How Being Kind to Others Make You Feel Better

You know that being kind to others is good for the recipient (obviously), but did you know that it’s also good for the giver, too? Yep, that’s right. Being kind to others will improve your mental, emotional and physical well-being. Here are six reasons that being kind to others makes you feel better, plus ideas for acts of kindness:

It boosts your positive emotions.

Being kind to others releases feel-good hormones like dopamine. Part of the brain’s reward system, these hormones make us feel happy and satisfied and are associated with pleasurable activities such as sex and eating good food. It also makes you more alert, focused and motivated, so being nice to a coworker could be the boost that you need to make it through a tough day at work.

It lowers your stress levels.

Helping others can create an emotional buffer that protects you from stressful events. One study of 77 adults found that those who reported higher-than-normal helping behaviors showed no dips in positive emotion or mental health, and they had lower increases in negative emotion in response to high daily stress. This is probably tied to the release of dopamine as well as the social connections that being kind creates.

It helps you build relationships.

Humans follow a behavior pattern called the norm of reciprocity, whereby we tend to reciprocate similar actions. If someone is kind to us, we’re inclined to be kind back—but if they’re mean, we’ll act in a similarly snippy way. Of course, no one follows the norm of reciprocity in all interactions, but being kind to others does increase the chances that they’ll be kind to you in return. Since it’s pretty hard to build a relationship on trading insults, this helps you shore up your friendships and acquaintances.

It reduces anxiety and depression.

Both the release of dopamine and building social connections have been shown to reduce or prevent signs of mental illness like depression and anxiety. Stress can be another trigger for these conditions, especially anxiety, so being kind helps to address them from another angle, too. While being kind to others is no substitute for going to therapy or taking necessary medications, it can be another tool in your toolbox to manage depression and anxiety.

It can improve your physical health.

Being kind isn’t just good for you physically and mentally. It’s also good for your body. In one study, writing small notes of affection to loved ones was found to lower levels of “bad” cholesterol in college students. Other research has indicated that people who devote more time to meaningfully helping others have less inflammation. Not only that, their immune system is also better able to fight off infections. Who knows? Maybe being kind to your coworkers will help you ward off that office cold!

It creates a positive feedback loop.

Being kind to others doesn’t just make both them and you feel good. Thanks to the norm of reciprocity, it also makes them more likely to be kind to you back, which makes you more likely to be kind to them again–and on and on in a cycle of positivity. Your act of kindness may have positive ripple effects that you can’t even conceive of.

At this point, you’re probably wondering about different ways to be kind to others. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • Volunteering. Find a charitable organization that champions a cause that means a lot to you and offer to donate your time to them. Even if you’ve never volunteered before, it doesn’t take a lot of skill to hand out meals at a soup kitchen or clear trash from the local river. If you do have more professional talents you’d like to put to use, you can offer to provide them pro bono. Many nonprofits often need help in business areas such as finance and marketing.
  • Give gifts. A small gift such as a scented candle or a potted plant can really make someone’s day. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful. For example, give someone who loves books a candle that smells like a library. You can also make them something by hand, or simply drop a card in the mail with a heartfelt note. 
  • Do extra chores. Almost nobody likes doing chores, so your family, friends and coworkers are sure to appreciate it when you take care of their tasks for them. Even if it’s not your turn, offer to do the dishes, take out the trash and recycling, vacuum the floors, clean out the fridge, mow the lawn or whatever needs to be done. Or better yet, don’t tell them you’re going to do it so they get a nice surprise.
  • Offer emotional support. Sometimes what your loved one needs the most is a listening ear as they vent or cry. Do your best to listen attentively to them without interrupting. Offer validation when appropriate, but otherwise just let them talk instead of butting in with advice or a relevant anecdote from your life. Your loved one probably needs to emotionally process things before they can receive that kind of information.
  • Express yourself. On the flipside, sometimes we don’t communicate our love and appreciation for people enough. You know in your head that you’re thankful for your friends helping you move. But did you actually tell them? It’s very easy to say “thank you” or compliment someone, and it will mean a lot to them–so do it!
  • Donate money. Of course, donating to a charitable cause or nonprofit organization is a great way to be kind. However, you don’t have to be so formal about it. For instance, you can send money via Patreon to an artist whose work you admire, or Venmo a friend who needs a little cash to tide them over until their first paycheck arrives.

Helping others will make you and others feel better–a win-win situation. If you’re feeling down, try being kind to your coworkers or helping out a friend, and odds are that it will help cheer you up as well.

3 Ways to Keep a Positive Attitude and Be More Successful

Your life is going to be full of setbacks, that’s just the nature of things. Life is full of ups and downs, and the best thing you can do is position yourself to make the most of those good times while hedging against the rough ones. Keeping a positive mindset is the best way to do this.

What do you do when things seem to go wrong? You have to be positive. You have to be optimistic. Think about it. If you don’t respond positively, then what is the alternative? And how has that alternative been worked out for you in the past? You have nothing to gain by focusing on the negatives. Everything you want in life is on the other side of failure, and the only way to get there is to stay positive and keep pushing forward.

Here are three simple ways to stay positive and weather the storms that life throws your way.

Surround Yourself with Positivity

One of the most effective ways to set yourself up for success is to engineer your environment and build productive habits that will move you toward success on autopilot. Since you become what you think about most of the time, it only makes sense to think about positive things in life.

Starting your day by reading some encouraging words can help set the tone for the whole day. Some great personal development authors include John Maxwell, Brian Tracy, John Covey, Tony Robbins and Gary Vaynerchuk. Put inspiring quotes all around your office, on your computer and phone desktops or even stuck up on the fridge at home. Commit to spending more time around positive people too, since their attitudes will rub off on you.

You can also automate your success through habits that can help you in life. Building a morning routine and a bedtime routine can help.

Take Care of Your Physical Health

You should also take good care of your physical health by making daily exercise a part of your routine. You don’t have to sign up for a marathon or anything to reap the benefits of exercise. As little as 20 minutes per day of moderate exercise can help improve how you look and feel.

Your diet is also important. Eat plenty of fresh veggies, fruits, legumes and whole grains to give your body the nutrients it needs for optimum health and performance. You might also want to incorporate superfoods into your meals, such as blueberries, garlic, turmeric, and oatmeal. These can help you fight off inflammation, boost your energy levels and improve your heart health.

Set Goals, Make Plans and Take Action

One of the best ways to build confidence and stay optimism is to accomplish goals that are important to you. Success breeds success. When you’re productive and find yourself achieving small goals, you feel good about yourself, and you become empowered to push harder to achieve even more.

Action is the key to success, but not all actions will help you in life. Some people are busy all day long, yet they never seem to get anywhere. The key is to know what you want to accomplish, to develop a plan that will make it happen and then to take action on that plan every day without allowing yourself to become distracted by non-essential tasks.

Some people think that time management is all about doing more things every day. But the opposite is actually true. Effective time management is about doing less things, not more things. You must discipline yourself to do the most important things – the things that will really make a difference and drive results. As you learn to do this, you will propel yourself toward your goals in a way that you cannot even imagine at this moment.

As you move rapidly toward your goals, you’ll begin to feel very excited and energized. This will then motivate you to push even harder and accelerate your progress, resulting in even greater levels of accomplishment, higher feelings of self-esteem and more positivity than you’ve ever experienced in the past.

Mental Health Matters: Why Schools Can’t Afford to Ignore Staff and Student Needs

With education reform being the buzz term of the decade, there has been lots of talk about how we can make schools better. New instructional methods, increasing technology, longer days, more differentiation. All great ideas, of course, but none take into account the enormous pink elephant in the room.

You can’t teach kids that you can’t reach, and children who come into the classroom with mental health needs require different tools in which teachers are not routinely being equipped with.  This is creating school buildings where the teachers and students end the day feeling like refugees, having engaged in a war none of them is equipped to win.

The NPR calls it the silent epidemic, referring to the 20% of students who come into the classroom each day with a diagnosable mental illness. With the large numbers of students I’ve personally seen diagnosed with ADHD or even PTSD, I tend to consider that stat a little on the conservative side, but even as it stands if one in five children in a classroom of 30 have needs that go untreated, how much learning can really occur?

Beyond the needs that walk into the classroom, there are the needs that develop in the classroom.  Staff and students who are impacted by witnessing or experiencing the outward expressions of the internal turmoil caused by the child with ADHD who “picks” fights to stimulate his brain or the student with ODD who makes the class late to lunch every day by disrupting the walk through the halls. Or what about that teacher whose anxiety over test scores and job performance has begun to creep into every area of her life? Are the kids who are being taught by the shell of her best self which walks in the door actually going to be getting all the instruction they need?

Mental health care in this country has never been what the experts would want to see.  Working from the deficit model that says you should be experiencing a problem before you seek support and even then you’ve got exactly 10 sessions to fix it leaves much to be desired. But in schools, it’s much worse.  The one or two professional counselors, social workers or psychologists that work in the school typically cover all 800-2000 students by themselves, which means only the highest needs get addressed. This is leaving staff and students vulnerable and schools must stop ignoring the need.

Here’s what we must begin:

School-wide mental wellness.

Why do teachers have sick days and not well days? When I train educators on working with students who are at-risk of academic failure, I encourage them to take a mental health day periodically in order to stay fresh and avoid burnout.  Many respond by saying they are penalized on their annual reviews for using these days.  Huh? How can having a teacher who doesn’t want to be in the classroom benefit anyone? Schools should encourage self-care and stress management, including planned time off.  Recent research has also shown that schools who include mindfulness practices also see great benefits such a decrease in staff stress levels and discipline referrals.

Proactive and Responsive Mental Wellness Supports.

When it comes to staff mental health, most employers rely on employee assistance programs.  The services historically include a few mental health sessions with a licensed professional and are seen as the primary source of defense for staff who are facing a crisis.  But with as little as 5% of staff actually using the services, the full benefits of this resource has yet to be seen.

Some research has concluded anything from lack of awareness to the negative stigma of mental illness contributes to low usage rates, so what if employers encouraged or even required at least one visit per year? That way, needs are identified sooner and the stigma is reduced. I’ve worked in schools that rewarded me for taking a physical exam or even paid a bonus for lowering my blood pressure or cholesterol, could the same be done with mental wellness? Of course, it could.  Staff who are more mentally well can have no adverse effects on student outcomes and it’s worth exploring how it can be used to improve them.

Reading, Writing and Mental Wellness for all.

For students, many schools have begun contracting with outside mental health offices to provide school-based services.  While these relationships do benefit some students, the vast majority of kids are remaining overlooked. One of the best solutions is decreasing the student to counselor/social worker ratio. While national organizations continue to encourage rates close to 250 to 1, most schools still come in much closer to 400+ students for each professional trained in mental health needs.  The best solution, however, is making sure that all staff are clearly trained to understand, recognize and respond to mental health needs that present themselves in the classroom.

There’s no magic bullet for eliminating mental health needs, but with the right tools and consistent effort, all staff and students will get the support they need.

Self-Connection Through Daily Mindfulness

If you are anything like me, you may have confused mindfulness with meditation; something requiring you to be in a certain space, a particular position and removed from distraction or other activity.

Well, I’ve come to learn that while mindfulness practice can be enhanced through meditation, they are not one in the same.

Mindfulness is about bringing conscious awareness and presence to what is right in front of us or perhaps, what is occurring within us as an emotional, physical, spiritual or intellectual sensation.

The Heart of the Matter

Before I had even heard the term mindfulness, I received a teaching that helped me to understand it more clearly today.

Many years ago, I attended a silent retreat centered in Buddhist meditation practice. We spent many hours in a seated position. Silent. During the course of the weekend, we were also introduced to chanting.

A space had been carved in the silence for a question and answer period on the last day of the retreat. Most of the questions focused on the accuracy of the chant; saying the right words, holding the right tone and doing it in the right order.

Our teacher for the weekend guided us to recognize that it was not about right or wrong, that the clarity of the words, the volume of the chant or the correct order or perfect pronunciation was not at the heart of the matter.

We were reminded that feeling into the practice was the most crucial element. The ability to hold a pure and objective intention to simply engage in the moment within our hearts would be more powerful than a day’s worth of disconnected chanting.

So, when mindfulness became a hot topic of conversation and sought after state of being, I was reminded of this learning as I struggled to understand what mindfulness would look like in my day to day life.

Some of the essential ingredients involved in mindfulness include acceptance, non-judgement, willingness to observe, openness to feeling, and release of resistance.

Mindfulness.  It’s a Gateway to Self-Connection

Here’s what I have noticed. Mindfulness leads to self-connection. Mindfulness is a pathway to self-connection. In self-connection, I have a front row seat to my own experience including the emotions, the feelings, the thoughts, the beliefs, the desires of my heart and I become intrigued and curious about this exploration.

Using mindfulness as a gateway to self-connection makes it easier to stay out of the stories that we often create in order to make sense of our circumstances in a logical and intellectual way. This can be helpful or harmful depending on the details of the storyline.

In a mindful place as you experience deeper levels of self-connection you can begin to cultivate a deeper capacity to witness yourself. You become the observer who is deeply present and engaged AND also open to whatever arises for you through your senses. And this is where self-compassion is born.

Self-compassion is the capacity to hold space for our own evolution and process without expecting it to be different in any way and to love ourselves through it all. There is no need to resist what we discover, no need to berate ourselves for anything and no need to fix. Self-compassion is the utter acceptance and unconditional love for you.

And guess what? This depth of self-connection and self-compassion expands your ability to offer connection and compassion to others. Real, genuine, authentic connection and compassion.

Is there anything more powerful than that within the context of transformative relationships?

It is a practice that deepens your experience of joy and softens your times of sorrow. It is a practice that provides a glimpse, moment by moment into your authentic nature. Your most powerful gifts of service to others is found right there.

With a mindful approach, you can move away from “right and wrong,”  step out of the contrast of “good and bad” and embrace what is in this moment. The only “right and wrong” that becomes important is what feels right or wrong to your own heart.

Need to Have Some Fun: How to Throw a Perfect Game of Thrones Party

Even though Winter is coming, the hit television series Game of Thrones still provides an awesome party theme. We all work hard and need to get away from the pressures of our everyday work load. Whether it’s a birthday or friendly get-together, here’s how to throw the perfect Game of Thrones party.

Place Every Partygoer in a House

  • No Game of Thrones party is complete without some of the most well-known houses in attendance. Assign a house to every party attendant. Think carefully and try to match people to the houses that best suit them. However, be careful because some people might not take too kindly to being assigned certain houses such as Lannister or Florent.

Create Some Awesome Invitations

  • Once assigning everyone a house, it’s time to create the invitations. Find a suitable medieval font online, type and print your invitations, then use some black tea bags (soaked in warm water) to give them an aged look. Finally, fold your invitations in order to seal them. Unfortunately, not everyone has hot wax and a signet ring available to complete the final step,  but don’t worry because stickers or printed paper with a house seal on them will work just as well.

The Perfect Feast

  • Normal party food is a huge no-no when it comes to throwing a Game of Thrones party. Instead, you should try your hardest to provide food that would be eaten in medieval times. This doesn’t mean you should look for some disgusting medieval dishes because the food still needs to be tasty. Games of Thrones party staples include hot pies and sausages; however, if you’re stuck for ideas, there are plenty of Game of Thrones recipe guides available both online and in book form for your reference.

Create A Game of Thrones Playlist

  • Instead of creating a playlist filled with the latest big hits and party tunes, you should create a Game of Thrones playlist. Obviously, the playlist must include the official Game of Thrones theme song, but it should also include various pieces of medieval-style music.

Decorate Your House

  • You can have so much fun decorating your house for a Game of Thrones theme party. Hang banners from the walls or use them as placemats or coasters. Printing out the official maps or making your own bunting are other good ideas.

Play Some Suitable Games

  • There are plenty of games that you can play when throwing a Game of Thrones party. A Game of Thrones quiz is a great idea – maybe Game of Thrones bingo? You could also purchase official Games of Thrones playing cards and board games.

Enjoy The Party

Follow all of this advice, and you can be assured that your Game of Thrones party will turn out perfectly. Enjoy the party!

May is Mental Health Month – Risky Business Theme Highlights When Behaviors, Habits May Be Unhealthy

May is Mental Health Month (MHM) was started 68 years ago by Mental Health America (MHA) to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone. This year’s theme for MHM—Risky Business—is a call to educate ourselves and others about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves.

When you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health concern, sometimes it’s a lot to handle. It’s important to remember that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. Yet, people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem. Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis.

This May, MHA is encouraging people to educate themselves about behaviors and activities that could be harmful to recovery – and to speak up without shame using the hashtag #riskybusiness – so that others can learn if their behaviors are something to examine. Posting with our hashtag is a way to speak up, to educate without judgment, and to share your point of view or story with people who may be suffering—and help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness. Last year, MHM materials were seen and used by 22.3 million people, with more than 8,500 entities downloading MHA’s tool kit.

“When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early—and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4,” said Paul Gionfriddo, MHA president and CEO. “We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness—and do so in a compassionate, judgement-free way.”

MHA has developed a series of fact sheets (available at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may) on specific behaviors and habits that may be a warning sign of something more, risk factors and signs of mental illness, and how and where to get help when needed. MHA has also created an interactive quiz at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/whatstoofar to learn from Americans when they think specific behaviors or habits go from being acceptable to unhealthy.

Self-Compassion And Self-Care: Being As Kind To Yourself As You Are To Other People

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Modern life is stressful – so stressful! Between work, study, maintaining relationships, family obligations, childcare, paying bills, cooking meals, organising a household, taking care of pets, exercising, volunteering, socialising…it’s not surprising how little time we can spend thinking of nice things to do for ourselves!

Self-care can mean a huge range of things to different people.  I’ve talked before about how to make self-care work for you, basically by doing the things you like and find restorative (and not just ticking off a huge list of things that are “supposed” to be good for you, but that you may not actually get much out of).  

As a person who has a habit of setting super high standards and being really hard on myself, this year I’ve been trying to focus more on my “psychological” self-care.  That means doing things like going easy on myself, not overworking, not overcommitting, keeping my boundaries, taking regular “nothing time” and forgiving myself if I don’t get it right all the time too.

I saw a great TEDx talk recently by Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher on authenticity, self-concept, and self-compassion and a practicing Buddhist to boot.

Neff talks about how hard we can find it to be compassionate to ourselves, even when we might be very good at extending compassion to others.  She notes how many people tend to use the “stick” rather than the “carrot” to try and motivate themselves to achieve more.  That is, they beat themselves up for not getting things done, rather than providing an incentive to reward themselves when they do.  Curiously, her research shows that, in fact, those who are more kind and forgiving towards themselves when they do fail tend to feel more motivated and get more done in the long run.

So what does it mean to be self-compassionate?  And why on earth is it so hard to do?  Neff says on her website, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

Of course, this doesn’t mean slacking off all the time, never doing things you intend to, and then being okay with it! Neff is clear that self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence.  Rather it is about doing things because you care about yourself and want to make changes in your life that allow you to be healthy and happy and not just because someone else tells you to.

It sounds so simple, but how easy it is really?  I think it’s so much harder to consistently treat yourself in a way that is kind and forgiving, especially if you have a lifetime of practice at beating yourself up about things instead.  It seems much easier to just tick a few things off your “self-care plan” and consider it done unless you don’t get it done, then you get to feel bad about that too.

I think self-compassion is both an attitude towards yourself as well as a skill that you can learn. I’ve certainly found I’ve got better at it with practice and patience.  A lot of self-compassion websites suggest cultivating self-compassion through mindful meditation exercises, and Neff has some great examples on her website if you’re interested to give them a go.  I’ve found some of them useful when I’m really struggling to be kind to myself.

For me though, “pulling myself up” on my self-criticism works really well too.  For example, whenever I notice that I’m self-criticising or thinking about something I should have done better or managed differently, I ask myself, “Would I ever say something that harsh to a friend or a client?”  If the answer is “no”, then I imagine a little script that I would say to someone else. The result is something a little kinder and more understanding with a commitment to learn and try something different next time – and forgiveness if I don’t get it right even then.

I’ve noticed that doing this repeatedly does make me feel a little better about my perceived failings and mistakes which I’m also sure are not as big a deal to other people as they are to me. The trick of course is first to notice those thoughts in order to begin a process to address them.

So what do you think?  Are you into the idea of self-compassion as part of your self-care?

Did Therapy Not Work For You?

Woman crying on sofa during therapy session while therapist is taking notes

If therapy didn’t work for you, chances are, it was the wrong type. However, you and your therapist may not have realized it. Broadly speaking, therapy can be divided into four types: long-term, moderate term, short term and brief.

With regard to long-term therapy, most people will relate to psychoanalysis where the client lies back on the couch and relates his or her life story.  Accordingly, people project the facts of their lives in front of them, like stars in the night. Most people typically have drawn lines between a number of the points of light to form constellations. They then say, my life is such and so because of these or those constellations of events.

The benefit of analysis and continuing the process is that over time, many people begin to recognize different connections between the same points of light. So whereas they thought their life was the way it was because of one constellation, they come to see things differently by recognizing the connections between other series of events forming other constellations. This is the process of insight, which by theory, leads to change. This approach can take months to years.

The moderate length therapies typically run 12 to 18 sessions. The approaches to moderate length therapies have typically been developed by psychologists who view human problems as an outcome of how you think, how you feel or how you behave. Hence the therapies are cognitively, affectively or behaviourally oriented. So typically, you will hear respective questions; what are you thinking, what are you feeling or what are you doing. Theoretically, by concentrating on changing any one of these three areas, the other two will follow suit thus resolving the presenting problem.

Short term therapies tend to run 8 to 12 sessions and more typically have been developed by social workers or those interested in work with families where in theory, any one person’s problems is an outcome of matters arising from the family situation at present. Typically the therapist concentrates on patterns of social interactions, power and control issues, communications, who’s in charge or who listens to whom. By restoring either appropriate balance or hierarchy to these relationships, problems may be resolved.

Brief therapies typically run about six sessions, plus or minus two. There is an orientation towards the “problem of the day” and getting folks over that hump. Strategies may include reframing the problem so that a different view of the situation may lend itself to new solutions and/or teaching problem solving strategies that can then be applied to any situation.

The therapy people receive is directed less by the nature of their problem and more determined by the training of the therapist. Most therapists are trained primarily in one approach. Hence there is an issue of luck or chance that the therapy delivered is best suited to addressing the presenting problem. This situation is akin to a carpenter who only owns a hammer. Only owning a hammer, the carpenter must then treat all things as a nail. There is not necessarily a “goodness of fit” between the demands of the situation and the tool available.

When folks consider therapy, for whatever reason, they are advised to discuss the nature of their problem with the therapist in advance of the first session and determine if the therapist’s training is suited to addressing the problem at hand.  Certain problems are better suited to certain approaches. A “goodness of fit” between the presenting problem and the orientation of the therapist can make for better outcomes.

Self-Connection Through Yoga

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I have never thought of myself as flexible ~ at least not physically flexible. I don’t think I have ever been able to touch my toes without bending my knees.

So, when I first began to learn yoga, it was mostly for the benefits that I knew my body would love in terms of stretching and improving my flexibility. It all began with a video I used to practice at home a few times a week.

Even at that time, I came to realize that the benefits exceeded improved flexibility ~ cardio and strength training were part of the practice as well.

It wasn’t until many years later when I was introduced to Moksha and Bikram Yoga practices that I realized the benefits that went beyond the physical.

Both practices are done in a heated room and follow a specific set of postures that are completed in 1 – 11/2 hour sessions.

Benefits Beyond the Obvious

The first thing I noticed was the focus on breath. There was no way I could survive the practice if I didn’t remind myself to breathe deeply. I was so used to shallow breathing ~ breathing from the back of my throat as opposed to the deep lung and belly breathing promoted in yoga.

I learned that breathing deeply has great impact on physical processes ~ slowing down the heartbeat and blood pressure ~ increasing oxygen flow throughout the body ~ especially the brain.

Over time, I found myself naturally using my breath differently and I noticed that my physical endurance had improved and rather quickly.

Breathing also brings me back to this moment ~ this breath. It can become a mantra in that way. Many times in yoga practice, the instructor would remind us to come back to our breath ~ to breathe as we went into the posture, held it and came back out.

Isn’t it amazing that we often need to be reminded to breathe? Many of us have the habit of holding our breath ~ almost all the time ~ but especially during more intense emotional moments and in times of physical pain.

Maybe even beyond all of these benefits, I recognized a calmness in my mind. And this occurred quite quickly ~ it didn’t take weeks or months of practice to feel this benefit. One session made a difference for me.

So much focus was required to withstand the heat, to maintain balance and to physically attain and hold the postures. If I let my mind wander, I would lose balance or become physically overwhelmed ~ so I learned to keep coming back to the moment and to my body.

Get Comfortable in Your Own Skin

Speaking of body ~ yoga is an amazing way to ground yourself. And if you are anything like me, grounding can be a challenge. I tend to be in my head ~ my thoughts and my daydreams ~ much more readily than in my physical vessel.

Did you realize that your emotions are felt in your body? This is a recent epiphany for me. I became aware that for the last several years, I have been doing my best to think through my emotions ~ even to think my emotions ~ as opposed to feeling them.

One day not long ago, I really felt myself come into my physical body as I landed in my hometown. You know how our long-term childhood homes can evoke strong memories and stir the emotions? Well, that is what happened to me. It was in that moment, though, that I realized “of course, I must be in my body if I am committed to feeling my emotions instead of thinking them ~ where and how else can they be felt?”

Join The Conversation

Self-Connection Through Yoga is the topic of the next episode of Serving Consciously on Friday November 25 at 12:00 noon (PST) on www.ctrnetwork.com.

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Santoshi Davis

I am excited to introduce you to my guest for that show ~ Santoshi Davis.

Santoshi Davis is a Certified Executive Coach, a Certified Akhanda Yoga Instructor and a graduate student working towards a Masters in Psychotherapy, Spirituality and Art (Art Therapy Specialization).

She holds a degree in Disability Studies and Certifications in Positive Psychology and Addictions Studies.  She is a leading expert in performance management, work-related rehabilitation and conflict resolution.

Santoshi is the founder of Upward Frog Executive Coaching and Consulting and an avid volunteer. You can contact Santoshi at upwarddfrogyoga@yahoo.ca.

I hope you can join us for what promises to be an informative and exciting conversation. Whether you are a yogi or not, I know you will find nuggets of wisdom to help you self-connect. Just make your way over to www.ctrnetwork.com and click on Listen Live!

Battling for Balance

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When I left the Marine Corps, I had a hard time carving a new identity for myself. I was terribly invested in what others thought of me. My public story was of crisp uniforms, physical fitness metrics, and successes. I always looked good on paper. My private story involved destructive choices, broken doors and holes in the walls, hiding weapons in the house, and getting dragged across the living room floor by my hair.[/caption]

I had no words to explain the disaster that had become my personal life and felt crippling shame about being one of “those people” with disordered drinking behavior going through a violent divorce.

I would have fit right in on the Jerry Springer show.

Right now we are losing more veterans to suicide than to combat. I’m a pretty decisive person with limited ability to ask for help and zero trouble taking risks; there was a time I could have become one of those statistics.

I stumbled quite by accident into three things that helped me regain my footing and become more resilient. I’m grateful for that stumble and always will be. Later, I learned that the research supports mental fitness training in the pre-incident space. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn until I was decidedly in the “post” camp.

First, I started treating myself in a healthy way again. I ate a little cleaner and made time for physical movement.

Not my typical physical movement, the kind where I used throwing up or a stress fracture as evidence that I was working hard enough – REAL, wellness-building movement that strengthened my body rather than punished it. I found myself on a yoga mat and never wanted to leave. In truth, I came to yoga as an athlete looking for something challenging, a fitness fad to master, and something to help me bend my unyielding muscles a bit more easily. What I found on the mat changed my life entirely. I found a practice that was about more than my body.

Be still and know that I am God –Psalm 46:10

For me, a huge part of self-care involved slowing down enough to listen. I spent a little less time talking and a lot more observing. That made space for faith and for a focus on other people. All of a sudden, my energy was redirected. I could be generous with myself and with the people I cared about. I found a new tribe of healthy people who shared those service ethic values.

And that was my beginning.

We can weather storms much better than I did – we don’t have to wind up tearful and alone with only a six-pack of beer to help us mourn. Resilience can be taught. Self-care modalities, social support cultivation, and spiritual practices are the components upon which we must rely to build our foundation in advance of the storm.

So if you’re left asking what it means to practice wellness?

Spoiler alert – it ain’t about your biceps’ size.

Telemental Health: Improving Access to Veterans’ Mental Healthcare

By Brian Neese

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Photo Credit: Dublin VA

Military members comprise less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, yet veterans represent 20 percent of suicides nationally, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Each day, about 22 veterans die from suicide.

An issue affecting mental healthcare for veterans is accessibility. In the spring of 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wait time scandal emerged when allegations surfaced of veterans dying while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, according to Military Times. Wait time issues and manipulated appointment scheduling highlighted a nationwide problem and resulted in several top officials resigning or retiring.

Months later, Congress passed a $15 billion bill allowing more veterans to seek care in the private sector through the VA Choice program. Meanwhile, the VA continued focusing efforts on telemental health, or the use of telecommunications technology to provide behavioral health services, to try to improve veterans’ access to mental health services, National Psychologist reports.

Accessibility

Nearly one in four active duty military members show signs of a mental health condition, based on a study in JAMA Psychiatry. With 44 percent of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan to rural zip codes, accessibility becomes an important topic for veterans’ mental healthcare. This is a natural strength of telemental health services, which can include clinical assessment, individual and group therapy, educational intervention, cognitive testing and general psychiatric treatment.

The first telemental health program funded by the VA’s Office of Rural Health is at the Portland VA Center in Oregon. Through telemental health sessions, veterans saved 826,290 miles driven and $161,126 worth of gasoline in 2013, program director Mark Ward said. Some veterans who live far from Portland and lack high-speed internet are given electronic tablets and notebooks for videoconferencing.

Telemental health can increase veterans’ access to services and eliminate travel. Another benefit is that telemental health can help veterans overcome the perceived stigma sometimes associated with seeking mental health treatment. Veterans who might feel embarrassed or ashamed to get help in person can receive care in their home.

The VA delivered a total of more than 650,000 telemental health sessions nationally from the program’s inception in 2004 through 2014. The VA anticipated delivering 300,000 telemental health visits for 115,000 veterans in 2014, an increase from more than 200,000 telemental health visits for 80,000 veterans the previous year. Additionally, the VA has created free smartphone apps that veterans can use to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as the PTSD Coach application developed by the VA and the Department of Defense.

Telemental health has made progress in improving accessibility for veterans’ healthcare, and it will be needed to make further ground. The Government Accountability Office found that 18 months after the wait time scandal, the VA still struggled with wait times and patients’ schedules.

Effectiveness

The first large-scale assessment of telemental health services was published in Psychiatric Services. This study assessed clinical outcomes of 98,609 mental health patients before and after enrollment in telemental health services of the VA between 2006 and 2010. During this time, psychiatric admissions of telemental health patients decreased by an average of about 24 percent, and patients’ hospitalization lengths decreased by an average of nearly 27 percent.

A survey of veterans found high levels of satisfaction and perceived safety with home-based telemental health provided by the VA pilot program in Portland, according to the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. Findings support the feasibility and safety of using technology in the home for the delivery of mental health services. Additionally, results suggest fewer no-show appointments in home-based telemental health compared to clinic-based telemental health.

Currently, telemental health is regarded as appropriate for general clinical use. Yet, the VA cautions that more needs to be known about using telemental health services for conditions such as PTSD, which Jama Psychiatry says is 15 times higher for those in the military than civilians. “While preliminary research has clearly established that a variety of telemental health modalities are feasible, reliable, and satisfactory for general clinical assessments and care, less is known about the clinical application and general effectiveness of telemental health modalities employed in the assessment or treatment of PTSD,” the VA says.

The Need for Behavioral Health Professionals

Approaches such as telemental health can support better access to behavioral healthcare and are expected to grow as a result. Yet, more professionals are needed for rising populations of veterans, children and others in need of services.

The online B.A. in Behavioral Health from Alvernia University enables students to meet this need. Some graduates enter fields such as addiction counseling, long-term care and child welfare, while others enter graduate studies. The program takes place in a convenient online format to accommodate students’ work and personal schedules.

Music Therapy and Its Healing Potential

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Music therapy has proven to be highly efficient as a therapeutic intervention in medical and personal settings, and it is a growing field of practitioners. People wear headphones and listen to music to cope, dream, escape, and/or just have a wonderful time. Think about your favorite song and the feelings it evokes. Do you want to sing along? Dance? Hold up a lighter and sway from side to side?

These are only a few of the simplest ways to describe in which music helps us heal and express a range of emotions. There have been numerous studies on the effects of music on people with cognitive impairments that show how something as simple as handing someone an MP3 player with certain music can really make a different. Vibroacoustic therapy is a form of music therapy that uses patented equipment and software that was developed by Olav Skille in 1968.

Vibroacoustic therapy relies on using sound waves applied to the body in order to produce relating physical and mental effects. In present times, vibroacoustic therapy can be administered through lying or sitting on a surface that is embedded with speakers that conducts the vibrations while listening to music of a certain frequency. This arrangement allows for the client to really feel the music while listening.

The key to this type of therapy is making it a live, interactive experience that is not only audibly stimulating but also kinesthetically stimulating. Vibroacoustic therapy has been used to treat Alzheimer ’s disease, premature babies, children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, chronic physical pain, and other visible and invisible illnesses.

Recently, music producer Timbaland did an interview with Hot 97 in order to discuss his feelings on the future of the music industry and introduce his new artists. While at the studio, he was wearing a Subpac. The Subpac is a product that can either be worn as a backpack or placed on a chair. Producers, DJs, and others affiliated with the music industry use the Subpac as a way to “feel” the music similar to how you feel the beat in a car with a serious bass system in the trunk. I was intrigued because I wondered if there was a place for the Subpac in therapeutic usage.

As of right now, I’m not personally aware of portable music therapy devices similar to the Subpac, but why not create an adaptable portable version of a Vibroacoustic therapy device for the masses? For instance, Subpac has joined forces with Muse:

The Muse Seek Project fosters inclusion and aims to open up the world of music to Deaf children across the Dominican Republic and the world. Through Participatory Action Research methods, Maria Batlle, founder of The Muse Seek Project helps children in the Deaf community experience music. Read More

I can see the potential for the Subpac exploring its adaptability for music therapy, especially since it can easily be worn like a backpack or draped on a chair like a massager. The Subpac is available to the public and can be purchased online. It was great to see Timbaland support such a project in order to bring it to light for not just music artists and DJs, but also for everyday people who could truly benefit from being able to heal and groove on the go.

Critique of Self-Care Initiatives in the Helping Professions

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Generally speaking, helping organizations view humans from two polarized lenses.  Some organizations believe that their employees are good people and will always do their best despite any barriers that exist. Other organizations operate as if people are to be significantly controlled. These organizations believe without external control, people will give less than one hundred per cent and will somehow take advantage of benefits or in any way they can.

If you consume literature from publications like Forbes, Macleans (Canada), Time, or even through social media, you undoubtedly have read about efforts of progressive companies to foster production and actually take care of their employees in a holistic manner. We now know about the benefit to production, whatever the product may be, when organizations implement wellness strategies at work and give employees menus of wellness options to choose from which briefly take them away from production to have infusions of wellness.  In fact, this opinion is no longer just an opinion.  The evidence is clear. Organizations and societies who take care of their employees fair better on every indicator of production.

In the helping professions, our organizations are often well intended when they engage us in wellness conversations and efforts, but they often miss the mark. Helping organizations often bring in “experts” to talk to us at staff meetings. This act within itself is view as progressive and helpful. Again, while well intended, helping “experts” and their products miss the mark of what is needed to increase the wellness of helping professionals.  Why is this?

Strategies and self-care models offered to increase our wellness do not fit the nature of our work.  These models are based on static and linear models of work and production. For example, ten minutes of stretching likely benefits a professional helper who works a strict schedule and sees clients in an office for treatment blocks.  One can certainly take ten minute breaks and will reap the stress reducing benefits from those breaks.  Strictly office based helpers can often also find time to exercise at lunch, socialize in the lunch room, and so on, and therefore reap the resiliency benefits of these strategies.

The problem here is that the majority of helping professionals do not work in office based environments and see clients for therapy or for some other time specific service.  The majority of us work in child welfare, children’s or adult mental health, or crisis intervention environments.  Our “schedules” change several times a day as we meet the needs of our clients and respond to our communities’ crises.  A day in the life of a helping professional in these areas of practice looks more like a dog’s breakfast.  We don’t get set break times (they are there but we can’t and don’t take them because we are too busy), we don’t eat at set times and we almost always eat in our cars while travelling from situation to situation.

We forget to pee and poop.  No really we do.  We experience the sensation to pee, but it is often an hour or two or three before we actually remember or have the time to go. To be sure, it is just not possible to interrupt a suicide assessment, crisis phone call, apprehension with the police, or the like, to pee.  Not only do we care so deeply about our clients welfare that we wouldn’t interrupt our process with them to pee, but we also get used to ignoring our bodily indicators and in fact over time we actually divorce ourselves from a great deal of our biology.

This divorce from our biology often happens with ease because we are pumped full of stress hormones which naturally serve to put everything except the crisis at hand on hold.

While I don’t mean to belabour this point, it would be negligent not to note that if you follow the logic about the physiological and biological separations we perform in order to meet the needs of our client populations, you will understand that implementing any menu option from the typical self-care menu is literally impossible.  You can’t meditate on the witness stand, during an apprehension, or a suicide assessment.  You can’t break for a jog when you spend your lunch in your care driving and eating.

Following along with the logic of this work reality means that our self-care has to happen on our own time.  After work whenever that may be.  But if you’ve apprehended on this particular day, you are likely still at the office long after closing time.  You are settling the children at the foster home and then heading back to the office to prepare your court papers.  Your family, if you have one, doesn’t get to see mom or dad tonight because work responsibilities made that impossible.  The family may not get to see you tomorrow either because you may have to leave early for work in order to pick up your court papers and be able to serve them to your client family before court.

There eventually comes a day though when you things “slow down”.   A slowdown of course refers to the day when you get to try and fit in all of thing appointments and other tasks that you have had to put off due to the crises you have been responding to.  On these days you still eat in your care, don’t get breaks, but… you likely pee more regularly.

There seems to be a general understanding amongst us that if you are in this line of work for more than ten years you are a “lifer”.  I mean no disrespect to those that get out after a few years and in fact many of use envy you and are proud of you.  We still consider you one of us if you’ve been on the front line for even a few years before you leave because you “get it” and you are therefore one of us.

The life cycle of a lifer is as varied as is a day in our line of work.  Sadly though, many of us lifers don’t fare so well in our own personal lives.  There are many reasons for this but for me based on my dedication to understanding the harmful effects of trauma, it boils down to the cosmic roll of the dice of our stress hormones, traumatic exposure both direct and indirect, and to the overall impact of our divorce from our biology and often our bodies.  Many helping professionals  get sick from our work.  We all know colleagues who have chronic illnesses that really boil down to the harmful effects of stress.  The academic literature is now abundant in this area so you don’t need me to tell you about it.

The cost of our caring is too often too great.  I know we wouldn’t have it any other way but it is also not fair and just.  Given the strength of the literature in the area of trauma, burnout and compassion fatigue in the helping professions and the clear health consequences of chronic stress, I believe we can do much better in helping ourselves lead lives full of more wellness.  This requires a change in the structures of our work, it requires a change in organizational culture, and it requires a commitment of each one of us to be brave enough to talk about the cost of caring.

Next, we need to change organizations that view employees as ultimately malignant.  People don’t choose to be sick and they don’t want to be sick.   To be clear, psychological and emotional illness is a real risk in our work.  And, psychological and emotional illness can lead to a myriad of legitimate physical ailments ranging from the common cold due to compromised immune systems to auto immune illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome.

Organizations who view employees with suspicion are using faulty logic.  Not too long ago in my province we had a Premier who successfully waged a ware on welfare recipients by convincing the population that people on welfare are cheaters and have lazy characters. This of course is not true. People don’t choose to or want to be on Welfare.  Similarly, it is not flaws in our characters that make us ill.  We are not weak, and we do not need discipline to help us be more productive during times of illness.

What we need is wellness initiatives that fit with the nature of our work. These initiatives need to be dynamic and individualized.  I believe that we need individual wellness plans which are akin to Individualized Education Plans for children in our school systems with learning needs. We need modifications at times and accommodations that reflect the true nature of the stress in our jobs.

We cannot be expected to own our wellness when by its very nature our work often leaves us exhausted and without adequate time to rejuvenate. The ownership needs to be jointly held by us and our organizations, communities, and professional organizations.  We need nap pods, we need exercise equipment on site, and we need kindness which includes life affirming strategies aimed at reducing the host of risk factors are work puts us at risk of.

We also need parity with other helping professions and service providers such as first responders – Police, Fire, and Ambulance. I’m not sure how this has happened but we have lost a lot of ground in this regard.  In many provinces and jurisdictions, Police officers now make six figures and have the benefit of early retirement at full pension.  Most urban Police stations and fire halls have onsite gyms.  I do not begrudge this, in fact I applaud it.  But, we are also first responders and we are by and large not a healthy population by any indication.

Most importantly, we have to be clear about these truths. It is surely hard to admit that our work makes many of us ill in one way or another and by the very nature of our illnesses we want to avoid talking about them and truly addressing them.  We need to adopt real risk reducing strategies such as those employed by our Police partners. Can you imagine a Police officer attending a client home alone?  Working in partners is one of the most basic risk reducers available to us but we don’t have that option much of the time.

The evidence is not just anecdotal and therefore should not be dismissed. What needs to happen now is for us to bravely open up global conversations and create global movements to address our wellness.

Perhaps ironically, we are in fact a vulnerable population who are charged with serving, protecting and healing other vulnerable populations created by our society.  Society and systems create vulnerable populations, individuals do not create vulnerability in themselves.

Leaders who are responsible for the wealth of research pertaining to the cost of caring in our areas of work need to collect and collate information regarding the positive effects of workplace culture in addition to wellness options where organizations own the efforts and reap the benefits of those efforts. And, we need to strongly advocate for the end of career benefits that our Police, Fire, and Ambulance colleagues experience.

I believe we need an organization for social workers and helping professionals, a think tank of sorts,  whose purpose is to improve our lives at work and at home.  I’m sorry to have to say this but our professional organizations have missed the mark here.  More often than not, they exist to monitor and discipline us while protecting their interests. Who will protect and nurture our interests?

Using Superheroes in Play Therapy

family-books-superhero-leadWe all have our superheroes especially because superheroes have the ability to inspire, empower, support and occasionally save us. Sometimes, superheroes help us to save ourselves.

I have already penned some articles about the magical technique of Superhero Therapy, and how the concept of superheroes can be used in different psychotherapeutic approaches to support people who are in distress. However, that exploration was mainly about how we might use superheroes with adults in therapy.

What about using superheroes for children?

Many of the points that stand for adults are true for children. Thinking about superheroes – their lives, adventures, challenges, friends, powers and weaknesses – can provide a range of creative ways of working. This might include problem solving, being kinder to oneself, hearing stories of triumph over adversity, working out what one’s own superpowers are, and finding strength.

The narratives that children tell about superheroes might lead us to understand what they are trying to ‘work through’ (e.g. do they focus on battles, sex and sexuality, people being saved, when things go wrong, when the superhero has to lie about their true identity?). We might also wonder who the child identifies with (sidekick, superhero, police chief, villain), and whether the characters of which they speak represent either feelings, themselves, or other people in their lives.

However, one of the main differences between adult and child therapies is the difference in how playing is used as part of therapy. The organisation Play Therapy UK suggests that around 8/10 children with severe problems, such as emotional or behavioural difficulties, will show positive change after play therapeutic interventions.

Engaging in play, fantasy, and the realm of the imaginary can also make it easier to access and talk about difficult topics. In some ways, this may particularly true for younger people who don’t have the words, experience and knowledge to talk about things directly. Although, being an adult and having more experience is no guarantee that it will be easier to talk about things. Roleplays could be used to help children and their families take different perspectives, and understand each other differently.

Psychodynamic play therapy may simply be allowing a child to play with anything from a box of toys. This could (and probably should) include characters such as superheroes. Commenting on how the child chooses to play, without the therapist actively directing their play, can lead to useful insights about a child’s wellbeing due to the themes and ideas that occur during such play.

Children and young people may also use sandplay – arranging toys and items within the confines of a sandbox, to represent their inner states of mind. The work of Dora Kalff is cited in both the American and British-Irish sandplay organisations – her work is based on Jungian principles that the unconscious will guide the play. Of course, this is not restricted to children and young people, but sandplay is certainly a useful way to reach children particularly.

Filial therapy is one branch of play therapy, which focuses on the relationships. Parents (or caregivers) are seen as the main agents of change, and the sessions are often led by them. The therapist supports the parent in using skills that are similar to nondirective play therapy. The scope for using superheroes here is huge. Superhero narratives can support parents to understand and frame their children’s feelings, or it may be a way for parents and children to find something that they have in common. Using superhero-based toys may also open up a range of potential narratives to parent and child, as described above.

Theraplay®, another type of play work with children, “is a child and family therapy for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement”. Play tasks have particular aims, and they are designed to develop particular skillsets whilst being fun for all. Theraplay® involves children playing games – with their families – which tap into challenge, structure, shared engagement and nurturing. Children’s favourite superheroes could be incorporated into how the tasks are explained to the child, or superhero-themed items such as soft toys, bubbles etc. could be used as part of the play.

Attachment-Based Play Therapy (ABPT) is a different (less researched) approach, which focuses on teaching children how to feel and experience emotion. It suggests that children should learn how to be accepting of feelings, become able to ‘attach’ to themselves, and take care of themselves from a position of compassion and kindness. In this way, superheroes could be used during play to teach a child how to express and accept their feelings. Examples could be drawn from how superheroes look after themselves, or what the person would say to their favourite hero if that person was sad or distressed.

In conclusion, superheroes have an important place in work with children and young people. Superheroes can fit pretty much anywhere depending on the person and the therapist. For younger people, superheroes can particularly serve to be role models, relatable characters, characters through which a young person can parallel their own experiences, and of course a way to build a rapport with their therapist. With these insights, perhaps more of us can go forth and prosper with the youngsters with whom we work.

3 Tips For Overcoming A Fear Of Abandonment

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Many people struggle with a fear of abandonment. Losing an emotional attachment can be very traumatizing to anyone. If you have ever  lost a romantic relationship, loved one or friendship you may have a heightened awareness of when there is a potential to lose another relationship.

One girl called this “paranoia”. She sent me an email stating, “I have a fear, paranoia, and obsession about friends abandoning me. When something happens in our friendship I just wait for friends to find fault in me and walk away. It affects me daily any suggestions?”

Often times, these types of fears stem from some sort of previous traumatic experience in which you experienced pain as a result of a loss.  Maybe a close friend or family member, possibly a parent. Issues like divorce or someone moving away that was a strong emotional support for you.  I would recommend working with a professional therapist who specializes in addressing these types of issues.  For now, here’s a few things you can get started with:

  • The best thing you can do is start to train yourself to be aware of the exact moments when you start to feel that anxiety set in that stems from your fear of abandonment.
  • Once you are able to become aware of when you are feeling those feelings then you can identify why.  The why is called the trigger.  Triggers are specific experiences that cause us to experience the same negative feelings as when we experienced different negative events in the past.  For example, if you were once verbally abused and frequently yelled at by an alcoholic father and later he ran off with your older sister’s friend, never to return then you experienced a traumatic event.

    The loss of a parent or caregiver may be your initial experience of abandonment. Later in life, your subconscious mind might associate any argument that results in yelling, with feelings of abandonment.  In turn, you would associate those feelings with a friend who is involved in an argument or yelling at you.  The reality might be that when your  friend was yelling at you, it might be a simple argument and that person cares about you enough to talk it out.  After talking, everything will most likely go back to normal.  But, your subconscious mind is screaming help I’m going to be abandoned again! “You are in control of your life and you can choose which direction to take it.  Every day is another opportunity to make the right choice…”
  • Once you can identify the trigger(s) you can start to train yourself to understand that it is a trigger that is making you feel that way and that it is not likely your friend’s true intention to abandon you.

It takes time, effort and a dedication to being willing to experience negative feelings in order to be aware of them.  If you find it overwhelming to do this by yourself, try asking your friends what they mean when they say or do certain things that cause you to feel anxious.  You don’t have to tell them that it makes you feel anxious, but you can if you feel they might be supportive.  Hearing them say that they will be there for you might ease the process.  Just be careful not to allow yourself to make them feel responsible for making you feel okay.

I will be addressing many issues related to helping you overcome adversities and traumatic past experiences in my upcoming book Overcoming Emotional Trauma: Life Beyond Survival Mode where I offer inspiration and wisdom from the perspective of having been a “kid in the system” and a professional working in the system. Sign up to receive an update when it releases at www.OvercomingEmotionalTrauma.com.

 What’s Got You Down? Do You Have a Question? Tweet @TravisLloyd With #AskTRAV To Get Your Answers!

5 Tips For Overcoming Anxiety

I received a question on how to deal with anxiety in the form of a comment on an Instagram photo that I posted recently, and the question came from a graduate student studying to be a counselor. Many of us who seek to help, do so because we too have many things to overcome.

images (43)In response, I compiled a list of practical things that help with overcoming anxiety. Some of this comes from my own personal experiences, some comes from experiences in working with people who struggle with extreme anxiety and some comes from interviewing my biological mother, who has also struggled with anxiety of her own. She now helps people improve their wellness as a quit smoking coach. The following information is not medical advice, but is my opinion and shared opinions of others who I have interacted with.

No matter how severe your anxiety is, I believe that continuing to seek knowledge is the most important thing in reaching a higher level of mental wellness. Props to you for being here and in search of your own progress! With hope, dedication and focus, overcoming anxiety is possible.

  1. Desensitizing

    When dealing with anxiety related to a specific social situation, professional setting, or conversation, I personally use desensitization techniques. This means that I psych myself up in preparation for the situation and I force myself to be uncomfortable.  This generally opens the door for a negative experience, but it also creates the opportunity for me to learn and gain first hand experience as to how bad a situation really is. It also alleviates the fear of the unknown, which is often the culprit behind hatred and avoidance.  However, desensitization is definitely not the best option for everyone due to the extreme toughness that it takes to force yourself to be uncomfortable.

  2. Create a Chronically Balanced Life

    For me, anxiety often stems from a lack of balance. An imbalanced diet, physical activity, sense of safety or even imbalanced to-to lists are major precipitating factors when it comes to feeling anxious. If you are chronically anxious, what could be a better way to fight anxiety than to establish chronic balance and stability? If anxiety stems from having an imbalance, identifying and correcting that imbalance can and will diminish the frequency and severity of anxiety.  This method is effective mostly because it is not a way to “treat” or “get rid of” the anxiety, but instead it prevents it from getting bad to begin with.

  3. Take Care of Your Body

    When we get busy with school, work, relationships, and life it is very easy to let this slip. We focus on helping others or fulfilling duties that when we have time to ourselves we cope by doing mind-numbing things such as watching TV and sitting on the computer doing nothing for hours. Focus on creating a chronic pattern of exercise

  4. Eat Fresh

    This can be done with simple changes such as forcing yourself to plan meals ahead of time and using fresh produce.Keeping simple snacks like peanuts, almonds, and bananas wards off the hunger between meals. Eating small amounts every 2-4 hours during the day improves metabolism.  Buying local adds to the experience. Salads with grilled chicken, fresh fruit, beans, etc. are great. Peanut butter is awesome. If you are overwhelmed with the idea of thinking about what to eat, try to picking a few of these and sticking to them, alternating a few times each week or every other week. consistency is key. Cutting soda, excessive coffee, and processed foods will greatly improve your health and energy level. In turn, you are more focused and less likely to be stressed out.

  5. Treat Yourself Like a Queen/King

    Keeping a nice environment with essential oils like Lavender and also drinking chamomile tea helps. Cutting out people who disturb a calm environment is something you deserve. Take time to bathe with the lights dimmed and scents in the air. Using oils is less toxic than candles. You probably spend time focusing on other things so spend time focusing on yourself.  Taking the time to set a plan for how you will respond to stressful situations that cause you anxiety is a great way to ward off attacks. Deep breathing, yoga, etc are helpful.

There is no one thing, it is a lifestyle that facilitates being conscious and aware at all times. You may also want to check out my blog about overcoming a fear of abandonment.

How to Find a Therapist in Your Area

Shop Around-Find the Right Therapist for You
Shop Around-Find the Right Therapist for You

Finding a therapist that is right for you can be a very daunting process. If you are like me, then you get easily overwhelmed with the number of mental health professionals that are out there. Therapy is an important part of the recovery process so finding a professional in which you can trust can make all the difference. Here are some ways you can begin your search for a therapist.

1. Make a list of the types of therapy you want to try. If you have no idea which type of therapy you want to test, that’s fine. It will allow you to have a broader search when you begin looking. For those of you who already know your interests such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectic behavior therapy and more, add this to you search list.

2. Call your insurance company. This is an important step because it will allow you to really get a great list of professionals that can help you. Your insurance company can provide you with therapists in your area that accepts your insurance plan.

3. Ask around in school. If you are in high school or college, your guidance counselor or counseling center is a great place to start. You can ask of if they know any professionals in the area or even organizations that offer therapy. They might even help you out by putting together a working list of therapists.

3. Utilize your Personal Networks: Word of mouth may be more useful than you think. Asking family members, friends, and coworkers about the therapists they’ve had or heard of can really give you an inside scoop.

4. Google Search: Upon having several therapists on your lists, goggling them can really help to narrow the list even further. Look up their websites, LinkedIn and really think about the pros and cons of each person on your list.

5. Skype and Phone: For those of you who are unable to go out for therapy, it may help to narrow your search for therapists who do Skype and phone consultations. This is a great option because it takes into account those who might have a hard time leaving their homes due to their mental illness.

Regardless of how you get there, remember that finding the right therapists means finding the right one for YOU. Don’t hesitate to test the waters of therapy. If someone isn’t working for you, do not feel obligated to stick with him or her. This is your journey to recovery and it’s okay to put yourself first.

Growing Careers in Social Work

Social work is a field offering a diverse array of challenges and exciting opportunities to improve the lives of individuals in all sectors of society. The jobs in social work and the human services field are considered to be some of the fastest growing career opportunities, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting growth rates exceeding 23 percent in many areas. Some of the fastest growing sectors of the human services field are discussed below.

Case Management

Growing Careers ImageHuman services case management opportunities continue to top the list of growing fields in the social work arena. Professionals taking on these tasks assess individuals to determine their needs and make recommendations of community resources that benefit them. These professionals maintain a relationship with their clients for as long as services are needed, and they constantly reassess to ensure resources remain appropriate and necessary. Case managers work in long term care facilities, with geriatric clients in their homes, assisting children and families in the court system, in hospital settings and with clients in community corrections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 27 percent growth rate in this field between 2010 and 2020, making it one of the fastest growing professions in the United States.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Another growing sector of the human services field is substance abuse and behavioral health. Counselors working in this capacity advise people who are facing addictions. They might work in a hospital setting, outpatient care facility, within the prison system or in private practice. Substance abuse counselors can expect to see a 27 percent growth rate in their careers between 2010 and 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Continued growth in the field of substance abuse and behavioral health counselors is largely due to the transition that managed care insurance companies are making, moving clients away from seeing more expensive psychiatrists and psychologists and toward sessions with less expensive counselors. In addition, as jails seek solutions to overpopulation problems, the criminal justice system continues to sentence drug offenders to counseling rather than jail time.

Health Education

Health education is a third field of human services that is experiencing tremendous growth. The demand for healthy living information continues to escalate, and this is leading to an increased need for professional health educators. These individuals often work in private practice or hospital settings, and they teach individuals about behaviors that promote physical and mental wellness. Corporations are also employing firms that offer wellness services in an effort to reduce employee illnesses and cut down on increasing healthcare costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 37 percent growth rate is expected in this field between 2010 and 2020.

Social Services Assistant

Individuals seeking a more entry level human services occupation might be interested in a social services assistant position. Professionals working in this capacity provide support to social workers and their clients. They assist in locating resources, transporting clients, completing social work documentation and generally providing support to the organization in which they serve. Social service assistants work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, government agencies, nursing homes and non-profit agencies. This is an excellent position for the new graduate, as it provides exposure to the field of social work and additional on the job education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 28 percent growth rate in this profession between 2010 and 2020, a higher than average rate when all occupations are considered.

Marriage & Family Therapist

Finally, individuals with higher degrees can consider a career as a marriage and family therapist. This profession requires at least a Master’s Degree, and licensing is required in all fifty states. Therapists assist individuals, couples and families during times of crises, and they empower their clients by recognizing strengths and teaching coping techniques. Many therapists are employed in private practice, but mental health facilities and hospitals also offer positions for these professionals. The growth rate for this field is anticipated to be 37 percent between 2010 and 2020, with continued increases expected as managed care programs show a preference for paying reimbursement to therapists versus more expensive psychologists or psychiatrists.

The opportunities a social work degree presents will continue to see extensive growth well into the 21st century. Graduates should consider the challenges that each area of social work presents, and apply their talents in the area that best represents their individual strengths. In addition, considering positions such as the ones described above helps ensure continued upward career mobility and job security for many years to come.

The Standards of Self-Care (Part 1 of 3)

When we talk about the ethical responsibility we have to take care of ourselves as helping professionals, we don’t necessarily think about a specific set of guidelines to follow.  In this article, we will take a look at the Ethical Principles of Self-Care as well as the Standards of Humane Practice of Self-Care.

Self-CareThe Green Cross Academy of Traumatology has created the standards of self-care guidelines for their members to follow. The purpose of the guidelines are twofold: 1) do no harm to yourself while helping or treating others and 2) “attend to your physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs as a way of ensuring high quality services…”  to those who are looking to you for support. It also states that self-care is so important for preventing a practitioner from harming clients, that it is unethical to not attend to self-care practices.

The three principles of self-care in practice are stated as:

1)   Respect for the dignity and worth of self: A violation lowers your integrity and trust.

2)   Responsibility of self-care:  Ultimately it is your responsibility to take care of yourself and no situation or person can justify neglecting it.

3)   Self-care and duty to perform:  There must be a recognition that the duty to perform as a helper cannot be fulfilled if there is not, at the same time, a duty to self-care.

The four standards for self-care are stated as:

1)   Universal Right to Wellness:  Every helper, regardless of her or his role or employer, has the right to wellness associated with self-care.

2)   Physical Rest and Nourishment:  Every helper deserves restful sleep and physical separation from work that sustains them in their work role.

3)   Emotional Rest and Nourishment: Every helper deserves emotional and spiritual renewal both in and outside the work context.

4)   Sustenance Modulation:  Every helper must utilize self-restraint with regard to what and how much they consume (eg: food, drink, drugs, stimulation) since it can compromise their competence as a helper.

Often when I give a workshop on Compassion Fatigue, I speak about the importance of helping professionals to attend to their own healing as well. This speaks to the ethical principles – we need to respect ourselves, develop our self-worth and be responsible for our own self-care. In order to be a helper, we have an ethical duty for self-care. We thrive as professionals when we come from a place of self-worth, confidence and dignity for ourselves… and yes, this means doing the tough emotional healing that we ask of our clients!

This doesn’t mean only getting help from someone when we are in a crisis, it means really taking an inventory of our own past hurts. What does our grief history look like ? Have we healed from significant losses both from death and the end of relationships?  Do we have a trauma history? Over 70% of the population has had one or more significant traumas, so have we healed from ours?

The thing about helping professionals is that many have entered the field because of a personal struggle that was overcome with the support of another helper, so naturally we wanted to do the same for others. Do we have any of our own physical or mental health struggles, and are we seeking support for them?

We will always have experiences that cause unpleasant emotions, that’s just life.  Having said that, as helpers we need to know how to deal with these in a healthy way so that we can integrate the experiences and move on, instead of being stuck in them and potentially being triggered by them when clients share similar struggles.

I recently received an email from a helper who provides support for pet loss.  She is not a counselor and wanted to know how to separate her grief from the grief of the people she is helping. In my opinion, this is a two-step response: 1) Helpers needs to heal from their own grief and 2) Helpers need to learn how to practice conscious empathy, so we don’t unconsciously catch our client’s grief.

Alright, enough of my rant on the importance of our own healing.  The standards of Self-Care are pretty basic and most helpers know these, although, the last standard “Sustenance Modulation” can be somewhat controversial for people. Sustenance modulation states that helpers are to utilize self-restraint with regard to how much they consume (food, drink, drugs, stimulation).  I don’t mean it’s controversial because it’s not true, I mean it in the sense that this is the standard that can sometimes bring up a little bit of defensiveness in people.

I would love to know your thoughts on the Principles of Self-Care and the Standards of Self-Care as they relate to your role as a Social Worker.  Please leave a comment letting me know what you think!

Is Your Candle Burning from Both Ends: Examining Burnout and Self-Care

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“You can’t help others until you first help yourself”. “Don’t burn your candle from both ends”.

I used to hate those cliches, but when it comes to therapist wellness, it’s true.

My first experience with burnout happened just 3 short months after graduating with my Master’s degree. I move across the country, and I dived head-first into the real-world of therapy. My eyes were opened to a whole new world of disillusionment that I could never have been prepared for.

I experienced an episode of burnout, and I know it won’t be my last.  Along the road to getting my licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), I encountered things that would make even the most resilient people burn out, if not get a little crispy around the edges.

  • I saw ethics violations and fraud that hurt clients and the entire mental health system is full of corruption.  I reported a provider to a licensing board, lost my job and relocated.
  • I’ve had 5 jobs in just over 2 years. I worked overtime at roughly $15 an hour with student loan debt weighing heavily in the back of my mind. One agency I worked for, closed suddenly overnight after a few weeks of my pay checks bouncing. I also had to pay for weekly supervision in order to keep my associate license.
  • I worked in homes with roaches, smells and sights that seemed to be right out of horror movies. I saw the effects of child abuse and sat back and felt hopeless when CPS couldn’t help. Poverty, inequality and suffering were in my face every day.
  • I got physically and verbally attacked by clients. I was providing services in rural areas where guns were prevalent and cell-phone service was not.
  • I frequently felt undermined by administrators. I was told that the letters after my name didn’t matter, even though I had worked so hard for them. I was told I needed to “earn my stripes” even though I had education, experience, and a license.
  • I was on-call for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I came to associate my ringtone with crisis and would cringe when I heard it.

These things do not make me a martyr. These are the typical experiences of a new therapist.  I share them in the hopes of increasing awareness, decreasing the isolation and shame other therapists feel. I hope to open the door to discussions about how we can make systematic changes to make things better.

Improving the workplace for counselors, and in turn, improving services for clients with mental health needs will be a forever on-going process. This topic could easily be it’s own post, book, or series of books.

In the mean time, how will you stay healthy, engaged, and able to serve your clients?  Here is what has helped me along the way:

  • Embracing the inevitable and learning to recognize the signs of burnout. Burnout will happen. Be ready and keep a look-out.  It can mean feeling exhausted, numb, hopeless, helpless or depressed.  It could mean feeling anxious, panicked and unable to sleep.  Other signs include relief when clients cancel sessions, dreading going to work in the morning, client-blaming, or being sarcastic, cynical and resentful.
  • Receiving lots of supervision from other therapists.  One-on-one direction from therapists with more experience than me was priceless.  Group supervision also helped decrease my sense of isolation and boosted my confidence.
  • Becoming a regular therapy client. I believe therapy is effective for helping people cope with a stressful life.  That is why I’m a counselor, and it is also why I am not afraid to seek counseling for myself.
  • Taking steps toward basic self-care. Keep eating, exercising and sleeping habits healthy. Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Maintaining relationships with family and friends. Build your social support network. Stay connected to your community.
  • Taking time off. Get out of town or turning off the phone. It’s ok to un-plug and relax, even if it is just for a few minutes.
  • Seeing the big picture.  Every therapist has a vision and a reason they entered this field.  Remind yourself of it.
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