Hi guys! I recently had the chance to be interviewed by Authority Magazine about how we can improve our mental wellness by setting healthy limits on technology. Check out the article here. And for a sneak peak at some of the things I talk about here are 5 tips:
When you are in a threatening situation your body automatically goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This is your survival instinct and it is hardwired in your biology. (You can read more about the symptoms of PTSD here and here, and why PTSD develops here). Lets breakdown the automatic physical reactions that happen in a traumatic event and explore their purpose:
- Blood pumped to big muscle groups and away from small muscles (pounding heart, increased blood pressure, hands/feet get cold and clammy) – this prepares your body to fight back or run away
- Fast, shallow breathing or hyperventilating – this fuels your body by taking in more oxygen
- Tense muscles – this prepares your body to fight (throw a punch) or run
- Dilated pupils – this allows you to take in more light and see your surroundings better
- Flushed skin and feeling hot and/or sweaty – your body is an engine that is overworking, this allows your body (your engine) to cool down and keep running on high alert
- Fear, anxiety, panic – these emotions are natural and are telling your brain to keep your body on high alert because there is danger
- Thinking part of brain shuts off (hard to think straight) – if you stop to think if its better to run away from the lion or climb or the tree or play dead, you wasted precious time and its probably too late. Thinking shuts down to allow your body to react quickly to keep you safe (most therapy for PTSD involves learning how to turn the thinking part of the brain back on).
- Tunnel vision (hard to focus on anything else) – ensures that you stay focused on the danger in front of you and eliminates distractions.
- Digestion shutting down (stomach problems and dry mouth) – when your body is in survival mode all resources go to fight, flight, or freeze. If you’re not going to be alive in a moment why waste precious energy digesting food? Your body automatically redirect those resources to fight, flight, or freeze. This is why many people with PTSD have stomach/indigestion problems.
- Immune System shutting down – Similarly your body is not going to waste precious resources fighting off a cold if you might not survive the immediate danger, so all energy goes into survival mode. This is why people with PTSD get sick more often and suffer from many chronic illnesses.
We all know the things we “should” do. Most of the time when we go to friends or family with problems we are seeking support and validation and not to have someone who hasn’t walked in our shoes sit there and tell us what to do. When I go to my primary care doctor I already know I need to eat healthier, sleep more, and exercise. When I talk to my husband about problems at work, I already know I need to have some difficult conversations with my co-workers or boss. Most of the time, we already know. When we set a goal, we already have an idea of what it will take to get there. I know if I want better sleep I have to lay off the tv binging at night. I know if I want to make friends, I have to actually do something that involves speaking to others. I know if I want to better manage my anxiety, I have to nurture a daily practice of self-care such as meditation. I know this, you know this. So why is it sooo hard to make the change?! Why do we start and stop, and fall off the wagon over and over again? Now there are a million different ways to approach why it is so hard to make changes. From habit loops, conditioned responses, to engrained neural pathways, to myths about willpower, to stages of change, etc… But today I want to focus on one simple question, do you really want to change? You probably have a great list of all the benefits of changing, but have you taken the time to honestly look at the list of all the reasons you have to not change right now?…read more
Hopefully over the past two weeks you have been able to add one soothing activity to your bedtime routine and make one change to your sleep environment that is conducive to better sleep. The last area that really affects the quality of our sleep is our lifestyle. I saved this for last because making lifestyle changes is one of the hardest things to do. If it were easy then every one of us would eat healthier and exercise more just like our doctors have told us to! My hope is that you have a better understanding of how the things you typically do during the day affect your sleep at night. Here is a quick run down of the major lifestyle changes you can make for better sleep:
- Gradually reduce and eliminate caffeine intake (coffee, soda, many teas, energy drinks, chocolate, some medicines)
- No caffeine after 12pm
- Stop drinking fluids an hour before sleeping
- No smoking in the hours before sleeping
- Quit smoking or cut back if possible
- Go to sleep 100% sober; no alcohol before sleeping
- Get some exercise (not right before bedtime, morning is best)
- Avoid large meals before sleeping
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or high-sugar foods before sleeping (or anything else that triggers stomach upset or heartburn)
The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha is a compilation of little events and things in life that are positive but we often take for granted, forget, or ignore. Taking a moment to focus on an instant of awesomeness helps us to shift our mindset and we start to see more awesome things around us. Neil started this as a blog where he made a goal to write one awesome thing per day for 1000 days as a way to help him get out of his depression. His blog ended up winning blog of the year award and was then turned into this book. Neil also wrote The Happiness Equation which focuses more on creating the happiness in your life rather than waiting for it to happen.
Positive Psychology has been recommending this approach to mental wellbeing and positive shift in thinking for ages. Many therapies will recommend that you write out 3 things you are grateful for each day, or one thing you’re looking forward to each day, or do 2 nice things for yourself or someone else daily. Regardless of your approach, focusing on one positive thing each day helps you shift your thinking; and shifting your thinking helps you shift your mood!
When we are depressed or anxious it is common to focus on the negative, discount the positive, or assume the worst (mental filter, exaggerating, minimizing, jumping to conclusions, these are all unhelpful patterns of thinking that keep us stuck in depression or anxiety). What Neil did was …read more
How many things do you use for 8 hours every day? How many places do you go where you stay put for 8 hours straight? You might have said your clothes and work but there is probably not much else. If we are aiming for at least 8 hours of sleep a night though we spend about that much time in our bed. So it is very important that we invest time and energy into making our sleep environment as conducive to sleep as possible. Last week I talked about how our brain is a creature of habit and how a good bedtime routine prepares your brain to expect sleep to follow. Similarly, it is just as important to teach your brain that the only activity you do in your sleeping area is sleeping (sex is okay if that is a part of your life). The brain is a creature of habit, and if you do other activities in your sleeping area, your brain will start to associate it with those activities.
Go through the following list and check off any of the activities that you do:…read more
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Cloud and Townsend is a Christian/Biblically based book on an essential life skill: setting healthy boundaries. I did not know this book was Biblically based when it was first recommended to me, and though I am still searching for a good secular book I can recommend, this book does an excellent job in educating the reader about what are boundary problems, where they come from, and how to address them. Setting healthy boundaries is a skill that most survivors of trauma, abuse, or controlling environments needs to learn. I plan to do a blog series on boundaries later on but for now here is a cliff notes version of the basic boundary problems:
4 Types of Boundary Problems:
- Can’t Say No – this person is a compliant, people pleaser. …read more
Have you ever felt under the weather and didn’t go to a doctor because you knew they would just tell you to get some rest and drink lots of fluids? It can be frustrating because you want to feel better but the advice you’re being given doesn’t sound very helpful at first. However, rest and fluids are basic recommendations that set a good foundation for any other treatment. Well, in therapy we have a similar prescription that gets used so much that I have had patients roll their eyes when they hear it yet again: “How are you sleeping and have you been doing any self-care?” Whether you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or stress, your sleep sets the tone for your day and mood. Getting good sleep is a priority that unfortunately many of us ignore. Same for self-care, we get so caught up with the demands of life and others that we forget to prioritize our own self-care. In fact, healthy sleep is a good form of self-care. I will focus on other types of self care on a later day but lets talk about sleep. There are 3 areas that affect sleep: 1) Bedtime routine, 2) Sleep Environment, and 3) Lifestyle Habits. Today we will focus on our bedtime routine:…read more
The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins pleasantly surprised me. I honestly thought it was a gimmick and just another pop culture self help book, but there was a lot more substance to it. Mel did an excellent job of summarizing a lot of the research in psychology and human behavior and condensing it into short and easy to understand take away points. Psychologists get caught up in psychobabble, and their research articles are dense. It’s nice when someone else does the work for you and gives you the cliff notes version.
Mel defines the 5 second rule as:
“The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must [say to yourself] 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and physically move or your brain will stop you.” When you start to think, your brain wants to pull you right back to the safe familiar zone, so just go and do!…read more
You probably have a first aid kit somewhere in your home, car, or work. You are ready for any mishap from a paper-cut to a gash. Are you as prepared for a mental health emergency? You know when you feel that panic attack coming on, or your anger is going through the roof, or your depression is nose diving into despair. It is just as important to be prepared with a mental health 1st Aid Kit to help you survive those intense moments on that emotional roller coaster. Below are some suggestions of things to include in your 1st Aid Kit but you can be as creative with this as your heart desires. It is supposed to be a personalized grab bag of things to help you slow down the intense reactions in order to think more clearly. I previously wrote about making a soothing kit for coping with symptoms of PTSD, this is the same concept. The goal here is to remove the thinking part out of the equation when you’re in panic mode or despair. The last thing your brain can do when emotions are riding high is think clearly. So prepare a 1st Aid Kit with pre-planned things to do to help settle your mind and get back in control of your emotions.…read more