I’ve been of a kick on this blog writing about worry and anxiety recently, and it’s opened my eyes to the ways I approach my anxiety disorder. Over the years I’ve developed some good strategies to cope with my anxiety and be productive despite its effects, but there’s one area where I still struggle: I can’t slow my thoughts down, and I can’t remember the last time I had that ability.
Writing last week’s post about my constant worry made me think of plenty of things (not hard to imagine, right?) But since this isn’t a therapy session, I didn’t want to dive into figuring out why this happens. What I thought would be more helpful is sharing what I’ve done to combat this constant worry since I don’t think I’m alone here. Regardless of any diagnosis, plenty of people deal with this issue. Obviously, some have it worse than others (hello!), but we can all use the same strategies to overcome the problem.
While exploring my relationship with self-care this week, I realized something. It’s hard for me to practice self-care because outside of a loose definition, I don’t know what it looks like. I’m a person that needs examples of explanations – you can’t just give me a definition and expect that to be sufficient.
That’s where I struggle with self-care. Just practice physical self-care – take care of your physical self I would read. That’s a good idea, but what can I do that will actually accomplish those goals? So, I decided to select five of the most prominent types of self-care and not only provide a brief explanation but toss in a few activities you could do to put it into practice as well.
This might seem like the most obvious one, but it’s obvious for a reason! You have to take care of your body if you want to live a long and healthy life. Oftentimes people see this and think it just means they have to exercise more (and that’s fine if you do!) but it’s also doing the little things throughout your day to make sure you’re feeling as healthy as possible.
Examples of practicing physical self-care: Eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking as much water as you can, getting enough sleep, going to the doctor when you need to
Emotional self-care is not simply ‘dealing with your emotions’ but dealing with them in a healthy way. We all have healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with our emotions – in this case, it’s not just about being self-aware, but making a concerted effort to make sure we’re trying the healthy activities over the unhealthy ones even if we don’t want to. Especially if we don’t want to.
Examples of practicing emotional self-care: journaling and/or writing down how you feel, creating art (how you define ‘art’ is totally up to you!), going to a place that brings peace (park, lake, home, etc.), having a good cry
This aspect of self-care is all about making sure you’re forming healthy relationships with the people in your life. That doesn’t just mean doing activities that you want to do, though, because social relationships are different for people. For example? Introverts, you’re probably going to need to get out of your comfort zone – just make sure it’s with people you either like or want to get to know. Extroverts, you might be so concerned with being around people that you’re less concerned with the quality of person that’s around you. But at the end of the day, healthy relationships should be the result.
Examples of practicing social self-care: learning how much energy you need to be around other people, having meaningful interactions, nurturing the relationships you currently have
Practicing spiritual self-care sounds more complicated than it is because when people see it, they immediately think of religion. And while spirituality can be synonymous with religion, it does not have to be. Spiritual self-care is all about exploring your values and belief systems and trying to focus on something bigger than yourself. It might all sound vague but if you’re doing things that nurture your soul and contribute to a greater good, you’re on the right path.
Examples of spiritual self-care: contributing time or money to a cause you care about, attending religious services (if you’re religious), meditating, introspection and self-reflection
When I looked up mental self-care I saw it being associated a lot with intellectual self-care as well, which helped clear up the definition for me. This one is fairly simple – keep your mind active! Think of this as physical self-care but for your brain. Yes, every now an then it’s nice to turn your brain off and just relax, as long as you’re making time to keep your mind sharp and challenge yourself.
Examples of mental self-care: solving puzzles, reading books, exploring arts and culture
So, is there an activity you see here that you’d like to do more? Something not listed that you think people should know about? Let me know in the comments!
Last week I wrote about negative self-talk and how it affects me. While writing that post I ended up on the topic of cognitive distortions. Since that wasn’t the intention of my post I didn’t go into too much detail but when I read through the post, I realized I should have.
I didn’t know a thing about cognitive distortions until my therapist brought the topic up to me a few years ago. What are they exactly? Cognitive distortions are, more or less, lies that our brain tells us. They’re irrational thoughts and beliefs that, like any other thought or belief, grow more powerful the more they occur. Cognitive distortions come in many forms, and sometimes it’s hard to recognize when they happen. I decided to list and explain five of the most common cognitive distortions that I struggle with. I hope this helps!
Cognitive Distortion #1: All-or-Nothing Thinking
As the name implies, ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking is when you look at things in a very black-or-white, right-or-wrong way. You think in extremes – either something is very, very good or completely awful. You’re either perfect or a total failure.
Cognitive Distortion #2: Overgeneralization
This is one that many people I know struggle with because it’s so easy to turn into a habit. Overgeneralization is when we generalize about ourselves based on one event. For instance, if you don’t win a game, you think you’re a loser. If you don’t do as well on a test as you think you should have, then you label yourself as stupid. This type of thinking can lead to dangerous behavioral patterns and become very instinctual.
Cognitive Distortion #3: Mind Reading
This one sounds a little silly – of course, you can’t read minds! – which is why it’s so dangerous. When you try to guess what other people are thinking and make your decisions based on them, and not your own thoughts, you can end up expecting things from others that you’re never going to get.
Cognitive Distortion #4: Fortune Telling
We all love to predict the future, but when it’s done in a negative and pessimistic light, it might just be a cognitive distortion. Popular versions of this thought process are ‘I will never find that special someone’ or ‘every job I ever have will be terrible.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen to you, but by guessing the worst-case scenario you’re only causing more stress and anxiety.
Cognitive Distortion #5: Emotional Reasoning
Probably my least-favorite cognitive distortion of all-time, emotional reasoning is when you approach your feelings as if they are facts. For instance, if I feel like I’m worthless, I believe that I am worthless. Whatever I feel is true. Wrong! As we know, feelings are not facts, but no matter how many times I repeat this to myself, I still mistake what I feel for factual things.
While there are many different types of cognitive distortions, these five had played the biggest role in my life. I won’t say that they’ve disappeared now that I am aware of them, but in understanding my thought processes I have taken the first steps to gain a more positive mindset.
I bite my nails. When I’m nervous, when I’m thinking, when I have nothing else to do, I bite my nails. I know it’s not a good habit, and I know I should stop (and I’ve tried before). But it’s a bad habit, one of many I know I have – just like most people.
Why do bad habits exist? You can take the scientific approach or settle for something more experience-based, but where you end up is that there’s something that sparks these habits. Take me biting my nails, for instance. What caused that? My instinct is to say that my anxiety is at the root of it all. And while that might be true in this case, it also leads to a slippery slope of blaming everything on my anxiety.
In the past, I have been quick to blame my shortcomings on my GAD. I am not good at meeting people, so I blamed that on social anxiety. I watch too much TV because I told myself I was too anxious to sit down and read a book. I would eat food until I was sick because it kept the anxiety at bay. The point is, I developed poor habits and made poor decisions that I would chalk up to just being an anxious person. And whether you think that’s right or wrong to do (personally I’d say wrong!), it’s not a healthy mindset to develop.
I can’t help feeling anxious when meeting someone new. But I can develop strategies to use when I meet those people, and I can turn to my friends for help. I can’t help but feel trapped in my anxious thoughts. But I can use the techniques I’ve learned from years of practice and therapy to get out of that trap.
I can’t help but have bad habits. I’m human. But I can make sure that these habits are as harmless as possible, and that they don’t threaten my ability to be a good person. I can learn not to blame everything on my anxiety, and remind myself that there is a difference between being an anxious person and being a person with an anxiety issue.
Sometimes self-improvement isn’t always about the things we do, but the things we don’t do. And I’m learning not to chalk up every misstep on my anxiety. It’s one small step toward becoming a better version of myself – anxiety and all.
A few months ago, I went on vacation. Or at least, I thought I did. I wasn’t at work, I didn’t have a set schedule, and I was sleeping in (well, as much as I could). But did I feel on vacation? From what I understand about vacations, it didn’t really line up.
On vacations, you’re not supposed to be stressed out. You’re not supposed to be worried about things, back home or otherwise. Vacation is a break from all of that.
But I was stressed, anxious and yes – depressed. Though I still had an incredible time on my vacation and enjoyed myself immensely, I didn’t have a break from one thing that I had really hoped I could take a break from – my mind.
Imagine being trapped somewhere you don’t like. No, I won’t paint this imaginary place as the worst place on Earth. But let’s say you don’t like it very much and would rather be elsewhere. Now it’s easy enough to get up and leave – in fact, that would be my first piece of advice to you. But what do you do if you can’t?
If you have a mental illness, you’re all too familiar with this imaginary place. It means different things for different people but for me, it’s my head. There are days – plenty of days – where I wish I could take a vacation from the thoughts in my head. The song “Migraine” by Twenty One Pilots is something I think of often when I can’t take that vacation: am I the only one I know, waging my wars behind my face and above my throat (I really like Twenty One Pilots. I’ll have to write about them one day!).
How do I combat it? I choose to stay busy. Whether it’s working on this blog or doing some other type of work, writing keeps me very busy and my mind very active. So I do that a lot (arguably too much, but that’s another story). When I’m not busy is when things can become frustrating and often, quite sad. I mean actual sad, not pathetic sad. I long to one day take a vacation from the negative self-talk, and constant anxiety, but I also know that I am fortunate in that I know how to fight against this – though it took years to learn.
If you’re like me and can’t really take a vacation from the thoughts in your head, don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone. If you can do that, let me know what it’s like, because I’m curious about the experience!