Every woman (and man) should listen and read these

bodyimage

Poor body image is something I have worked on personally as well as professionally.  I don’t know a single woman who likes their body fully or who can go through an entire day without focusing on some imperfection.  It’s insidious.  And as these two sources state, it takes a LOT of energy to be that hyper-vigilant.  Energy that could be directed toward much more amazing things!

So, please watch the TEDx talk by Caroline Heldman called The Sexy Lie, and then go and read the blog post by Angel Kalafatis (and when she starts talking about yoga, you can also put in CBT or Mindfulness as skills to learn to do similar things).

Let’s hope that more and more of us can move beyond our own self-subjugation.

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How do you handle chronic illness?

There are a multitude of chronic illnesses in the world, from diabetes to M.E.  And while we’re making strides in finding a cure for many of these, we may be ignoring one aspect of these disorders…mental health.  A chronic illness has many components to it that may contribute to anxiety and depressions, from not knowing what’s going to happen day-to-day to having to deal with not having enough support through friends or family.  Lack of progress in treating symptomology or not knowing how long certain side effects are going to be part of your life can trigger potential anxious or depressed thoughts.

Per the American Psychological Association (APA), the best way to deal with the emotional side of a chronic disease requires an approach that is “realistic but positive.”  What that means for you may mean something different for others.  A therapist can help with this approach, but there are a few other ideas that the APA suggest:

1. Stay connected.  If you can find supportive friends and family.  If they are not around, search for support groups, or at the very least go online as you can find many support forums.

2. Take care of yourself.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for help or to push if you aren’t getting the care you need.  You won’t be seen as a hypochondriac if you are feeling symptomology and need some help.  Eat well, exercise if you can and find time for yourself.

3. Maintain a routine.  When depression hits, the first thing that goes are pleasurable activities or even those you might do on a daily basis.  Get up, do errands, go to work, go to the gym…just do.

I have several friends who have chronic illnesses.  One has dedicated herself to finding a cure by working in a lab that focuses on her disease.  She does Crossfit and runs.  And she tries her darndest to maintain a normal life.  Another friend found humour as her way to deal with some of the toughest aspects of her illness.  She’s gone so far as to write a book called “Prescription for Disaster: the funny side of falling apart” (which is also available in the US).  It doesn’t matter how you choose to make your way through life with a chronic disorder or disease as long as you keep moving forward.  It’s not easy but as others have shown, it is doable.

 

Googlebox

Have you seen the popular TV show in Britain, Googlebox?  Googlebox has an interesting premise; you are watching people watching television.  Why is this so intriguing?  And what does it say about us?

We get to see how other people react to the same shows that we might watch.   Are they a reflection of us?  Or are they very different?  What does this tell us about ourselves and our views of the world.  What we are doing is something called social comparison.  This is a process through which we are better able to understand ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.  Most of the time we compare ourselves to those who are very similar.  We look at their attitudes, abilities and their beliefs.  We feel good about ourselves when we compare favourably.

The thing about Googlebox is that the cast most likely has someone like you.  But if not, we will reflect on how well or how badly we have fared based on the good or bad comparison of those others.  We will either have an upward comparison or a downward comparison.  When we make an upward comparison we observe people who have it better than us when it comes to money, looks or other resources.  When we make a downward social comparison, we observe people who apparently have it worse than we do.  We often feel better about ourselves when we downward compare versus when we upward compare.

As you are looking at Googlebox keep these comparisons in mind.  Who do you feel most connected to in the show and why?

 

Comfort Eating

Like many women, I’ve struggled with issues around food in my past.  It’s a tough thing because we need food to survive, but at the same time, we get so many conflicting messages around it from society, our families and media.  A lot of times, food has been used as comfort as a child – even doctors would sometimes give me a sweet treat (lolly) when I was given a shot and upset.  And if you had a bad day at school? Out would come the cookies.  Having spoken to many women about this, with similar stories, it’s no wonder that we may come to equate food with dealing with our emotions.  And note, this isn’t just a problem for women.  Many men also bury their emotions and choose food as their ‘weapon of choice’.

But, this can become a problem, particularly if you start to use food all the time instead of dealing with your emotions.  Overeating can lead to a bad cycle:  feel a “bad” emotion – eat food – feel badly about overeating or eating something that you have labelled as ‘bad’ – eat more, etc, etc, etc.  Instead of facing the emotion, you may end up gaining weight and feeling worse and worse.

So, how do you get out of the cycle.  Here are a few tips from Dr. Sonia Greenidge as reported by Psychologies in their Feb 2014 issue:

1.  Before you eat something, ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are upset about something.  Physical hunger is felt in the stomach, while emotional hunger is usually felt in the mouth, with specific cravings.  Rate your hunger level from 1 (very hungry) to 10 (very full).  If you are below a 5, then it may mean that you are dealing with physical hunger…otherwise, it may just be emotional hunger.

2.  If you are emotionally hungry, sit with the emotions.  What is going on for you right now?  What are your feelings?  Your thoughts?  Your bodily reactions?  Do you have any images in your mind that relate to that feeling?  Accept the feelings.  You can also write them down and see if the thoughts you have are helpful or not.  Use a thought record and see if you can come up with a more helpful thought.

3. Figure out what triggers your emotional eating.  For me, it was around boredom and feeling out of control.  I would begin to focus on my negative thoughts and just want to bury them.  But once I began to recognise the triggers, I also could stop the thoughts and grab a water or do something instead.

4. Challenge your typical behaviours by placing reminders around to question what is going on.  One idea is to place the question, What am I feeling?, on your fridge.  Think about short-term gains versus long-term aims.

If you feel that you are overwhelmed by all of this, seek out some support.  A CBT therapist, like me, can be really useful in figuring it all out and getting at the root of why you feel the way you do.  Or join a group, like Overeaters Anonymous.

It’s a long journey sometimes to figuring out what’s going on with you and food.  You can do it.  You are worth it.  Yes, you truly can do it.

My comfort food of choice

Willpower

As the gyms start to slowly empty of those who had such great plans, and the diets begin to fail of those who just want a bit of chocolate, along comes a fabulous article from TED.  Kelly McGonigal talks about why it’s just so darned tough to stick to a resolution…or the science of willpower.  You can find the original here, or snippets below taken from the article:

I define willpower as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. That begins to capture why it’s so difficult — because everything we think of as requiring willpower is usually a competition between two conflicting selves. There’s a part of you who is looking to the long-term and thinking about certain goals, and then another part of you that has a completely different agenda and wants to maximize current pleasure and minimize current stress, pain and discomfort. The things that require willpower pit those competing selves against each other. Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is thinking about long-term goals — that is thinking about big values rather than short-term needs or desires.

People come up with resolutions that don’t reflect what matters most to them, and that makes them almost guaranteed to fail. Even if that behavior could be very valuable and helpful — like exercise — if you start from the point of view of thinking about what it is you don’t really want to do, it’s very hard to tap into willpower. If there’s no really important “want” driving it, the brain system of self-control has nothing to hold on to.

Things to think about…At the end of 2014 — on January 1st, 2015, looking backwards — what are you seriously going to be grateful that you did? Is there a change you know that you’re going to be glad you made? What would that feel like? That can tap into something that feels really authentic.

One of the things I always encourage people to do is to not try to do things alone, and to start outsourcing their willpower a little bit.  Another thing I encourage people to do is — if there’s a behavior that they put off or don’t do because of anxiety or self-doubt or because it’s boring or uncomfortable — bribe yourself. If you hate exercise but truly, truly want the consequences of exercising, you should give yourself permission to do whatever you don’t want to let yourself do — like read trashy gossip magazines, or download a whole series of a TV show that you can plop on in front of you on the treadmill. As long as it doesn’t conflict with your goal, then you should go ahead and pair the thing you don’t want to do with a reward that you might otherwise not give yourself permission for. That can be very effective for beginning to prioritize and make time for things.  Also, give yourself permission to do small steps rather than think that there’s an ideal you need to meet.

I think that from top to bottom, making your resolution social allows you to access different supports, both internal and external. One more reason to go public — being a role model for someone. People will do things when they know that they’re inspiring change in others. It’s a natural progression that you see in many areas — whether it’s people who are recovering from addiction, or someone embarking on a physical challenge. This is what people naturally do.

One of the big lessons from The Science of Willpower is if you really fight the inner experiences, it’s not going to end well. If you decide you’re going to fight cravings, fight thoughts, fight emotions, you put all your energy and attention into trying to change the inner experiences. People tend to get more stuck, and more overwhelmed. When you try to control the things that aren’t really under your control, you get to feeling more out of control. Whereas where you really have the freedom is in your choices.

Where do you struggle with will power? What tips do you have for others?

It takes willpower

The Power of Finding Positives About Yourself

When working with a client using CBT, one of the things we try to do is understand the person’s core belief(s).  Core beliefs are the very essence of how we see ourselves, the world and the future.  These tend to develop over time through our experiences.  They are strongly held, rigid and inflexible.  We tend to maintain them by focusing on information that supports the belief and filtering out that which doesn’t.

Here is an example:  Jane has grown up with the core belief of, “I am unlovable.”  Jane really focuses on those moments when she feels unlovable, like when her flatmate says something about how Jane forgot to do the dishes, but doesn’t pay attention to the fact that the flatmate also said that Jane did a great job of cleaning the bathroom.

In CBT, we try to figure out what the core belief is, what is maintaining it and feeding it, and then work to change the self-belief.  One of the ways we do this is to come up with a new core belief that the client would like to have.  So in Jane’s situation, she might come up with a new core belief of “I am lovable.”  Because her view of the world and others is so skewed toward the negative, we have to start having her find positive evidence about this belief.  It’s not easy, but it’s doable.  One way of doing this is to use a Positive Personal Qualities worksheet.

As you can see, you are looking for situations where positive things about the person have happened.  We tend to start in the sessions as people will filter out info, so that they can practice seeing themselves in a positive light.   Over time, as you filter out the negative and focus on the positive, you will eventually start to develop a new core belief.  There is power in finding positives!

When should you seek a therapist?

I was reading a blog post on Psych Central about when a person should seek a therapist.  It can be a difficult decision to make as I’ve found on some web boards where people ask about choosing therapy or whether or not to go.  People think that since they are shy or have a hard time talking to strangers that therapy won’t work.  As a therapist, I’d like to say that I won’t be a stranger to you for long – part of my job is to get to know you and to have an alliance between us.  Others worry about being judged.  This is not my job.  I’m not there to judge you.  What I am there to do is help you move in a healthier direction and we’re going to do it side by side in collaboration.  Others have been raise to just ‘buck up and get over it’.  I know that feeling.  Really.  In my family, we were raised to deal with physical illness that way (and I still fight it sometimes).  Sometimes you just need someone who will listen and work with you to find a new direction.  Someone who isn’t part of your personal life (like a friend or parent).

So, once you have figured out that you might possibly, maybe, think about going, when should you go?  I like the list that Psych Central came up with:

1.   The problem causes significant distress in your life.  Is it coming between you and your friends, your significant other?  Are you struggling to do work at school or in your job?  Have you stopped doing the things you love?  Yup, it’s time to seek help.

2. Nothing you’ve done seems to help.  I get it.  I try everything I can think of before I seek out my GP.  I don’t want to acknowledge that I can’t handle the pain.  But sometimes you have to acknowledge that the problem is bigger than you and someone else might be able to help.  Yup, it’s time to seek help.

3. Everyone in your life is sick of listening to you.  Are you becoming a broken moaning record?  Are people seemingly avoiding you because all you can talk about is your problem?  Can you focus on nothing but your problem?  While most people have friends or family who would love to help, sometimes a problem is too much for them to handle.  And that’s okay.  That’s what therapists are here for.  We won’t get sick of listening to you, and we’re trained to help.

4. You start using or abusing someone or something to alleviate your problems.  It’s tempting to have just one more drink.  It feels like it covers the pain.  But it doesn’t make it go away, and you may start to use that alcohol more and more.  Or you may feel anger.  And take it out on a significant other.  Yup, it’s time to seek out therapy.

5. People have noticed and said something to you.  It’s easy to discount what other people say…they don’t know your life.  But if you keep hearing it or you hear it from someone you have always trusted, then it’s time to look within and figure out if they are right.  What are they noticing that is so concerning?  Is it something from the above 4 reasons?  Perhaps, it’s time to find a professional to talk to.

This decision can be hard, but you can learn so much about yourself and the way you work.  There are so many possible therapists and therapies out there.  Talk to your GP, talk to a friend you know who’s seen a therapist in the past, check out the professional associations to see who is recommended.  But if you need therapy, find someone.  You don’t need to live with the pain.

Using Thought Records

One of the most useful tools in CBT is a thought record. Why would this be helpful? In CBT, the belief is that thoughts, feelings/emotions, behaviours and physical symptomology are all tied together and influence each other:

Unhelpful thoughts can trigger unhelpful behaviours, emotions and physical symptoms. So if you change those unhelpful thoughts (sometimes called irrational thoughts), you will end up changing your emotions, behaviours and physical symptoms.

In the beginning of CBT, most therapists will ask a client to fill out a simple thought record. Here’s an example:

By filling this out, the therapist will get to have an idea of what unhelpful thoughts a client has.  Then in session, they may begin to work with these thoughts and see if there are more helpful alternatives.  Here’s an example of an unhelpful thought that I had the other day (because, honestly, we all have them…but they may not be so bad or so numerous as to influence our mental state): “I am so clumsy.” It was not helpful as it didn’t add anything to my life but it made me feel slightly less good about myself. I had tripped and the thought came to mind. It wasn’t a huge deal as it was just one random thought and after I thought it, I countered it with something else (which I can’t remember, but was probably something along the lines of ‘yup, and that’s okay cause you’re still good at sports’.)

As the client gets practiced at it in session, the client will then be asked to fill out a more intensive form and do the work on their own, trying to find evidence for and against the thought, and then coming up with a more helpful thought.

Even if you are not doing CBT with a therapist, you can use these forms to help yourself. There are several self-help websites, but the one that I’ve found most helpful is http://www.get.gg/. If you are really struggling, I would seek out a professional to help you with your issue. But if the problem seems to have just begun or you are in a long wait for a therapist, you could use these resources to start looking at how your thinking might be influencing your life in a not so great way. Another fabulous resource is a book called “Mind Over Mood” by Greenberger & Padesky. It’s a book that I’ve suggested to clients who I can only see for a few sessions so they can continue to work on their issues on their own.

A Mindfulness Exercise

Many times we find that our thoughts disturb us.  We begin to believe that our thoughts define us.  We begin to feel stress, may not sleep well and can’t concentrate.  In CBT, we end up talking through a lot of these thoughts and try to find alternatives to the thoughts.  Along with this, if your practitioner uses mindfulness, you might also use the Leaves in the Stream meditation.  It’s a great way to release the thoughts that are making you suffer.  It may be difficult at first but that’s okay.  It’s hard to remain mindful and present.  But the more you practice it, the easier it becomes to let go.

The Leaves in the Stream meditation: 
Sit quietly. Focus on your breath, going in and out. Start to notice the thoughts and images that come into your mind. As you notice each thought, imagine putting those words or pictures onto a leaf as it floats by on a stream. Put each thought that you notice onto a leaf, and watch it drift on by. There’s no need to look for the thoughts, or to remain alert waiting for them to come. Just let them come, and as they do, place them onto a leaf.

Your attention will wander, particularly so at first, and that’s okay – it’s what our mind does. As soon as you notice your mind wandering, pay attention to your breathing and then focus back to the thoughts, and placing them onto the leaves.

After a few minutes, take a few more deep breathes, and relax.

A Controversal Parenting Topic

I just read an article in the Guardian titled “Parents will raise happier children ‘if they put them second to their marriage'” Interesting. The title, of course, drew me in.

Then they started to talk about not being that ‘helicopter’ parent. Yup, I can agree with that. A lot of the helicopter parents aren’t allow their children to make mistakes or to grow resilience. Okay, I can go along with this idea.

They said, don’t cram their free hours with tons of stuff, from tutoring to sports to music and beyond. Again, I agree. Like all human beings, we need some down time to process everything that comes at us, we need time to play and we need time to do the not so fun stuff (like learning to clean) in our lives. So far, so good.

The rest of the article goes on to explain why doing the above would be a good thing, not only for your child, but also for you and your partner. Too much focus on your child puts too much pressure on them to be your everything and to be ‘successful’, thus raising their anxiety levels to an unhealthy state.

So, what’s the happy medium? How much time should a child be spending on those extra activities? How much should a parent check on how the child is doing? What happens if your kid is about to fail? That’s something that no one seems to talk about in this article. But I do think it’s out there. What I teach in my parenting classes, Positive Discipline, is that you want to raise you child looking at what qualities and strengths you want them to have at 25. If you think of a list of those traits, then think about what a child needs to get there…this can be your path forward. If I had a child, I would want them to know how to problem solve, to be kind, to be caring and to have a work ethic – all of which comes from some training but also from making mistakes and the learning that follows.

So, how do you parent well and still allow your relationships to thrive?