Shonelle's Blog

How to Develop a Healthier Body Image

All bodies are not created equally. Even the most seemingly ‘perfect body’ has features that are not so perfect. Embrace the opportunity to love YOUR body. It’s the only one you’ve got!” – Shonelle George

 

The term body image refers to the mental picture an individual creates of their own body. Body image is not about how a person looks. It has to do with how a person feels about their appearance. For some of us, that mental picture may or may not align with the reality of our appearance. Thus, any misalignments in perception is called a distortion. Body image distortions occur based on several external and internal factors. External factors include: culture, our friends and families’ opinions, verbal, and non-verbal expressions about our physical appearance, and media’s portrayal of the perfect body. In addition, our lived experiences during critical developmental stages play a crucial role in the way we perceive our bodies from childhood to adulthood. Internal factors like negative emotions, mood, and thoughts of achieving the ideal body also create body image dissatisfaction.

Low self-esteem, preoccupation with appearance, depression, unhealthy body changes (rapid weight loss or gain), extreme exercise regimen, frequent use of muscle and performance-enhancing substances, and frequent cosmetic surgeries some mediating factors associated with body image dissatisfaction. A severe form of body image distortion is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which occurs when an individual becomes severely obsessed over minimal or unnoticeable imperfections in their appearance. Some eating disorders are also related to body dissatisfaction.

Body image distortions maintain body dissatisfaction, and healthy body image begins with acceptance. Here are some suggestions on how to develop a healthier body image by managing the way we think about our body:

  • Putting things into perspective. If social media becomes a trigger for your negative thoughts about your body, create boundaries by limiting your access. If snapping a selfie makes you feel worse about yourself, you may need to avoid engaging in this unhealthy behavioral pattern.
  • Challenge automatic negative thoughts. Develop more flexible ways of thinking about yourself. Know that our thinking affects our feelings, which affects our behavior. When we make room for negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to grow, they become so disruptive that they affect our daily functioning. Challenge those negative thoughts by replacing them with realistic or positive facts. Take time to identify the evidence to prove those beliefs as false.
  • Don’t solely focus on changing yourappearance. Body image distortions are not always about appearance. It is about the thoughts associated with the appearance. It is likely that, even if your physical appearance changes, your negative thoughts may remain. As a result, your body image dissatisfaction will continue to plague you. Therefore, working with a professional to explore ways to improve your perceptions about body image will likely reduce the negative impact on your daily life.
  • Embrace your imperfections. All bodies are not created equally. Even the most seemingly ‘perfect body’ has features that are not so perfect. Embrace the things about you that are not perfect. There is strength in loving yourself and your body, even if it is not perfect. If there are things you do not like about your body, there are healthy and positive ways to care for your body. Eating healthy and engaging in regular physical activity can support a healthy body from the inside-out.
  • Recongize that some things are not within your control, while others are. There are some aspects of our bodies that we may not be satisfied with or may want to change. Many of us can relate to this feeling. It is wise to take some time to identify and assess what precisely you wish to change about your body and how much control you have over those changes. For example, a person may not like being 5’ with a slender body type, but this is an aspect of your body that is not entirely within your control. It is helpful to understand this concept so that it guides your thinking about your body. It is also reasonable to have a desire to lose weight, primarily if weight loss is a healthy and necessary option to improve your overall health and wellness. Recognizing what is within your control versus what is not within your control can be helpful in guiding your efforts to make reasonable and healthy changes that could bolster satisfaction about your body.

 

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Coping with COVID: Distance Learning

“With the right support, parents/guardians can learn
how to create an environment that allows their children to thrive” – Shonelle George

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the normal functioning and activities within our daily lives. With the implementation of social distancing, the institution of remote learning programs, and homeschooling, the pandemic has triggered internally generated feelings of worry, fear, anxiety, helplessness, and the externally generated reality of uncertainty that contribute to growing cases of psychological distress. For many children, the pandemic has interrupted their ability to function normally. Social seclusion and feelings of loneliness have emerged as risk factors for developing depression and anxiety disorders (Karasmanaki & Tsantopoulos, 2021).

Researchers have found that individuals in quarantine have been experiencing negative emotions like stress, irritability, fear, frustration, boredom, confusion, anger and can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and insomnia (Loades et al., 2020). Coupled with the fear of infection, professional displacement or joblessness, limited access to medical care and medications, fear of uncertainty exacerbates already existing negative emotions (Loades et al., 2020). Younger children are more susceptible to mental health crises due to social distancing in comparison to adults (Deighton et al., 2019) and their life stressors and symptom markers for emotional or behavioral distress present as withdrawal, anxiousness, irritability, crankiness, appetite changes, muscle tension, nausea, and in younger children, clinginess, startling easily, excessive crying or tantrums, poor sleeping, or headaches (Weir, 2017).

Since children and teens are also adjusting to the new reality of spending more time at home and engaging in fewer social interactions with their peers, the stress of these changes can cause significant problems in their relationships, work productivity, and communication skills. Being cooped up in the house with few outlets to expel energy lends to increased instances of tantrums, irritability, and withdrawal (Karasmanaki & Tsantopoulos, 2021). In these instances, taking time to care for your child/ren’s emotional health is strongly encouraged.

The following strategies provide practical tools to help parents/guardians to support their children as they cope with distance learning during COVID 19:

 

  1. Check-in on their Feelings. Parents can practice asking questions like, how are you feeling today? What do you miss most about being in school? What can I do to support you today? Asking open-ended and close-ended questions allows your child the opportunity to reflect on how they feel and can provide helpful insight into how they are processing their emotions. Their responses will give you the access you need to support them. Remind them that they are loved.
  2. Be Flexible and Demonstrate more Understanding. It’s ok to be flexible. Allow your child to have breaks during the day, be a little more lenient when it comes to how and when they complete their assignments. If playing music helps them or being in a quiet space helps, make those accommodations for them. If you observe that your child is overwhelmed with school assignments, allow them time away from the task to refocus and then revisit the work with them when you are both in the right frame of mind to process the demands of the task. Exercise just a tad more understanding. Some children are still adjusting to the lack of in-person interaction with their teachers and peers and may not like virtual learning. Allowing your child some flexibility and demonstrating more understanding can help in their adjustment. Don’t be afraid to implement a plan that does work.
  3. Create Opportunities for Collaborative Activities/Family Fun. While teens may want to spend more time on their devices watching or making tik tok videos, DMing their friends, or playing video games, parents/guardians must create a healthy balance for teens. Collaborative activities aka family fun, like DIY projects, family dinners, playing board games, watching a movie or crafting, support their socioemotional development and creates an opportunity for family bonding.
  4. Integrate Deep Breathing Exercises in Daily Activities. The respiratory system comprises of a network of organs and tissues that help human beings to breathe. Taking deep breaths allows the body to exchange incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide. Taking slow deep breaths lowers or stabilizes blood pressure, reduces tension, and anxiety, particularly in stressful situations. Deep breathing also improves concentration and memory. By practicing slow, deep breathing, the mind will calm down, and the body begins to relax, returning to homeostasis (balance) (Dhabhar, 2011). Breathing enhances one’s capacity to manage stress. Incorporating breathing exercises into your child’s daily activities can calm and help them manage difficult emotions as they arise.
  5. Modify or Create a Routine. We have heard a lot of talk about establishing a routine and you may have tried this already and it worked for a bit, but you were unable to sustain it. It is ok to modify your routine. It is ok to try again. Routines create structure and make tasks at home more manageable. Have children get dressed for virtual school so that they can shift their mindset to a more structured model for learning. This will encourage more productivity. Include family breakfast, snack time and quiet time into the routine. Create a separate zone for work so that work stays in its area. This will send a message to your brain that work is over and will shift your thinking to areas outside of work. Most importantly, include some “me time” in the routine.
  6. Extracurricular and Physical Activities. Many businesses have been able to reopen with the implementation of COVID health practices. If you feel comfortable, enroll your child in an extracurricular activity to keep them active while learning a skill and developing discipline. This may provide some balance and bring some normalcy to their daily routine. If the activity has a physical component this can be extremely helpful for their physical and mental wellness. Physical activity has been known to reduce stress, increase mental and emotional wellness, and regulate body function (CDC, 2020). Some medical providers even consider exercise to be a useful adjunct (complement) to antidepressant medication. Simply put, exercise improves mood and holistic wellness. Exercise does not have to be intimidating. Walking in the park, jogging, lifting light weights, dancing to favorite song, yoga, and aerobics can support your family’s physical activity goals.

 

Distance learning during COVID is not easy. Parents/guardians are challenged by several environmental factors, including their work obligations, space, and resources to accommodate their child’s learning needs, internet bandwidth, and various complex fears. It is critical that parents become more attentive to changes in their child(ren) emotions and behavior. Spend time observing your child for behaviors that are not normal and present themselves for periods longer than one month. Maladaptive behaviors are often indicators of more serious challenges to wellness, in those cases, seek help from a professional. With the right support, parents/guardians can learn how to create an environment that allows their children to thrive.

 

References

Central for Disease Control. (2020). Physical Activity. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/index.html

Contrada, R. J. (2011). Stress, adaptation, and health. In R. J. Contrada & Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 1–9). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Deighton, J., Lereya, S., Casey, P., Patalay, P., Humphrey, N., & Wolpert, M. (2019). Prevalence of mental health problems in schools: Poverty and other risk factors among 28 000 adolescents in England. British Journal of Psychiatry, 215(3), 565-567. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2019.19

Dhabhar, F. S. (2011). Effects of stress on immune function: Implications for immunoprotection and immunopathology. In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 47–63). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Karasmanaki, E., & Tsantopoulos, G. (2021). Impacts of social distancing during COVID-19 pandemic on the daily life of forestry students. Children & Youth Services Review, 120, N.PAG. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105781

Loades, M. E. et al. (2020). Rapid Systematic Review: The Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents in the Context of COVID-19. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 59 (11), 1218 – 1239.e https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2020.05.009

Weir, K. (2017). Brighter futures for anxious kids. Monitor on Psychology, 48(3). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/03/anxious-kids

For telehealth Services: https://www.northeastpsychological.com/

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Exploring Creativity

Creating an outlet for self-expression allows you to

 stretch your thinking and broaden your worldviews.

Shonelle George

What makes an individual creative? The prevailing belief that creativity is just for gifted people who possess magical powers assigned from birth makes those who do not fall into this category predestined for doom.  Allow me to put this misconception to rest. Creativity literature offers a broader context that creativity is essentially an attitude (Ivcevic & Brackett, 2015). Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg adds some value to this narrative. In answering the initial question of what makes an individual creative, Sternberg suggests that creative people are:

  • non-conformists
  • consistently pay attention to their interests
  • driven by their creative pursuits
  • demonstrate a willingness to take risks and criticism for the benefit of enhancing their creative work (Sternberg et al., 2004).

Based on this notion, we are not doomed after all. Our ability to problem-solve and make decisions to improve the quality of something makes us creative. Simply put, creativity is not only limited to artistic abilities. The psychology of creativity is centered on the development of problem solving and decision making skills.

Beghetto and Kaufman (2007) argue that creativity can be connected possessing an intrinsic motivation to complete a task. Most creative people love what they do and demonstrate a great deal of passion for the work. While it is not always easy to find what you love to do, it is essential to explore until you find the thing, activity, person, or interest you enjoy. Creative people love what they do, and because of this love, they bring into their spaces of influence:

  • more innovation
  • stronger problem-solving skills
  • decision-making abilities.

Creativity can influence the decisions we make and the solutions we offer to problems we encounter (Sternberg et al., 2004). So, what are ways that we can foster and enhance our creativity:

  1. Grant access for self-expression. Journaling, painting, drawing, building projects are all practical ways for self-expression while fostering creativity. Sometimes we do not have the words to explain how we feel, yet a “picture is worth a thousand words.” Children adapt their creativity in a way that sometimes makes it difficult to identify; this is primarily due to their bottom-up processing. Children have fewer preconceived notions; they see things as they are. This requires caregivers to create opportunities to engage children by providing more outlets for self-expression. Art and dance are therapeutic for children providing them a safe space to express their feelings. It is never too late for adults to engage in self-expression through art, music, dance, and food. Our self-expressions can be divergent; you do not always have to agree. Embrace different opinions, engage in conversations that challenge your thinking, allow you to unpack your privilege and biases, and embrace your truth.

 

  1. Engage in things you love. When we love something, we often make more investments in that thing. Creativity produces favorable outcomes when passion is present; thus, for the individual who wants to enhance their creativity, love cannot be neglected from the process. Engage in positive and healthy activities that grow you and build your self-worth. When we understand our worth, we are less likely to allow others to victimize, disempower, and devalue our sense of self. Love empowers, liberates, and grants us the freedom to explore who we are and how we choose to express our creativity.

 

  1. Nourishing your creativity. Internal conditions (self-concept) influence our ability to think creatively. Accepting ourselves as worthy, valued, important, and loved, we send self-acceptance and optimism messages to our brains. Therefore, when we experience threats (stressors) to our wellness, we can exercise more constructive and effective ways to problem-solve. The ability to practice positive self-talk and self-acceptance may contribute to good health and increased creativity. Similarly, spending time in circles or spaces with people who demonstrate empathy and are non-judgmental creates an avenue for increased productivity and creativity.

 

  1. Develop your mental process. Playing board games and solving puzzles are practical tools that help to improve cognitive processing and problem-solving skills. Substantial cognitive processing is evident in foresight. So rearranging one’s schedule to control for inefficiency demonstrates one’s ability to think critically about oneself. People who are short-sighted in their self-judgments and perceptions of abilities create roadblocks to problem-solving. The act of exercising creativity involves being able to have a greater understanding of problems and how to develop solutions that work.

 

  1. Foresight. Foresight helps us to create long-term and sustainable solutions, and involving others in the process, makes problem-solving more attainable. In a study on spatial narratives as a framework for augmenting creativity in foresight-based learning systems, researchers found that participants who demonstrate creativity possess a great deal of foresight that supports holistic learning and helps gain greater motivation, engagement, and performance (Woodgate, 2019). This means creative individuals take time to think ahead, foresee threats, and create a strategic plan to address challenges when they arise. Adults should engage children in real-life problem solving and decision making. For example, if your child says that no one wants to play with him/her at the playground. How might you engage this child in problem-solving? First, begin by affirming the child then ask for suggestions of what the child might do; this will grant the child an opportunity to explore various solutions. Thus, with support from you, the child will engage in critical thinking and problem-solving, which are byproducts of creativity.

 

  1. Create an environment that fosters creativity. Empirical research into the environmental determinants of creativity explores the importance of family background and climate, parenting style, models and ideals, games, and access to childhood opportunities (Peter-Szarka, 2012). Therefore, home environments must celebrate innovation and creativity. Simple activities like:

 

  • covering the walls with chalk paint
  • painting and drawing
  • sculpting an image
  • writing your feelings on sticky notes to post in your daily emotional check-ins
  • using calming colors (pastels yellow and green) around the house, foster an environment of creativity.

“I believe creativity is part of what it means to be human. We all have it. Most of us need to fulfill more of it.” —Mark Runco, E. Paul Torrance Professor of Creativity Studies, University of Georgia

 

 

References

Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman J. C. (2007). Toward a broader conception of creativity: A case for “mini-c” creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(2), 73–79. https://doi.org/10.1037/1931-3896.1.2.73

Ivcevic, Z., & Brackett, M. A. (2015). Predicting creativity: Interactive effects of openness to experience and emotion regulation ability. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(4), 480–487.  https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039826

Peter-Szarka, S. (2012). Creative Climate as a Means to Promote Creativity in the Classroom. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 10(3), 1011–1034.

Sternberg, R. J., Grigorenko, E. L., & Singer, J. L. (Eds.) (2004). Creativity: From potential to realization. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Woodgate, D. (2019). Immersive spatial narratives as a framework for augmenting creativity in foresight-based learning systems. On the Horizon, 27(2), 57–71.

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Kids Have Emotions Too

Our girls are successful because we make it our priority to be aware.
They demand our attention and love, especially in moments of uncertainty
Because they have emotions too Shonelle George

My daughter has not had the best digestive record. During this particular week, she did not drink as much water as I would have liked her to. Nor did she eat the fruit options I intentionally placed in her school lunchbox. Those fruits returned home uneaten and eventually found their residence in the trash. Would all the moms with picky eaters stand up!!!! Yup! I see you, sister mommies. I feel your agony, and most of all, I can relate to the stress associated with preparing great meals only to be met with “I want pizza for dinner.”

Being a picky eater comes with digestive issues like constipation. Starchy foods have no respect for your digestive system. Bread and rice have positioned themselves as my daughter’s bff. But they are not good for her tummy. Yet, she continues to keep company with them. During breakfast, for snack, and most frequently for dinner.

When she turned five, I began teaching her how to listen to her body. I told her to pay attention when her body does not operate normally. Our bodies belong to us, and very often, girls are not taught how to learn the intricacies of their bodies. The earlier we begin to teach them this level of self-agency, the more in tune they will become. Listening to her body allows her to notice when things are not functioning well; thus, empowering her to clearly articulate issues that may present themselves.

On this particular day, she had a bowel movement (BM) and as I was walking into the bathroom, she quickly reported that it was “not good.” Of course, I immediately rushed to look, and indeed it was not good, “it’s horrible I yelled.” What have I been telling you? You need more water and you need to drink those smoothies I make for you. You just don’t listen when I talk to you.”
In dismay, she bowed her tiny head and whispered under her 5-year-old breath, “that was insensitive.”

Wow!!! Talk about being put in my place. I felt crappy. I guess that mother of the year award was not going to happen.

As I reflect on this situation, I can’t help but think that my girl felt defeated even before I walked into that bathroom. She was fully aware that she had an issue and felt poorly about it. As her mom, it was my job to be aware and in  touch with her emotions because at that moment, she did not need my criticism. What she needed most was:

1. Comfort. It was my job to let her know that it was ok, and all was not lost. It was my job to tell her that she was not a disappointment or failure. At that moment, she needed me to remind her that tomorrow was available to restart. She needed to know that I could comfort her. Mommies, take a moment to reflect on some comforting things you can do
and say when your child expresses heavy emotions.

2. Loved on and hugged. That was a perfect moment for a hug. Present studies have determined that physical touch, like hugs, from people we love, activates the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is a “feel goo” hormone that sends messages to our brains when expressing feelings of happiness or pleasure. A hug is a form of physical touch that tells someone they are safe. As moms or caregivers, we want our daughters to know that regardless of how distressing a situation may be, they will always find safety in our hugs. Regardless of what mistakes they make, they will always be loved. They need to hear and feel this from us. Take a moment to reflect have you hugged your child
today?

3. Affirmation. At that moment, her feelings and fears were legitimate. She needed affirmation. She needed to hear that she was not facing this challenge alone and together, we would figure out a solution. She needed to hear how valuable she was, using words like, “I love you, we will get through this together, tomorrow will be a better day.”
Our words of affirmation produce positive reinforcement. Affirming her feelings with positive words will create a favorable outcome or response, thus strengthening her ability to feel less defeated when she does not believe she has lived up to her parents expectations (Scott et al., 2020).

4. Supportive Counsel. As her mom, I am responsible for providing guidance and support. It is my job to help her through difficult situations. A more helpful and supportive response offers her a chance to explore alternate options. Criticism is defeating, but support is empowering.

Regardless of what situations we encounter as parents, it is essential to remember that our girls thrive when we validate their feelings and emotions. They are successful because we make it our priority to be aware of what bothers, annoys, and distresses them. They succeed when we support, affirm, and love on them through challenges, disappointments, and mistakes. Our girls demand that we listen to them because they too have emotions.

 

References

Scott, H. K., Jain, A., & Cogburn, M. (2020). Behavior Modification. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29083709/

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What Are You Carrying?

Sharing how you feel with others is like unloading boxes

filled with bricks, you have been carrying all week.

Removing the weight of that heavy emotion

frees you and gives you hope – Shonelle George

 

As human beings, we carry stressors that add to the physical weight of the things we are already juggling. The psychological and emotional weight of loneliness, childhood trauma, anxiety, depression, and hurt weighs on our well-being, often activating our stress receptors (Dhabhar, 2011). These stressors become a threat to homeostasis (balance between psychological and physical processes) and trigger internal and external forces in a fight or flight response (Chovatiya & Medzhitov, 2014). Once those stressors are unleashed and left unmanaged, they counteract the body’s healthy physiologic and behavioral processes responsible for developing optimal functionality.

Our bodies become storehouses for unresolved and dysregulated emotions.  When left unaddressed, these emotions can become toxic, chipping away at our physical and emotional stability. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has triggered internally generated feelings of worry, fear, externally generated realities of uncertainty, and helplessness that unfortunately contribute to the growing psychological distress cases. The emotions we now carry due to this pandemic weight more than our bodies can handle. For many of us, the weight of our stress has become too burdensome to carry.

During these difficult times, it is essential to remember that our emotions matter and we are not alone. The following coping strategies provide practical steps to lessen the emotional weights we have been carrying:

  1. Self-Care. Two simple words that can profoundly transform our health. The concept of self-care intentionally requires us to put ourselves first. This can be difficult for those who are natural caregivers and nurtures. For the mother who has just given birth to a baby, or the person caring for a sick family member, putting oneself first seems selfish and impossible. However, the concept of self-care is the ability to find space within our daily activities to bring our bodies and minds back into balance. The weight of our responsibilities generates heavy loads for us to carry. Self-care activities help to reduce stress. It does not have to be extravagant or costly. Simple things like:
    1. reading your favorite book, diffusing calming essential oils
    2. with your feet elevated in a cozy spot, sipping on a drink of your choice,
    3. watching your favorite tv show or listening to music (uninterrupted),
    4. taking a bubble bath or extended shower (add scented candles for effect),
    5. getting a Mani/Pedi (try a different color), or a massage
    6. ordering in from your favorite restaurant

Your self-care activity is about spending intentional and uninterrupted time doing something that helps YOU care for YOU.

  1. Social Support. Social support during these times can be challenging. Thankfully, technology allows us to connect with the people who love and care about us. Perhaps scheduling a google hangout game night, Netflix watch party, Facetime, or Zoom call (for those dealing with zoom fatigue– this can be counterproductive so make it as light and non-threatening as possible) with positive friends and family will help stay connected while having fun. Any contact with cheerful and fun-loving supporters can boost your spirits and create the social engagement you need to improve your mood. Talking to someone you can trust, who loves and cares for you will also help you through difficult days. Social distancing should not be social disconnection. Scrolling through social networking sites is not the most helpful either; this can become depressing, distracting, and anxiety-producing. Monitor your exposure and focus on people who are positive and add value to your life. Connection with others allows us to thrive even in challenging times.

 

  1. Positive Thinking and Positive Self-talk. Our thoughts have power and give life to how we handle the stressors we carry. While we need to take time to process the realities of uncomfortable situations, staying too long in a place of negative thoughts paralyzes our ability to escape from the damage negative thinking creates. Positive thinking and positive self-talk provide liberation from those internal and external irrational and negative thinking. When you practice positive affirmations, they help improve self-confidence, self-efficacy and lowers blood pressure. Used as a stress management tool, positive self-talk, has been shown to lessen feelings of distress, negative thought patterns, and improve coping skills. Positive thinking and positive self-talk exercises include:
    1. posting your favorite quote in an area that is visible throughout the day
    2. repeating affirmations particularly when negative thoughts and emotions flood our minds
    3. taking time to laugh (watching or reading comedy)
    4. being kind and gentle to yourself
    5. reconnecting to our faith and spiritual sources of empowerment

 

In situations where you typically respond negatively, think about the positives and speak those positives affirmations out loud. You can say things like,

  • I capable
  • I am beautiful
  • I will get through this
  • This is hard but I have been able to survive before; I can do it again

Think of some more affirmations and write them down; when challenging situations arise, say them aloud and let them circulate in the atmosphere. Remember, positive thinking and self-talk give life and lessen the burdens of the weights we carry.

  1. Breathe. The respiratory system is comprised of a network of organs and tissues that help us to breathe. Taking deep breaths allows your body to exchange incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide. Taking slow deep breaths lowers or stabilizes blood pressure, reduces tension, and anxiety, particularly in stressful situations. Deep breathing also improves concentration and memory. By practicing slow, deep breathing, your mind will calm down, and your body begins to relax, returning you to homeostasis (balance). Paced diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing is one of the easiest ways to produce a relaxation response, optimize breathing, and improve heart rhythm. Breathing enhances our capacity to manage stress. Here are some tips for practicing deep breathing:

 

  1. Find a comfortable place
  2. You can opt to play soft relaxing music in the background (but not necessary)
  3. Breathe in through your nose, allowing your body to fill up with air
  4. Breathe out through your nose
  5. As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower
  6. Visualize yourself breathing in a stressful situation
  7. Breathing out the stress while allowing yourself to let go of the things that weigh you down.

Breathing allows you to regain control. While there are some things and situations you did not have control of before. In this present moment, let your breath take control. Breathe in and allow your body to breathe out the stress, exhaustion, anger, hurt, pain, sadness. Focus on centering your thoughts on positive thinking. Regain control through your breath. Let the rhythm of your breath soothe you, ground you, affirm you, support you, and empower you. Stop now and breathe.

  1. Exercise/Physical Activity. Physical activity is a preventative measure used to decrease the development of premature diseases. Physical activity reduces stress, increases mental and emotional wellness, and regulates body function. The center for disease control (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic and anaerobic activity per week to lower the risk for diseases (CDC, 2020). Some medical providers even consider exercise to be a useful adjunct (complement) to antidepressant medication. With some level of supervision, both aerobic and anaerobic exercises can produce a good antidepressant response after some time. Simply put, exercise improves mood and holistic wellness. Exercise does not have to be intimidating. Walking in the park, jogging, lifting light weights, dancing to your favorite song (on repeat) can support your physical activity goals.

 

  1. Watch What you Eat. Your food habits impact your health and wellness. Foods high in sugars and carbohydrates make you sluggish and tired. Introduce healthier options into your meal planning. Foods rich in fiber, protein, and daily consumption of vitamins work to improve your energy and digestion. Consider replacing high carb foods with green and purple leafy vegetables. Drink lots of water, it is recommended that you drink half of your body weight in ounces per day (I know, insane right! But it works). Staying hydrated improves your body’s ability to function by flushing out toxins. Eating healthy also boosts your immune system and aids in disease prevention. You can snack but avoid options that are processed, high in sodium, sugary, and high in fructose corn syrup. Talk with your health care provider about healthy food options and vitamins that support immunity defense.

 

  1. New Day, New Skill. It is time to bring your creativity to the surface. That hidden talent you have kept locked away! It’s time to unleash it. That’s righ! Participating in skill-building and talent enhancing activities support holistic wellness and lower stress. Do it yourself (DIY) projects, baking, sewing, knitting, decorating, and space remodeling will help to keep you active. Harvard University has been offering free online courses, this may be the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill or trade.

 

  1. Reach Out for Help. Some emotional burdens cannot be managed on our own. If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness, sadness, grief, anger, distress, or unhealthy thoughts, please reach out for help. The following resources are here for you. Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of you being able to complete your daily activities. Free and confidential resourcescan also help you or a loved one connect with a skilled, trained counselor in your area.

So, as you reflect on the things you are carrying, remember, the healthiest you is the best you.  Allow yourself to carry healthy emotions, coping skills, and a positive outlook. As you look around, know that many of us are facing similar challenges, you are not alone. Your self-care does not have to happen in isolation. You can care for yourself while you are being cared for and supported. You can also care for yourself while helping others. The gift of self-care (yes it is a gift for those who have genuinely experienced it) is also a reflection of communal care, in that, we care for ourselves while caring for others and vise versa. Because together we will survive this!

 

For additional resources:

Find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health

 Want to find out your stress levels? Take this short self-evaluation. Find the Holmes- Rahe Stress Inventory by clicking here: https://www.stress.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/stress-inventory-1.pdf

 

References

Central for Disease Control. Physical Activity. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/index.html

Chovatiya, R., & Medzhitov, R. (2014). Stress, inflammation, and defense of homeostasis. Molecular cell, 54(2), 281–288. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molcel.2014.03.030

Dhabhar, F. S. (2011). Effects of stress on immune function: Implications for immunoprotection and immunopathology. In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 47–63). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Gold, P. W. (2015). The organization of the stress system and its dysregulation in depressive illness. Molecular Psychiatry, 20(1), 32–47. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2014.163

Harvard University Free online Courses https://online-learning.harvard.edu/catalog/free

 

 

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