Tag: relaxation

Are you feeling busy, distracted and exhausted? Even after the emotionally overwhelming year we’ve all just experienced, we haven’t slowed down and taken time for ourselves. Further, our society doesn’t value the practice of introspection, the observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes. Introspection, or self-reflection, is the willingness to recognize and determine your “old programming” that no longer serves you so that you can build new “programming.” How this can be done? With a calm mind to start.

How do I calm my mind?
Having a calm mind will allow you to concentrate and feel more relaxed. This practice will vary person to person, but here are some suggestions:

  • Take a few deep breaths; practice breath work
  • Stretch your body
  • Go for a walk; move your body
  • Journal, meditate, pray

How do I practice self-reflection?
When your mind is calm, allow yourself to draw inward and think deeply on the issue, emotion or memory at hand. To help, ask yourself:

  • What does this make me think?
  • How does it make me feel?
  • How does it hold me back?

It’s important not to judge yourself. Be honest with yourself so that you’re not tempted to imagine how you should feel. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper! You’re trying to access the root of the issue and you will most likely come across resistance. This is your ego/mind trying to protect you from uncomfortable and harmful emotions.

Additionally, you can ask yourself questions in order to get to know yourself better whether or not you’re currently working through an issue. Start with these:

  • What am I really scared of?
  • Am I holding on to something that I can let go of?
  • When did I last push passed my comfort zone?
  • What do I want most in life?
  • When was the last time I made someone smile?

Why should I practice self-reflection?
With self-reflection comes self-awareness. You’ll begin to see your thoughts, behaviors, emotions and reactions in real time as you experience them. You can determine which ones bother you, don’t serve you or harm you and learn to let them go. By slowing down, calming your mind, and asking yourself substantial questions to draw on old issues, you can then learn to shift your behaviors, thoughts and reactions to ones that better represent you, your values and beliefs.

The more you reflect, the easier you’ll be able to hold yourself accountable. This not only benefits you directly, but it also benefits those you surround yourself with. You may even inspire them to be more introspective!

What are benefits to introspection?
A self-aware person can expect myriad of benefits, but here are some that may be true for you:

  • Clarity
  • Self-control
  • Less stress and anxiety
  • Higher self-esteem and pride
  • Increased emotional intelligence
  • Easier time coping with challenges
  • Appropriate reactions to situations
  • Realize their potential and become more aligned

Remember, slowing down, calming your mind and regular self-reflection may come with resistance­­­­ from your mind, your family, even your job. Stay strong­­–this time is essential for your mental health. It’s okay to start small and always be gracious and patient with yourself. You’re in the process of changing how you think, feel, and behave. You’re changing your life!

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Now, more than ever, it’s important to be aware of your mental health. Rather than letting anxiety, stress or negativity overwhelm you, it’s best to stay present and minimize stress as much as possible.

There are many techniques that may help you process and reduce stress. While not every suggestion will work for every person, adopt what works best for you into your daily wellness routine.

Stress-reducing techniques:

  • Exercise: Physical activity can boost your immune system, help you feel good about yourself, increase your energy levels, alleviate stress, and help with sleep. There are numerous home workouts available online to try for free!
  • Meditate: Find some time every day to do even a few minutes of meditation. It helps calm the brain and make you feel more grounded and present.
  • Be informed: Uncertainty or misinformation can increase worry and cause panic. You can stay informed through official, fact-checked channels such as the CDC website or the World Health Organization’s website.
  • Don’t obsess over the negative: Sometimes too much information can lead to overload or more stress. Try to limit exposure to media outlets and make sure your information sources are reliable. Avoid reading before bed—it can increase anxiety or stress.
  • Pay attention to positive news: Despite this difficult time, there is often positive information in the daily news, online, and in social media. Find hope in these stories and share them with those who may need a boost.
  • Think positively: Recall how you and your loved ones overcame past hardships. Remind yourself that things are temporary, and the current situation will pass. Consider the current time as an opportunity to show more care to yourself and your loved ones.
  • Share thoughts/feelings with others: Talking about your thoughts and feelings can help alleviate stress. Others might share similar feelings and can help you process your emotions.
  • Check in with loved ones: Loved ones are often concerned about us and may try to protect us by not being fully truthful. If you are worried about loved ones, reach out to them frequently and lend a listening ear.
  • Learn to say “no”: Although sharing information and feelings can be helpful, it is also important to say “no” when you are uncomfortable. Respectfully set boundaries and leave conversations in an appropriate way.
  • Engage with others (from a safe distance): There is still life outside of the current crisis. Join in a virtual dinner party, video chat with friends or family, listen to music, or start a new hobby.
  • Do some relaxation: Plan some relaxation techniques or activities that you enjoy into your daily schedule. Read a book, enjoy a warm bath, meditate—anything that calms you or brings you joy.
  • Get outside: Go outside for walks! Fresh air and sunshine are excellent for boosting your mood. Get outside as much as you can if you are in an area where you can practice safe social and physical distancing from others.
  • Let it out: Sometimes expressing your emotions can be helpful. Try journaling, keeping a voice diary, or letting yourself be upset for a while. It’s important not to bottle up your emotions.

Remember, it’s not selfish to take care of yourself, it’s crucial to your wellbeing. A strong body and mind will help you to navigate through uncertain times.

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Health Scare Calls for Self Care

I recently had a health scare. While I am okay, my doctor has urged me to take better care of myself, in particular, carving out time for reducing stress...

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on January 16, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: I recently had a health scare. While I am okay, my doctor has urged me to take better care of myself, in particular, carving out time for reducing stress. I have been successful in making some changes to diet and increasing my exercise but I really struggle with finding ways to relax and unwind. I’m not the bubble bath taking or knitting type. I think a lot of people struggle with this so I hope my question is helpful to others as well: What activities can help me reduce stress?

Answer: 

I am glad you are okay.  Stress is a killer, and we all need to realize the immediate and lifelong need to take better care of ourselves.  You are already making positive changes and I hope that you keep moving forward with making diet and exercise changes. Small changes can lead to big improvement if you resolve to make it important.

Stress can be self-induced or can have external causes.  Self-induced stress can come from negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations. To illustrate this, think of a picture you may have in your head about how your day/life should be going.  When our reality doesn’t match that picture, we have stress.  External stress can be caused by others, events or circumstances for which we have little or no control.  During external stress, self-care is very important. Take some time to understand where your stress originates.  Understanding this can lead you to ways to manage it.  Here are some ways to reduce or manage stress for both mind and body: 

Vigorous vs calming activities:  Instead of bubble baths and knitting, how about tennis, biking or boxing (weather permitting, of course)?

Take mini breath breaks—Do this while sitting at a stop light, while waiting for the microwave to finish, or while having a quiet moment.  Relax your shoulders, and take in your breath deep into your diaphragm, three times or more.  Be careful that you are breathing deeply and slowly (causing your belly to move in and out); not at the top of your lungs.  These two ways of breathing stimulate the nervous system in different ways, and breathing low in your diaphragm triggers a relaxation response. Explore meditation skills to reduce stress. There are several helpful online resources.

Narrow your focus– If stressful events/tasks have you feeling anxious or worried, switch your focus to the here and now.  Here is an exercise to help illustrate this:  If you are drinking a coffee or tea, stop for a moment and feel the warmth of the mug in your hand.  Stop and recognize the aroma and  the taste on your tongue.  Breathe in deeply and take a moment of gratitude for the pleasure it brings.  Spending time being mindful of your coffee is so much better than suddenly finding it gone.

Get grounded—Grounding techniques can be helpful when things feel particularly out of control.  Stop and notice parts of your body that touch the chair, the floor.  Listen to the world around you and think about what you notice.  This is called “grounding” and can be incredibly calming.

Manage expectations and perfectionism—Work on accepting that you will never be perfect, or do things perfectly or have a perfect family; these expectations of yourself and others are not worth the risk of adding lethal stress to your life.  A good book is When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough by Martin M. Antony, PhD and Richard P. Swanson, MD.  Talking with a counselor can also help you with this.  

Schedule self-care – Your doctor asked you to “carve out time” to reduce stress.  You may have to schedule it.  I have co-workers who use their 10-minute breaks to walk the parking lot for exercise and a social connection.  We reduce stress by briefly escaping or by talking about it with someone who can help us process it. Lastly, many of us wear many hats and are really good at taking care of others.  This “health scare” is a signal it is time to care for YOU. 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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