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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

Let’s be honest, self-care is a bit like mindfulness – an over-used and almost cringe-worthy, eye-roll of a topic. It’s a commercialized way of describing something that’s actually very simple and vital to living a happy life.

If you’ve ever been told you need to give yourself some self-care, it probably didn’t make you feel super motivated or good about yourself, did it? Because if it gets to the point that someone has to tell you, then it’s pretty obvious that you’re not exactly handling your sh*t.

“I think you should meditate & practice some self-love.”

Rage-inducing comments like this are well-intentioned but ultimately useless. It’s just like telling someone with depression to just “cheer up” or asking a person with broken legs to get up and dance, it’s not gonna happen.

A better way to encourage someone is to build them up and highlight their positives and strengths. Be the example of someone who practices self-care, but most importantly, do not point out their problems.

So, if you’re the person who needs a little love, or if you want to set a good example for someone else, then rest assured you’ll find out how to do this here. No fluff or woo-woo; just some genuinely useful and effective strategies you can start using today.

What is Self-Care?

Firstly, can we instead refer to this as “the relationship you have with yourself”? It’s less cringe and more accurate. Because what we’re really talking about is the act of caring for yourself, as you would for a friend, and asking:

“How are you?”

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And responding with “I’m fine.” is not allowed.

Rate your relationship with yourself from 1 -10 (10 being you probably don’t need any self-care tips!).

If you’re struggling to place a number on it, think about whether you habitually make yourself feel bad, question whether you’re worthy or beat yourself up often.

Or do you cheer yourself on? Do you feel strong and capable, telling yourself “you can do this” instead of “why should I bother”?

Think of it this way:

If you had to repeat your inner dialogue – the words you say to yourself – verbatim as if it were advice to your friends, would you have any friends left?

It’s ok if you wouldn’t or maybe just have a few stragglers. We’ve all taken a beating from ourselves at one point or another. But let’s get this straight: if you haven’t taken the time to listen to your mental chatter, now’s the time my friend.

This isn’t one you can let go, because it is literally the key to your success. Being imprisoned by your negative thoughts and beliefs will lead you to things like anxiety, depression, low confidence, low self-esteem, and a generally unhappy life experience. So yeah, it’s important.

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“Self-talk is the biggest thing. A lot of us have a dialogue that is crap. I use my self-talk to make me better, to make me stronger… Self-talk comes from belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself it won’t work.” – David Goggins, an ultramarathon runner, retired US Navy SEAL, and former US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member who served in the Iraq War.

“They’re Just Thoughts, How Harmful Can They Be?”

Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real event and a thought.[1] This is why you can get anxious when you think of public speaking, or when your mouth waters when you think of chewing on a lemon.

If you have negative self-talk with yourself every day, your brain’s neural pathways will genuinely change and mold to this style of thinking, almost like a default setting. Your subconscious mind believes the things you tell it, and if you tell it something for long enough, you’ll form a belief system at a subconscious level that will underpin how you act and react every day.

This is because the brain is malleable – it changes and it adapts.[2] So when we think the same thoughts over and over, these pathways strengthen and become the new normal.

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” – Hebb, D.O.

This is the first and most crucial thing to understand in order to create a good relationship with yourself. You don’t have to “fall in love with yourself,” but you should accept yourself with all of your flaws and create new, positive thought patterns that drive you forward (not hold you back).

How Do I Know What I’m Saying to Myself?

Focusing on self-talk, inner dialogue or mental chatter requires us to shift the focus from the external world to the internal world.

Doing this is hard, but it is possible. Nothing good comes easy, and it’s only hard for most of us because it’s not something we learned at school or from our parents (though it most certainly should be!).

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Here are some ways to start listening.

Start Writing

Get a pen and paper and just write whatever comes to mind. Some prompts: “I wish I could feel less/more...” or “Lately, what’s been annoying me is…” take stock of everything you’re telling yourself every day.

What are the feelings and emotions you’ve been feeling lately? What is stressing you out? What makes you happy?

A therapist can help with these types of things, but you can do this yourself once you practice identifying your thoughts and feelings, becoming more self-aware.

Meditation

If you’re struggling with writing, start with meditation and breathing. Meditation (and something even better, hypnosis) is a way in which we convert our brain waves from Beta to Alpha – meaning we can access the operating system of our mind.[3] In this state, we reduce the effects of stress and cortisol by getting to the “rest and digest” stage.

You don’t have to clear your mind or sit in a weird, uncomfortable pose.

Just get some quiet, get a good soundtrack on Spotify or Youtube, and start by focusing on your breathing. Counting in for 5 and out for 7. You can add in some mantras to say out loud like “release”, and let your mind wander (but bring it back whenever you notice it wandering too far).

“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks everyday.” – Deepak Chopra

This gets easier with time. Once you know what your thoughts are saying, you can stop a thought before it signals an emotion.

Remember, it’s our responses to situations, and how we perceive them that can trigger different types of emotions.

What Else Helps?

Start Using Affirmations

Put them up where you’ll see them every day – on your phone or your mirror. Familiarize your brain with it to see positive reinforcement. This, along with journaling, is a great way to start to undo any of the negative neural pathways you’ve been using for too long.

Try these 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life.

Diet and Exercise

We know exercise and eating well is good for us, so start doing that if you’re not. This is the relationship you have with yourself and your body, so reduce processed sugar and carbs, increase healthy fats and vegetables, increase lean protein, and start sweating.

All of these will make you less prone to negative thinking and get your hormones on your side.

Final Thoughts

These strategies are worth your time.

No one can be held accountable for the relationship you hold with yourself other than you. Yes, people can definitely impact the way you see yourself, but that’s only if you permit them to do so.

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Give yourself a talking to, take back the consent you gave others to negatively affect you, and set your intention to build a great relationship with yourself. Not only will the people around you start to notice, but your performance in every aspect of your life will also increase. There’s never been a better time to start than during quarantine!

More Self-Care Tips

Featured photo credit: Samantha Gades via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Daina Worrall

Lawyer, C. Hypnotherapist and RTT Therapist - Personal Development & Mental Health

Overcome Fear and Anxiety with These 4 Mindset Shifts Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice) How to Cure Depression (Professional Advice from a Therapist) How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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