Posted on 5 Comments

7 Ways To Be Kind To Yourself

Like any reasonable human, I enjoy when things go my way. Gliding through life with ease brings me a sense of peace in knowing that it is all comfortable and smooth sailing. It also impacts the way I view myself and my experiences. During easygoing times, the sun feels brighter, I feel lighter, and it seems that no rainclouds could possibly wipe away my shine. Realistically, I know that life does not always go as expected, and I know that obstacles are a painful, necessary, part of life. As Khalil Gibran eloquently said, “If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and lightning.” If we had no troubles, would we even recognize our successes?

Although we know that setbacks are an expected aspect of life, it can be difficult to leave room for error and allow opportunity for growth. A vivid memory from my childhood involves opening up a McDonald’s Happy Meal to find a small, plush Ernie doll. My 10-year-old self lit up with excitement and immediately decided that Tiny Ernie needed a Tiny House. I set my workshop up at my family’s dining room table and went to work- hot glue gun in one hand, popsicle sticks in the other.

I spent what seemed like forever at the table, piecing together popsicle sticks with layers of hot, sticky glue, occasionally hearing my mother’s redirections each time I burned myself. When Ernie’s house was finally in one piece, I very carefully took it in my hands. As I attempted to stand it up, it crumpled to pieces. I took a deep breath and dived back in with the hot glue, adding more this time, and pressing the popsicle sticks even harder together. Again, as soon as Ernie’s house was standing, it fell to pieces. Time and time again, with each fall my body heated up and tears of frustration rolled down my face.

My mother attempted to console me. “Kelly, take a break. Try again later,” she said. “Just relax, there is no need to get upset over this.” Her words were useless- I was not giving up. This was for Ernie. Tiny Ernie NEEDED a Tiny house, and I had to be the person to build it. I took another deep breath, tears still rolling. I channeled my inner builder. I was a contractor. I was a sculptor. I was Ustad Ahmad Lahouri and Ernie’s house was the Taj Mahal. After even more glue and more popsicle sticks, I stood my project up for the final time. When it tumbled down yet again, I gathered up my popsicle sticks and dumped them in the trash.

When we experience setbacks, it can cause negative thoughts to swirl around in our heads. “You can’t do this,” they might say. “You’re not good enough.” We might sit with feelings of failure or worthlessness, or we might become depressed or anxious. Maybe we think, “I’m just not trying hard enough.”

I still cry when I’m frustrated, but I’ve learned that entertaining unhelpful thoughts is… not helpful. Giving attention to the thoughts that beat us down may even impact the way we view ourselves and our abilities. Instead of being hard on ourselves during times of struggle, what if we accepted our circumstances? After all, Buddha said if there is good, there must also be bad, right? Here are some tips that can help us be a little gentler with ourselves.

Give Yourself Space to Process

Anyone who knows me in real life knows how uncomfortable I am showing heavy emotions. However, I recently experienced a pretty grueling event that led to some dark feelings. I tried to push the memories and emotions away, but the more I tried the more upset I became. I realized that I needed to confront these feelings and allow myself time and space for processing. Instead of judging my emotions, I observed them without judgment and allowed them to serve their purpose. By giving myself time and space to process that event, I gave myself an opportunity to learn and grow from it. I learned that my feelings were not negative at all- They were allowing me to grieve a situation that I needed to grieve.

Be Flexible

I am my father’s daughter, which means I am one of the most stubborn people I know. Picture doing a puzzle and trying to jam together mismatched pieces- that’s me sometimes. I try and fail and try again, which is not in itself a bad quality. The problem, though, comes with acting along with Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.” Perseverance takes flexibility and the courage to adapt. When we face an obstacle, we can’t bulldoze through it- we have to find a creative way around it.

Change Your Words

It took me a long time to realize that our words matter, and the way we describe things directly relates to how we view them. Each moment, we have an opportunity to frame something in a positive manner and to strengthen our nonjudgmental minds. Consider the example of personal characteristics. Most of us can identify something that we would like to change about ourselves. Describing those things as “weaknesses” may suggest that they are bad. Instead, using the phrase “opportunities for growth” suggests a nonjudgmental stance that empowers us to move forward toward change. Alternatively, if “failure” became “opportunity for growth,” would we still view it so negatively?

Be Nice to Yourself

For those that may be unaware, I have struggled with depression for several years now. I noticed that sometimes my mood impacts how I treat myself. During my latest bout of increased depression, I found myself making statements such as, “I am such an idiot,” or “I’m such a crazy person.” I justified that by believing that I was making fun of myself, having a laugh, and keeping my humor. Eventually, I noticed that the comments I said in jest also stemmed from negative beliefs I had about myself. When I felt depressed, I truly did believe that I was an idiot, crazy or a bad person. The biggest lesson I have learned throughout my experience with depression is that how we treat ourselves matters, so let’s treat ourselves kindly.

Show Gratitude

It is almost human nature to quickly dismiss positive things and hyper-focus on negative things. Even the news focuses heavily on all of the seemingly bad things in the world and quickly gloss over the good news. Focusing intensely on negative things may cause us to view the world itself as negative. For example, I LOVE true crime, and I could listen to true crime podcasts all day every day. However, if I consume enough dark content, I start experiencing anxieties that tell me the world is not safe and that other people are twisted. I start to forget about the things that bring me joy in the world. By creating a gratitude list daily, I have brought more attention to the fact that good things happen in the world and good things happen to me.

Stop Comparing

Comparing ourselves to others is possibly one of the most unhelpful actions we can do. It places unrealistic expectations on ourselves and creates pressure and discomfort. When we compare our situations to others, we discount our unique personalities and experiences, and it minimizes our strengths and accomplishments. Aside from that, we glorify the lives of others while not recognizing the glories of our own. This may create feelings of anxiety, shame, and guilt. Furthermore, comparing ourselves to others can impact our confidence. Instead, we can recognize that people only let us see what they want us to see. No one is perfect, and we can use that knowledge to focus on growing into our true selves.

Take Your Own Advice

In school, I was taught that therapists do not give advice. Sometimes, though, a client will express their desire for concrete advice or feedback. To them, I say, “Imagine your best friend was going through this situation. What advice would you give to them? Would that advice be helpful to your situation as well?” Alternatively, I might request that the client identify a person whose opinion the hold in high regard, and then I would ask, “What advice do you think they would give you?” Often times we know the answers to our problems, but we feel stuck or discouraged in moving forward. By taking our own advice, we learn to support ourselves with the love and compassion that we do for others.

Posted on 3 Comments

How to Become a Mental Health Therapist

Here is a little video I made detailing the process of becoming a mental health therapist. This was fun to make and hopefully left you all with more information on how to join in on the fight toward mental health awareness and recovery! The Wellness Warrior was designed to use as a platform where we can all start a dialog about health and wellness. That being said, I LOVE engaging with you all, reading your comments, and taking in your feedback. Thank you for tuning in, for visiting The Wellness Warrior and for wanting to be a part of this journey with me! Much love <3

Posted on 15 Comments

How Live Your True North Began

My History With Depression

In October 2018, my therapist diagnosed me with depression after spending months struggling with chronic unhappiness. Although I seemed content from the outside, I constantly struggled with irritability, sadness, and loneliness. I paid horrible attention to my daily needs, and I spent a great deal of time wrapping myself up like a blanket burrito to hide from the world. For me, depression felt like running underwater against the current. I forgot how to be myself and often ruminated on memories of laughing easily, completing tasks with ease, and surrounding myself with good people. 

I let depression hold me captive as I fantasized about my life instead of actually living it. When I did go out, I fought through intense anxiety and discomfort. Negative thoughts swirled in my brain and told me that I was not good enough. At work, I struggled with motivation to complete tasks, crying spells, and anxiety. To make matters worse, my unhelpful thoughts screamed, “You’re a mental health therapist! You’re not allowed to get depressed!” 

My Breaking Point 

I naively expected to pick myself up from my bootstraps and get better on my own. Realistically I knew that I could not help others if I did not help myself. I struggled to navigate the cognitive dissonance associated with being a therapist who needed therapy. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t manage my depression independently, and I felt like a fraud counseling others. Instead of acknowledging that I needed help, I pretended that I knew exactly what was wrong and exactly how to fix it.

On a Saturday in September, I finally reached my breaking point. That day at work, I ran late for a therapy session with a young client, which triggered the child’s parent to feel frustrated. Naturally, I expressed my apologies and explained the nature of the delay and resumed the therapy session. However, I could not stop ruminating on what happened. Her reaction caught me off guard and triggered intense anxiety about being bad at my job. I cried, trembled, and struggled with thoughts of not wanting to be here. After processing the event and my reaction with a friend, I finally accepted that I needed help.

Finding a Therapist

I first dabbled in therapy in college after experiencing difficulty transitioning to the new environment. My therapist at the time, a lovely woman with short, black hair and a soothing demeanor. However, I didn’t feel a close connection, and I struggled to fully engage with my therapist. I eventually worked through the transition on my own. Now, though, I felt emotions I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to overcome. 

Finding a therapist was relatively easy using both Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool and the phone number on the back of my insurance card. After finding a clinician who accepted my insurance, I sat with the phone number until I gained the courage to call schedule an appointment. My therapist, Ron, was a former baseball player who changed careers after suffering permanent spinal cord damage. He had a tall and lanky frame, and his wispy gray hair framed his strong facial features. His minimalistic office featured just a few artful pictures, a cluttered desk, and a long futon where I sat week after week.

Doing the Work

It took time, but Ron helped me understand that the only thing preventing me from overcoming depression was myself. Ron described a phenomenon called “Paralysis by Analysis,” where my negative overthinking prevented forward motion and decision making. We explored the onset of symptoms and events in my life that potentially contributed to unhelpful thinking styles. With Ron’s help I realized that simply attending therapy was not enough. If I wanted my life to change, I had to take what I learned in sessions and apply it outside of the office. 

First, I left a toxic roommate situation and moved into my own apartment. Then, I spent more time with family and friends, and I engaged in more overall self care. Even though the healthy habits I created helped, I still fought against the darkness. When I hung out with others, it told me I’d rather be home by myself, doing nothing, feeling hollow. I processed this feeling with Ron, who suggested following up with my primary care doctor.  “If depression is still keeping you from coping, then maybe you should explore medication,” he said.

Finding Relief

My heart initially sank at the thought of being prescribed medication. I worried about side effects, and I worried that medication with either not work or make things worse. I didn’t want to feel more emotionally stunted that I already felt. Nevertheless, I took Ron’s guidance and made an appointment with my doctor, who took the time and care to educate me and ease my concerns. In April 2019, I began taking Prozac once a day. 

After a few weeks, I noticed a lift in mood. The heavy water that I ran through began to evaporate. Prozac helped my brain maintain serotonin, which helped my mood, energy level, and quality of sleep. I actually trained my body to eat normal sized meals again, now that it felt hungry. Better yet, I happily found that my only side effect was mild dry mouth that disappeared after increasing my water intake.  

Maintaining the Progress

I needed to find a way to keep moving forward in my depression recovery. I started by noticing how I felt when I completed certain activities. If I did something that helped me feel better, I wrote it down in a list. By paying attention to the impact of my behaviors, I learned that eating healthy, being active, and engaging in artistic forms of self expression helped me to feel my best. These habits helped me become my happiest self. 

It takes anywhere from 18-240 days to form a habit and another 60 days for that habit to become an automatic behavior. I understood that I needed to focus on making these a bigger part of my lifestyle. I ate on a Paleo diet for several months in an attempt to reset my eating habits, I adhered to an exercise plan, and I made time for activities such as painting, drawing, and journaling. Furthermore, I frequently reminded myself that progress truly is an ongoing process that never ends, and positive self talk allowed me to more easily work through challenges. 

Sharing My Journey

When I created a blog, I intended it to serve as a space to document and record my personal growth. Sharing my story helped me to hold myself accountable and allowed me to change my lifestyle more consistently, and I quickly found that there is an entire community of wellness warriors out there trying to do the same thing. I hope to empower others to ask for help in finding balance and happiness. I recognize that I will never be done growing, and I want this space to grow with me. 

Above all, I learned that no one is immune to struggles with mental health, and we all get by with a little help from our friends. Live Your True North is a safe space for healing and self exploration.

I hope you choose to join me in living well, being myself, and living my True North.

Much Love, 

Kel

Posted on 2 Comments

Conquering Your Inner Critic: 7 Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking

I’m not worth it. There’s no use. I can’t do it. I’ll never follow through. People won’t like me. Others are better than I am. I am not enough. I must be perfect. I am a failure. The world is evil. All people are bad.

If these phrases sound similar to your thoughts, you may struggle with unhelpful thinking patterns. Often unhelpful thoughts stem from negative perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. Negative perceptions can directly influence our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and reactions to life events. It is unrealistic to expect that we can think happy thoughts all the time. However, we can train our brain to adopt a more realistic and healthy mindset. After all, spiraling into unhelpful thought patterns may increase feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

For more detailed explanation of unhelpful thought patterns, check out this psychoeducational worksheet that describes commonly used thinking errors.

After learning more about common thinking errors, keep scrolling to check out some useful tips for conquering your inner critic and decreasing negative thinking habits.

Catch Your Thoughts

Our thought patterns can eventually become habitual. This means that we can experience unhelpful thought styles without being aware of it. The first step in gaining control over our thoughts is to notice them. I encourage my Wellness Warriors out there to pay attention to your thoughts and attempt to label them. Learning about your negative thought patterns (triggers, related emotions, etc.) can give you the power to overcome them.

As a therapist, I love teaching clients to utilize an automatic thought record. This simple worksheet begins by allowing one to identify negative thoughts while encouraging further exploration and processing. To take catching your thoughts a step further, you can practice categorizing your thoughts using labels from the commonly used thinking errors worksheet.

Play out the Narrative

Often times, unhelpful thoughts can present in the form of chronic worries and “what if” statements. What if I fail? What if I get sick? What if my partner gets angry with me? Chronic worrying can send us into a negative thought spiral.

To combat this, consider what would happen if your worry came true. Ask yourself what you would do to address the situation. Developing a plan of action can be incredibly useful; if we have a plan, we naturally tend to stress less.

Practice Thought Stopping

If I tell you to think of a pink elephant, what do you think of? Most often, it is, indeed, a pink elephant.

After you catch your unhelpful thought, utilizing thought stopping techniques can help you break the cycle of negative thinking.

Common thought stopping techniques include finding a replacement thought or visual image, such as counting to ten or visualizing a scene from your favorite movie. One can also simply yell or think “Stop!” and find an alternate activity for a distraction.

Check the Evidence

There is no better way to challenge an unhelpful thought than to examine it. Remember, we are not attempting to exclude all negative thoughts. Instead, we are training our brains to think more realistically. We can achieve this by putting our thoughts on trial and exploring the evidence.

I often use this example: Imagine you are about to take a test. Your thought is, “I am going to fail.” Naturally, we may identify this thought as negative and engage in thought challenging and ask, “What evidence do I have that supports the thought that I am going to fail?” List all of the reasons why that thought might come true. Did you prepare for the test? Did you study for an adequate amount of time? Did you pay attention in class? Did you take notes? Did you study in a way that is effective for you? Do you feel focused?

If the evidence we identify supports the negative thought, it may just be that the thought is realistic. If the evidence contradicts our thought, consider that this thought is likely unrealistic and untrue.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

After we identify negative thoughts, we can reframe them to appear more balanced and realistic. Reframing simply means creating alternative, more helpful thoughts. By doing this, we begin to change our perceptions of events, experiences, or emotions.

In the earlier example, we established that the thought, “I am going to fail,” is likely true. It is important to recognize that we can still reframe negative thoughts if they appear to be true. Instead of thinking, “I am going to fail,” we might consider the reframe, “I will do the best I can.”

Take your own advice

It is so much easier to give advice than it is to take our own. Taking our own advice is challenging, but it is a critical step to overcoming unhelpful thinking habits. A helpful practice is pretending you are giving advice to your best friend. Consider the following: Would you try to get more information about what happened? Are you considering other’s perspectives? What are the different ways the situation might unfold? Finally, what advice would you give him or her?

Allowing yourself to step away from the experience and explore it objectively is amazingly simple, yet incredibly effective.

Find Gratitude

Gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness and contentment. Practicing gratitude increases our ability to see that there is good in the world. Check out this previous post where I practice gratitude after a series of hard events and negative thought spirals.

To incorporate gratitude into our daily routines, we can keep a gratitude journal, write gratitude letters, or use visual reminders (like sticky notes on your mirror).

Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help relieve stress, regulate emotions, and remain nonjudgmental. Mindfulness involves simply observing, not judging, our thoughts. Imagine your thoughts are like cars passing at a busy intersection. When cars arrive at the intersection, sometimes they just pass by and sometimes they stop for a while. If we get stuck on a negative thought, we can simply engage in deep breathing while focusing on the breath, not the thought. In time, just like the cars, our thoughts pass by.

Okay, Warriors, it’s your turn: What negative thoughts have you been struggling with? How have negative thinking patterns impacted your life? What have you done to overcome your inner critic?

Posted on 3 Comments

What Is Depression?

Depression is as prevalent as the common cold. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 264 million people around the world live with depression. Most people experience sadness, loneliness, or fear. These feelings are a normal part of life. However, depression involves clinical levels of low mood that impacts a persona’s ability to function within their daily lives.

Clinical depression is characterized by the following symptoms: persistent depressed mood, diminished pleasure or interest in activities, decrease or increase of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or slowing, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to focus or think, indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5)’s diagnostic criteria states that 5 or more of the above symptoms must be present within the same 2 week period.

How Is Depression Different From Sadness?

Most people experience intense sadness or grief. These feelings can impact a person’s ability to function, and they can also exist for at least 2 weeks. However, when we experience something difficult, sadness and grief are natural reactions. Sadness and grief share some characteristics with depression, but they are temporary and typically fade with time. Usually, sadness or grief involve moments of relief and have no significant impact in thought processes or behaviors.

Sadness is simply one symptom of depression. The DSM-5 indicates, “Responses to a significant loss (e.g. bereavement, financial ruin, losses from a natural disaster, a serious medical illness or disability) may include the feelings of intense sadness, rumination about the loss, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss noted in Criterion A, which may resemble a depressive episode. Although such symptoms may be understandable or considered appropriate to the loss, the presence of a major depressive episode in addition to the normal response to a significant loss should also be carefully considered.”

Who Is At Risk For Depression?

Mental illness does not discriminate. Anyone can experience symptoms of depression at some point in their lives. However, there are some factors that put others at more risk of depression than others. Biochemistry is a well-known factor in determining whether or not someone will experience depression. Individuals with depression often experience a deficit in certain neurotransmitters in the brain. This explains the effectiveness of medications that help to balance chemicals in the brain.

Although it is commonly believed that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance, the condition is much more complex. Genetics can also play a role, meaning that individuals with a family history of depression are more likely to experience depression. Research shows that there is also a connection between personality and depression. Studies show that difficulty coping with stress, limited engagement in community and environment, and limited insight may increase risk of depression. Environmental factors, including exposure to community violence, traumatic experiences, or limited access to resources, can also be predictors of depression.

When Should Someone Get Help?

Sometimes the line between between depression and sadness is clear, but sometimes it is not. For example, you may feel nervous while giving a presentation, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a mental health disorder. However, becoming so overwhelmed with nervousness that you cannot follow through with the presentation may indicate a need for help.

If symptoms interfere with your ability to function within your daily life, it may be time to seek help. Challenges maintaining relationships, engaging in social settings, or performing in work and school can indicate a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders can also be responsible for changes in personality, energy level, and mood. Typically, symptoms that last 2 weeks or longer should be evaluated by a professional to determine the appropriate care. However, these are not the only situations during which to seek help. Anyone can get help at any time. If you feel the desire for therapeutic support, explore it regardless of how your situation compares to others!

How Is Depression Treated?

There are many types of treatments for depression. Just as depression looks different for everyone, depression treatments may have different effects for each individual. The most effective treatment method for depression is a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Some common forms of psychotherapy that are effective in treating depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic therapy. One might also seek support groups, group therapies, or community engagement programs for added support.

Research shows that the relationship between the clinician and client is the most effective tool in treating mental health disorders. That being said, it is important to have an open mind and to remember that effective therapy requires the ability to trust the clinician. If you seek support and find limited connection with the clinician, don’t be afraid to explore other options. Read about alternative treatments here!

How Can Someone Find Help?

Especially during times of high need, finding help can unfortunately require time and patience. Psychology Today has a great Find a Therapist tool, where you can limit search based on insurance, areas of practice, or location. Most insurance plans also have a website where you may consult your provider directory. This is a good way to ensure that a clinician accepts your insurance. It is a good idea to look more closely at your insurance plan to determine if your plan limits the amount of sessions you can attend.

To find help, it can be helpful to ask someone your trust. A referral from a friend, colleague, or medical professional is a good way to find a clinician who may be a good fit for you. Additionally, online resources, such as Anxiety and Depression Association of America, are a helpful way to navigate the mental healthcare system. It can also be a good resource to learn more about types of depression treatments to determine the modality that may be most helpful. Make sure you check out this page with information on support groups and additional resources for navigating the mental health system during a pandemic!