How I Self-Cared in April

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April is coming to a close and I’m here to tell you a little bit about how I self-cared this month. As always, the intent is not to be self-indulgent, but is instead to remind myself to engage in intentional self-care every month, and to hopefully give you a couple ideas of how to do the same.

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I’m writing this Sunday night, and I have to be real: blogging is not on my self-care list for tonight. So, I’m gonna make this a short little post and then give myself the self-care time I need (which will involve reading, meditating, and watching Silicon Valley).

Reflect

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This month I dove back into journaling, and I’m really, really happy I did. I have been journaling since I was in like, second grade, so I’ve always considered myself a journaler (which, guys, is apparently not a word. Identity Crisis: Ensue). What I realized though, after I entered a stable relationship, was that so much of my past journaling was just musing about crushes! So cliché, right? But I found that when I sat down to journal about greater life things, actual exploration of personal goals and flaws and challenges, it was…harder. It wasn’t as fun to write about something that was bothering me and dig into the deeper reasons why. So I kind of put it off. I recently realized though that I missed it, and not even just missed it, but I thought I might need it. I had so many thoughts in my head that bothered me, but then just stayed on the surface and festered. I finally reached a breaking point of muddled thoughts and picked back up the journal. It’s been great. It’s still not always easy to initiate writing, but after I do it I feel like I just did a little brain detox. Released the bad stuff and gained a little clarity. It’s nice to spend an hour with a candle and your thoughts once in a while.

Pamper

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Tatcha Polished Rice Enzyme Powder: A gentle exfoliant that rids the skin’s surface of its dead skin cells. This product leaves your skin so soft without scratching it with harsh beads or particles, like so many other physical exfoliators. Exfoliating is important because it allows your other serums and moisturizers to penetrate deeper into your skin.

Fresh Rose Face Mask: This is one of those products that maybe does nothing for my skin but I just loveeee how luxurious it is. If you sign up for a Sephora card, you can get a mini of this mask for free during your birthday month. It’s supposed to be hydrating, but I mostly love it because it feels cooling and smells like roses. So perfect for self-care Sundays.

Josie Maran Pure Argan Milk Treatment: This Argan oil-based treatment is super hydrating and feels like heaven sinking into your skin. I love putting this on before bed and letting my skin soak it up while I watch an episode of Gilmore Girls. Just one of those luxurious, fancy feeling products that makes my night feel special whenever I use it.

How did you self-care this month?? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Thumbnail photo by Julia Janeta

Explaining Anxiety with Art

The presence of anxiety in people seems to be an instant connector. Sure, anxiety makes it so that it’s not always so easy to make that connection (like, that would involve having to leave bed and actually initiate a conversation with a human). But when it happens, whether it’s in person or over Tumblr or Twitter or wherever, it feels good. Someone out there gets it. You aren’t alone. 

Unfortunately, those with anxiety don’t always feel that. 

Eighteen percent of the US population suffers from anxiety. But what about the other 82%? (I literally had to just use a calculator to do that. It’s fine. I’m fine.). If you suffer from anxiety, you will find some awesome people who know what to say (or not say) and how to try to understand your anxiety. This might be your best friend, your parents, your siblings, a teacher, or your therapist. 

And then there will be the people that just do not get it. The outgoing people that love parties, never think twice about that embarrassing thing they did 9 years ago, and absolutely don’t check their bathroom 3 times before they leave for work to make sure they didn’t leave the hair straightener plugged in. 

AKA The Enemy.

Just kidding. They’re not the enemy. They just sometimes need a little help in figuring out how to handle people with anxiety.

I think that, when people who don’t have cancer also don’t understand what it’s like to have cancer, that makes sense to everyone. Everything about cancer is unfamiliar to them. They don’t know how chemotherapy feels, they don’t know the emotions that come with being diagnosed — so it makes sense for people who don’t have cancer to be like, “Whoa, I know nothing about this so I’m just gonna sit here and be supportive.” But with anxiety, it’s different. You’re anxious about going answering a telephone? Well, non-anxious people answer telephones all the time with no problem…so why can’t you? It’s more tempting for people to try to problem-solve because the problems revolve around actions that are familiar to them…and are not at all anxiety-provoking in their minds. 

So how do you try to explain to your mom, who answers the phone daily with complete ease, that answering a phone makes you extremely anxious, to the point of tears? I think it’s about capturing your personal emotional experience with anxiety and explaining it to the best of your ability. But it’s hard to describe complicated feelings and emotions with words. 

If you are living with anxiety and have a parent, partner, friend, or sibling who doesn’t get it, try explaining the experience with pictures and comics. Drawings seem to be a really great way to frame feelings of anxiety in a way that’s easy for others to understand. Check out the photos below for some great examples of art describing anxiety. Leave a comment and let me know if you think they are accurate!

From Spencer at heymonster.tumblr.com:

From Claire at infinitenap.tumblr.com:

From boggletheowl.tumblr.com:

From Shea at College Humor,

Reality Vs. How It Feels with Social Anxiety: 

Challenging Negative Thoughts

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Last week we talked about automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions, which are negative thinking patterns that we’re especially prone to if we are feeling anxious or stressed.

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So now we know what cognitive distortions are and we’re really annoyed that they exist. Why can’t my brain be normal? we ask. Why can’t I live my life without assuming I messed everything up before I even started?

But this is the thing: we totally can. That’s not to say it isn’t hard – if you’ve been observing your automatic negative thoughts since my last post, you know how quickly they come on and how easy it is to just let them slip on by if you don’t take the time to stop and question them. And who wants to do that? When you’re having a negative automatic thought, you’re probably already feeling insecure, sad, anxious, or mentally exhausted. The easiest next step is sinking deeper into your bad mood, not challenging your thoughts.

Here at Morning Wellness, we’re trying to fight the temptation to succumb to “easy.” Easy Sunday mornings, easy listening music, easy math problems…those we’ll take. But responding to thoughts that make us feel icky in the easiest way is usually not the healthiest. “Easy” in these cases often means numbing, distracting, or lying to ourselves.

How can we fight “easy”? We can learn to notice our negative automatic thoughts and challenge them. Let’s walk through it, using the example from my last post: say your boss is usually very friendly, but today she made eye contact with you and didn’t smile. Your brain immediately thinks, “She must think I did a horrible job on that project. I really suck at this job.”

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1.     Notice the negative thought.

We might be used to just having these self-deprecating thoughts and letting them slide, quickly moving on to the next thought. Challenge that. Really listen to the words you tell yourself about yourself. Write it down if you have to.

2.     Identify the cognitive distortion.

Rationally consider the negative thought you just had. Using the list of common cognitive distortions, see if your negative thought fits into one of these categories. When we’re thinking rationally, we can probably pretty quickly identify that our thought is definitely a “jumping to conclusions” scenario. We’re immediately assuming that our boss didn’t smile because she thinks we did a horrible job on our project, and we take that as proof that we suck at our job.

3.     Examine the evidence.

Ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support my negative thought?” So, you think you really suck at your job. What evidence do you have that you suck? Have you gotten fired from this job? (Answer: obviously not…you’re still a working employee there). Have you been told you’re doing a bad job? Have you gotten demoted? Look for concrete evidence to support your negative thought. Is it there?

A lot of times, it isn’t.

4.     Find evidence that contrasts with your negative thought.

Have you gotten promoted? Complimented on your work by your boss? Oftentimes we are totally bombarded with evidence that contrasts with the negative thoughts we have, but we choose not to accept them, or to some how justify them. “Yes my boss has complimented me, but that’s just how she is.” No!! We have to stop having thoughts like this. We have to accept the positive as quickly as we are willing to accept the negative.

5.     Tell yourself what you would tell a friend who had this thought.

Imagine it was your best friend who came to you with this story. If someone said to me, “Lindsey, my boss didn’t smile at me today. She probably thinks I did horribly on my project and am a really bad employee,” I’d be like “…what?!” But for some reason, if I have that thought myself, I’m like, “Yep, sounds about right.” It truly makes no sense. If we change our perspective and imagine what we’d tell a friend who had this thought, we’ll have an easier time taking our own advice.

To me, challenging negative thoughts is really just about thinking rationally. Not allowing ourselves to sink into cognitive distortions. It’s really taking the time to mindfully consider our thoughts and whether they come from rational, evidence-based thinking.

If this post is speaking to you, there’s a lot online about challenging negative thoughts! I like these links here and here – they’re worksheets intended to be used for therapy, and they’re filled with great questions you can ask yourself when you think a distressing negative thought.

Challenge your thoughts this week! I’m gonna do it too. Let’s see how it goes 🙂

Change Your Thoughts

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Out of all the things we have no control over in life, our brain isn’t one of them. No one knows 100% what we’re thinking – never have, never will. It’s actually kind of cool. We all have this secret space entirely to ourselves, where we can think whatever we want with no spectators, no punishment, no reward, no judgment, no boundaries. With endless ideas and concepts and room for growth and imagination, we can literally think about millions of things.

So it’s super cute that the things we often choose to think about are rooted in the same foundational concept: “I suck.”

I recently wrote an article for I AM THAT GIRL called, “When You’re Your Own Bully,” and today I want to get deeper into that topic. The article focuses on the negative thoughts we have about ourselves and the ways that these thoughts influence our lives. Negative thinking is a common struggle for lots of people, and dissecting that thinking is a typical practice in therapy.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is one of the most well-known and research-backed psychotherapy approaches. It focuses on the connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Each of these things influence each other – what we think affects how we feel, which then prompts particular behaviors. How we behave then affects how we feel, which shapes the way we think. 

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It makes sense, then, why it’s so crucial that we carefully manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They work together to create our mood and shape our quality of life. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, clients work with a therapist to identify their negative thought patterns and find ways to reframe those thoughts, encouraging healthier behaviors and comfortable emotions. 

The first step of recognizing negative thought patterns is becoming familiar with our automatic thoughts. After an event occurs, into our brain pops an automatic thought, so quickly that most of the time we don’t even stop to think about it. Automatic thoughts aren’t always bad, but for the sake of this blog post we are going to talk about negative automatic thoughts.

So for example, let’s say the event in question is that you come into work and your (usually friendly) boss makes eye contact with you but doesn’t smile. Immediately, the anxiety-prone will have an automatic thought: Oh shit, she’s mad at me. I did something wrong. You’re then left feeling worried, scared, or maybe even defensive.

These negative automatic thoughts are often not based in reality. They aren’t facts, and they aren’t supported by concrete evidence. They are often what psychotherapists call cognitive distortions, which are unrealistic ways of thinking that we are prone to when we’re stressed, depressed, or anxious.

I made a graphic to show four common cognitive distortions that my friends, my clients, and I tend to gravitate towards. If these ways of negative thinking don’t resonate with you, check out this list of some other common cognitive distortions (there are, unfortunately, plenty to choose from). 

 

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Learning about cognitive distortions is so important because it puts us back in the driver’s seat. If we learn to slow down, catch our negative automatic thoughts, and recognize them as cognitive distortions, we are putting ourselves back in control over our thoughts. Our negative thinking patterns can’t have power over us if we recognize our thoughts as exaggerated, fueled by anxiety, and based in nothing but assumptions.

Identifying cognitive distortions takes self-awareness and a whole lot of practice. And it’s not always easy – we can be really convincing when we tell ourselves all the reasons we suck and all the ways our lives are gonna be shitty forever. But by learning to recognize our go-to cognitive distortions, we are setting ourselves up to challenge those thoughts and replace them with healthy, positive, and rational ones.

In a future post, we’ll get into detail about challenging negative thoughts and cognitive distortions. For now, just practice noticing your automatic thoughts and whether they are negative or positive. Are your automatic thoughts cognitive distortions? What type? When do you notice distorted thinking coming into play – when you’re anxious? Depressed?

And hey, this week let’s try to tell ourselves that we don’t suck. Okay?

Thumbnail photo from Elizabeth Lies.