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Much of the work I do as a counsellor is based on one of the core premises of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy [CBT], that how we “talk” to ourselves has a significant impact on how we feel and how we behave. My experience, and the experience of many of the people I work with, is that while this concept “makes sense”, it can be challenging to actually apply it in the moment. This is a reflection about how running has provided me with the perfect platform to develop my ability to engage in adaptive or positive self-talk. It has also provided me with a good metaphor for understanding some of the subtleties of engaging in more adaptive self-talk which I hope will help you the reader better understand these subtleties as well.

BUT I AM ACTUALLY TIRED ?

At several points during any run, I am aware that I feel “tired” and feel a little tug to just stop. Of course, this makes total sense, given that I am demanding more energy from my body than I do during my other day-to-day activities. I am also likely feeling the tug to stop because I am depleting more energy and doing so rapidly. So, the feeling or sensation of fatigue is real. If I focus on only the ‘Truth’ of the statement, “I feel tired”, I may conclude that “Yes I am tired and therefore I should stop”. However, if I take a “True, but…” approach, I may be able to make an adaptive choice that allows me to meet “higher goals” like being healthier, rather than making a reactive choice that feels better in the moment but one that limits my growth, potentially leading to feelings of regret or shame. A few examples of the type of ‘True, but….’ statements I usually make include:

“Yes, I’m tired, but I always manage to break through that wall.

Maybe I’ll adjust my pace myself a bit and focus on the music in my headphones instead of my energy level right now.

I’m out here now so I might as well stick with it”.

When I engage in this type of self-talk, I am not only much more likely to follow through on my higher goals and finish the run, but I also ‘feel’ better because I have shifted my mental focus. This use of “True, but…” statements is an example of the type of adaptive self-talk that running has allowed me to develop.

MORE THAN ‘TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN’

I think this small example addresses one of the common misconceptions about Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, which is that it simply requires us to “think positive!!!”, using self-talk equivalent to “turn that frown upside down”. However, the CBT approach to challenging and changing self-talk is much more subtle than this. Rather than requiring people to ignore the event in their life which is causing them discomfort, CBT challenges us to talk to ourselves about that event in a way that acknowledges that we are uncomfortable, but places that discomfort in a context which makes us less likely to emotionally respond to it in a reactive way. Coming back to the example of running, I can acknowledge that I am a little tired in my self-talk – and indeed it may be important to do so in order to make a subtle adjustment like slowing my pace slightly. Trying to “turn that frown upside down” by ignoring the fact that I am tired might prevent me from making an important adjustment. More importantly, in focusing on how I don’t want to feel (“I’m not tired…I’m not tired…I’m not tired”), I am ironically keeping my attention on my “tiredness”, rather than shifting my focus to something else – my music in this example. Thus, I try to engage in self-talk that briefly acknowledges my discomfort, but also reminds me of reasons and strategies for not reacting to that discomfort.





















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ADAPTIVE SELF-TALK

An example of how to apply this in day to day life may be helpful at this point. Since CBT is commonly used for addressing anxiety, depression or anger – I will choose an example which could potentially trigger feelings of anxiety, depression or anger in many people. Imagine you apply for a job within your place of work and you do not get that job. How you talk to yourself about his event will have a significant effect on how you feel and then behave. For instance, if you say to yourself the following statements;

“It figures – I’m not really that smart or talented. I didn’t get that job and I probably won’t get any job I apply for…..”, you are of course likely to feel depressed/sad – and possibly even anxious about your future. If you say to yourself, “I can’t believe they hired ____ instead of me! I totally deserved that job and it is so unfair that ______ got it!”,

These types of self-talk, from a cognitive-behavioural perspective, are ‘maladaptive’ because they fuel negative emotions and they really limit strategies for moving forward.

So, a self-talk along the lines of, “I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get the job. Whether I like it or not, I didn’t get it and I can’t change that, but I might be able to learn something from it I wonder if I can contact somebody to see if there’s anything I could have done differently to get the job? ”. This, ‘True, but…” approach acknowledges the discomfort of not getting the job, yet does not get “stuck” in the discomfort and instead moves on to strategies for moving forward. This thinking style can greatly improve employment opportunities.

To summarize, it is important to acknowledge that changing our self-talk is just one strategy among many which we can use to change how we feel and behave. Certainly, CBT is about more than self-talk and CBT is not the magic cure to all of our problems. Coming back to running, engaging in adaptive self-talk will not make up for lack of training, poor diet and health choices nor will it allow me to suddenly run a marathon tomorrow when I have never run further than 10 kilometers. However, learning how to engage in adaptive self-talk can be a very powerful tool to combine with other strategies in the worthwhile pursuit of feeling and behaving healthier.

To further explore CBT strategies for feeling and behaving better, contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.

 
  
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Prescription For Improved Mental Health:

  1. Help Others – 2 to 5 times a week or as often as you can, preferably do this anonymously
  2. Activity – 10 to 30 minutes of healthy activity each day to create positive energy and release those “happy hormones”… endorphins that trigger happy feelings
  3. Cook – 2 to 3 times a week or as often as you would like, especially for others as you can feel better by helping others be healthier too
  4. Clean – do up to 4 chores per week, i.e. dishes, vacuuming, purge items and give items away. This gives energy and helps keep a cleaner, healthier place to live
  5. Vocation – while still at school or working, keep searching for your dream full time job, upgrade your education, learn more to reach your goals
  6. Social – get together or connect with friends/family a couple of times per week. Constructing healthy relationships requires consistent work over time
  7. Self-Care – do a few things each week (if not daily) that you enjoy. Also engage in positive self-talk… coaching yourself as if encouraging a 5 or 6 year old you.

Over the coming month, apply these gradually, yet more and more consistently in your life. Track the results. You will likely be very surprised at how a few little adjustments in your routine, small shifts in behaviour, can have such a positive and profound impact on your mental health and quality of life.

Happy New Year !


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TV – Mental Health Analogy

If I were to try to explain how I feel it would go something like this.

I am a TV. I have many channels. During a day my channels get changed. A few channels come in clear without a lot of “fuzzy”. Some channels I’m not sure have been seen.

I think that each channel has a job and an emotion. Some of the channels seem functional and rational and carry on in a somewhat normal way. Some channels don’t even seem to be in the right language for me to understand. Some are just crazy with distorted images and ideas. Some are really boring. (great for sleeping)

I am not always aware of what channel I am on. I think when an emotion happens to me, my TV flips around looking for the right channel to be on. If the right channel isn’t available fast enough it either just KEEPS FLIPPING or stops on the BAD channel.

Flipping constantly is one of the worst feelings. It causes headaches and exhaustion and panic. This feeling of “flipping” makes me look for a “quick fix” to make it stop. I’d definitely unplug myself if possible, or reboot or refresh. This channel isn’t even a channel…it just keeps going and going and makes me want to run and cry. It sometimes makes me speak out of turn or out loud and makes me hear way too much noise at once.

Landing on the BAD channel is my worst fear. It’s the channel NO ONE SUBSCRIBES TO. It’s run by the devil I’m sure. It’s all violent with twisted images and loud annoying noises. It has dinosaurs and creatures without faces. It has trees that whisper bad things and babies that cry out for help. It has shadows in the corners watching from unknown places. The good people are actually bad people who will get you. It’s an extremely scary channel and makes everything feel not real. It gives nightmares and night sweats and other bad things I can’t even mention because they are too bad. Suicide is always a good option that makes sense on this channel.

The religious channel is my favorite. It has great love (and music). This channel has hope and calmness and meaning to life. It has God in charge of all feelings and beliefs. Everything is beautiful and simple. Things move at the right speed. If I could just pick one channel this would be the one. I pray every night that I wake up on this channel. If I am on this channel I don’t want to do ANYTHING that will make the channel change. I find myself avoiding life sometimes in fear it will get changed. Sometimes I get really excited to die while on this channel or just become too overwhelmed with the beauty of the world.

The cartoon channel, a mostly good one, filled with Muppets and laughter and games. Everything is a cartoon and not real. Everything is funny and seems silly. People seem puppet-like and voices change. Everyone is an actor and backgrounds are just pretend. People can’t really die but they might explode once in a while. It can be a confusing channel but it’s one I actually like. Caution to myself not to hurt myself while on this channel. It’s easy to be impulsive on this one and make bad decisions. Laughing inappropriately makes a person look crazy so a lot of self-control is needed.

Some channels are set for days at a time. They are like “sub channels” These include:

  • Food channel – vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, meat-eater, eat by colors, eat by food groups, don’t eat, overeat, make yourself sick, nuts and seeds only, junk food only etc.
  • Sex channel – female attraction, male attraction. No attraction, attraction to objects, attraction to pain
  • Sexuality channel – male, female, both, neither, gay, bi, non-human
  • Relationship channel – not sure this one is included

Someday I’m going to find the remote.   When I do, I’ll get to pick any channel I want. I will also change my package to not include the bad channels. They are such a waste of time and energy.


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Online Consideration: A Developing Art

With the advance of online chat, social media presence and virtual relationships, there seems to be an increase in discussion about the pros and cons our virtual interaction has on health and upon our social lives in general.

Are we giving up too much, lagging in social skill development, to gain the appearance of anonymity, a level of apparent safety as we hide behind firewalls and masked IP addresses? What cost to social health and wellness exists from online interactions and virtual relations which are all too often void of facial expression, tones and clarity of emotional context… no… emoticons don’t quite cut it 🙂 ? 

Are we exposing too much, “wink wink”, while revealing too little. What impact on our integrity and honesty does this relatively newer technology actually have? Imagine developing a relationship with someone with the following qualities. How well do you think it would go? You be the judge…

Potential Online Presentation of Self  (vs. Face-to-Face) 

Less inhibited – less restricted, freer to speak up?

Talk more, more open and opinionated online?

Revealing parts of self perhaps more impulsively?

Less protective or more protected?

Speech & tone absent or limited?

Harmful… risk factor?

Confused privacy boundaries?

Less or more accountability?

Can possibly be creeped, harassed, bothered more easily?

Cut out or cut off quickly, even immediately?

Hectic, rushed and more or less emotionally charged?

Missing much expression via face and tone?

Of course, many of us have heard stories of relationships developing online and those who have met one another, at least initially, with success. Steps can be taken to safeguard online activity beginning with limiting children to an hour or so per day. Additional time can be rewarded for additional involvement in other socially rewarding activities. These may include playing with friends, completion of homework, household chores or various hobbies such as sports, music, art etc..

Additional screen time may also be given in return for extracurricular reading and writing, math or whatever skill you feel your child requires extra effort in.  The formula may be one to two, so for fifteen more minutes of piano or English homework your child gets thirty more minutes online time whether gaming or accessing social media. This approach is best viewed as a “win-win”.

Getting children and adults involved in activities “offline” seems to require effort and I feel somewhat hypocritical as I sit here writing this blog post… lol 🙂 . Suffice it to say that attention to healthy child and family development requires a regular review of our online involvement, presentation and the development of integrity even in, perhaps especially in our “virtual world”.


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Parenting Our Children & Parenting Ourselves

Promoting mental health involves building awareness, reducing the stigma often attached with the term and, of course, developing strategies to improve our overall mental health. Just as we strive to improve our physical health, we are wise to learn more about our mind, mind-body connection and find ways to strengthen the health of our minds.

One of our local school boards has recently taken steps to do just that.  The Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB) has developed a strategy called “Together For Mental Health 2014-2017”. In a recent newsletter they lay out a guide for parents, however, we might all benefit from following these principles;

10 Strategies for Parents to Foster Positive Mental Health”  

1. Create a sense of belonging – build strong, positive relationships

2. Encourage good physical health, including adequate sleep, healthy eating and exercise

3. Make time for regular family meals

4. Encourage creative outlets

5. Develop your [inner] child’s competencies

6. Keep the lines of communication open

7. Model good mental and physical health habits [hang with people that do]

8. Have a predictable routine

9. Foster volunteering and helpfulness

10.Bring fun and playfulness into you and your [loved ones’] lives

Adapted from DCDSB newsletter outlining their mental health and addictions strategy

 


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Probably one of the most important interpersonal skills we have is listening. But, wait a minute, don’t most of us have ears so aren’t we listening all the time? Apparently not, according to the post below submitted by a frustrated and tired woman, wife and mother.

I am a middle-aged married woman whose adult son lives with us. Do you find that when you come home, everyone is waiting for you at the door (including the cats) wanting your attention or something from you right away and you don’t even get through the door? Why is it that I get so irritated by the habits of others around me? When I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed, these habits can drive me crazy!!! No matter how often I say to my husband or son, “Please pick up after yourselves” or “Don’t tell me how to drive”, these annoying habits always occur and make us have arguments. In our day to day lives, we are so busy just trying to keep a clean house and worrying about what to have for supper again. Most of us work out of the home at one, sometimes two jobs. Life can get overwhelming and when you are dealing with difficult people, it can sometimes be stressful to the point of wanting to run away. This is how I feel sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family but I have a tendency to want to run away to recharge. I need some “Me” time.

Above is an excellent example of a few common problems or challenges in families.

First, her complaint is loud and clear yet those living in the home don’t appear to hear or a least respond to it. This may be due to poor communication practice in the home. Turning a complaint (what we don’t want) into a request (what we do want) is an amazing difference in communication and a “game-changer” in others’ ability to meet our needs. Rather than complaining and telling others what to do, perhaps this woman can clarify her expectations of others, by calmly making clear requests, and then await an acknowledgement that she has been heard.

Second, on their part, those not following through with chores or tasks are likely listening and not hearing. This is a common dilemma in families. Truly hearing requires an action that confirms receipt of the information “picking up after yourselves”, versus listening and then failing to respond.  It is critical, in healthy communication, to both acknowledge and validate the speaker or the person making the request. What better way is there to do this than by actually doing what is asked, either right then or fairly soon afterward. This is LOVE.

It is far too easy to say “I Love You” thinking it is only an emotion. Love is a verb as well! It takes real strength and fortitude to follow through with behavioural requests from our loved ones: to set aside our desires, our plans and our wants in order to satisfy and please our loved ones.

Finally, “me time” is important to recharge and renew, however, it is a serious problem if it is used to “run away” from a bad situation. After all, isn’t that precisely what people say about drinking, drugs and affairs; that it was to escape the negative reality of their day-to-day lives.  Rather than running, we are much better off sticking around to resolve our issues, negotiate new patterns, roles and communication strategies and, then, heading out for some truly relaxing “me time”.

If all this sounds too difficult to accomplish on your own, there are professional and confidential counsellors (books as well) to assist you and your loved ones to listen better, negotiate more effectively and to resolve the challenges you are facing.  Contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.

 
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Change Starts With Our Attitude

As this video depicts, domestic violence does happen to anyone –men and women, children and seniors. The “automatic” or “socialized” response we have, given the gender of the “victim” and “perpetrator”, needs serious revision. When we see or hear about domestic violence, we may either over or underreact, either one being potentially hurtful to both the person whose rights are being violated and to the person behaving in a violent manner. In fact, our thinking about and approach to domestic violence can perpetuate violence itself when we inadvertently convey narrow and misguided perspectives about this important social issue to our loved ones, our children, friends and colleagues.

Physical violence is the intentional use of force against a person without that person’s consent. *** It includes, yet is not limited to, hitting, slapping, spitting on, pinching, punching, hair pulling, kicking, cutting, pushing, shoving as well as sexually aggressive acts.

All sexual contact without consent is a crime!

Psychological abuse (also known as emotional abuse) is often overlooked. Although this form of abuse is not considered a criminal act, it can be as destructive as and, at times, even more destructive than physical abuse. Behaviours associated with emotional abuse may include: yelling, name-calling, shaming, blaming, intimidation, isolation, lude and rude comments, withholding the necessities of life and other hurtful and controlling behaviours.

The initial step to ending an abusive relationship is acknowledging that it exists. Sometimes this is very difficult to do, especially for those who have been suffering in this kind of relationship for so long. The following examples can help clarify;

It is still considered family violence when . . .

▪    The incidents of violence seem minor when compared to those you have read about, seen on television or heard other women talk about. There isn’t a “better” or “worse” form of physical violence; you can be severely injured as a result of being pushed, for example.

▪    The incidents of physical abuse have only occurred one or two times in the relationship. Studies indicate that if your spouse/partner has injured you once, it is likely it will continue and even get worse.

▪    The physical assaults stopped when you became passive and gave up your right to express yourself as you desire, to move about freely and see others, and to make decisions. It is not a victory if you have to give up your rights as a person and a partner in exchange for not being assaulted!

▪    There has not been any physical violence. Many women are emotionally and verbally assaulted. This can be equally as frightening and is often more confusing to try to understand making it difficult to reach out for support and find resolutions.

Source: Adapted from Breaking the Silence: a Handbook for Victims of Violence in Nebraska (helpguide.org)

A professional counsellor can provide a safe environment for you to identify the severity of abuse and/or violence in your relationship, assess whether you require other supports to develop a safety plan and explore steps to help you move into a safe and secure living situation. Counselling sessions also provide you with the time to consider how to adjust and move forward, how to cope with stress and change and how to create healthier and more satisfying intimate relationships.

Counselling provides you with the hope that you can overcome the impact of domestic violence and abuse. You can learn more about yourself and regain your confidence. You can find the support to help you rebuild your life and enhance your well-being. Call us today!

*** For more information on family violence, please follow the Government of Canada link at:

http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/about-apropos.html