to change. What do we do instead of these codependent behaviors? And how do we stick with the new behaviors long enough to see a difference? The answer is lots of practice and lots of self-compassion. Like any new behavior, we need to do the new behavior many times before we master it and feel comfortable doing it. At first, it will feel awkward, scary, guilt-ridden, and uncomfortable. In short, you’re not going to do it well! That’s where the self-compassion comes in. Give yourself credit for trying. Praise yourself for taking baby steps even if they don’t seem to accomplish much at first. Encourage yourself by saying things like, “You can do this!” Don’t expect perfection and try not to criticize yourself if you slide back into old behavior. This is all part of the process – I promise. So, let’s get started with some ideas for changing codependent behaviors.

People-pleasing

Instead of saying yes to every request, doing things you don’t want to do, or doing things out of obligation, consider what you need and want. Ask yourself:
  • Am I interested in doing this?
  • Why am I saying yes?
  • Do I have time for this?
  • Can I afford to do this?
  • Does this align with my values and priorities?
Remind yourself that you’re allowed to say no. Some people may be disappointed or upset with you, but that is their problem, not yours. You are not responsible for making everyone happy. ActionThis week, practice saying no to one thing that you don’t want to do, that doesn’t fit in your schedule or budget or doesn’t interest you, etc.

Identity and self-worth issues

Do you feel like you’ve lost your identity or you’re not sure who you are? Often, codependents don’t fully differentiate themselves from others. We don’t have a strong sense of who we are, what we like or want, or we’re quick to give up our goals, ideas, and what matters to us to please others. We also get our identity and sense of worth from what we do rather than who we are. In part, this is why we get our sense of worth from pleasing others, self-sacrificing – and why we feel so terrible when others are upset or disappointed with us. We don’t have a strong sense of who we are or that we matter without external validation. Action: The remedy for identity issues can start with some of these activities.
  1. Get to know yourself better. Practice with these questions.
  2. Share your opinions, ideas, and feeling. Try sharing a differing opinion or idea with someone who will be receptive, such as suggest a different activity for Girls Night Out or politely let someone know that you disagree with their point of view.
  3. Do one thing this week because it interests you. It could be something new that you’re curious to try or something you’ve enjoyed in the past but haven’t prioritized recently.
  4. Validate your feelings at least once per day. When you notice that you’re seeking validation from someone else or disappointed that someone didn’t validate you, try to give yourself the validation that you need. To get started, you can use some of these self-validating phrases.

Acting like a martyr

A martyr is someone who insists on doing everything themself. You refuse help if it’s offered. But you’re not doing or giving joyfully. You’re resentful that you have to do so much and that people don’t help you or think about what you need. Action: The next time someone offers to help, say yes. Or if no one offers to help in the next week, ask. Simply say, “Can you please help me with _______?” They may refuse, but learning how to ask is still a success.

Perfectionism

Perfectionists have impossibly high standards. Their expectations are unrealistic so they inevitably fail to achieve them, which leads to criticizing themselves (or others) for even the smallest mistake or imperfection. They never feel satisfied. Instead, don’t expect yourself or others to do things perfectly. Expect that you’ll make mistakes and so will other people. Mistakes aren’t failings or a sign of being inadequate. They’re a sign of being human! ActionWhen you make a mistake, say something kind to yourself like, “It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes.” Self-compassion is more motivating than self-criticism (see the research here). Action: Set more realistic expectations. If you continue to make the same mistake, it’s not because there is something wrong with you, it’s because there’s something wrong with your goal or expectation. For example, if I constantly cheat on my low-carb diet, it’s not because I’m a failure. It’s because the goal of eating so few carbs isn’t realistic for me right now and I need to change my expectations. You can learn more about overcoming perfectionism in my book The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism (available from all major booksellers).

Lack of boundaries or being passive

Instead of letting others mistreat you (say mean things, borrow money without repaying, leaving a mess and expecting you to clean it up, violating your boundaries), set limits by telling people what’s not okay and what will happen if they continue. Action: When you feel mistreated, communicate how you feel and what you want or need using an I Statement. For example, “I feel hurt and offended when you make sarcastic comments about my weight. I’d like you to stop commenting on my appearance.” And if you think it’s helpful, you can also state what the consequence will be if they continue. It might sound like this: “And if you continue, I’m going to go in the other room and watch TV by myself.” When setting boundaries, remember that you can’t force other people to do what you want, but you can change your own behavior to keep yourself safe.

Denying, avoiding, or minimizing your feelings

Instead of “stuffing” your feelings, pretending your fine when you aren’t, or numbing them with alcohol or food, try to notice your feelings and express them in healthy ways (respectful dialogue, journaling, creative projects, crying, etc.). Action: Ask yourself “How do I feel?” three times per day (mealtimes are good reminders to do this). Write down your feelings. Don’t try to change them; just let your feelings be real and valid. You can do this by saying or writing, “I feel ____________. This feeling is valid and helpful. It exists to tell me something important.” If your feelings are uncomfortable or painful, ask yourself to tolerate them for just one minute before you engage in your usual form of avoidance. And then try to work up to two minutes, three minutes, and so forth over several days or weeks.

Enabling and fixating on other people’s problems

Enabling is something you do that allows another person to continue in a dysfunctional pattern. It could be pouring out their alcohol, calling in sick for them, cleaning up after them, giving them money. It can seem loving, but it really just allows them to avoid taking responsibility for themselves and from experiencing the natural consequences of their choices. Instead of enabling and focusing on what others are doing, take care of yourself and find healthier ways to manage your worry and anxiety. Often, we focus on other people not just to be helpful, but also because it gives us a sense of control (which helps us feel safe and quiets our anxiety), a feeling of being needed, or a distraction from looking at what we’re contributing to the problem and changing ourselves. Action: Identify your enabling behaviors. When you feel compelled to act on them, step away from the situation. Notice your feelings (see above) and think of an activity that you can do to comfort yourself, calm your fears, and tolerate the anxiety of letting your loved one experience the consequences of his or her actions. This could be calling a friend or sponsor, writing in a journal, taking a bath, exercising, meditating, praying, going to an Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous meeting, playing with your dog, etc. Make a list of activities that you might try, so you have it ready when you need it! I hope you’ll try some of these action items this week!

Managing Loneliness During the Holidays and beyond

Originally posted at Beacon Lens The holidays are upon us, and the irony they bring is the potential for isolation and loneliness. Holidays’ essential identity is getting together with loved ones, but some people do not feel as connected as they would like or expect. In 2020, add COVID-19 and its quarantining dictates, and the potential for such feelings can strengthen. The holidays, therefore, present an excellent time to discuss how we can reinforce connections during a time that requires us to be apart to protect our physical health, a requirement that paradoxically can have a damaging effect on our mental health. We can, however, take charge of improving our mental health.

Loneliness and isolation and our health

What is the difference between loneliness and isolation? “Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Social isolation, on the other hand, is a lack of social connections. Put differently, one can have many social connections but still feel lonely. The physical and mental health risks of loneliness and isolation are significant. They include but are not limited to:
  • Social isolation increases the risk of premature death by 29 percent, rivalling smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation is associated with increasing the risk for dementia by approximately 50 percent.
  • Loneliness is connected to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
A 2020 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) states that more than one-third of adults 45 and older feel lonely, and approximately one-fourth 65 and older are socially isolated. Add the holidays and COVID-19 to an already preexisting condition, and the time is ripe for all of us to take action to protect our mental health.

Simple steps for better mental health during the holidays

Specific to the season and the times, there are common-sense tips that we all can practice to help manage loneliness. For example:
  • Talk to someone about your sense of loneliness and isolation. There’s stigma around loneliness so it can be hard to do. However, you may well find that you’re not alone in those feelings, and sharing them can help lessen their effect.
  • Manage your holiday/COVID-19 expectations. The holidays can fall short of expectations, but this year it may be worse. Understand that the pandemic won’t last forever, and that we’re all in this together. Indeed, many people’s holiday gatherings will likely be different this year.
  • Remember to take care of yourself, now more than ever. Sleep, exercise and good nutrition — with the proper amount of holiday indulgence — go a long way in addressing mental health.
  • Avoid social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, especially during the holidays. It’s easy to negatively compare one’s life to the “perfect” lives posted on social media, forgetting that people mostly post only the positive.

Loneliness and isolation as its own pandemic

The holidays don’t last forever, and we will get through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, loneliness and social isolation may persist, which presents a challenge for behavioral health providers. The recent NASEM report explores interventions that the healthcare system can take to address loneliness as a societal condition, such as engagement in support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, social determinants of health, social prescribing and more. Social prescribing is arguably one of the more interesting interventions in that it puts a clinical lens on non-clinical solutions. While there is no hard-fast definition of social prescribing, it is generally accepted as a way to connect people to non-clinical sources of support, according to the NASEM. Specifically, it is a “non-medical referral, or linking service, to help people identify their social needs and develop wellbeing action plans to promote, establish or reestablish integration and support in their communities, with the aim of improving personal wellbeing.” Examples of secondary services that improve social concerns affecting health include housing and food insecurity services. While known to varying community-based organizations, social prescribing is not common among practitioners, but it’s a common-sense solution. An analysis of one pilot program from the NASEM report — albeit a small one — found that social prescribing reduced inpatient admissions by as much as 21 percent and emergency room visits by 20 percent. A modern world — without COVID-19 — is more connected than ever due to social media and other technology. However, studies have shown we are more lonely now than in any other time in recent history. It’s time to think out of the box as we realize more and more how non-physiological conditions — such as issues ranging from a public health emergency to social media — can affect our health.

Healthy Love vs Unhealthy Love

Originally posted at ImagoRelationshipsWork.com Falling in love and staying in love both require giving a part of yourself away, but healthy love is not demanding or uncompromising.
  • Healthy love allows you to be your best self and socialize with colleagues, friends, and family.
  • Healthy love is not controlling or dependent.
  • Healthy love is ever-changing and growing in subtle ways.
  • Positive love encourages and is kind and thoughtful of the other. It is honest and supportive.
  • If you are in love with someone who requires you to alter your personality, goals or wants you all to themself, this is not healthy.
  • If you are staying in a relationship purely because you are afraid of being alone, this is not real love.
  • When either of the partners in a relationship is always controlling or untruthful, this is unhealthy.

In a healthy relationship, communication and honesty are vital players.

There is lots of trust and little room for jealousy. Jealousy is a tricky emotion. It can fool people into thinking - "He must love me because he is jealous." Unless your partner has given you a reason to feel jealous, for example, he/she is a chronic liar, has been caught cheating, you should be able to manage your jealous feelings. It's normal to feel a twinge of jealousy on occasion. If you are experiencing jealousy 24/7, you need to look into the reasons. Often jealousy is a sign of insecurity or lack of knowing and accepting yourself. Healthy love includes loving yourself, as well.

If you are obsessed with the person you love and have no interest in spending time with anyone else, that is not healthy.

Most of us want to spend a good portion of our time with the person we love, yet there needs to be a balance. Each of us needs to cultivate friendships that are healthy, genuine, and interesting. Obsessive love is all-consuming and is based on negative emotions such as fear, jealousy, anxiety. In healthy relationships, you can disagree without fear of the person leaving or retaliating. It is not normal or healthy to feel you have to be agreeable all of the time, or else. Loving another is about the give and take. Lopsided love is unbalanced.

When two healthy people are in love, their relationship does not wholly define them.

You want to be developing yourself, both interior and exterior. If all of your self worth is wrapped up in your relationship, this is not healthy. Partners each bring something to share at the table. If you have neglected yourself, it is time to rediscover who you are as an individual. Develop your likes and passions, give yourself credit, take risks, and make changes that are important to you. “A healthy relationship will never make you give up your friends, your dreams, or your dignity…” Dinkar Kalotra.

Be honest with yourself when it comes to your love relationship.

  • Is it healthy, or does it need modifying?
  • Is there mutual respect?
Remember, too, that no relationship is perfect. It is often about loving through imperfections and knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy love.

Tips to Fall Asleep Naturally/Common Heart Tests

Tips to Fall Asleep Naturally

Get the nightly rest you need with these smart strategies.

Sleep has many important health benefits: It cleanses the brain, allows memories to consolidate, helps the immune system to function optimally, and restores and rejuvenates tissues. Not enough sleep impairs judgment and physical function. And let's face it, when tired, most of us can be rather irritable and grouchy. Serious health problems can result from poor sleep, including feeling more depressed and increasing the risk of falls. Read the full article...

Common Heart Tests

What these tests reveal and when you might need one.

In broad terms, the heart mainly consists of a plumbing system and an electrical system. There are two pumps: one uses arteries to push oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body; the other pump uses veins to usher blood back to the heart and into the lungs to get re-oxygenated. Your pulse, or heartbeat, is controlled by the heart's electrical system. These systems can be measured with various tests to check for abnormalities. Given that heart diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined, it might seem logical to get all the common heart tests possible as a preventative measure. But that's not what experts recommend. Read the full article...

The Power of Girlfriends

In an evening class at Stanford University the last lecture was on the mind-body connection - the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman; whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first, everyone laughed, but he was serious. Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality "girlfriend time" helps us to create more serotonin - a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well being. Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. We share from our souls with our sisters, friends, and evidently that is VERY GOOD for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym. There's a tendency to think that when we are "exercising" we are doing something good for our bodies; but when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged. Not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking! So every time you hang out to schmooze with a gal pal, just pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for doing something good for your health! We are indeed very, very blessed! So let's toast to our friendship with our girlfriends (inc. grandmas, sisters, mothers, nieces, cousins, aunties...). Evidently it's very good for our health. Forward this to your girlfriends to stay in touch, just like I just did! Thanks to all the women in my life who have helped me stay healthy, and feeling very loved.

Anxiety, Depression and COVID-19: Now's the Time to Feel Our Feelings - Here's 8 Ways How To

We are in an anxious time. We are worried. Fearful. And ill at ease. Things are changing. Our schedules and routines. The ways we engage with others. And things are staying the same. The exact same. Day after day. Without going to work and having social calendars to adhere to, we’ve all found ourselves with more time in the day. More time to relax. To think. To stand still. And stillness is exactly what we need. Stillness in our communities. In our households. In ourselves. For being still is when we learn the most. When we connect the most. To others and to ourselves. It’s when we’re still that we feel our feelings. When our feelings surface the most. Perhaps why some of us stay so busy. For it’s easy to avoid your feelings when you don’t have a free moment. When you don’t take the time to do nothing. And now that is exactly what we must do. We are being called upon to stop what we are doing and to listen. Listen to what our bosses tell us. To what our community tells us. To what our doctors tell us. To what the government tells us. So why not use this time to listen to what we tell ourselves. The truths and the lies. The things that we’ve refused to see. Now is the time to address our mental health. To address our feelings. To admit them to ourselves. To acknowledge them. Sometimes all a feeling needs is to be acknowledged in order to be released. For those who don’t like to address their feelings, I realize it can be uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels easier to hide our feelings. Even to ourselves. Tricking ourselves into thinking we’re okay. When we’re not. I know what it’s like to keep your feelings hidden. I used to be a master at hiding mine. But I’ve learned that it did much more harm than good. And that identifying my feelings and talking about them is part of what helped me understand them. To acknowledge them and to let them go. Be sure to take this time to talk to yourself. Yes, I said talk to yourself. Through journaling. Or heck, out loud. Why not. I do it all the time. Notice how you feel with each thing that you do. Take time to reflect on the day. On the week. On each interaction you have and how it makes you feel. What a TV show or a book brings to the surface for you. A conversation with a loved one. A correspondence with a coworker. And why. Why certain things make you angry, anxious or sad. What makes you feel good and brings you joy. We don’t always have the time to address our feelings. But we’ve been given time. Possibly for the first time. It’s a gift. So it’s only wise to use this time to connect back to ourselves. To what’s happening within us. To our feelings. Here are some steps to take to helping you feel your feelings:
  1. Spend time in silence. Even if you only take 10 minutes a day, spend time alone in silence. Silence yourself and the things around you. And let your mind relax. Daydream. Unwind. Observe your body. Your feelings. And pay attention to what messages you are receiving.
  2. Observe your experiences. Since everything has slowed down, we can take the time to be more present in what we do. To observe the world around us. To notice others. And to notice what feelings come up in ourselves when we interact with others.
  3. Pay close attention to the things you say to yourself. Are you telling yourself you’re anxious? Depressed? Angry? For whatever feelings come up, instead of feeding into them, stop and listen to them. Observe them. Identify why you are feeling the way you are and what you can do to make it better.
  4. Do non-screen activities. Read an actual book or magazine. Color (yes adults, you too). Put together a puzzle. There are so many things that bring us joy that we too often neglect to do because so much of our time is spent staring at screens. Start by committing to one non-screen activity a week. If you don’t enjoy it, stop. If you love it, do it again soon. Tangibly connecting to things helps us feel our feelings too.
  5. Be playful and move your body. When we’re playful, we allow ourselves to be free, which allows our feelings to surface. Movement unlocks feelings stored deep within our body’s tissues. Doing both every day helps us explore our feelings.
  6. Journal your feelings every day. It can be as simple as adding a note to your phone with inconsistent thoughts and incomplete sentences. But be sure to record what comes up for you each day. In order to help you explore all the things you feel. Read here for tips on journaling to improve mental health.
  7. Talk to a loved one or to a therapist. Hopefully you have someone you can trust to share your feelings with, but if not, find someone you can. While starting with a new therapist may not be possible right now, talking to one still is. For example, Psych Central has an Ask the Therapist page where you can ask therapists questions and see previously asked and answered questions. You could also join an online support group.
  8. Find a teacher. I realize we can’t literally go out and find teachers right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have access to them. After you determine the feelings you’re having, and maybe even why you’re having them, conduct research. Find doctors, therapists and experts who have written and spoken about what is ailing you. Also keep in mind, anything can teach you what you need to learn. All you need to do is to observe, to listen and to acknowledge how you feel.
Remember to find the stillness in yourself: to connect to and to acknowledge your feelings and to heal the parts of yourself that need to be healed. I hope you are all safe and well. For those who are sick or who know someone who is suffering, may you feel better very soon.

Coronavirus - Keeping Your Smartphone Clean

We are all trying to take special precautions in light of the present pandemic. How many of you have given any thought to your mobile devices? Our phones are covered with bacteria and other germs. A study by the Journal of Hospital Infection found that strains of Coronavirus have the potential to remain on metal, glass and plastic surfaces for 2 hours to 9 days. According to the World Health Organization, the virus is unable to survive for long periods of time on packages or letters. Because our smartphones are potentially contaminated, I thought this article would be of interest to everyone.

10 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself This Winter

Winter can be a difficult time.  Here are some ways that you can care for yourself:

Self-care is always important

Self-care includes all the things we do to maintain or improve our wellbeing. We all know how important basic self-care activities such as adequate sleep, exercise, healthy eating, hobbies, and spending time with friends are. And we know that when we don’t prioritize self-care, we feel lousy. Our health suffers. We get sick. We’re irritable, lonely, sluggish, and unfulfilled.

Self-care for the winter

As the seasons change, we often need to change our self-care routines to accommodate the weather, amount of daylight, our schedule, and so forth. The winter months can be particularly tough on us both physically and mentally. We’re more prone to colds and flu. some of us suffer from seasonal depression (the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because of the lack of sunlight. And it’s hard to get out and be active. So, we need some self-care activities to meet the specific needs we have in the darker, colder months. Below, you’ll find 10 of my favorite self-care activities that are well-suited to winter.

1. Write in a Journal

It’s the beginning of a new year and a perfect time to start writing in a journal. Journaling is great for your mental health. It provides a place to dump your feelings, process and reflect, and clear your head. Even if you’ve already got a journal, you may want to consider starting a new one. I hear from many avid journalers that there’s something uplifting about the fresh, clean-start feeling of a new journal.

2. Enjoy Nature’s Beauty

Yes, winter can be cold and dreary. But it can also be beautiful – fresh snow on the trees, icicles hanging from the roof, red cardinals at your birdfeeder, a full moon. When we’re mindful and take the time to look, there’s a lot to take pleasure in.

3. Go to Therapy

Have you been thinking about starting therapy? It can be daunting to find a therapist you feel comfortable with, get yourself there consistently, and pay for it – but most people find the results are well worth the effort. And since we’re already inside so much during the winter, it seems like a good time to start or resume therapy. And if the weather or transportation are significant barriers, there are more and more options for online therapy, as well.

4. Get More (Sun)Light

Exposure to light (sunlight or artificial light) improves your mood and energy. So, if you’re living in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter, you’ll probably feel better if you spend an extra 20-30 minutes outside when it’s sunny. Even opening the curtains and turning on the lights in your office or home can help.

5. Relax and Get Cozy

On a cold winter’s day, there’s nothing better than staying home in your pajamas, cuddling up with a good book (or your significant other or your cat!), sitting in front of a fire, or binge-watching your favorite show. Occasionally, give yourself permission to stay home and just relax.

6. Connect with Friends

We all need to socialize, connect with others, and feel like we belong. And yet, spending quality time with friends or your spouse may end up at the bottom of your to-do list. How about meeting this self-care need by planning a game night, potluck dinner, or hosting a party to watch the Oscars with your friends? Not only is spending time with friends good for our mood, doing so may encourage us to relax, laugh, do something active, or try something new. And again, if it’s hard to get out and do things in person, have a virtual coffee date on FaceTime or Skype, or schedule a time for an old-fashioned phone call.

7. Enjoy a Hot Drink

A hot drink on a cold day is so comforting – a true simple pleasure. I’m a big coffee drinker, but I can easily overdo it. So, I try to mix things up with a collection of herbal teas and homemade sugar-free hot cocoa (just warm milk and a little cocoa powder and your favorite sweetener).  Maximize this self-care practice by slowing down. Instead of gulping it down in the car, take a few minutes to sit and relax and savor your drink. This is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to pamper yourself.

8. Get a Flu Shot

Getting a flu shot isn’t necessarily enjoyable, but that’s true of a lot of self-care. It’s something you do for your health. And it’s not too late in the season to get one. So, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about whether a flu shot is a good choice for you.

9. Exercise

Many of us need to change our exercise routine or physical activities to accommodate winter weather. If you don’t have a regular exercise plan for the winter months, consider adding some winter sports (skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, winter hiking) to your routine. Alternatively, there are lots of indoor exercise options such as yoga or dance classes, exercise equipment at a gym or home, or using exercise videos on YouTube or television. Don’t let winter weather be an excuse – you know you’ll feel better if you get a little movement into every day.

10. Encourage Your Creative Side

If you’re stuck inside, tap into your creativity. Did you know that arts and crafts are good for your mental health? Benefits such as reduced stress, depression, and anxiety, a sense of accomplishment, increased confidence and self-esteem have been reported. Crafts are nice because they can be done alone or in a group. And there’s something for everyone – everything from painting, scrapbooking, knitting, quilting, woodworking, jewelry making, and more. Pull out an old favorite or try something new this winter!

Put self-care on your calendar

Now that you’ve got a few ideas for your winter self-care, it’s time to put it on your calendar. Self-care (like most things) is much more likely to happen if you create a plan for when and what you will do to take care of yourself. Where will you begin? Perhaps, just add one new self-care activity to your schedule this week.

Natural Disasters

Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas and is anticipated to move up the east coast of the U.S. Some of you may be directly affected. Others may be reminded of past traumatic experience in natural disasters. Feelings of fear and powerlessness or overwhelming worry of being trapped may well be elicited.Even though you may not personally experience physical injury, it is not uncommon to have strong emotional reactions. Understanding your responses to these disturbing events can help you cope with your feelings, and thoughts and help you along the path to recovery. The American Psychological Association has described common reactions and responses to disaster. Initially people may feel stunned and disoriented. Once these initial reactions subside, it is common to feel anxious and overwhelmed or more moody than usual. You may experience vivid, repeated memories of the event. They can occur for no apparent reason and may lead to physiological reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. You may have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. You may find yourself more irritable or become more withdrawn than usual. Your sleep and eating patterns may also be disrupted or you may find yourself oversensitive to loud sounds smells or other environmental sensations which may serve as triggers. Fortunately, research shows that most people are resilient over time. Talking with friends and family about the event can reduce stress and help you feel less alone. Do not repeatedly watch or read news about the event. Get plenty of rest and exercise and eat properly. Make time for activities that you enjoy: read a good book, take a walk, or go to the movies. Do something positive. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose in a situation that feels out of control. Do not turn to drugs or alcohol. In the long run, they only create additional problems. If your feelings do not go away or continue to interfere with your daily functioning, join a support group or seek help from a licensed mental health professional. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.

Resources:

  • Mental Health America, 2019, Kevin Rowell, PhD, and Rebecca Thomley, PsyD
  • Bonanno, G. A., Galea, S., Bucciarelli, A., & Vlahov, D. (2007). What predicts psychological resilience after disaster? The role of demographics, resources, and life stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (5), 671. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.5.671
  • Bonanno, G. A., Papa, A., & O'Neill, K. (2001). Loss and human resilience. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 10(3), 193-206. doi: 10.1016/S0962-1849(01)80014-7
  • Butler, L. D., Koopman, C., Azarow, J., Blasey, C. M., Magdalene, J. C., DiMiceli, S., ... & Spiegel, D. (2009). Psychosocial predictors of resilience after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 197 (4), 266-273. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31819d9334
  • Silver, R. C., Holman, E. A., McIntosh, D. N., Poulin, M., & Gil-Rivas, V. (2002). Nationwide longitudinal study of psychological responses to September 11. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288 (10), 1235-1244. doi: 10.1001/jama.288.10.1235
  • Bonanno, G. A., Galea, S., Bucciarelli, A., & Vlahov, D. (2007). What predicts psychological resilience after disaster? The role of demographics, resources, and life stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (5), 671. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.5.671
  • Bonanno, G. A., Papa, A., & O'Neill, K. (2001). Loss and human resilience. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 10(3), 193-206. doi: 10.1016/S0962-1849(01)80014-7
  • Butler, L. D., Koopman, C., Azarow, J., Blasey, C. M., Magdalene, J. C., DiMiceli, S., ... & Spiegel, D. (2009). Psychosocial predictors of resilience after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 197 (4), 266-273. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e31819d9334
  • Silver, R. C., Holman, E. A., McIntosh, D. N., Poulin, M., & Gil-Rivas, V. (2002). Nationwide longitudinal study of psychological responses to September 11. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288 (10), 1235-1244. doi: 10.1001/jama.288.10.1235
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