This summer I’ve been hearing a lot of questions about how to build self-esteem. So what is self-esteem (a.k.a. self-worth), and how can you develop yours?
And, just like that, it's June. The tulips are out, the sun is (hopefully) shining, and the scent of summer is in the air. You know what else spring and summer are good for?
Life transitions! Hooray! … Right?
If you’re a student, you might have just graduated, be heading to graduate school, be preparing to study abroad, or be packing up to head home after a year away on your own for the first time. Or perhaps you are looking for a new job, are newly single, or are reaching a milestone birthday. These are just some examples of big life transitions. These moments can cause excitement, fear, and uncertainty, all rolled up into one big, lovely package.
Coping through loss. Not a very fun sounding newsletter, is it? But I think it’s an important and meaningful topic, and I hope this issue of the newsletter will help some of you. In recent months I have heard a lot about loss in my practice. Losing of loved ones, ending relationships, leaving college life and feeling shaky about what comes next, and moving on from friends and familiar places. Loss comes in all different forms, but it’s always difficult. How the heck are we supposed to get through it?!
Regardless of what type of loss it is, emotions can overtake us and try to control what we do or don’t do. Disappointment, shock, depression, anger—they all call out to us in times of loss. And while these emotions are important to pay attention to, it is also important to pay attention to what we need to move through this pain we feel.
There are two skills that I have found particularly helpful in times of loss, and that I recommend you try too.
1). Set aside about 20 minutes (you can even set a timer if you want) and gather what you need to help you just be with whatever feelings arise. Get the aloe tissues ready, a glass of water to stay hydrated, a pillow to hug, or even stuffed animals (we won’t judge).
Remember to be kind to yourself as you feel all those emotions. And after that time limit, make sure you have something planned that helps you feel grounded. It could be watching something on Netflix, seeing a friend, taking a hot shower or bath, or listening to music you find soothing. Whatever it is, tend to yourself.
2). Structure can be your best friend in times of pain and loss. The last thing we need is to be on the couch in a dark room all day. (You can do that if you want, but refer to option 1 for some guidelines.) So give yourself some structure. Get out your weekly planner. If you don’t have one, make one. Look at your week and add in your work, school, family, and any other commitments you have to take care of. Then fill in the gaps. When do you want to see friends? When do you want to be alone and cry or journal? When do you want to watch TV or read that book you’ve been meaning to? When do you want to go for a walk or run?
Scheduling yourself will create a structure that can help you move through emotions thoughtfully, kindly, and with built-in support. Of course, you can always move things around—nothing is ever set in stone. But knowing you have things to look forward to is so important. It’s part of being kind to yourself in a time of loss.
Going through a loss of any kind is a process. Emotions are important, and we need to create space to feel them so we can create space to heal. I hope you find these two methods of creating that space as helpful as I have.
Wishing you all good things.
When you think of spring, you often think of shedding the old and bringing in the new. But that doesn’t have to mean just throwing out those old sweaters to make room for new ones. You can apply the same idea to the emotional clutter you collect and hold on to.
Just like unused clothes in a closet, emotions can take up room you can’t spare in your brain. That’s because you unintentionally hoard emotions like guilt, shame, sadness, and anxiety.
But what purpose does this collection of unfortunate emotions serve? None!
It's time to clean out that closet, weed that garden, take out the trash … you get the idea. It might not be as easy to throw out emotional clutter as it is to donate that ratty old sweater, but it can be done with a little patience and kindness.
Below are three steps to guide you through your emotional spring cleaning.
1. Emotional Sorting
Take those emotions off your mental shelf and look at them one by one. Do you need this emotion right now? Do you enjoy wearing it? If not, toss it into the trash. If you want to hold on to it, ask yourself why you want to keep it and for how long. I find these questions can help separate us from our thoughts and emotions, and help us answer honestly.
If you need some distance, I encourage you to ask these questions out loud. Talking it out can help! When you decide which thoughts and emotions are taking up too much space, you can take the next step in letting them go.
Put those thoughts from the trash pile onto a page. No judgment, no editing (swear words included), no holding back. Writing these thoughts down helps free your mind of any ruminative thinking. After you finish writing it all down, you can choose to keep it, shred it, or throw it out. Throwing out the physical evidence of those emotions can be particularly cathartic for many people.
3. Make a Self-Care List
Practice being kind to yourself. To loosen the grip of negative thoughts and emotions, and fully let go, you also need to put good things into your life. Go to the movies, read a book for fun, go for a walk, or do something you love on your own or with a friend. Make a list of activities that make you happy and pick something from it at least once a week.
Remember that these steps may need to be repeated several times before you feel the full effect of
letting go. Do not give up!
It is hard cleaning out old stuff, even when you desperately want to kick it to the curb. This is especially true of emotions. Be patient with yourself. You can always spend some extra time on Step 3 if you feel stuck.
Sending good energy your way!
On an average day, “should” statements can motivate us. “I should do my laundry tonight so I have underwear for tomorrow,” or “I should fill up my car with gas so I don’t run out on the drive home tonight.”
But when we are anxious, the word “should” becomes paralyzing.
Have you ever noticed your internal dialogue when you are feeling anxious? If not, next time you are feeling anxiety, see if you can observe your thoughts and catch a “should” statement. “I should be able to write this email perfectly,” or “I should be able to get started and I just can’t do it,” or “I should be able to balance everything on my schedule right now.”
When we ‘’should” ourselves, we judge ourselves based on false assumptions. We assume everyone else is having an easier time, that everyone else would be better or faster at whatever task we are doing in that moment, or that we have to do something in a certain way in order to get it done.
Perhaps you happen to be surrounded by people who enjoy writing and the process of struggling through it, or you’re often around friends who feel comfortable asking people out on dates, or you know people who are legitimately having an easier time doing the same work. But there are more people in your boat than you think.
For many people, “should” stops being helpful when it stops being motivational and is instead followed by some type of expectation. This shift is often triggered by anxiety.
When this happens, I always ask my clients, “Does this statement make you feel good?” I have to say, I can’t remember a time when someone told me that, in their state of anxiety, a “should” statement made them feel good and inspired or got them motivated. If anything, these statements make people feel conflicted or even paralyzed.
So how do we kick these unwanted “should” statements to the curb?
The first step is to catch the “should” statement when it goes through your mind. Notice how you are talking to yourself when you are in a negative emotional state. Then, if you catch a “should” statement, try to soften in with the word “prefer.”
What would you prefer to do? Would you prefer to study, or go on that date, or do something on your own? Would you prefer to get your paperwork done, or take a break and tackle it tomorrow?
Each choice has a consequence, and that’s OK. The choice depends on what feels best for you.
Asking ourselves what we “prefer” to do instead of what we “should” be doing gives us options to choose from and allows us to move away from assumed and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Preference can give you an opportunity to pause and think, “What do I want? What is the best decision for me right now?”
Using “prefer” vs. “should” softens the negative thought and can, therefore help shift your mood and get you moving again.
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, see if you can stop for a minute and observe your thoughts. If you catch a “should” statement, see if you can change it into “prefer” instead.
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Politics and family. Oy! Talk about a challenging combination. Especially with this year’s election, families may be primed to talk about this hot-button topic. If you anticipate your family bringing up politics, here are some suggestions on how to dodge that bullet this holiday season.
1. If you feel comfortable approaching your family about this before the holidays, you can request to keep this topic off the table. Consider writing an email that says something like: “Hi, family! In celebration of Thanksgiving (or any holiday), let’s table talking politics for the day.” Get everyone to agree, and suggest that if anyone slips up, you will all give them a gentle reminder of the agreement.
2. Changing the conversation can also be a helpful strategy. Try to aim for topics that are fairly benign and relatively easy to engage in. Asking about vacations, fun plans coming up, plans for New Years, or any good books or shows they can recommend are all topics that might hold interest and give room to expand on with follow-up questions.
3. And when all else fails? Remember to take mini breaks. If you need ideas for what mini breaks might work for you, or if you want to develop other skills that could help you avoid stress this holiday season, check out our Progress Wellness newsletter.
Note, it’s helpful to practice these skills even when you don’t need them, so when you actually start feeling anxious, you know exactly what to do.
1. Journaling can be a wonderful practice, so have a journal and a pen on hand for when you feel anxious or you can use a journal app on your phone as well. When we feel anxious, our thoughts can race or get stuck in our minds, making it difficult to let go of them. Other times, we may fall into thinking about events that made us feel bad or create events that we fear could happen in the future. Journaling is a way to let out those thoughts and put space between you and your anxiety. Writing things down can help you to look at your thoughts by actually seeing them on the page. This allows you to create a dialogue between you and whatever is causing your anxiety. Making these thoughts visible helps you to remember them so that you can analyze them and replace them with more helpful thoughts and action steps. Just like Dumbledore’s pensieve from Harry Potter, where he would put his wand to his head and out would come a memory and then he would file it away to look at later, journaling can help you to do that too. This strategy to pull out thoughts and worries from your mind and put them in visible form helps you to see your situation and your feelings more clearly. This frees up your mind to move into problem-solving mode.
2. Hold something cold in your hand for what I call a “brain break” coping skill. Go to the freezer and grab an ice cube. Hold the ice cube in one hand over the sink. See how long it takes you to notice that you are not able to have any thoughts other than “my hand feels so cold!” Flip the ice into the other hand and notice that experience. As one hand starts to thaw out, the other one gets cold. Maybe you notice where the water melts in your hand actually feels warmer than where the ice is sitting. Then, when you can’t take it anymore, toss the ice in the sink. Holding something cold forces us out of our head (stops ruminative, racing thoughts that are anxiety-driven) and into the moment (where your entire attention is on your hands), giving your brain a break from whatever stress you are swept up in. Sometimes, after tossing the ice into the sink, that “brain break” allows you to regroup, think more clearly, and ask yourself more positive questions, such as “Is what I am thinking helpful? Can I do anything about this now?”
3. Make a playlist of songs that you like that evoke calm, hopeful, happy, or peaceful feelings. Play it regularly such as on the way to work, school, or home, at lunchtime, at night before bed, or at the gym and connect with the music and its calming effects. Then, anytime that you feel anxious, or when you can predict/fear that you may feel anxious, you can press Play and know that you have this remedy set to go.
4. Get enough sleep to counteract your anxiety. Instead of counting sheep, which is difficult to do when your mind is racing at night, try thinking of your favorite recipe. Start by listing out all the ingredients in your mind. Where do you find the items in the market? Think about all the steps you take to make the dish. Anytime you find your mind wandering off to anxiety-land, bring it back to where you left off with your dish. If you do not enjoy cooking, another option similar to this is to imagine you are taking a trip around the world. Where would you start and what places would you see? Where would you stay? What kinds of venues would you like to eat at, shop at, or visit? What would you do in each country and city? Again, if your mind wanders off to anxiety-land, do your best to catch it and bring it back to where you left off. This can feel like a tennis match at times, where just as you bring your attention back, it’s off on the other side of the court. However, like with most things that we put time into, the more we practice, the better we become. Practice increases the chances of this coping skill being successful.
5. Shift your focus outward. When feeling anxious, you might feel your heart pound and your thoughts race. You may feel frozen in place while everything around you starts speeding up. The more we focus our attention on these symptoms, the more anxious we can become. This is when moving your attention from what’s happening inside your body and mind to what’s happening around you can be very helpful. So look up from where you are and name 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can touch, 2 things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you enjoy. Doing this can force our mind into the present moment, allowing our brain to slow down, and our heart rate to calm down. This can give you the mental space to think more clearly, and separate from your anxiety messages.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you. If anxiety is interfering with your well-being, please feel free to contact me to schedule a consultation at Angela@ProgressWellness.com.