For the Love of All that is Good, Do Your Mental Health a Favor and JUST SAY NO.

DISCLAIMER: No, I’m not a representative of the once-implemented D.A.R.E. program. No, this post does not involve “saying no” to drugs of any kind. Although, I wouldn’t object to “saying no” to those as well.

To start, ALL PEOPLE PLEASERS PLEASE RAISE YOUR HAND. Y ’all can’t see behind the screen, but my hand is up; it’s up high. I was absolutely a “yes man.” I would immediately reply to a favor a friend would ask, any task that a coworker requested that I do, and anyone that needed to vent or talk with a “sure,” “yeah, no problem” or “mhm, I’ll make it work.” It was AUTOMATIC, no matter how much I already had on my plate.

I remember one night when I was in college, I had 2 tough exams the following morning (thank you very much, ochem and bio professors). In the afternoon, my lab supervisor randomly texted me to request that I stop into the lab for 2-3 hours. I guess someone had gotten sick and couldn’t help with the lab experiment that needed to happen that evening. Without thinking, “yep, sure” slipped out of my mouth, and I was suddenly changing directions from the library to lab. Finally, at about 8PM, I was on my way home to grab a bite to eat and head to the library. I received a phone call from a friend who was going through a breakup. “Do you have time to talk?” she asked. My reply? “Yep, I have a few minutes.” She bawled and bawled and bawled and finally two hours later I was off the phone. I wanted to be empathetic, an active listener and a good friend, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the exams I needed to study for. It was 11PM by the time I ate and got to the library. I finished my studying at about 4:30AM and was on my way home to get a few hours of sleep before my 8:50AM class. Feeling exhausted and drained was an understatement. I found myself in scenarios similar to these more often times than not.

The ONE FACE of a people pleaser. Photo extracted from Google Images. URL: https://2l90qdgid4-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/faces1.jpg

To me, the word “no” was off limits. It was forbidden. To even think about saying it felt shameful. I would be dragging myself through the day on four hours of sleep, sacrificing my study time, time with family, time with friends, and my time to do things that I enjoy because I was afraid that refusing a request would make me a terrible friend, terrible lab member, terrible student, terrible coworker or terrible person.

THEN.

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IT happened.

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Dramatic enough yet? Too much? Oh well.

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Tuesday morning in my therapy session, I had an epiphany. I learned that my needs and wants are important too. What do we get if we give all of our time away? Correct!! Absolutely no time at all. It’s really that simple. No time to enjoy ourselves. No time to take care of ourselves. No time to discover or be ourselves. We don’t get time to grow in our 20s, explore new hobbies, or check off items on our YOLO bucket list. We may be multiple people’s best friend or the Employee of the Month, but what does that matter if we’re tired, drained, exhausted, and unrecognizable looking in our own damn mirror. My therapist surprised me with a statement. She said, “you aren’t going out of your way to do all of these things for others without a reward. Your “people-pleaser reward” is that you feel like a good person and worth something. It’s not a completely unselfish act, so why not be selfish at times by doing things that you actually enjoy doing. You can learn who you are and improve your self-confidence and self-worth in this way.” I love her. I love her. I love her, I love her, I love her. For me and my experiences, she was spot on.

Does this mean we should always say no and only care about ourselves? Most definitely not. No. Nonononono. It means we need to work on setting healthy limits with our coworkers, friends, family, etc. It means that we need to pause for a minute when someone asks us for something, rationally assess how much we can take on at that time (emphasis on RATIONALLY), and proceed with our best interest in mind.

This is truly a game-changer. I mean, really. I was terrified to take more time for myself at first, but I’ve found that I’ve had more energy, been happier, more efficient, brighter, and have better focus and connection when spending time with my friends, family and at work. Learning how to take time for ourselves takes practice, assertiveness, and confidence, but it is so worth it.

My goal for the week is to continue to set healthy limits with friends and at work. I strive to do things for myself such as workout, meal prep, blog, read, and avoid being that one-eyed-one-horned-flying-purple-people-pleaser. No, I did not write this blog just so I could say that. However, I was most definitely not going to leave it out once the seed was planted. Hell, I even am making time to check things off my bucket list (going SKYDIVING May 4th!! Whoop, whoop!). While I know that this may feel uncomfortable at first, I know that this will give me time to try things on my bucket list, time to relax, and allow me to provide better focus, energy, and empathy when I am helping others.

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

Cognitive Restructuring: Self-Esteem, Self-Compassion, and Self-Worth

I’ll be completely honest (and biased). Cognitive restructuring (CR) is one of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE thought-adjusting techniques I’ve ever been taught. I now teach a CBT-informed (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) version of this to almost every teenage and tween patient struggling with depression and/or anxiety that I work with. Why? It’s so simple, so effective, and can be applied to literally any situation that life throws at us. It is a practice of being gentle to ourselves (aka self-compassion). Let’s face it. We are SO tough on ourselves as we strive to be the smartest, have the most friends, always do the right thing, have the most fun, be good enough for others, etc. … you name it. Let’s work on taking a break from this and allow us to be, well, human.

What about CR is helpful?

  1. It helps improve our awareness of shame triggers, negative self-talk, irrational, and depressive/anxious thoughts. Awareness is the first step toward improvement, and is arguably the most important part of this therapeutic practice.
  2. It teaches us how to gently stop our irrational/negative thoughts, so that we can switch to something more realistic. For the love of God please do not skip over this next sentence. This is NOT a harsh stop like a STOP sign that we didn’t see and have to slam on the breaks, skidding to avoid a ticket by the cop that is, of course, sitting right there. It’s more like a gentle tap on the back with the kind reminder of, “hey, go ahead and switch gears, my friend.”
  3. It allows us to practice self-compassion, realistic thinking, and non-judgmental observation … extra emphasis on the REALISTIC thinking.

I learned this method from my therapist about 6 months ago, and it sounds cheesy, but it literally changed my life. It changed the way I look at situations, the way I look at others, and the way I look at myself. It’s underrated.

I’ll be honest. I am incredibly skeptical when it comes to certain therapeutic methods. I research the hell out of them, and that’s how I decide whether I’m actually going to take the time to practice it. This one passed with flying colors. Like I said, I even started teaching it to a lot of kiddos on our unit, and I’ve gotten tons of positive feedback on it. One of the perfectionistic 16-year-old girls I was working with said, “Man. I wish people could learn this at birth. This would have been nice to know before middle school and high school.” Another, more challenging, young woman told me, “Ok, this actually doesn’t seem like it requires much energy. I’ll actually be motivated enough to use it.” Hey, whatever works! Last plug…  I was asked by the teens and some coworkers to create a program that I can lead at night that teaches this because they found it to be simple and effective. I’m all in and was excited to hear those responses.

Let’s get to the HOW TO. It’s only 3 steps, and I’ll give examples along the way.

1.Awareness

This is easier said and done. It’s actually the most challenging part of cognitive restructuring, because those of us with anxiety and depression are typically comfortable with and/or used to our negative, shameful, critical, depressive and anxious thoughts. It’s important to notice the situations and thoughts that come to mind.

  • Example A: Situation- I am in class and answer a question wrong. Thoughts- “Wow. I should have never raised my hand in the first place. This is so embarrassing. Everybody probably thinks I’m an idiot. I’m not doing that again.”
  • Example B: Situation- I see two people look at me and laugh. Thoughts- “I bet they’re saying something bad about me. I should _____ so that I’ll be better at ______.  I’m so embarrassed. They’re not going to like me now.”

Here are common thought distortions that may be beneficial for us to become aware of:

Picture obtained from Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/27092035242704448/?autologin=true

2. After noticing the thought, switch gears.

Pro Tip #1: Think of a cute little puppy or kitten just gently nudging you toward the self-care path 😊. Gentle. Subtle. Healing.

3. Replace this thought with something more kind, non-judgmental, and/or realistic.

Example A: “Nobody answers questions right 100% of the time. It was courageous that I stepped out of my comfort zone and challenged myself. I am learning and doing the best I can. I give myself permission to fail sometimes, just like I give myself permission to do well.”

Example B: “I don’t actually know that I’m being talked about. I notice that I am feeling insecure. I am learning to accept myself, and this is a shame-trigger I am working through. I can stand things that I don’t like. I can only control my reaction. I do my best to be a good friend. I am loved.”

Pro Tip #2: Sometimes coming up with alternative, realistic, self-compassionate thoughts can be challenging. I’ve noticed that using phrases like, “I am learning _____,” “I am working on _____,” and “this is a normal human experience,” tend to be applicable to many self-doubting situations. A simple google of “positive affirmations for ___insert situation here_” will provide tons of examples that may be useful or help get the creative juices flowing to think of more! This can be especially valuable for those that are new to CR.

The Science Behind CR

Taking the info sesh one step further with NEUROBIOLOGY . Ugh!!! Seeing this word makes me geek TF (urban dictionary definition= the f&%^) out. Seriously, my voice gets high, my heart starts racing, and once I start talking, I can’t stop. Don’t be alarmed, I’ll try for the sake of this post.

Generally speaking, our brains are plastic, flexible, changeable. Typically, when we have anxiety or depression, our “irrational” thought pathways in our brain are incredibly strong. Our amygdala, associated with strong emotions, is usually overactive, and our prefrontal cortex (PFC), associated with planning, decision-making, and higher order thought function, is typically underactive. When we start CR, it is a conscious practice where we actively need to replace our thoughts. Over time, as our brain is “rewired” and stronger pathways to the PFC develop, this practice becomes subconscious… a habit! The “irrational thinking pattern” pathways are weakened. Kinda sweet, huh? It takes awhile for this process to take place, but in the long run it can help reduce anxiety and depression, and increase self-worth and self-compassion. By no means do I think CR is the best, never-fail, only-thing-you-need technique. It’s just another practice to add to our “self-care toolbox.” I highly recommend giving it a try 😊.

Photo extracted from Google Images: https://sharpbrains.com/blog/2014/11/24/update-should-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-not-antidepressant-drugs-be-the-first-line-treatment-for-depression/

*I will link the studies that support what I’ve mentioned when I get back to work. I am currently vacationing and don’t have access to the academic library!

My goal this week is to continue practicing self-compassion and replacing my shame-triggering and irrational thoughts with kind, realistic and gentle words. I know I won’t be perfect at it, and I know it will take time and practice. I give myself the permission to fail at times, but I know my small efforts will add up to make a big difference.

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

Coping with Tough Days at Work; “I Tried My Best” is Good Enough

Just like everyone has experienced in any field, I’ve had some pretty freakin’ shitty days even at a job that I genuinely enjoy. These are the days where we feel like we can’t do anything right, where we receive negative comments from coworkers or maybe managers, where we look at the clock every two minutes hoping it is time to leave, or where we get on the computer to search “job opportunities for ______” because we’re upset, frustrated and “just want to work anywhere else but here.” It happens. It happens in every career, in every field, at every stage and at every age. Therefore, we need to find productive ways to cope with tough days at work. First, let’s change our perspective. We can look at the fact that this is going to happen throughout our lives in two ways. 1. This is how it is and each time it happens it’s just going to suck, or 2. This is an opportunity for growth and development within ourselves. Guess which one I’m continuing to work toward? YOU KNOW. Read on.

First off, I want to mention that #1 was my original coping method for the situation. I walked into my therapy appointment after a string of three challenging days on our unit. Quick context. I work at a child/adolescent inpatient psychiatric hospital. In this particular string of days, I had been caring for three 6- to 8-year-old children that were all at the unit for increased aggression at home and at school. I was told by a couple of coworkers that I handled two escalating situations poorly, I was having a difficult time helping these kiddos manage their anger, and the minutes on the clock felt like hours. I showed up to my appointment exhausted, hurting, and ashamed. Before my therapist could even ask how my day was, I burst into uncontrollable tears. I described my work week in detail which included my thoughts that maybe I wasn’t good enough for the job. Her response? “Did you do your best?” I looked at her in disbelief responding with, “what?” She kindly looked at me and repeated her question, “With your knowledge, resources, and experience, did you do what you were able to do today?” I knew exactly where she was going with this, and I think of this question every day that isn’t ideal. It’s simple. It’s easy. And it’s f&^%$in powerful.

As I stepped back, I realized that sometimes I get so wrapped up in what I need to do to be “perfect” at my job, what I need to do to be a “perfect” coworker, and what I need to do be a “perfect” role-model for the kids that I work with. I forget that I’m human. I forget that I’m still learning. I forget that I have the right to make mistakes.

On the topic of “negative comments from coworkers/managers,” I want others to think that I am doing a great job, but the truth is that I can’t satisfy everyone. It’s not possible. It’s not going to happen. People will continue to believe that they could handle a situation, stressor, assignment, presentation, etc. better than what we did. What we can work on remembering is that other people’s feelings and takes on the situation are theirs to cope with. It’s not our problem.

What we can do is remind ourselves that there is LITERALLY only so much time in a day. There is only so much we can do with the knowledge we have, training we receive, and resources available. Therefore, if we are able to answer yes at the end of the day to the question,“did you do your best with what you had?” that is good enough.

My goal this week is to practice self-compassion by answering this question when I have a rough day at work. It is a reminder that I am growing and learning. It is also a practice of paving my own path and practicing self-confidence without the need to compare myself to how others believe that I am doing. To me, that sounds much better than “just another shitty day.”  

Have a wonderful week,

Jen