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How to Build Emotional Resilience

How to Build Emotional Resilience

When you have been through difficult emotional periods in your life, you know how hard it can be to pull yourself out of a depressive state or break habits that you know are bad for you.  Yet you may also know that those difficult experiences have shaped who you are and made you stronger and more capable as a person.  Emotional resilience comes from overcoming difficult times and continuing to move forward with your life, even when you may not feel like it.

What Is Emotional Resiliency?

Emotional resilience has to do with how well you cope with difficult emotions when they arise and how well you handle emotional challenges such as grief, anger, frustration, failure, or other problems.  When you are emotionally resilient, you still have emotional reactions to the situations you may find yourself in, but you don’t let the circumstances overwhelm you or pull you down into a dark place that leads to self- destructive patterns. Difficulties can be managed, and they do not change who you are as person or what your core values and beliefs are.

If you feel like your emotions are often in charge of how you react to situations instead of you controlling your emotional reactions, then you may need to practice building up your emotional resilience. Strong emotional resilience can help you cope with challenging situations without becoming overwhelmed or wanting to give up.

How To Build Emotional Resiliency

Building emotional resilience can take time, partially because you have to actually experience challenges and struggles in order for you to become resilient towards them. Everyone eventually experiences feelings like grief, anger, frustration, and failure, but the circumstances which trigger these emotions depends on what is happening in your life at any given time.

When you do experience these feelings or are going through a challenging situation, keep these tips in mind to help you cope with those challenges and build emotional resiliency.

  1. Acceptance:  This is a tough one for many people. Accepting circumstances as they are when you really want the situation to be different is always a challenge.  However, the sooner you accept that something bad has happened so now you have to figure out how to deal with it, the quicker you can get on with your life and figure out how to move past the problem and towards the solution.  Sometimes there might not be a solution, such as when you have lost a loved one to death or when a tragedy has occurred that cannot be changed. While you may experience other stages of grief such as denial, you ultimately must accept the circumstances, so practicing acceptance is a key component of emotional resiliency.
  2. Figure out what you can control:   Sometimes you will not feel like there is much you can control when something bad has happened, but if you think about it and try to look for your choices, you may find the things that are within your control.  When you figure out what you can control then you can empower yourself to make the best choices under the circumstances, and that will often lead to improvement in your emotional state.
  3. Let go of what you cannot control:   After you have figured out what you can control, then you can practice letting go of the things  you cannot control. That may be clear at times, such as knowing that something in the past has already happened and you can’t change it.  Other times it may be more confusing, such as when you are unsure whether your efforts are going to pay off if you take a risk.  Sometimes the only thing you may be able to control is your outlook and attitude towards the problem. Regardless of what’s happening, you will feel more resilient towards difficult circumstances when you learn to let go of any anger or resentment towards things you cannot control and try focusing only on what is within your own power to control.
  4. Acknowledge your emotions: Emotional resilience is not about not having emotions, but it is about understanding and accepting your emotions.  You cannot move past an emotion if you do not acknowledge and accept it.  For example, if you feel angry about something, but you don’t ever acknowledge or express that anger, then eventually it builds up inside you and turns into resentment and cynicism.  Once you acknowledge that you feel angry and work through accepting the circumstances and choices that caused that emotion, then you can let go of it and move on to a calmer emotional state.
  5. Take responsibility for your actions and reactions: You cannot control what other people do or how they react, but you can control your own behaviors and reactions. When you take responsibility for your own actions, you will feel more in control, which will lead to more emotional resilience. There may be times when you don’t feel proud of your own behavior or reactions.  You can still build emotional resilience when that happens though, by resolving to learn from your mistakes and make better choices in the future.
  6. Recognize when you are being self-destructive: Coping skills can be either healthy or unhealthy, and unhealthy coping skills tend to increase when you’re under stress or dealing with difficult emotions.  Part of taking responsibility for your actions and taking control when you can is recognizing when your own coping skills are becoming self-destructive.  This can happen when we start using food, or alcohol, or substances, or other unhealthy behaviors to cover up the difficult emotions we are experiencing.  When the coping skills you are using are doing more damage to you in long run, it’s time to recognize that your self-destructive behaviors are just prolonging the painful emotions you need to deal with. Emotional resiliency comes from dealing with your emotions, not from covering them up.
  7. Stop ruminating:  Rumination can become unhealthy when you are constantly dwelling on an issue or replaying scenes over and over in your head. You get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts and feelings that don’t help you move forward at all.  Sometimes ruminating on a problem can be helpful when you are looking for a solution, but rumination becomes distressful when you become preoccupied with something and can’t move past it. When you are asking yourself questions with no real solution or answer, such as “What if…” or “Why did this happen..”, you can get caught up in cycles of rumination that leave you with no solutions.  Instead, try asking yourself questions like “How can I change things…” or “What are my choices..” to try and find solutions.  Focusing on those kinds of questions will help you build emotional resiliency as you work on becoming more solution focused rather than staying stuck in negative emotional cycles.
  8. Release feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame: This trifecta of emotions can send you on a downwards spiral of self-destructive behavior if you don’t learn to cope with these feelings and release them.  This is not about absolving yourself from any blame when something bad has happened, but it is about being realistic about what you are actually responsible for and letting go of these negative emotions when they are not serving you well.  If you examine these feelings, you may realize that you have been blaming yourself for things that were not your fault. You might need to recognize that you don’t have to accept responsibility for things you have been feeling guilty about.  There might be other times when you do feel sincerely regretful about something you did, and in those times it is appropriate to acknowledge the feelings of guilt and blame.  You may need to forgive yourself for things that you regret, or you may need to apologize when it’s appropriate.  However, you aren’t helping anyone by drowning in guilt and shame or ruminating about things that are in the past and can’t be changed.
  9. Understand your own cognitive distortions: Cognitive distortions are like little mind tricks that we all engage in sometimes, but that can distort reality when we don’t look at things in a rational way.  You can build up more emotional resiliency when you learn to recognize the mental patterns you use that distort reality and keep you stuck in negative thought patterns.  Learn more about cognitive distortions by reading the Cognitive Distortion Series I have on the blog.
  10. Practice gratitude: When you really feel overwhelmed and stuck in negativity, it’s always a good practice to come back to gratitude.  Cultivating a gratitude practice regularly will help you build emotional resiliency by helping you stay focused on the positive things you have in your life and give energy towards more of those things.  Even when times are really tough most of us have something that we can be grateful for. Many of us have more than enough to be grateful for, and while none of us is immune from suffering, we can all build emotional strength to help us cope with life and it’s struggles.

Emotional resiliency is a trait that you can develop, and like other areas of personal development, it is something that takes practice.  The more you practice dealing with circumstances by choosing acceptance, gratitude and responsibility versus choosing rumination, negativity, and shame, the greater control you will feel over your life and your choices.

You will not always be able to control the circumstances and situations that happen in life, and you will not always be able to control the actions and feelings of others.  However, you can choose to mentally shift your perspective in ways that will help you build up more emotional resiliency.  Practicing emotional intelligence will help you be better able to handle emotions when they arise and help you feel more confident about how you are choosing to handle problems and circumstances.

For more about Emotional Intelligence, check out these posts:

10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence

Setting Boundaries

Are You Using Selective Self Control?

4 Steps for Anger Management

Cognitive Distortions: Disqualifying the Positive

 

How to Identify Toxic Relationships

How to Identify Toxic Relationships

If you have a relationship with a toxic person, whether that is a romantic relationship, a friendship, or even a family relationship, you might often find yourself frustrated, drained, and confused about how to handle the situation. It’s hard to know how to set boundaries with people or know when to cut ties with someone that you care about.  You may not recognize how toxic the relationship has become until you take some time to really think about the patterns that have been established.

What Are Toxic Relationships?

Toxic relationships tend to drain your energy, because the patterns of behavior from a toxic person can be confusing, hypocritical, and exhausting.  Some people actually thrive on the conflict and drama that they create in their personal lives.  The reasons why people do this are just as confusing, and usually not worth your time to try and figure out.  It usually has to do with personal insecurity and poor emotional intelligence.  Trying to change the other person or have healthy boundaries can be just as exhausting, because ultimately you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change, or who doesn’t see the toxic patterns in their own behavior.

There are many signs that the relationship you are in is has become toxic, which means you need to think about changing some things to protect your own mental health and establish healthier relationships with this other person.   Again, this could apply to a friendship, a romantic relationship, or another personal relationship, even a co-worker or supervisor.  The toxic person in your life may not display all of these sings, but they likely will display at least a few of these signs if their pattern of behavior is unhealthy.

Here are 10 things to look out for that indicate you are in a toxic relationship:

1: You get upset at this person, but then you end up apologizing to them for something else entirely. They have a way of turning arguments or disagreements around so that you end up feeling guilty for everything, even things that are not your fault. They rarely take responsibility for their own faults, and when confronted they turn the focus back to the person who is calling out their behavior.

2: You are constantly accommodating their needs, but when you need help or support, they aren’t there for you. Toxic people tend to latch on to other people who are givers and empaths, but they are often not willing to give support back to other people.

3:  They make a lot of promises or agreements, but they rarely follow through with what they say they will do. They are willing to follow through with things that will benefit themselves, but toxic people will not prioritize other people’s needs, so if they see no benefit to themselves, they don’t follow through with their commitments.

4: They are constantly complaining, but they never do anything to change their circumstances.  They may blame everyone else for issues, but never take responsibility for solving their own problems.  You may find yourself caught up in trying to rescue them often or fix their problems for them.  They start to assume that you will be there to fix things for them, and they may even become angry when you don’t fix their problems for them or bail them out from the consequences of their own behaviors.

5:  They may be negative more often than not.  They will avoid doing things because they insist that things will not work.  They may avoid making changes because they always find barriers to making progress or changing their behavior.  Even when you try to cheer them up or point out the positive in situations, they will still shut down any solutions you offer or refuse to acknowledge anything positive.  It can be hard to be around people like this after awhile because they start to negatively affect your mood, too.

6: Toxic people may avoid issues altogether by denying that a problem exists, or avoid hard conversations by just saying they have nothing to say, or giving one-word answers when you are trying to resolve a problem or talk about an issue.  They may also stall, saying that they will do something later, or wait for someone else to do it.

7: You feel like you have to walk on eggshells or watch what you say around this person to avoid an argument or problem.  A toxic person may become highly defensive if you try to raise any issue that you want to talk about. They also may have a tendency to say things that are hurtful or condescending, so you become defensive too, so as not to find yourself under attack in some way.

8: They may expect you to read their mind, or know how they feel at all times, so that when they become upset you may be the one who gets blamed. You may find yourself trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, they end up finding fault with something you did or said. Toxic people can be extremely difficult to please, because they expect others to cater to them, yet they will easily find fault in others when mistakes happen or if they don’t get their way.

9: They may ignore your boundaries when you try to set limits with them, but they become upset when you try to enforce those boundaries.  Toxic people feel victimized when other people set boundaries with them, and so even if you try to set healthy boundaries, they may not respect your wishes or accuse you of abandoning them when you try to stick to those limits.

10: They may make fun of you or otherwise say hurtful things, but if you get upset they accuse you of being too sensitive or of not being able to take a joke.  When you stand up for yourself, they distance themselves from you to punish you for doing so. It might seem easier to just let things slide, even when you feel hurt, because trying to address how you feel will just result in an argument or more denials from the toxic person.

There are many other things that toxic people may do that are confusing, hurtful and unhealthy.  Unfortunately it can be hard to set boundaries with people like this, and you may still care about them and want to continue to friendship or relationship.  However, you need to remember that you cannot change another person, especially someone who does not see the need for them to change.

What To Do If You Are In a Toxic Relationship

Sometimes, you may be able to keep the person in your life, but you might have to cut back on how much time you spend with them.  If you are in a romantic relationship with someone who exhibits these patterns, then you really need to consider whether you can continue to tolerate this kind of dynamic in your relationship.  It is possible for people to change, but you might need help from a professional, and your partner has to be willing to look at their own toxic patterns.

If these patterns are present in the workplace, you may not have any choice but to try and find other employment, especially if the person is in a supervisory position over you.  While you always have to carefully weigh your options when it comes to work, staying in a toxic work environment can cause long-term stress and contribute to a decline in your overall mental health and quality of life. When it is a co-worker you have difficulties with, you can try to limit your conversations to work-related issues and avoid contact with them outside of work.

Other times, when it is a family member or a person that you can’t or don’t want to cut out of your life, you have to start to adjust your expectations and limit how much time and energy you give to this toxic person in your life.  Although it can be difficult, you have to ask yourself some hard questions about whether you can continue to spend your emotional energy in a relationship with someone who does not respect your needs or feelings. Setting boundaries and limiting your contact with toxic people are often the best strategies to avoid these relationships have a significant negative effect on your life.

For more information on setting boundaries and emotional intelligence, check out these other posts:

Emotional Intelligence Series: Setting Boundaries

10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence

9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People

5 Things to Ditch When You’re Feeling Depressed

5 Things to Ditch When You’re Feeling Depressed

Everyone has times in their life when they feel depressed, but clinical depression is more prolonged and intense than just having a sad day once in a while.  When you are in a depressive state, it can be a challenge to get out of, even when you’re tired of feeling bad all the time.

Most therapists and other helping people will encourage you to focus on positive experiences, thoughts, and people to help you get out of that depressive state and back to feeling good. However, it’s also helpful to think about some of the things that you can cut out of your life that might be contributing to your depression and making you feel worse.  It can be hard to get motivated to do the all the self-care you’re supposed to be doing when you’re in the midst of an intense depressive state.

Cutting some things out instead of adding more to your to-do list can be one strategy to combat depression and start to feel better, so that you actually have the energy to take care of yourself. Here are some things that you can safely ditch when you’re feeling depressed so that you have more time and energy to focus on yourself and get to feeling better:

1: Social Media

We all know that social media can be a place of comparison and drama when it’s not being used properly.  When you’re feeling depressed, social media can sometimes contribute to you feeling worse, especially if you get trapped into thinking that everyone’s lives seem better than yours or that other people seem to be happy and thriving while you’re not.

In reality, some people are putting their best faces, experiences, and attitudes forward on social media and not necessarily the full picture of their daily struggles.  Others might be constantly posting negativity, berating each other publicly, or starting arguments with little chance for resolution on public forums.  All of this can get overwhelming as you’re scrolling through your social feeds.

While it may be tempting to surf through all of your social platforms when you’re feeling down or bored, consider temporarily checking out of your social media profiles when you’re having a depressive episode.  The point is not to avoid people or the world in general, but you’ll be better off connecting with people in person who support you rather than spending too much time on social media when you’re feeling down.

2: Toxic People

Most of us know at least one toxic person, and possibly quite a few.  Toxic people are the ones that either contribute to all of the negativity in the world because they have negative energy overall, or those who directly speak or act in ways that are hurtful or damaging to those around them.  You probably know who the toxic people are in your life if you spend a bit of time thinking about it.  It could be the person at work who is always complaining about the office or their home life, or it could be that one friend who pretends to be supportive but in reality finds ways to cut you down or dismiss your feelings whenever given the chance.

If you have a toxic person in your life, feel free to limit your contact with them or cancel any plans you might have made if you are feeling depressed and know their energy would just make things worse.  This is all part of having healthy boundaries, and boundaries are part of self-care.  When you’re feeling depressed, cutting out time with negative, toxic people is part of getting through that depressive episode.  You don’t owe time or attention to people who negatively affect your mental health, even if they are among your friends and family.

3: Excess Clutter

Sometimes when you are feeling depressed, your physical possessions can tend to pile up and your space becomes a physical representation of how you feel inside.  Think of dishes taking over the kitchen, laundry taking over the living room, and clutter taking over your whole home.  The prospect of cleaning everything up seems overwhelming, and the whole mess contributes to how overwhelmed, sad, and unmotivated you feel.  The best strategy when this starts to happen is to tackle one thing at a time.

When you are depressed, you probably aren’t going to feel motivated to de-clutter all of your space, so think about just picking up one thing at a time.  When you walk to the bathroom, grab something to throw in the trash on the way or the laundry bin.  If you go to the kitchen to get a snack, put up one or two dishes from the dishwashing machine or wash one pot in the sink.  Don’t think you have to tackle it all at once, but recognize that one small bit of progress is not too overwhelming to manage, and doing one thing can create momentum.  You will likely feel somewhat better when your space isn’t overwhelming you too, so just focus on small tasks, and by the end of one day you will have made some progress.

4: Negative Self- Talk & Rumination

This can be a tough one to tackle, because the nature of depression is such that your mind finds ways to remind you of the negative outlook on almost everything that is happening, and it all gets tied in with the hopelessness and loss of motivation that you are already feeling.  However, ditching negative self-talk and negative rumination is one of the most powerful things that you can practice to help combat symptoms of depression.

First, you need to notice the thoughts that you are having that are negative and unhelpful. Recognize when you are engaging in thoughts patterns where you are ruminating on thoughts, people, or experiences that are not helping you to solve a problem or move past an issue.  When you are having repetitive thoughts, such as “I can’t do anything right, nothing I do will make a difference, everyone thinks negative things about me…”, then you need to take control over this thought pattern.

When you recognize these negative thought patterns, write down all of the negative things you are saying to yourself, and then directly challenge those thoughts.  Make an argument to yourself about why these thoughts are limiting you and make a conscious choice to change those thoughts in a more positive direction.  You can enlist the help of a good friend or confident, your therapist if you have one, or you can do it yourself.  But don’t let those thoughts go unchallenged, or they will take over your mental space and push you further into that depressive state.

5: Extra Obligations

We all have obligations that we have to meet in order to keep out lives on track and running smoothly.  Work, school, family obligations, and other responsibilities are a part of all of our lives.  Sometimes, though, you can afford to let go of some of the things you typically feel obligated to do, especially if you are someone who tends to over-commit yourself to others or take on more than you can reasonably handle.  If this is a problem you have, then these extra-obligations can feel like more opportunities for failure or letting people down, and when you’re depressed, that can take on extra significance.  When you are experiencing a depressive episode, however, this is a time to trim down your extra obligations and focus on getting your basic needs met.

If you have a partner that can pick up some of the slack, then enlist their help when possible.  If you need to cancel plans that feel too burdensome, that’s okay, just try to be conscientious and forthright towards people that you have made commitments to.  You don’t have to over-explain everything, but it’s okay to let people know that you’re not feeling well and you’re not able to meet those obligations you’ve committed to.

This is not to say that you can abandon all of your responsibilities.  If you start to just check out of everything, like taking too many days off work, not taking care of your children, or abandoning tasks that need to get done like paying bills then you might find yourself suffering from consequences that will make your depression worse.  This strategy is about ditching the excess stuff that you can do without, like too many social obligations or over-committing to extra projects.  If you find yourself struggling to complete necessary obligations that keep your life together, then it’s time to get some professional help with your depression.

Manage Depression by Focusing on One Thing At A Time

Managing depression usually requires multiple different strategies, and sometimes it feels like a beast that is too hard to tackle all at once.  You don’t have to give in to the sadness and fatigue, though.  Every day and every hour is a new opportunity to try something different, and it will be worth the effort you make to feel better.

When it seems like self-care is elusive or like no matter what you do you’re still feeling bad, then try to trim down what you’re focusing on.  Thinking about everything all at once can be too overwhelming, so just try to think about one strategy at a time and give yourself credit for that.  Abandoning your social media scrolling in favor of a walk outside or canceling dinner plans with that toxic person in favor of some time spent journaling or calling your more positive friend who lives across the country can make a difference in how you feel at the end of the day.

10 Tips to Manage Depression

10 Tips to Manage Depression

Depression can feel like an overwhelming sadness that saps the joy out of your life and prevents you from taking even small steps forward. Depression is treatable, though, and there are many ways to manage the symptoms of depression. Treatment is different for everyone, and what works for one person may not work for another. This is why it is important to have a lot of different coping methods and options for how to manage your depression.

Unfortunately, many people suffer through depression without the support or resources they need to help alleviate their symptoms in an effective way. This may be true for a number of reasons, including embarrassment or shame about the struggle with depression, lack of support from friends or family, a lack of access to resources to treat depression, or just not knowing what to do to deal with the overwhelming feelings.

Tips To Manage Depression
It’s important to understand that managing depression is usually not going to be a quick and easy fix. Most people have to really try to use multiple strategies to help them with their symptoms, depending on what their specific circumstances and experiences are. Here are 10 tips and strategies to help manage your symptoms that may help to provide some relief from the severity of your symptoms.

1. Talk about it
When you are struggling with depression, you may want to isolate yourself from others and hide how bad you are feeling. This is understandable because part of depression is often feeling like a burden on others, or believing that people in your life don’t truly care about you or what you have going on. Sometimes it is absolutely true that the people in your life are not as supportive as you need them to be. However sometimes there really are people that care about you and want to be able to be there for you and support you. Talking about your feelings and what you are going through with people who are genuinely concerned for you and care about you is such an important part of managing depression. Even when you don’t really understand why you’re feeling so down, just talking about the struggle can be helpful. When we don’t give our feelings a voice, they will continue to stay stuck inside you. Try to think about the people who have offered to listen or support you in the past and let them know that you could use someone to talk to. You might be surprised at who is willing to listen.
2. Write/Journal
Writing or journaling is an excellent outlet for people who enjoy this kind of practice. This is basically the same kind of practice as talking to someone else, it just keeps your thoughts and feelings more private while you still have an outlet to express them and get them out of your head. Journaling can be a way to directly express and release distressful thoughts and feelings, while creative writing can be a totally different way of accomplishing the same thing. Writing poetry is one example of creative writing, but you could even write fiction if you feel like it. Some people may find writing or journaling to be stressful or unproductive and that is totally fine. You don’t have to do this if it’s not your style or you don’t find it helpful. But for the writers out there, this can be an invaluable way to cope with your symptoms.
3. Use creative expression (art, music)
Aside from writing, there are many other forms of creative expression that can be an outlet for your feelings. If you are drawn to visual arts, painting, drawing, sculpture, and even coloring can be good creative outlets for you to express how your feeling. If not, consider music, dance, or other forms of self-expression. Think about what you feel your depression looks or feels like and put that down in some kind of artistic medium. Giving your depression a concrete representation through creative expression can help you feel more power and control over those emotions.
4. Intuitive exercise
Exercise has been clinically proven to help alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental health symptoms, but from a therapeutic perspective I always recommend intuitive exercise when it comes to managing mental health. This means that you absolutely should use exercise, but you should focus only on exercise that you enjoy and that doesn’t stress you out. This means that the most important thing to consider is what the impact of that form of exercise is on you specifically. It will be different for each person. One person may find yoga therapeutic, but the idea of a Cross-Fit session makes them dread even leaving the house. Another person may find kick-boxing exhilarating and energy-giving, but find walking dull and unhelpful. The main concern should be listening to your body and your own intuition and honoring what feels best and most helpful to you.
5. Sunlight
Getting some sun and spending time in nature is another important way to create an overall healthy lifestyle to manage symptoms of depression. Sunlight is also a proven natural therapy that can boost mood and provide an important source of Vitamin D. for people who struggle with depression, taking a short walk outside when the sun is out or even absorbing the sun’s rays relaxing in a park or by the pool can provide a little boost to your mood. I have actually seen this benefit people in therapy, as well. When I have clients that are really stuck in a rut and can’t seem to do much else to combat their depression, sometimes taking their dog for a walk outside daily and spending a little more time in the sun and a little less time indoors in the dark can provide just the smallest boost they need to start feeling a little better. Gardening is another natural therapy with proven mental health benefits that helps you get some sunlight into your life.
6. Gratitude practices
Doing a daily or weekly gratitude practice is a good thing for everyone to do, but when you are struggling with depression, it is really important. Sometimes that can be hard to do, when you are feeling so low and it seems like nothing is going your way. Yet there is almost always something to be grateful for, and sometimes you have to start small when you can’t see the big picture. Sometimes if might be just having a bed to sleep in today, or having the love of one person in your life. Often, though, there is so much to be grateful for, but we don’t always see it when we are struggling. Being more intentional about gratitude can help you frame things in a way that helps you to shift your mindset away from depression and towards feeling grateful for all you have in your life. For more on creating a gratitude practice, see this post.
7. Access counseling
This can be a tough one for many people both because the idea of counseling can be intimidating, and also because many people struggle with access to mental health services due to the many complicating factors involved in our healthcare system. Furthermore, some people may have had negative experiences with counseling in past and therefore are hesitant to form a trusting relationship with a counselor again. However, if you are able to see a counselor, I would encourage anyone who is struggling with depression to seek help. There are many dedicated and caring professionals with experience treating depression. Sometimes it takes a little time and effort to find the right therapist for you, but it is well worth it to find the person who you feel most comfortable with. Counseling has saved many people’s lives, and having that professional support could make a huge difference in managing your depression.
8. Take time off
This strategy can also be difficult for many people because of the barriers involved in taking time out from work, family, or other social obligations. There are financial considerations, work performance considerations, and the pressure of stepping away from all of the obligations you have towards people who are counting on you. All of that extra pressure can trigger your symptoms of depression to worsen and leave you feeling hopeless about ever being able to take a break. Everyone has to evaluate their own situation and figure out what they can reasonably do to get a break from some of the things that may be overwhelming you and exacerbating your depression. What you don’t have to do, though, is feel guilty about taking time to take care of yourself. Your life and health are important—just as important as everyone else’s and certainly more important than any task or social obligation you may feel tied to. Releasing yourself from the guilt of taking time to take care for yourself is one thing that you can do right now to help manage your depression.
9. Plan for the future
When you feel depressed, you may feel hopeless about the future. The present may seem miserable and the past may seem like it clings to you. You cannot change the past, but you can change your future, and thinking about and planning for all the things you want to look forward to can help to alleviate some of the sadness and hopelessness you feel. Believing that things can change is one of the keys to managing major depression, because feeling hopeless is a significant symptoms of depression. There is no guaranteed outcome in life, but as long as you can see a future for yourself where things are different, then you can hang onto that hope for a time when you will feel better and be able to live your life fully. Make a promise to never give up on yourself by envisioning the future that you want for yourself and use that vision to give you hope when you are feeling low.
10. Consider Medication
Mental health medication can be life-saving for some people, yet many people are hesitant to take them. This could be due to being worried about side effects, not wanting to be “dependent” on a medication, or not having access to appropriate mental health care. Not everyone needs to be on a medication, but it is appropriate and even necessary for some people depending on the severity of their symptoms. Taking an anti-depressant is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, you probably know several people on mental health medications, even if you are not aware of it. Taking a mental health medication is a serious decision, though, and one that should be made by you and your doctor together. For more information on how to know when a mental health medication is right for you, see this post.

Managing depression usually requires people to use several different methods to help combat their symptoms and help them feel better over time. Some people may need long-term treatment, while others may be able to recover after a few months of treatment. There are so many factors that influence how severe an episode of depression is, but please remember that help is available and that depression is a treatable condition. Above all, listen to yourself and your needs, and recognize that your life is worth fighting for. You are not alone in how you are feeling, and you can get better with treatment and support.

For more information and resources on depression and mental illness, please visit:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 

How to use the RAINBOW Method for Sensory Distraction to combat Panic and Anxiety

How to use the RAINBOW Method for Sensory Distraction to combat Panic and Anxiety

In this post I’m going to talk about how to use a form of sensory distraction called the RAINBOW Method in order to combat a panic or anxiety attack.  Having a panic attack can be incredibly distressful, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty breathing or calming yourself.  Using sensory distraction is one way of coping during a panic attack, and there are several ways to do this.

What is Sensory Distraction?

Sensory distraction involves using your 5 senses to change your focus from the overwhelming feelings you are having during an acute panic or anxiety attach to a calmer state of mind.  It is one method of coping with acute anxiety and panic.  I have another full post on using all 5 of your senses for this purpose here.

How to Use the RAINBOW Method to Stop Panic and Anxiety

The RAINBOW method involves the use of your visual senses. The best way to use this method is preferably outdoors, but you can use it indoors if necessary. I usually recommend walking and using deep breathing methods at the same time.

For this practice, you are going to focus on looking for each of the colors of the rainbow in order, and taking deep breaths while you repeat the colors mentally in your head. So first, you will look for something red. It can be a red bird, a red leaf, a red bug, or any other red thing that you can see. Take a deep breath while looking at it and repeat in your head “There is a red bird” or whatever else you happen to be looking at.

Then you will do the same thing with the next color, which is orange. So look for something orange, take a deep breath, and say to yourself “There is an orange butterfly”, or plant, or leaf, et cetera.

Continue to do this with each of the colors of the rainbow, starting with red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. If you get stuck and feel like you can’t move forward, just go back to the colors you’ve already seen, and continue to breathe deeply and slowly repeat your visual observations for each color.

For example, your practice of this method might go something like this:

“I see a red cardinal. (Take a deep breath). I see an orange butterfly. (Deep breath).  I see yellow from the light of the sun. (Deep breath).  I see green in all of the trees I am looking at. (Deep breath). I see blue in the sky. (Deep breath).  I see indigo in the leaves on a bush. (Deep breath). I see violet in a flower that is blooming. (Deep breath).”

You can think of this practice as kind-of like a mantra that you can use during period of overwhelming anxiety to bring your attention back to present moment.

Why Does This Method Work to Stop Panic and Anxiety?

Anxiety is rooted in fear and worry over the future, things you cannot control, things that you have to accomplish, and your own expectations of yourself and others. To calm anxiety, we have to let go of fear and worry and focus on the present moment, because staying in the present allows you to actually release those fears and worries by focusing solely on the moment that you are in right now.

Sensory distraction is one of the ways that you can practice coming back to the present moment and releasing the fear and anxiety you have that are causing such overwhelming distress.  The Rainbow Method is one way of using your visual senses to bring attention back to the present moment.

This method can take a few minutes to work, so it is helpful to continue repeating the visual mantra to yourself while you use other coping methods as well to bring your symptoms back under control.

How Does the RAINBOW Method work with other Coping Skills?

Combating panic and anxiety attacks should be thought of as using several different tools in your tool box of coping skills. When you are having an acute panic attack, you need to combat the symptoms using several different coping methods.

If you have medication for panic attacks that you take PRN (per required need), you can use your medication to help you calm down.  However, sometimes medication for anxiety attacks can take a little while to work, sometimes up to 15 or 30 minutes, so you need to have some other tools and coping skills that you can use to help you bring your heart-rate down and bring your breathing back under control. For those who do not have a medication to take PRN for an acute panic attack, building up other non-medical strategies to combat panic attacks is also essential.

Deep breathing is a MUST during a panic attack, because you likely have an elevated heart rate and increased respiratory rate, both common symptoms of an anxiety attack. So first and foremost start taking deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to extend the length of your breaths, making each breath longer and slower until you reach a comfortable respiratory rate.

You can also use an essential oil as aromatherapy during a panic attack, which is another form of sensory distraction related to your sense of smell.  I have more information on how to use oils for anxiety in this post.

The combination of walking, breathing, and using sensory distraction methods is the best way that I know of to combat an acute panic attack when you do not have access to a medication or do not want to use one.

Responding to Anxiety and Panic

Anxiety can strike at unexpected times. You can be having a good day and feeling confident when your anxiety kicks into overdrive, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with an onslaught of symptoms you didn’t see coming, such as tightness in your chest, difficulty breathing, uncontrollable crying and body tremors.

This is your body responding to stress with a heightened state of arousal designed to put you on edge so that you can confront whatever stressors you are facing at the time. However, anxiety attacks can be disruptive, stressful, embarrassing, and leave you feeling out of control. Learning to use your own senses to combat these symptoms is a key skill to have if you struggle with panic and anxiety.

If you would like a guided mediation audio track of the RAINBOW method that you can use to help you during an acute episode of anxiety or panic, just submit your information on the form below and I will send you a free 10 minute audio track of this method in practice. I designed this guided meditation with my clients in mind who suffer from panic and anxiety attacks. This track will guide you through a deep breathing exercise and the RAINBOW method of sensory distraction, set to calming music, allowing you to focus and settle your overwhelming feelings.

Emotional Intelligence Series: Setting Boundaries

Emotional Intelligence Series: Setting Boundaries

This is the second post in my Emotional Intelligence Series, and in this post I’m going to discuss setting boundaries. Boundaries are important in all relationships, whether personal, professional, or romantic, because they let others know what you are or are not willing to tolerate, what you will or will not do, and what you expect from others based on the roles of your relationship.

When you do not have strong boundaries with others, you can end up feeling taken advantage of, disrespected, or powerless. Yet often when you learn how to take control of situations by setting stronger boundaries, you will find that having boundaries is actually what helps you overcome those feelings.

What Are Unhealthy Boundaries?

First, let’s look at some ways that unhealthy boundaries can impact your life and the relationships you have with others, both romantic and platonic. When you do not have healthy boundaries, you may:

  • Not know who to trust

When you have poor boundaries, you may be confused about whether someone is trustworthy or not. This can happen when you don’t trust yourself, because you may have a feeling that someone is shady or shouldn’t be trusted, but you don’t feel confident enough to speak up for yourself or say “NO” when someone wants your trust.

  • Get pressured into doing things you don’t want to do

When you have difficulty saying ”NO” and setting limits with other people, you may find yourself getting pressured into doing things that you don’t want to do. This could mean doing favors for others, even when it means neglecting your own needs or using up your own resources.

  • Take on responsibilities that are not yours

Having poor boundaries means that others will be able to put responsibilities on you that you may not want to take on. This could be at work, where a lazy coworker is always getting you to do things for them, or it could be with a friend who is constantly asking you to babysit at the last minute so they can handle their other responsibilities while you put your own needs aside.

  • Overly-tolerant of inappropriate behavior

People who struggle with healthy boundaries may have difficulty confronting others who are behaving inappropriately, because they feel uncomfortable with confrontation or are worried about keeping the peace. However, this can lead to others taking advantage of that and continually pushing the boundaries in the wrong direction. This can be especially damaging when you are dealing with someone who is using their position of power to push boundaries, such as in sexual harassment in the workplace, or even sexual pressure from someone in a social setting.

  • Trust the wrong people

Sometimes it can be hard to know who to trust, but when you struggle with setting boundaries, people who are looking for your vulnerabilities can exploit that struggle. When you do not listen to your internal voice that is telling you not to trust someone, you may end up trusting the wrong person, which sets you up for betrayal or disappointment.

  • Easily manipulated

People who are manipulative, narcissistic, or who have power and control issues are looking for those who are vulnerable so that they can manipulate them.  When you show others that you have poor boundaries in one area of your life, people who are looking for someone to manipulate or control will see that you are vulnerable in that way, and can target you for abuse or control. This could mean getting you to give them money, allowing them to control certain aspects of your life, or pressuring you into situations that make you uncomfortable or cause you to take on risk that you shouldn’t have to take on, like asking you to do something illegal.

How Do Unhealthy Boundaries Affect You?

All of these effects can leave you feeling powerless, hurt, and confused about how you can get people to respect you and respect your limits. When you don’t feel like you are in control of the situations you find yourself in, you can end up feelings guilty or ashamed when you realize that someone has taken advantage of or manipulated you in one way or another.

This is why establishing boundaries in all areas of your life is so important, including in your personal life, you romantic relationships, your work, and your family life. You may know that you need to set boundaries with your kids, for example, in order to keep them safe and raise in a way that will help them excel in the world they are growing up in.  It can be harder, though to set boundaries with your boss, for example, or with your family, because of established roles about who has authority and who has expectations.

How Can I Establish Healthy Boundaries?

YOU can have expectations too.  It is perfectly fair for you to have expectations of your workplace environment, or your family interactions. You are not always going to be able to change the behavior of others, but you can speak up for yourself and set limits on certain issues when you need to.

This may include things like being firm about when you need to leave work, or choosing to leave a family gathering that has gotten too tense and uncomfortable for you. There are a few things that you can do to help establish healthy boundaries in your life with the people around you so that you can feel more in control of yourself and the situations you are in.

 

  • Acknowledge to yourself when you are feeling uncomfortable, and ask yourself WHY. Is it because another person is invading your personal space? Has someone asked you to do something you are uncomfortable doing? Does something seem inappropriate or weird? Trust your instincts!

 

  • Know what you are not willing to tolerate and what your limits are. Do you need to set a limit on how often your best friend can borrow your car or how many times you can pick him/her up? Think about what you are reasonably able to do for others and what your limits should be.

 

  • Get Assertive:  Learn about the differences between passive, aggressive, and assertive communication and get comfortable with being assertive. This takes practice if you are not used to it, so look for situations where you feel a little more comfortable asserting yourself and practice standing up for yourself and your needs. This could be as simple as letting the waiter (politely) know that your order is wrong instead of just brushing it off and saying “oh well, I’ll eat this anyways”, or it could be more significant, like letting your boss know that NO, you will not be able to work late again because you have other things to attend to (you don’t have to explain what else, it is YOUR life). Practicing assertive communication will help you in setting boundaries in all areas of your life.

 

  • Know who is allowed to be emotionally close to you: Think about who is in your life that deserves your trust, and who does not deserve your trust. You may still have to interact with some people that you do not trust (like that shady co-worker). Yet you can still limit your contact with those who you do not trust to Needs Only Basis. This means that you only interact with them when you need to, such as to complete a work project or to get information needed for your own tasks. Otherwise, avoid the small talk and politely but firmly avoid the person when possible. Practice using assertive statements such as “I’m in the middle of [insert important task here] right now, but I will get back with you when I’m finished”. The goal is just to set that limit so the expectation is that you are only available for work-related tasks within your own role in the work environment. When you have someone who does deserve your trust and with whom you can allow into your emotional space, make sure that they know you trust them and that you are counting on them to safeguard that trust. This is about YOU setting expectations for how you want to be treated.

 

Setting boundaries can be hard if you have struggled with being assertive and confident in your life. Luckily, setting boundaries is a skill that can be learned, and you can become more confident over time when you set appropriate boundaries with others.

These skills contribute to your overall emotional intelligence because when you are confident about the limits and boundaries you have with others, you will be less likely to get into situations where you feel out of control or powerless, and you will be more likely to command respect from others who can see that you have limits.

Think about where in your life you need to set some limits by acknowledging the times that you have felt taken advantage of or other times when your boundaries and limits were not clear, and how you wish you had handled those situations.  Then take a look at what you could have done differently if you had strong boundaries and limits. Begins to practice being more assertive (not aggressive) in situations where you feel safe and then expand that practice to other areas where being assertive may be less comfortable. As you grow and expand where you are setting limits, you will grow more comfortable exerting your own power by establishing boundaries in all areas of your life.