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Month: October 2017

Sometimes you don’t need to call a friend

Sometimes you don’t have to call a friend

Sometimes you don’t have to call a friend when things seem dire. This doesn’t apply to every time. But I can speak for myself when I say that I often reach out to a friend when I am feeling extremely anxious. This is a form of self soothing. But it’s not always possible. Sometimes people can’t pick up the phone for example.

In those cases it’s important to be able to self soothe. I am working on learning ways to do that and my therapist is helping as well. If you are having trouble learning these skills you can work on them in therapy and sometimes you may not even have to pay for that form of counseling.

So what does self soothing look like? Let’s say that you have an intrusive thought. It causes your heart to race and it’s the only thing that you can think about in this moment. Look around you and notice five things that you see. A tree, the road, wheels on a car, my feet and the coffee shop I am standing in front of.

By naming these things out loud I was able to focus on something other than my anxiety. It distracted my brain from feeling badly. This is a grounding exercise that you can use when you feel like anxiety is running the show.

Another thing you can do is take out your journal or notebook you have in your bag and start writing. Writing is free therapy and it’s a wonderful practice to do when you’re feeling depressed, anxious or even angry of frustrated.

If you don’t have anything to write with you can type your feelings into a note on your phone. You can even write yourself an email with how you’re feeling and save it or delete it; it’s your choice.

Breathing is an excellent way to ground yourself. You’ve probably heard about this so much that you’re sick of hearing it but I’m going to tell you about it anyway. Breathe in through your nose and feel your lungs fill up with air and then breathe out through your mouth. Your breath is always with you and can help you snap back into your body. This is great for obsessive thoughts. There have been times when I felt like I am looking at myself from the outside in. Once I started to use my breath I felt immediately more grounded and calmer. I know it can be hard to believe that breathing can help you. I was skeptical too but it does work for me. Try this and see if it works for you when you’re feeling especially anxious.

Your first line of defense against anxiety or any other uncomfortable feeling is to try to manage it by yourself. This is what I’m trying to do before I reach out to a friend. If you’re having difficulty then I would suggest reaching out to your friend after you try these things.

Dealing with anxiety is not easy but we can practice these techniques to help ourselves feel better. What technique works for you when you are trying to self soothe?

Do you really need a therapist?

I was talking to this mom recently and we were exchanging life stories. She and I commiserated on a lot of different topics. During the conversation, she said, “people tell me that they see a therapist and I say, I don’t need a therapist. That’s what I have friends for.” In my mind, I thought it was a good point but I see the value in therapy since I’ve been in it for half of my life. I juggled with the idea in my mind of trying to show her the value of therapy. I wondered if that was something I needed or was obligated to do.

I casually mentioned that I do have a therapist and I like her a lot. The mom was accepting of this and we each saw each other’s side. It was actually kind of a nice interaction where I didn’t feel judged and I don’t think she did either.

This conversation got me thinking: can you be your own therapist? What if you had the ability to work through your problems without the help of a professional to guide you? There is a form of therapy called Client-Centered Therapy or Person-Centered Therapy where the person on the couch leads the session. It’s kind of interesting and in some ways you are your own therapist. The therapist is taking your initiative and encouraging you to help yourself.

I guess it is possible to help yourself without a therapist too. You could journal, lean on the support of your friends and family and things. But when you have legitimate mental health concerns, generally I would recommend working with a therapist rather than doing it on your own. It’s sort of like climbing a mountain; you could do it by yourself, but wouldn’t it be easier with someone who knew the trail to guide you?

That’s how I look at therapists. They are trailblazers of the mind; helping people to help themselves. When you get stuck on something they help you to get unstuck.

But the question remains: can you be your own therapist? Do you really need one? I don’t know. I’ve heard people talk about becoming dependent on their therapist, which to me seems possible. But if you recognize that the purpose of going to therapy is to find the tools to help yourself, then you’re less likely to fall into this pattern.

I guess the idea is that we can’t determine what is going to work best for one person. All we know is what works for us. We can be there to support our friends in time of need, but that’s not about being their therapist, that’s about being a friend. Having genuine empathy for your friends is important. It still doesn’t take the place of a therapist.

Actually, a pet peeve of mine is when a friend starts to act like my therapist. Be my friend, not my clinician.

What do you think? Do you think that your friends can take the place of a therapist or not?

Creativity Isn’t Limited to Artists

Creativity Isn’t Limited to Artists

You don’t have to be an artist or artistic to be creative; being creative is part of being human. I’ve heard many people say “I’m not creative.” Nonsense, each of us is creative. We all have the ability to create, but it might look different from person to person. I like to paint while you may like to do puzzles. Puzzles involve creative problem-solving abilities.

Think about what you like to do first and then you can apply creativity to that. For example, maybe you like to collect bird feathers. That might not feel creative on the surface, but what if you used those feathers and made them into microscope slides? That could be cool. Another idea is to glue the feathers into a notebook and draw around them. It’s up to you.

What outfit do you want to wear today? Be creative with your sense of color. Pick a scarf that works as an awesome accessory.

“Think of yourself as a piece of art,” says my friend Michelle Hammer of Schizophrenic NYC.

Dye your hair a different color or put on different makeup or learn to do a cat eye with eyeliner. Another cool thing about makeup is that there are different color combinations that you can use to enhance your eyes or your cheekbones. There are so many ways to be creative with makeup, it’s ridiculous.

Use creativity when there’s a problem

In life, a problem arises, but you can’t seem to think of a solution to it. Use your creativity to figure out a way to solve the problem that you wouldn’t normally think of. This is a form of creativity too. I try to repeat in my head “there is always a solution even if I haven’t found it yet.” That mantra makes me feel better.

You’re having trouble putting together a piece of furniture. Then you think of a new and different way to put the parts together! See? You’re awesome.

Even when you are feeling depressed you can still be creative. It’s creative to brainstorm ways to get yourself out of bed in the morning. It’s creative to find methods to deal with intrusive thoughts. These are creative things! See, you were using your creativity and you didn’t even know it.

Your shoe splits open randomly in the middle of the sidewalk. What can you do to fix it? Buy crazy glue! There’s a creative solution. Maybe you give in and get new shoes. That could work too.

What does creativity do for you?

In addition stimulating your mind, creativity helps you to do things independently and reinforces the fact that you are a capable person. Here I am writing this blog post and I feel better because I’m doing it. Being creative makes you feel valuable as a person. Who doesn’t want to feel that? The end product doesn’t matter so much. What matters is that you are making something and using your mind to do so.

Can you be friends with your ex?

Can you be friends with your ex? This is a question that people have many conflicting opinions on. If you have children together, it is to your benefit to be friends with this person at least have an amicable relationship with them. However, if you have no familial ties to your ex then you do not have an obligation to remain friends with them. I think the most challenging thing when trying to remain friends with your ex is seeing that the relationship is different from when you were together.

I believe some space is required for this to be possible. If you try to be friends right away you’ll be reminded of memories of you two going on dates or romantic getaways. Once you break up, try not to reach out to your ex for as long as humanly possible. This allows you time to heal from the break up and you don’t continually aggravate the wound. This can be challenging but it is for your benefit. The tricky thing is what if they reach out to you? It’s up to you to set the boundary and say “I need some space right now.” If you don’t do this then you’ll end up in a gray area and confuse what is going on in the relationship. Are you together or not? Once you’ve had some space from each other (maybe a month or so) it’s reasonable to go out to dinner and reevaluate, but not when you first breakup; the wound is too fresh.

You need to be able to let go and realize that you don’t have control over whether or not this relationship remains in your life. Remember that if it does, the nature of the dynamic between you two will change dramatically. You need to have time to see yourself as separate from this person and be okay with them dating someone else, which can be hard.
It is complicated when you have children together. You have to be in contact with this person frequently and that can be triggering. In this case (if you want to remain separate from this person) stick to communicating exclusively about the children and nothing else. If you find yourself getting into an emotionally charged conversation, disengage and set that boundary with them.
I do believe it’s possible to be friends with your ex, but it requires a lot of emotional strength. It can be a slippery slope if you become physically intimate with the person after you decide to break up. The friends with benefits relationship (in my opinion) is hard to maintain. Inevitably you’ll start to develop romantic feelings for this person and then see them as you your partner.
I don’t think it’s impossible to be friends with your ex, but I do think that it’s extremely challenging. We all want to be loved and when you know that there is the possibility to be loved by this person that you used to be loved by, it can be confusing.
Another thing is that you both need to be on the same page. If one of you wants to get back together and the other doesn’t, being friends is not going to work. I have been on both sides of this equation and neither side is pleasant.
If you truly want to be friends with your ex, remember that that takes time. Be patient and be determined to make this relationship work.

Having Compassion For Yourself

When you’re depressed it can feel draining and overwhelming. That’s why it’s so important to have compassion towards yourself. Depression can feel mean. It can tell you that you are worthless and make you feel like you don’t matter. This can be hard when you’re in social situations and people are asking you questions about yourself. The other person wants to get to know you, but you feel awful.
Remember this: you did not choose to be depressed. Depression happened to you. It reared its ugly head and decided to tell you lies about yourself. So, the way that you can have compassion for yourself is to talk back to those mean thoughts in a compassionate way.
For example, maybe you think: “I’m a terrible person.” You know that’s not true, but it feels so real. You can question that thought. Did you do something so awful that you fall into the “terrible person” category? Probably not, so lay off yourself.
Tell yourself “It must be hard for you to have those feelings. I can understand that you’re hurting.”
You’re trying, you’re doing your best to be a good friend and family member. It’s not easy to do those things when you’re depressed, but you’re doing it. Give yourself credit for the things you’re doing to better yourself. Those things count!
Another thing I’ve learned is to avoid comparing myself to others. It’s a natural human tendency to compare yourself to other folks. But, after you do that how do you feel? Most likely not that great. What can you do instead of comparing yourself to another person? Think about your accomplishments. Reward yourself for what you have done, no matter how big or small. Hey man, you got out of bed today? Awesome, you are AMAZING. You could have stayed in bed, but you got up and started your day. That makes you a strong person.
Frankly, continuing to stay alive makes you strong. There are times when life throws you a curve ball and that shit hurts. You take the hit and you keep going. Maybe that means crying while you’re walking the dog or riding the train or in the bathroom at work. Do what you need to do.
The most important thing to remember is that you are allowed to hurt. Be patient and loving to yourself and treat yourself like you would a good friend. What would you tell your friend if she said: “I feel worthless?” You would comfort her and let her know that she is a good friend. You’d let her know the things about her that you appreciate about her. That’s the way that you can treat yourself. You are the most important person in your life. When you treat yourself with compassion you’ll notice that you are better able to treat others with love and compassion, because you love yourself. And don’t worry if it’s hard to do this at first, you’ll learn how to have compassion the more you practice it.
What are some ways that you can have more compassion for yourself? Think about it. Try some positive self-talk this week. See if that makes a difference in your overall mood.