This month’s topic is so important to talk about, because the issue of workplace abuse is pervasive, and yet so difficult to identify. It sometimes takes years to identify toxic relationships and environments, so I am hoping that this will help create empowerment, freedom, and validation for those of you who may be experiencing this.
Disclaimer: We are focusing on emotional and psychological abuse, so if you have experienced physical or sexual abuse at your workplace, please seek professional help in identifying your options, and of course contact emergency or law enforcement if you are in immediate danger.
First of All- What is Workplace Abuse?
Let’s call it what it is. When someone at your workplace uses their position of power or other means to manipulate your emotions or behavior- that is called abuse. When a professional relationship is so toxic that it is impacting your self-esteem, self-confidence, hopefulness, freedom, or any realm of your personal life, there is a good chance that you are experiencing an abusive workplace.
Recognizing the Abuse
We would call out emotional or psychological abuse in a romantic relationship if a partner was using degrading language to control or manipulate the other’s behavior. So why do we have such a hard time seeing it at work? I think it has something to do with believing that when we put our professional selves forward, we leave behind the muddiness of our personal selves. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Work can feel highly personal, and the dynamics we enact in our personal lives are likely present professionally as well. But we don’t know to even look for these things, because most people generally assume that their colleagues will bring their best selves to work and that work and life exist in two separate realms.
It can also be hard to recognize, because we might engage in self-blame. We might actually believe that what our employer or colleague is saying is true and therefore turn our anger inward. It can be really difficult to parse out productive feedback that may make us feel difficult emotions versus words or actions intended to make us feel bad. But there’s the difference: productive feedback is intended to lift you up and raise you to your highest potential. It should include actionable items or specific things to work on, and you should have a clear path to receiving support on these things. Workplace abuse is intended to bring you down. It may occur in the form of retaliation when someone feels hurt, undercutting in order to bolster someone else, or hazing-type behaviors (e.g., “I was made to go through hell when I first got here, so you have to go through this too”).
The Impact on Mental Health
Especially given the way that our identities, sense of self, and feelings of worthiness come from our work, workplace abuse can be incredibly harmful. It can make us feel stuck, worthless, as though our work or lives don’t have meaning or purpose, can impact self-esteem and confidence, may affect our relationships, can cause symptoms of anxiety or depression, may impact future opportunity, and there is a potential for suicidal or homicidal thoughts or actions.
What Can You Do?
I watched someone I love very much gradually shift from a happy, optimistic, hard working, motivated, loving, confident person to someone who was withdrawn, isolated, exhausted, and felt inferior to those around her. It wasn't until I recognized that her boss (who I also knew socially) was perpetrating the same emotional abuse she herself experienced. Despite running away from the abuse of her past, she continued the cycle with her employees through retaliation, undercutting, undermining, and manipulation. If you have noticed a similar shift in yourself or someone you love due to workplace relationships, I hope that you may find your light once again.
Sending everyone today light, love, and a reminder to take care of our hurtful pasts so that they may stop hurting ourselves and others.
To breathe is to choose to live. To breathe mindfully is to choose to live with purpose.
Sometimes when life gets really stressful, we can feel trapped or stuck. It can feel like we don’t have options, only to survive it as unscathed as possible. But we always have at least one option: We can choose to breathe. Just the act of choosing the breath can be enough to feel a certain reclamation over our life, but sometimes the way we choose to breathe can change the way we experience life itself. Below I’ve listed different breathing pattern types and how they change the body’s experience. Just slip these in your back pocket for a day you need to feel more control, choice, or calm.
The Big Release
This is the system reset. Take your breath from the chest and into the belly for the deepest breath you have taken all day. Exhale with an open mouth to release tension. Doing this will quickly lower your heart rate and jumpstart a healthier pattern of breathing. We tend to largely breathe using our chests, but this keeps our breath shallow, decreases the amount of oxygen that circulates through the body, and causes more emotional tension and stress. Give yourself a couple moments to breathe in deeply and audibly exhale and you will likely notice that after doing so your breathing switches to a deeper, more diaphragmatic pattern.
The Curious Breath
If you are feeling like you are watching your day pass without really feeling or engaging with it, then you may benefit from a more mindfulness-based way of breathing. Take just a few minutes to close your eyes and sit in silence. Then, without changing anything, just notice your breath. Is it in your chest or belly? What is the speed and depth? How does it feel in your nose and throat? Then, if you notice that you may feel more comfortable if you changed your pattern of breath, do so and take note of how your body physically changes. Combining breathing with mindfulness has double the benefits: lowering heart rate, decreasing stress and anxiety, along with increasing focus, concentration, productivity, and creativity.
The Controlled Breath
You have so many options when it comes to breathing, and if you’re feeling cornered or stuck in a certain aspect of life, you may try to experiment with any combination of the following:
The Slow and Steady
This is the tried and true pattern of breathing to help control heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and assist your immune system. If you are looking for a simple way to bring a sense of calm or don’t have the space to get creative with the above techniques, try closing your eyes and breathing in and out as slowly as you comfortably can. Try to make your exhales slightly longer than your inhales. Do this for at least a few moments and you may find this gives you just enough to persevere.
Let us remember that we may always choose the breath, and in doing so choose the lives we live. Namaste, friends!
I’m part of the generation that came up with the term ‘ghosting.’ It’s not lost on me how this happened or why; I’m both a therapist and a millennial, so I deeply understand the change in social structure we’ve experienced (the anxieties, fears, dangers, rules, needs, and desires). But as a therapist, I have seen such a dangerous shift happen. And I’m not talking about how ghosting hurts the ghosted; I’m talking about how it actually hurts the ghoster. What are the psychological effects of ghosting and why am I CERTAIN this is hands down one of the most harmful habits we have developed?
1. You’re developing habits of non-confrontation.
Why is non-confrontation a harmful thing? People who are confrontational in a healthy and balanced way (think calm, cool, collected) tend to have their needs met more often. People who are willing to say what they need and how they need it (in a non-defensive and open manner) are likely to get just that. Being honest about your needs allows others in your life to know where you’re at and it gives them an opening to share things you may not have previously known. In addition, because it’s so easy to just stop communicating all together, never to be heard from again, I’m seeing people begin to translate this habit into the workplace, at home, and in meaningful friendships as well. Again I emphasize: If you aren’t communicating, you aren’t having your needs met. Developing non-confrontational habits and allowing them to seep into multiple areas of your life is a guarantee to feel less satisfaction in all of these areas.
2. The surface level becomes too easy.
The habit of ghosting becoming more common means that you are never held accountable to a deeper level of communication and thus meaning in relationships. If ghosting has become a pattern, you run the risk of staying on the surface in your romantic relationships and never getting to reap the reward (closeness, bonding, trust, intimacy to name a few) of staying when things get tough. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to end relationships and leave. But what I’m seeing is that instead of asking for our needs (more space, open relationship, different dates, different intimacy), we stop all together.
3. You’re selling yourself short.
Therapists sometimes get ghosted as well (I could write an entire article on this), so I’m going to speak to personal experience here. When I have clients who drop off without so much as an email, what makes me the saddest is that they don’t get to hear how great I thought they were. In all closing sessions, it is customary for your therapist to tell you what progress they saw you make, what strengths they saw in you, and some therapists even share what impact you had on them or what they learned from you. When you don’t give your therapist a warning that you are leaving, you are denying yourself the opportunity to hear how awesome you are! And in romantic relationships, you never get to hear the impact you had on them. You could be missing out on understanding yourself as others see you.
4. No goodbye means there’s always an open end in the back of your mind.
There’s a reason why in pop culture and folklore, ghosts come back to haunt when they have ‘unfinished business.’ That’s because having open endings can be psychologically damaging! We never get to completely move on and heal, because we don’t get to wrap it in a bow, place it in a category, confront our feelings about it, then go forth into the world a wiser and more self-actualized person.
Yehuda Borg said, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Let us all choose to speak- that is, choose connection and meaning- today, tomorrow, and every other day.
This Valentine’s Day, we look at not only how to effectively de-escalate arguments, but how to become closer in the process.
Without communication, you don’t have a relationship. What you get is two (or more) people living separate lives in the presence of one another. Communication is like the bridge between two lives. It’s a two-way street that allows you to both give and receive needs, wants, and desires. What I see as a therapist is that most couples having relationship issues are actually having problems with their communication. Ultimately, this comes down to a conscious effort of all people involved to lean into their vulnerability and to disallow their past experiences from dictating their fears and behaviors of the future.
Vulnerability: The Golden Ticket
Have you ever wondered why one moment everything is fine, and the next you’re at level 100 after your loved one said one little comment? That’s because they touched a soft spot, and in order to protect yourself you respond with anger, pushing them away, or intentionally hitting them back in their soft spot. That’s how scary vulnerability is- it can turn us into a version of ourselves we swore we’d never become.
If you’re having difficulty identifying what your soft spot is, try thinking about a time that you felt particularly insecure in your relationship or the least connected to your partner. Next, think a bit deeper about where those thoughts were heading when you felt that lack of connection or insecurity. Common thoughts tend to be things like, “I begin to think that I’m not good enough”, “I start thinking that they don’t need me anymore”, “I feel insecure in my ability to be a good parent”, or “They would be happier with someone else.” Once you have identified the thought or belief about yourself that tends to be at the core of your pain when feeling disconnection, you’ve found your soft spot. This is the fear that becomes activated before you respond to your partner in anger. This is your vulnerability. This is the place in yourself that you must learn to communicate to your loved one, and the part of you that your partner must learn to speak to when they sense you have become hurt.
Now, think about what events have precipitated the activation of your soft spot. Was it your loved one forgetting something you said, the laundry on the floor, seeing them spend more time with coworkers? These are some of your triggers for your soft spot becoming activated. Being aware of these can help you remember that when you feel your blood start to boil, what you may need more than the dishes being done is hearing from your partner that you are loved, appreciated, and seen. You can additionally communicate with your significant other about how it feels when these triggers happen and why it is so difficult for you. Then, it is time to respond to the soft spot. So let’s continue with tools for this piece…
The cardinal rule of responding to the soft spot should be to drop the logical talk. Seriously, it does much more harm than good. I promise it’s not actually about the dishes, so resist the urge to say things like, “But I got home later than usual and you said this to me, so I thought _____.” Or, “But I did the dishes yesterday, so why did I need to do them again? I took the trash out.” Or maybe worse yet, “But you didn’t tell me they needed to be done.” Remember that it doesn’t matter the facts of what happened, what matters is how each of you perceived and felt about it. Because at the end of the day, our reality is felt.
So what can you say? After taking a deep breath and announcing to your partner that you both need to take a pause, you can begin to comfort your partner’s soft spot. The second rule is to remember that two realities can and do exist at the same time. Meaning, comforting your partner’s hurt does not mean that you are admitting to being wrong or dismissing your own hurt, fear, or anger. Your turn to be comforted is coming, because in healthy communication all parties have an opportunity to both listen and be listened to. Keeping this in mind, try to stay focused on the soft spot and comfort this vulnerability as if it is a small child. Aim to be supportive, attentive, and soothing by repeating what your loved one is saying and showing them you see them. For example: “When I did that, you began to feel like you aren’t good enough. I can see that caused you a lot of pain.” This is called validation. You can go a step further by then saying, “You are good enough. You are worthy.” The third step would then be to ask your significant other what you can do to make them feel loved in that moment.
The third rule is to ask for your needs. Our society has somehow developed this awful idea that in a healthy relationship your partner should somehow be so aligned with your needs that they anticipate what you need before you even know. No. That’s called magic. And it has no place in the reality of a relationship. You must ask for what you need. (This is when our vulnerability starts yelling at us, “No! Don’t say that out loud! It sounds dumb! Just suck it up!”) Instead of waiting for your partner to say magic words that will make it all go away, try saying, “When that happened, it made me feel like I’m not good enough for you. And now I’m feeling pretty bad and wondering if you truly are happy with me. Could you reassure me?” (Tip: This rule involves really honing in on what your soft spot is and being able to name it. Refer to the beginning of article.)
Of course for these things to work, everyone needs to be on board. It would hurt pretty bad to open yourself up only to be shut down, so be sure that you both have identified your soft spots and have communicated about what these are.
Did you know that most couples wait about 6 years after a problem emerges to get help? By this point, hurt and pain has compiled, making healing that much harder. Don’t wait too long to seek support. There are counselors in all price ranges. Reach out to me if you need help finding someone. Or, if you are local and interested in setting up a free consultation, I love working with couples and helping them build bonds to last a lifetime. If you can’t tell from the above, I’m just a tad passionate about it!
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
We’ve reached the point in Winter when I catch myself wondering if anything but grey skies will ever exist.
I’m seeing a pattern right now that people are growing tired of waking up to cold mornings, having short days, driving home in the dark, and having less time to do things they enjoy. Plus, finances may not have recovered from the holidays and the end of January is usually when New Year’s resolutions lose their steam and all around hope is a little harder to come by.
Clearly it is time for a productive pep talk, and no one is happier to provide that to you than your friendly neighborhood therapist! So get comfy in your seat and soak these words in like the sunshine we’ve all be missing…
1. Let’s start by remembering that everything in life is a cycle.
All patterns in life mirror death and new life- from sleeping and eating to creative and emotional cycles. If you are feeling like your life has lack of energy or inspiration, then you are on the upward. Moments when we feel the dead of winter is within us are moments when we are restoring and regenerating; we are fueling for moments of energy and new life. What you’re feeling right now is not an end; it is generating your new beginning.
2. You can do this! I know this, because you’ve done it before.
You have made it through loss, tough days at work, and times when everything was thrown at you at once. Those beautifully strong qualities inside of you that helped you get through those times are still with you today. Call on them for help, and remember that they are with you always.
3. Plot twist: Thank yourself.
Gratitude is the antidote for our critical voice that says we can’t do it. Spend more moments of your day thanking yourself for what you have done so far to get you through the day. Thank yourself for those qualities of strength we mentioned earlier.
4. Quick tip on the practice of self-comfort.
Picture someone who loves or cares for you very much (person or pet!) and imagine them telling you the exact words you need to hear. Imagine them expressing unconditional love and support.
5. Extra Credit: Use the power of imagination.
Did you know that our brains can’t tell the difference between reality and what we tell it to imagine? That’s why meditating to the image of a beach works; our brains respond as if we are actually there! Close your eyes and imagine your perfect vacation getaway. Breathe deeply, relax your muscles, and use all 5 senses to vividly imagine yourself there. (Can you smell or taste the salt in the air? Can you feel the wind? What colors do you see? What textures can you find? How loud are the waves?) Go to your happy place as often as you need a little boost.
6. And lastly, remember that you have support around you.
I deeply care for your wellbeing and would be happy to talk to you about how I can help if you’re still in a rut.
You’ve got this! Take a deep breath, imagine yourself as a superhero, and go forth to conquer the day. I believe in you.
We have all been there. You’ve been working tirelessly for what feels like absolutely no gain. And while you’ve been sprinting your own personal marathon, your friends seem to be always be lounging by the beach soaking in both the sun and their personal satisfaction of having all their dreams realized (just me? Remind me to write an article on “projection” later…).
I’m going to share a secret with you, something I had to do a lot of my own personal work to figure out.
Your moments of greatest growth often feel like your moments of greatest suffering.
You see, resiliency is a real thing. Some would call it grit, others strength or endurance. I see it as the thing that allows us to endure the worst of times and yet somehow still wake up the next morning. Has anyone else ever thought of how incredible it is that we can go to bed feeling the worst heartbreak or grief of our lifetime and wake up the next morning with our organs still completely intact? It’s like our heart should be physically broken in half, and yet it still goes, working day in and day out. (Let us all take a moment to send a quick thanks to those parts of ourselves, shall we?)
How does this all relate to not being where you want to be? I’m saying that you may not see what progress you’ve made yet, because you’re still sprinting your marathon. You might be too far in to see how far you’ve come. If you think back on your life, you can probably identify a time in life that you grew tremendously in the face of adversity. But if you recall how you felt in the midst of that turmoil, you likely were not waking up each morning with a smile on your face saying, “Damn I grew a lot yesterday. Let’s do it again today!” That’s because it doesn’t always feel good to use our resilience just because we have it.
But if you are in the middle of working hard to get yourself out of the weeds and you continue to wake up day in and day out to your heart still pumping, then you are growing. Our resilience really doesn’t give us another option but to grow and thrive.
What can you do? I would suggest taking a moment to sit down and reflect. Truly spend some time thinking back and outline the ways you have already grown and achieved. Try to see yourself the way someone who loves you might, as opposed to your worst inner critic.
I would also suggest talking with your therapist about what progress they have seen. They may be able to give you real insight and even suggest areas of future growth and direction.
And lastly, do you need new direction? Check in with yourself and ask if the area you are growing is still your best use of energy. Have your goals changed? Are there more appropriate areas to work on in order to achieve your goals?
And please remember: Just because you see where you want to be in the future, doesn’t mean you haven’t already traversed serious ground to get where you are today. So thank yourself for your perseverance and strength and maybe stop looking at your friends’ beachside Instagram pictures.
Therapy is an investment in yourself, so get everything you can out of it. Your therapist is working outside of session to do their part in preparation for your session, but what can you be doing? This article addresses that which is in YOUR control.
The more you follow the above steps, the more seriously both you and your therapist will take your goals. Don’t make the common mistake of thinking that just showing up to session is enough to grow; you have to put in the work. Make your sessions a sacred space in your week, work hard, and watch your life flourish.
Have you ever had one of those moments when it feels like the rest of the world doesn’t exist?
When your sight, smell, taste, and touch feels elevated and it’s almost as if you’re seeing everything for the first time? Some people describe this happening when they are with a loved one or looking out to a beautiful view while on vacation and completely at ease. If you’ve ever experienced a peaceful contentment in this way, then you have had what others refer to as a moment of mindfulness. When people go to yoga classes, practice meditation, or use their breath as a tool, they are often attempting to achieve the reprieve that comes with a moment like this.
Another way to describe mindfulness would be the intentional focus on the present moment, using curiosity and acceptance of your body and mind’s current experience. It can be a brief moment, a pause in your day. It can be a breath, a statement said to yourself when you are alone in the car, a day spent gardening and riding your bike while noticing all of the colors and textures in the world, a yoga class with intentional breathing, or even 10 minutes with your loved one at the end of the day spent holding their hand and cherishing their presence.
What do these moments even give us, and why has mindfulness been such a buzz word? Does an increase in immune function, focus, job satisfaction, ability to regulate emotions, and a reduction of stress sound appealing to anyone? Oh, you too?
Mindfulness practice can increase gray matter in the posterior cingulate (mind-wandering), left hippocampus (learning and memory), temporo parietal junction (perspective taking, empathy, and compassion), and pons (communication between the brain stem and cortex, sleep). In other words, it changes the brain in the areas that are important for emotional regulation, focus, and empathy (Holzel, 2011).
The amazing thing is that you don’t have to make a radical life change to begin feeling the effects. If you have sixty seconds to spare in your day, you can use mindfulness. Here are some things that I teach my clients to integrate into their lives:
Use curiosity and let go of judgment.
If the goal of mindfulness is to fully experience the present moment, we can’t do that if we don’t allow ourselves a break from the worries of tomorrow. Judgment keeps our focus on the past and future. Example: “I’m not doing this right. I’ve never been good at sitting still.” Then comes the spiral of thinking about all the moments in your life you haven’t felt good enough and all the moments in the future you are convinced you won’t be able to navigate. Whereas curiosity is the antidote: “What is my body experiencing right now?” There’s no judgment in this, only simple answers rooted in the present moment. Other questions of curiosity might be: “How is my body feeling right now?”, “Where is my attention right now and how can I bring it back to the present?”, “What is my breath doing?”, “What sensations do I feel in my body right now?” Take the role of scientist with your project being to study your current experience, and ask questions that a researcher would if they wanted to capture your present experience as accurately as they could.
Take a Self-Compassion Break.
Compassion for ourselves helps us let go of the aforementioned judgement that brings stress, anxiety, fear, and a lack of presence within ourselves. Give yourself a moment of forgiveness for something that happened in your day you may be holding on to. Cut yourself a break. Tell yourself that you are sorry you are experiencing something difficult and that it is going to be okay. Tell yourself that this feeling of discomfort will pass.
If using curiosity and self-compassion seem difficult, you are not alone. I help my clients practice these things over the course of months, because behind self-judgement are harmful patterns we have used over the course of a lifetime. It takes a lot of practice, and if you aren’t quite there yet, maybe try telling yourself this (or at least hear it from me): “You are in a place of learning and self-discovery. You are using courage, strength, and bravery today by exploring something new. Thank you for doing this. Self-compassion didn’t work for me today, and that is okay. I am not alone in this being a difficult thing to practice. Let’s try something different instead.” And then see below for tools that take just a moment to do, and don’t (typically) involve breaking down generation old patterns:
Five Sense Awareness
Look around the room and name to yourself what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. I like to start this exercise by taking a large, audible breath. Challenge yourself to finding 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste.
Notice the pattern of your breath and how your body moves with each exhale and inhale. If you want, change your breath by deepening it and exhaling loudly, counting your breaths, or making your exhales longer than your inhales. Notice any changes to your physical sensation as you do this.
Listen to a song you find pleasing with your eyes closed and count the number of times you hear a particular word. Bonus points for breathing deeply while doing this.
Take your time with what you are eating and notice the flavors, texture, and aroma. Try to slow your breathing and fully chew before swallowing.
These seem simple, but I promise they get the job done. Slowing your life down enough to notice the world around you brings positive physiological changes and your emotional experience is sure to follow. Remember that it can take practice, and you may have to experiment a little to find mindfulness tools that best suit you. But that’s okay, because we’re scientists, remember?
If you’re interested in practicing mindfulness with me or learning the art of self-compassion, give me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sleep. Isn’t it the thing we always need more of? I talked about the benefits of sleep for your mental health in this article here, but I wanted to offer some yoga poses for a night of restorative Zz’s. And bonus: All of these can be done from bed!
One of my favorite ways to crawl into bed is to gently pull the covers back and then plop down, laying for a few moments in whatever position I landed. I use this as a transition time to notice my breath, deepen my breathing, and tune in to how my body is feeling. The beauty of this is that even though it doesn’t have a fancy Sanskrit name, it is definitely yoga. Yoga happens in any intentional moment of breath.
From there, I do any number of these to relax my mind and body and to improve my quality of sleep. These are my go-to poses that I would suggest for anyone without specific physical issues, so of course use your better judgment for my friends struggling with bone or joint pain.
Supported Child’s Pose
Grab 2 or 3 pillows and stack them in front of yourself on the bed. Pull your knees wide apart and bring your toes touching. Fold forward and rest one side of your face on the pillow. Bring your arms to the sides of the pillow or tuck them underneath. Remember to release your breath deeply and relax your face muscles, especially the jaw.
Reclining Bound Angel Pose
Lying flat on your back on the bed, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. I like to place pillows underneath each thigh and my head for extra support. Most people like to place their hands on their belly to feel the rise and fall of each breath. I prefer to place my hands on my hips to allow the weight of arm to slightly push them down. Focus on breathing deeply as always.
Supported Spinal Twist
From your back, bend both knees to a 90 degree angle and let them fall to the right. Stretch your arms out from the shoulder making a T. Turn your head to the left and let your cheek rest on the bed. You can place a pillow between your knees for support and to make this a more restorative pose. Whenever you’re ready, bring your knees and head back to center, then fall to the opposite side.
Last but not least….
From any of these poses, gently bring yourself to lie flat on the bed. I like to stretch my arms up over my head while I stretch my legs and feet out as far as I can go. Then I release my limbs while releasing a large audible breath. The key here is to relax the jaw and face muscles. From there, progressively relax your muscles moving down to your feet. It’s okay if unwanted thoughts pop in your head. They’re just thoughts, and I promise they can’t hurt you. Just keep breathing through them and allow them to pass. If they’re clinging on, you can picture them passing like clouds. You’re witnessing them, but then they move on and leave space for the skies to open up. Keeping your eyes closed, you can use your imagination if you’re having trouble relaxing your mind. You can either picture yourself on vacation (really bring to mind all the sights, colors, textures, sensations, and smells), or you can tell yourself a story like you would tell a child at bedtime.
Try these next time you need a little help transitioning from your stressful day or getting your mind and body into a space ready for sleep. And remember my cardinal rule for rest: No screens as aids for sleep.
Breathe deep. YOU’VE GOT THIS.
Are you considering going to therapy, but not quite ready to take the leap? You aren’t alone. For many people, the decision to call a therapist is a big one. It can feel like it takes more energy than you currently have, or maybe you are skeptical that it’s even for you. That’s okay! If you aren’t ready to decide, but would like steps you can take to improve your life in the meantime, then this article is for you.
We are going to go down to the real basics here for a minute, and bear with me: EAT. SLEEP. BREATHE.
That’s right. My expert clinical advice to making most situations feel just a little bit more manageable is to do what you’ve been doing since birth. Symptoms of every disorder in the book can be exacerbated by lack of sleep and proper nutrition. And as a yoga therapist, I believe that most people aren’t using the breath to their greatest potential. So here’s how I want you to improve the basics and why…
I cannot stress the importance of nutrition enough. Think of our dear old friend Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Words from 431 BC still ring true today. Every piece of food you eat has nutritional value with its own combination of vitamins, minerals, and bacteria. Some of these properties are really good at helping us with certain things. For example: Folate and B12 help you with mood and sleep, Magnesium with sleep and muscle relaxation, and probiotics for stress, anxiety, and depression.
If we deny ourselves foods that are higher in the properties we need, we deny ourselves the medicine we need to feel better.
Did you know that sugar has been linked to depression, especially in women? Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and researchers alike have been studying in the last decade the harmful effects that sugar has on mood. Research, such as that done by Dr. Meredith Bargman, has shown sugar to lead to spikes and drops of mood throughout the day. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that piece of chocolate, but I am saying that what we eat has an impact on our mental health.
Just a little food for thought…
I work with very few people who would report getting the sleep they need or would like every night. And yet, when I hear a client say that they are having their best day in a long time, most times it is because of a good night’s sleep.
I’m sure you have heard these before, but perhaps you will listen if your friendly neighborhood therapist tells you how great they are? Put the phone and computer down, and make your bedroom a sacred space. Electronics are highly stimulating, but for some reason we like using them right as we want to calm our minds and bodies. If you’re not a reader, try Sudoku, word puzzles, or a coloring book instead. Protect your bed from the mayhem of the world and you will find that over time your body begins associating crawling in with sleep time. You might also try a calming cup of tea, magnesium for muscle relaxation, or some gentle stretching. There are even sleep apps out there that will tell you bedtime stories! Just be sure to turn your phone upside down and keep it on the side table while you immerse yourself in the lost art of imagination.
If you’re reading this right now, you’re breathing. But I would bet that your breaths are shallow and barely noticeable. Try something: Take the biggest breath you’ve taken all day. Your lungs just opened up and your brain and body got a healthy dose of oxygen. And it was that easy. Make a point to take several big breaths every day, noticing what it feels like and how it changes your experience. When we breathe, we allow there to be space where space is needed. The simple act of mindful breathing can carry us through some of life’s most trying times.
If you want more information on how to use breathing and mindfulness to conquer stress, stay tuned! I believe in it so much, I can’t resist but to give it its own article!
Emily Wagner, trauma expert, yoga therapist, and mental health counselor provides education for anyone looking to improve their mental health.