Category Archives: Self-Care

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days? When it seems like before you can even get yourself together for the day, everything is crumbling around you? I have too. They are a part of life, but that doesn’t make them enjoyable, and often, they don’t feel manageable when we are right in the thick of it. Not too long ago, I had one of those days. By 9am, I was ready to crawl back into bed, and wait for the day to be over. But, that wasn’t an option- I had things to do that day, so I had to get myself together. In the midst of my almost melt-down, three words came to me- Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Does that phrase sound familiar? When I was in elementary school, that was the fire safety motto- Stop Drop, and Roll. The idea was if you were to ever catch fire, these three actions were the quickest and safest way to minimize damage to yourself, and protect the safety of others. So, let’s see if we can make this work for a day that feels like it’s about to explode:

First, Stop and Center. Most of us have emotional, cognitive, and physical signs that we are feeling overwhelmed, but we often ignore those signs and try to press through. Instead, when you start to notice those signs ramping up, stop and center yourself. “Centering” can look different for all of us. Sometimes it’s a quiet prayer, a few deep breaths, a phone call to a friend, or maybe taking a walk to get a quick break. Whatever will help you to stop and calm down, do that.

Second, Drop What is Unnecessary.  When you are feeling on edge, you simply are not capable of doing everything. Often, if you try, you find that you make mistakes, don’t fully complete tasks, or aren’t invested the way you would want to. So, rather than try to do more than you are able, go into problem solving mode. What can wait until tomorrow, or maybe even next week? Rate the tasks you need to complete in terms of urgency and importance. Those things which are both urgent and important probably need to be done today. In most cases, everything else can wait until another day and you are in a better space.

Third, Roll with the punches. There is a term in psychotherapy training called “rolling with resistance.” It basically means that as clinicians, we don’t try to force people to do or talk about things when they aren’t ready to. This has become a strategy that I try to hold on to in my “real life” too. Sometimes, you can’t fix everything and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes, the project you’re working on won’t be perfect. Sometimes, you can’t make that friend not be upset at you. Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge that you are not at your best, but you will do what you can. Develop an idea of what “good enough” is, and let that be ok every once in a while. Allow yourself to have an off day. Remember that this day is only one day in the grand scheme of things. Even when things go wrong, you still have something to be thankful for!

So, next time you’re having one of those days, remember these three simple steps. Stop, Drop, and Roll! Trouble and frustration may knock you down, but they don’t have to take you out. Thanks for reading, and make well choices!

 

Do You!

Last month, I wrote about maintaining your focus as we approach a new year, and one of the points in the post was that you really need to understand your purpose. To a certain extent, this is a quest that many of us are constantly on. Some people seem to know immediately what they are “supposed” to do, while others seem to search and search and have a hard time nailing down what it is they want to do. Why is this so important to us? Part of this desire is that we as humans have been oriented for centuries to have a “place” in our world. Think about it- one of the first things people ask when they meet someone for the first time is “what do you do”? People’s jobs (at least in our minds) help us to categorize them, understand their interests and skills, and potentially relate to them.

However, I have a news flash. Your job and your purpose may not be the same thing! For some of us, we have found our purpose in our job. For some of us, a job is just a paycheck, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a purpose. There is something in this world, for you do to, that you are especially equipped to do, that can make a positive impact on others, on your community, and maybe even the world. In fact, you are THE BEST person for whatever that job is, because you are you! If you don’t believe me, listen to our childhood friend, Dr. Seuss:

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

You buying into this idea requires that you believe that you have gifts to offer the world. This is crucial. So, take a minute, and jot down three gifts you have. You might find yourself venturing into some self-criticism about the things you *don’t* have. But, try to stay on track. What are you good at?  Now, ask yourself- how can I use my gifts for good in the world?

If you are a Christian, this question takes on an even deeper, more powerful meaning. It becomes “How can I use my gifts for good in the Body of Christ?” If you think you don’t have a gift, you’re simply wrong! Here’s how I know. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about us all being members of one body. It then goes on to say:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.  There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served.  There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service.  The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.

1 Corinthian 12: 4-7

I won’t copy the whole chapter here, but you really should go read it! It is a reminder that because of your connection with Christ, you are AUTOMATICALLY GIFTED! That gift, is to be used for the good of the church and the world. We don’t all have the same gift, so there’s no use comparing gifts. Hands are only good at being hands, if they tried to be eyes, they would to a terrible job. How many of us think we are people who lack passion, direction, or giftedness, when really, we are just trying to do the wrong job? You don’t always have control over what you do for a living, but you DO have control over what you do for the kingdom. If you’re not sure what your gift is, don’t worry. This is a question that has an answer. Here are some tips:

-Take a spiritual gifts inventory. Here’s a great free one to check out

– Try some things out. See what feels right.

-Seek wise counsel.

-Pray about it.

The bottom line, is that there is something wonderful for you to do in this world, and we need you do it. We need you to DO YOU so that the world is a better place, and God is glorified. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can stop the constant frustration of comparing ourselves to others, and just be happy in our own skin. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

FOCUS

A couple of weeks ago my pastor preached a sermon entitled “Focus”. By now, the specific points he made are fuzzy for me. But I have not been able to let go of the idea that our ability to focus is crucially important to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. So much of what i see in my clinical work comes back to this idea. Difficulty managing priorities, not being able to distinguish irrational thoughts and feelings, becoming clouded by the dangers of social comparison, and the list goes on. So, FOCUS is going to be my word for 2017. I have some continuations of goals I’ve been working on, and some new things I hope to accomplish. I really don’t want to be distracted from these goals, because they’re important to me, and I feel God is calling me to them! Here are some tips for maintaining your FOCUS as we enter a new year.

Filter out the opinions of others. Many of us are completely and utterly consumed with the opinions of others. Are we meeting the approval of our parents? Are our friends/significant others pleased with us? Does my boss like me? Social media doesn’t help, because we often end up comparing the totality of our lives (good and bad) with the best moments of those we follow. While family and friends certainly matter, at the end of the day you are accountable to you and God for the life you live. Even the best intentioned friend or family member can lead you astray because they always come from a biased point of view. Push yourself to make your own decisions and stand by them. Only you are responsible for you.

Open yourself to new ways of doing and being. I had a supervisor say once that rigidity is the definition of mental illness. Another way to say this is the the key to mental and emotional wellness is flexibility. As humans, its easy for us to get into a monotonous routine and become so invested in it that we can’t see when its not working anymore. Sometimes, we need to change things up and try something new so that we can achieve a different outcome. Don’t be afraid to try!

Count your blessings. It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in your life. They often take the forefront in our mental and emotional space. Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going right. This change doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it helps us to have a more level headed and even keeled response. Attending to the good things can help balance out the pain associated to the bad ones.

Understand your purpose. You always have lots of choices in life. Big choices and little choices. Just like on a multiple choice test, some of these options are “distractors”. They’re not really good for you, but you can only figure out that out if you have studied and prepared yourself. Study and explore your purpose, so that when the time comes to make choices, you won’t be strayed by distractors. Everyone has something they are especially equipped to do, that they can give to the world! When you know what you’re called to do, it’s easier to identify and follow the path that will lead you to it. (More in this next month).

Simplify your life. While we are on the topic of distractors, how about getting rid of some! Is your house/office so cluttered that you can never find what you’re looking for? Are you involved in so many activities that you can’t tell whether you’re coming or going? Do you have some “friends” that annoy you so much you are constantly screening their calls? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Why waste your time, energy, or resources on things that don’t fit with the life you’re trying to live? It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let things go. It’s ok to move on.

While these may sound like quick tips, they are really big habits that if you aren’t doing already, will take time and commitment to accomplish. Try to pick one that feels most compelling to you, and focus your energy on making a decision every day to work toward that goal. Whether it’s January 1 or any other day of the year, you CAN reach your goals! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Got Boundaries?

Last week, I shared 3 tips for working toward healthy relationships. Another one of the ways we can have healthy relationships with colleagues, friends, and family is (drumroll please) BOUNDARIES!   You may be wondering:

“Why boundaries would be so important? Aren’t relationships about connecting to people?”

Yes, relationships are about healthy connection. I can be fully connected to you when I am safe and whole. I am safe and whole when I have good boundaries. Boundaries help us to discern which relationships are helpful and fulfilling to us, and which would be hurtful and draining. They help us to love others and ourselves at the same time. So what do boundaries look like? Here are a couple of examples:
– you can witness a conflict between two friends, family members or coworkers without being swept into the drama
– you can love family member with an addiction or other issue without enabling and pepetuating their issues
-you can be supportive to a friend going through a difficult time without becoming overwhelmed by their pain
-you are aware of both your strengths and your limitations
-you can admit when you are deeply bothered by the actions of a friend or loved one and ask for a different response
-you can say no without apologizing for it

For those of us who are natural caretakers, some of the above feel like really difficult things to do. Some of us worry that if we say no, people will realize they don’t need us and move on. Some of us worry about facing the anger or disappointment of others.  Some of us worry that if we’re not involved in everything, we’ll miss something important.  Some of us wouldn’t know what to do if we spent some quiet time alone and we use frenzy to avoid ourselves.  Even Jesus set boundaries! Here are just a few:

-He didn’t allow other people to define who he was (John 1)
-He made it known that he wasn’t happy with inappropriate use of God’s temple (Matthew 12)
– He went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Luke 22)

Boundaries don’t make us bad people,  or bad friends, or bad family members. They are important for healthy, sustainable relationships.  When we don’t set boundaries, relationships can become overwhelming and destructive, even if they are loving. If this is brand new to you, take some baby steps. Is there something you’ve been bothered about, but have been keeping it in for fear of causing a fuss?  What about an activity or task you really don’t have time or energy for, but you feel obligated to do it. This may be difficult at first, but over time it can make for relationships that fulfill you rather than sucking the life out of you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!
image

Right Relationships- You Choose.

image

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about relationships (my own and those of others) and I’ve been thinking about some ways we can make choices that support the health of our relationships instead of causing us to feel unfulfilled. This was really sparked when I was having a conversation with some folks about self care and people kept saying that others in their lives won’t “let” them take time for themselves. Let them? That is too much power for someone else to have over your life! We have to take responsibility for our part in any relationship. Most things aren’t actually one-sided, although they may feel that way. So, here are some choices you can make that support healthy relationships:

1. Ask for what you need. Remember that time you got frustrated because your friend or significant other didn’t do that thing you really wanted them to do? Think back: did you ask? Or did you just assume that they should know because you were dropping hints? People aren’t mind readers (even though we sometimes want them to be). When we actually express what we need, then we can hold people accountable for meeting our expectations. Now, this doesn’t mean you will always get what you need. People are imperfect, and sometimes, they are not willing to give you what you ask. But, if you ask, at least you know that you have made your request known rather than carrying secret resentment because your secret needs aren’t met. It’s just unfair! Let’s say you are meeting some friends after work and you’ve had a long day. During the meal, you sit quietly, pouting, while the others carry on a conversation cheerfully. You leave feeling resentful because you believe they should noticed that you were upset and asked you what’s wrong. Maybe. But you also could have just said “Hey- I’m having a bad day. I need to vent.” In one scenario your leave feeling frustrated, and in the other you potentially leave feeling better. You choose.

2. Have reasonable expectations.  Before you make those expectations known, do a little reflection. Is what you are asking reasonable based on the relationship you have with the person? Is what you are asking reasonable of a human being? How would you react if someone asked this of you? Here’s where compromise comes in. We can’t get 100% of what we want all the time, but we can recognize and be grateful for a loved one’s attempts to give you what you need. Imagine how you would feel if you tried to give someone something they needed and they responded in a way that made you feel it was not enough. Relationships are dynamic, whether they are familial, platonic, or romantic. Most situations are best resolved when people can find a way to meet in the middle. All or nothing thinking when it comes to negotiating needs in a relationship can cause resentment on both parts! You can choose to focus on the small percentage that doesn’t meet your expectation, or the large percentage that does. Relationships are a negotiation between imperfect people- we don’t always get it right. If you feel your expectations are appropriate, and it seems the person can’t or won’t work toward meeting you halfway, then there’s a conversation there too.

3. Take care of yourself. If you are an adult, you are responsible for making sure you are ok. Always. This doesn’t mean we don’t want or need others in our lives, because we do. It does mean that we shouldn’t place our physical, emotional, or spiritual wellness in the hands of anyone but ourselves. Sometimes, we depend on other people too much to make us happy, to the extent that we don’t have any resources when we are alone. Then, we get mad when that person wasn’t there for us in our time of need. We can’t expect one person to be there for us at any time day or night- that’s not the way human relationships work. Not to mention, this kind of dynamic can begin to have a parasitic feel, where one person drains the other. Not only does the person getting drained become more and more exhausted form the relationship, but the one doing the draining becomes more dependent and less self-sufficient. We can make our relationships healthier by attending to our own needs by setting boundaries as needed, understanding and preparing for the things that most stress and overwhelm us, and learning how to be content with ourselves when we are alone. This is something I have learned in my brief years being married. If I have a horrible day at work, I am responsible for taking some time to get myself together before I get home. I might go to the gym first, take a longer way home, or stop by a store to get myself in check a little bit. This doesn’t mean I don’t seek out support from my husband when I get home- I will if I need to. But it ensures that I don’t come home every day in a funk- that would impact our ability to connect after a long day. Sometimes this means saying the dreaded “n” word- NO! People will ask us to do things (especially those of use who are naturally caretakers) but it doesn’t mean you have to say yes! (imagine you are the recipient in point 2). “No” doesn’t mean you don’t care about your loved ones or that you don’t want the best for them. It means you are human and you can’t do everything all the time. It’s a way for you to take care of yourself and a way for those you are in relationship to understand that you have human limitations.

So, if you’re feeling unfulfilled, try making some adjustments and see what happens! More next week on negotiating boundaries.

What are some other reasons you think we can be left unfulfilled in relationships?

Black Women’s Fight for their Lives

I came across a HuffPost article that described the discrepancy between rates of depression in black women and their access of mental health treatment. A CDC study quoted in the article leads to the conclusion that while black women are more likely than both their male and white counterparts to suffer from depression, they are less likely to see mental health services and remain in treatment. The article notes several factors that might contribute to this phenomenon: lack of or not enough insurance, shame, lack of knowledge about what depression is, stigma, and the idealized “strong black woman.

The article includes this poignant quote from Melissa Harris- Perry:

Through the ideal of the strong black woman, African-American women are subject not only to historically rooted racist and sexist characterizations of black women as a group but also a matrix of unrealistic interracial expectations that construct black women as unshakeable, unassailable and naturally strong.

I have to tell you, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I have spent my whole adult life thinking and learning about mental health, this sounded like me. I have struggled with what it would mean to seek help for myself, even as I spent my days providing that help to others. How many of us have felt the pressure to be “unshakeable, unassailable, and naturally strong”? How many of us have been screaming on the inside and smiling on the outside? We pride ourselves on being superwomen, and get pats on the back when we never have to ask anyone for help. I know it isn’t all of us, but I also know it’s far too many. It might not be you, but it might be that girlfriend that you see every once in a while, and you keep thinking, something just isn’t right. It might be your sister, who always looks run down and tired, but always says she’s “ok.”  This post isn’t just about mental health. This is about us taking care of ourselves, and each other. If you know something isn’t right, ask about it. If you see that a friend looks down, don’t look the other way. You might be the help she needs. Maybe it is depression and maybe she needs a therapist. Maybe she needs a sista-friend that she can’t be honest with when everything isn’t peachy. Maybe she needs a sounding board where she can say “This is hard sometimes!”

What I know, is that as long as we try to be 24/7 superwomen, we are in the fight of our lives. Despite our greatest efforts, we are human beings. Human beings get worn out when they don’t care for themselves. Human beings get depressed when they spend all their energy caring for others ,and have none left to care for themselves. A while ago I taught a class on self-care for ministers, and I used these two images to show the difference between pouring out endlessly into others (left), and the health of caring for yourself while you care for others (right). In the left picture, you can see that eventually, the pitcher will be empty. In the right picture, you can see that because they flow into each other, none of the vessels will run dry. Which one of these is you?

pouringoverflow

This issue is not just for black women, it’s for all of us! For me, this is a daily battle. I feel the pressure of needing to be a professional woman, take care of my household, be active in my church, and all the other things that I do. I love to do these things, and if I do those things that I love without caring for myself, eventually I will end up empty and do nothing well. So for me, this means I owe it to myself and the people I care about to take intentional time to look inward and take care of me. It makes me a better wife, daughter, therapist, friend, teacher, and community member. What I do for me depends on what I need- sometimes it’s just a girls’ night, or making myself go to the gym because I know afterward I’ll feel like I new woman. Sometimes it’s letting myself be cared for without guilt, and sometimes it’s going to see a therapist.  Let’s stop wearing fatigue like a medal of honor. Let’s stop cursing our humanness as weakness. Let’s strive for wholeness, wellness, and peace!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.