Right now with the COVID-19 Health Crisis, the weight of uncertainty and fear is understandably taking a toll on the world’s mental health. For many of us, we’re dealing with the first pandemic in our lives and nation. It’s scary to look to leaders who don’t have concrete answers. It’s scary for children to look to parents and teachers with no concrete answers. Not having answers is downright scary.
As a therapist, parent, empath, and someone who vacillates from reasonable and emotion mind pretty quickly, I’ve sat and contemplated on how to approach this with myself (first), my clients, my child, parent and community. For now, this is what I’ve settled on:
- Validation of your emotions – whichever emotion you are feeling, take time to sit, feel it (them if more than one – which is totally normal), honor it and know that a rush of emotions is completely normal for a crisis of this magnitude. Anxiety is a normal emotion. We need it. It alerts us to danger and threat.
- Accept the present moment exactly how it is. How? You state the facts about the present moment. “We are indeed experiencing a health crisis for a new virus we don’t know a whole lot about.”
- Accept the uncertainty of the situation, knowing that we might have a lot more questions than answers right now and we are all making it up as we go.
- Focus on regulating your nervous system. We can’t problem solve, our organs don’t function properly, and critical thinking goes out the window with an overactive nervous system. You might be finding yourself catastrophizing situations, or feeling nervous energy in your body. For me, my thoughts were calm, but I noticed that I was talking and moving very fast, and agitation throughout my body. My brain is definitely trying to hold it together for my child, clients, staff and family, but my body feels it and and it’s reacting. The more steps and exercises we can engage in to calm and regulate the nervous system, the clearer our answers and problem solving will be. To help with this, I’ve come up with a Coloring Book titled “Coloring with Uncertainty, Fear & Regulation.” It’s a free pdf download that you can access here. No strings attached. More details about it below.
- Problem solve anything that’s solvable or workable. Right now we’re all trying to problem solve the big inconveniences in our lives, how to work and maintain connection via social distancing, and adapt to this moment. Once our nervous system is regulated, we can make better decisions. We can logically think of all the things we might need, make a list and execute (and even creatively replace and modify as needed). For example, all the people who bought toilet paper instead of food? Or generators instead of basic food supplies. Or cases of water bottles instead of Brita water filters. When we are in panic mode, our answers or solutions don’t make sense. Regulate your nervous system before reacting.
- Lastly, repeat steps 1-5 as needed or when starting to feel anxious.
I strongly encourage each of you to come up with a list of things that help regulate your nervous system. Keep that list at eye level where you can see it when you’re feeling nervous, anxious or that agitated energy in your body.
I’ve added tips, mantras and different simple exercises you can do quickly (and for free) to help with regulating your nervous system. Download the “Coloring with Uncertainty, Fear & Regulation” for you and/or your loved ones. See below for sample pages. Now, it’s available in Spanish here.
May you and your loved ones all be well, safe and without harm.
Dear DACA recipients,
I want you to know that you’re not alone. There’s an entire group of community and people who are behind you, advocating for you, praying for you and fighting to change the laws that keep you in fear of your future. As a mental health professional, my heart is with you. I was a part of a movement with www.latinxtherapy.com as a therapist who volunteered time for non-clinical coping sessions with DACA recipients who were in need of a coping session. I created this Mental Health Coping Guide as a larger effort on my part, to disseminate the skills I discussed in those sessions with folks. Feel free to download the full size DACA Mental Health Coping Guide PDF 8.5×11 and print for you to have or to give out to others who might need it. Please feel free to share it on social media to destigmatize mental health and shed light on all the support that’s needed for this cause.
The skills referenced were pulled heavily from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Trauma informed interventions.
Please note that this post is strictly for ideas and does not replace medical and professional help. I strongly encourage that you engage in therapy or speak with their medical professional about any of these ideas. If you find yourself in a medical emergency where you or a loved one is a danger to themselves or others, you are strongly urged to call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency room. The National Suicide Hotline number is: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In Los Angeles County, you can also call the Department of Mental Health’s Psychiatric Mobile Response Team – Access Hotline at 1-800-854-7771.
A few weeks ago a colleague and I bonded over discussing Rumi, the 13th Century Persian Poet-Scholar. She has been studying Rumi with members of her Persian community and I have been introduced to his writings and poetry through my personal study on Acceptance and Healing. We (and millions of others) were drawn to Rumi’s words and poems because he captures the essence of emotions through several written gems. I call them gems because when I read them, they illuminate an experience in me that perhaps has been hiding under denial, pain, or masked by other emotions. Uncovering pain is also a gem to me because it highlights how much someone cares and how much their values mean to them.
Earlier this week, she lent me the book, “Silent Words” with hundreds of pages of poems and pieces by Rumi. I flipped through a few pages and found the following gem. “Fearfully, I was stealing from my own gold.” In the poem, Rumi is expressing his experience with doubting his wise friend and spiritual instructor, Shams. By doubting and challenging his wisdom, Rumi says, “Fearfully, I was stealing from my own gold.” It’s that cringe-worthy memory that shows up any time you realize, “‘so and so’ told me this would happen. ‘So and so’ was so right about this and I didn’t listen. The doctors told me this would happen, etc, etc.” I’m sure we could come up with hundreds of scenarios that get triggered by this gem. “Fearfully, I was stealing from my own gold.” I swear, the more times I say it and write it out, the more powerful it becomes. To me, this message and gem is about Self-Sabotage and how at times, we create barriers for the life we want to live.
I define Self-Sabotage as engaging in behaviors or thoughts that move us away from our goals, values, happiness, progress and ultimately, well-being. Giving in to negative thoughts and core beliefs also contribute greatly to Self-Sabotage. What’s important to know about giving in to deeply ingrained negative thoughts and core beliefs is that more times often than not, they are wildly inaccurate. We might have adopted a negative self view of ourselves as children or other painful experiences in which we might not have had a complete perspective, control, or facts and we internalize them as an absolute truth. Giving in to those thoughts and core beliefs takes away from our happiness. It’s stealing from our own gold!
Self-Sabotage and “stealing from your own gold” is also behavioral. For me, it entails those times in which I overeat in an unhealthy way. It entails crossing my own boundaries, such as overworking, over-committing, procrastination, or convincing myself that I don’t need exercise or a day off. I think any fellow workaholic can relate to this.
For others it might be not following a medication regimen, skipping out on doctor appointments, not meeting deadlines, or poor work performance. It means doing things that get in the way of self-care, progress or happiness.
The role of self-sabotage in relationships can be significant. It might look like an inability in trusting others (who are safe to trust), engaging in inappropriate, unbalanced or unhealthy relationships, having unhealthy boundaries, or even avoiding connections.
Stealing from your own gold also encompasses suppressing or over acting on emotions in an ineffective way, which can cause problems in your work, school, or home life. This might look like yelling or lashing out in the workplace; threatening others; not asking for help; or having unfair expectations of others — including loved ones co-workers, teachers, or the general public. Engaging in such behaviors can cause problems for us in reaching our goals. It can impede 1) having a good relationship with our child’s teacher; 2) being evaluated well in our performance evaluations; 3) having a serene home environment.
One of my favorite sources of research and inspiration is this little cataloging website called Pinterest.com. When I did a search for self-sabotage it pulled up an overwhelming selection of quotes and messages. Among the best in describing self-sabotage were:
- “Don’t stand in your own way.”
- “Get off your but.”
- “Self-sabotage is about wanting something so bad and making sure it doesn’t happen.”
- “She didn’t know who would leave or stay. So she pushed them all away.”
- “I’m afraid of what I’m doing to myself, but I can’t seem to stop.”
- “Stop hurting yourself because you are angry at someone else.”
- “Do not sabotage your new relationship with your old relationship’s poison.”
- “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Impressive and overwhelming list of quotes right? I know. They resonate with a feeling of dis-control that’s linked to hurtful experiences, and actions that we engaged in. I know.
So what do we do about self-sabotage? Below is a list of different recommendations and techniques that I have found to be extremely helpful in identifying self-sabotage and chipping away at it. By no means do I think that these are easy tasks. You should know that it can be a painful process in the beginning, especially if hurtful memories or trauma comes up for you. And some days might be better than others for you to be able to turn your cycle in the opposite direction. However, please don’t underestimate yourself and your capacity for self-kindness and resilience. (*I also want to be clear that I recognize the role of systemic and societal barriers on our psychology and negative thought process. That conversation, however, is a much more complicated topic and post that, well, yes, I will have to write in the future. You have my word.)
- Recognize and acknowledge your self-sabotaging thoughts or behavior. This is a pivotal first step in making a change. Identify your behavior that is getting in the way of a goal you have for yourself.
- Observe the negative thoughts that are going through your mind. You can write them down if you want. Think about those one-liners that go through your mind as soon as you decide to go in the direction AWAY from your goal. What are you saying to yourself, about yourself, about others, the situation, the future?
- Challenge or evaluate these specific, situational thoughts. Think of evidence for and against it. Is there a more positive way in which you can think of this? Are you taking into consideration ALL perspectives? Are you being unfair with yourself? What would you be saying to yourself if you were being kinder? Or better, what would you tell someone close and who you love if they were in your shoes? Is the thought related to a fact? If it is, evaluate how HELPFUL or USEFUL the this thought or fact is in your life? Just because it might be true, does not mean you have to adopt it and live your life according to it. Write the new, more positive, true and feel-good thoughts on a card, write in on your Notes app, or take a picture of it and look at it repeatedly for daily reminders. Make a pinterest board out of them (I swear, I’m not affiliated or get paid by Pinterest).
- Make a commitment to doing one thing, one action that’s in the direction of your goal. Even if it’s small. In fact, the smaller, the better because it’s more likely to be attainable.
These are small, yet meaningful steps that you can take to break the cycle of self-sabotage. If you’re finding yourself having a difficult time following these steps, go ahead and google ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ (or go to www.academyofct.org), or even on Amazon. There are tons of amazing self-help books on changing thoughts, feelings and behaviors — all related to defeating self-sabotage and negative thinking.
I think it’s only fair that I also share with your some quotes from Pinterest that to me, help with reversing the Cycle of Self-sabotage. Among my favorites are:
- “Slay your stress monster”
- “When you let go, we create space for better things to enter your life.”
- “I will not feel deprived when I bypass junk food, I will feel empowered that I made a healthy choice”
- “Remember that you are doing the best you can in THIS moment.”
- “You are worthy, You are worthy of love, happiness and your own forgiveness.”
Feel free to follow me on Instagram @mendingrootstherapy for inspirational quotes and other musings on mental health and wellness.
Lastly, if you would like a free 15 minute consultation to discuss your situation and if you would benefit from individual therapy, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.