Get some tips on how to manage your stress.
One of the things I hear often is that someone is reluctant to come to therapy because things are just not bad enough for that. My question is why does it have to be VERY BAD to ask for help. Why not seek help when things are just hard? Our culture sends this pull-up by the bootstraps mentality. The message is it is “weak” to ask for help. We must solve things on our own. Turning to a professional can be looked at as necessary only for a level of distress that is severe and debilitating.
My question to that is why? Why would we put ourselves in the position of suffering for a certain length of time rather than reach out for help? The longer we suffer the harder it is to shift the pain. Seeking therapy when things are just hard is the time to do it. Get support as soon as you can. Utilize your other supports systems also. Tell your trusted people what is going on. I suspect when things are hard many of us crawl into ourselves. We don’t want to be vulnerable or look weak or feel failed. Part of that is buying into what I call the social media lives of our friends. Meaning most of us don’t post about our hard stuff on social media. We post about the happy moments. It can be easy for people who are struggling to think that they are the only ones having any particular struggle. That is never true. I know when I became more vulnerable in telling my closest people my struggles I found most of them had experienced something like them. By a certain age, most of us have experienced grief, depression, and/or anxiety. When we normalize those experiences it validates everyone who has them.
I understand it is an act of bravery to be vulnerable when you are overwhelmed and have big feelings. However, if you find the people that validate you it will allow you to relax some and cope with whatever the issues are.
Therapists are here to walk with you through your struggle. If you find one that is a good match for you, they can help you address your struggles and feel less alone with them. And you don’t have to worry about being too much or being boring or not having a big enough problem for a therapist. We are trained to handle it all.
Let us normalize being open and vulnerable with our people, supporting them, and encouraging people to get help when things are hard.
The holidays are almost here. This is our second COVID holiday season. For some families, it will be lovely. Being able to be connected to be family that you may have been separated from for a length of time during shelter in place orders. Other families continue to be polarized. Some members are vaccinated and some are not. Many vaccinated people choose to not be around unvaccinated people. If people are not vaccinated they may have very strong feelings about people that are vaccinated. Given this time of a country divided, I am seeing more and more families divided also.
I am concerned that some of these estrangements may not ever be reconciled. How do you dialogue with family that you feel like are not listening to facts? How do you avoid confrontations about these issues? Do you just make up an excuse as to why you are not going to Aunt Hilda’s for Thanksgiving or do you say you are not comfortable being around unvaccinated people? What about the people caught in the middle? Aunt Hilda wants everyone to come and doesn’t understand why you won’t eat with Uncle Billy who is not vaccinated and refuses to wear a mask. And both you and Uncle Billy feel like you are right so how do you even have a discussion?
I think each of us is and should set our boundaries around what feels safe to us. Some don’t feel safe in any crowd regardless of vaccines or masks. That is okay. We have (and are still) been traumatized by this past year and a half of COVID. Over 750 thousand Americans are gone. Many of us had our lives turned upside down not being able to visit friends and family, learning to work at home, or having to work when you did not feel safe doing so. Feeling anger and confusion about what was happening and how it was handled. Many of us are still navigating trauma symptoms. We may have lost family either to the illness or estrangement. People are still trying to figure out what is normal.
It is still a very tough time. I have no easy answers to this. I can say the following:
Take care of yourself in whatever manner you can.
Set your boundaries and keep them.
If your family has strong differing feelings you don’t have to engage in discussion or justify your decision. No is a complete sentence.
Create other communities or spend time with the people you feel safe and held by.
Remember we are still all just doing the best we can in a very challenging and unprecedented time in this country.
I hope you can enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate!
Once again the holidays are here. And once again many of us feel overwhelmed and like there just isn’t enough time in a day to get everything done that needs to be done. And perhaps there isn’t. Which is a message to us that we are doing to much. Many of us go into the holidays trying to recreate the holidays of our past. Or perhaps trying very hard to not have any duplication of past holidays. Regardless we often put immense pressure on ourselves and the holiday which can end up disappointment. We also dread doing parts of the holiday preparation. I myself found myself falling prey to this. I make holiday cookies every year. I give them to my near and dear and people love them. That being said as I get older standing on my feet in the kitchen for eight hours straight is not such a good idea anymore. Last year I got smart and made a few batches of dough a few days prior and then I had less to do on cookie day. Much easier. This year the holiday season seems shortened with the late Thanksgiving and the first two Fridays of the month (cookie day is on Friday which is no client day) so I can’t get to the cookies until the 20th. I found myself dreading both cookie day and the two day training that was changing my schedule.
Then I stopped to think. I want to go to this training because I think it will make me a better therapist. It will be intense and tough but I know I will learn a lot. And I want to make the cookies since for me it is an act of love. So why was I letting myself dread doing this? Because I had let the cookies become an obligation instead of something I enjoy doing. Once I was able to reframe this in my head I was able to once again look forward to cookie day. I love this time of the year and I don’t want it to turn into obligations rather than a time of happiness. I think that is what often happens to people. Think about the drive to do certain things this time of the year and evaluate whether they are obligations or fun which has turned into an obligation. When you can you either eliminate the task or look at it differently.
Unreasonable expectations are the number one killer of holiday joy. Let yourself do the things that feel good and let the rest go. People don’t remember the meal or the gifts or the decorating much past New Years. They do remember the good times had with family and friends.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.
In a previous blog post I discussed Negative Thought Patterns. This article is a follow up explain thought stopping techniques to try if you struggle to deal with negative thoughts.
What is thought stopping? Thought stopping is a variety of techniques used to reprogram your brain from running through the same negative thought patterns.
How is it done?
One technique is to do a thought replacement. Here you take the negative thought and replace it with a positive one. For example “I am going to have a panic attack at the work meeting” becomes “I have handled many stressful meetings and I can handle this one”.
Another technique is to either visualize a stop sign or verbally say stop when negative thought patterns begin.
A third version of this is to visualize a calming place and do breathing exercises for a few minutes until the anxiety passes. Adding a breathing component to any of these techniques will increase its effectiveness.
With any techniques used to address anxiety you must practice them regularly in order to see results. I often see people something for a few days and then quit. Remember you have had the negative thoughts for a long time and it takes a while to change thought patterns.
Most of us have experienced some moments where our thoughts have taken over our minds. Something happens and our mind goes to the worst possible scenario where we get stuck. There are many different variations on how negative thinking patterns start. David Burns in his book Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy identified ten different ways that people distort their thoughts.
All or nothing thinking-if I can’t do it perfectly I can’t do it at all
Over generalizing- I failed that time I took the drivers test so I will fail every time I try and take the test
Mental Filter– your mind filters out your success and only focuses on your failures
Disqualifying the Positives-your mind discounts any positive things that have happened
Jumping to conclusions– you predict the future or what others are thinking
Magnification/Minimization- you blow something up to be very big or shrink it to be meaningless
Emotional thinking-since I feel it-it must be true.
Should thinking-I have failed because I “should” have….
Labeling-you label other people and yourself in negative terms such as I am an idiot
Personalizing-I was told something I did was wrong so the person telling me must not like me
Now that you can identity your negative thought patterns the next blog article will give you some techniques to stop them.
Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines assertiveness as:
“A form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.”
A component of assertiveness is being able to say no and the ability to set boundaries. Many people struggle with this.
Why can it be hard to say no?
You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings
You always say yes
You want to be helpful
You avoid conflicts
Why is it important to say no sometimes?
If you say yes when you really mean no you usually end up resenting completing the task you agreed to do. When you never say no then your yes answers don’t mean as much because you are not showing you are truly committed to whatever you agreed to.
How can you learn to say no
1. Break the habit. Often people who struggle with saying no automatically say yes to everything. They don’t even give themselves time to think before answering. Start answering questions with “Can I get back to you in an hour?” Use this whenever the situation allows. This gives you some time to think about what you really want to do
2. Practice saying no. For one week say no in a situation where you would normally say yes. If the cashier at the grocery store always asks you for a charity donation start saying no instead of yes. Start this process in situations where there is less emotional pull to say yes. This allows you to practice before you start saying no to your family and at work. Remember this is a habit and it will not change overnight you will need time to practice.
3. Before you say yes, consider what saying yes, means. Time is limited. Do you really want to spend time doing things that you do not want to do? What if the task makes you tired or grumpy, you then have to factor in lost quality time at home. Weigh these scenarios out before you say yes.
4. Set preemptive boundaries. Know what you will and won’t do ahead of time. You won’t go to engagements on a Sunday night; you won’t bake for work events etc. If you have a line you have already mentally drawn it makes it easier to say no when someone asks you to do something over that line.
When you say no
An unassertive no means you say no but then you start making excuses about why you can not do it. This is usually because you feel you have to rationalize saying no.
An aggressive no means you yell or say no in a mocking matter.
An assertive no means you can just say no without, further explanation. If you explain it is brief. No, I cannot do the carpool that day as I have to work late.
If you have been saying yes to everything for a period of time I would anticipate that you will be uncomfortable when you start saying no. You may also get some backlash from people that are accustomed to you always saying yes. If people challenge your no answers you can just answer them back using the broken record technique. That means each time you are challenged you simply repeat back the exact same explanation you gave the first time. Learning to say no can be a powerful way for you to take care of yourself and keep good boundaries.
2. Don’t stay in bed if you are not sleeping
3. Get up the same time every day.
During the holidays it can be challenging to deal with the stress that comes up. We often have much more to do in addition to dealing with our normal day to day tasks. Our expectations may be high and unrealistic which can lead to disappointment. We may overspend or get depressed because we don’t have the money to buy the gifts we want to. Whatever it is here are a few tips for dealing with holiday stress.
1. Set realistic expectations: If your family doesn’t get along any other time of the year, don’t expect them to get along at the holidays. Often instead of being on their best behavior the holidays can bring out the worst in people. Don’t expect people to be any different than any other time of the year and you won’t be disappointed.
2. Be realistic on what you can do: You may not be able to send personalized holiday cards to your entire extended family, buy everyone the perfect gift, and create the perfect meal for 35. This is meant to be a time of family and fun, don’t set it up so that you are doing so much that you do not get to enjoy it all. People remember the togetherness and interactions, not the holiday cards.
3. Keep up with the self care: Whatever it is that you do to take care of yourself during the year, keep it up. Exercise, meditate, get enough sleep etc. If you don’t have anything you are doing during the year to take care of yourself than find something and start ASAP. We often give up on our self care routines when we need them the most. You have the time if you make it a priority and you should be making your well being a priority.
4. Ask for help: Are you trying to do it all yourself? Ask for help. Family members or friends may be ready and willing to pitch in. You don’t know until you ask.
5. Say No: You don’t have to bake for every party, attend every party, and make costumes for the kid’s holiday pageants. You can and should say no. Again do what makes you feel good and throw out the rest.
6. Have gratitude: Give money to charity, donate your time to charity and practice gratitude for what you do have. Gratitude is good for your health and will make you feel emotionally better.
7. Get professional help if you need it: As a therapist I can tell you this is usually a great time to get an appointment because many people are not following my #3 recommendation. You don’t have to have serious mental health issues to get help, being stressed is enough. Many companies offer EAP benefits which are perfect for this situation. You can 2-10 free sessions. Many of those benefits are within a calendar year so it is a perfect time to use them.
Almost everyone suffers from insomnia at some point in their lives. Most people either suffer from it or turn to medication to resolve it. While I am a strong believer that medication can and may be necessary to help people sleep, I think many people are developing a long term dependency on these medications.
The NY Times recently printed an article on research on behavioral interventions for insomnia. They come down to:
1. Don’t go to bed until you are sleep
2. Don’t stay in bed if you are not sleeping
3. Get up the same time every day.
I would also add watch that caffeine intake. It astounds me how many people I work with that have sleep issues that also consume massive amounts of caffeine every day.
Of course with any behavioral method results will be slower than if you take a pill, but this method comes down to not spending any time in bed that you are not sleeping. I find many people criticize such efforts without trying them first.
What is your insomnia story? Let me know in comments below.