The Coping Kete

No. 142: The No Sandwich

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…
…I will practice being assertive by using ‘the no sandwich’ in my daily life when I find myself wanting to say ‘No’ to something I have been asked.

The No Sandwich involves saying ‘No’ as the middle part of a three-statement sandwich: Empathy Statement + No I Can’t + Empathy Statement. Saying no this way tells the person, I understand what you need and it does matter to me, even though I cannot do what is being asked, I feel for your situation and our relationship is important to me. This is a useful way of saying no without offending people.

This week, I will practice the No Sandwich in the times I would ordinarily say no to something day-to-day and non-emotional, like if I am offered a food or beverage I don’t want at the time or asked to go out when I am not free. I will use these unemotional situations to practice the technique.

The No Sandwich Goes Like This…

  1. A positive or empathy statement about what has been asked or why it has been asked. E.G. “That sounds like it could be fun” or “I can totally relate to being so busy you can’t get it all done yourself, it is so stressful, I’m kind of in the same boat.”
  2. I’m sorry, no I can’t… E.G. “I’m sorry, no I can’t go out tonight.” or “I’m sorry, no I can’t pick up that extra work at the moment.”
  3. A second positive or empathy statement. E.G “I hope you enjoy yourself though.” or “I hope you are able to find some way to ease the pressure soon.” 
 Practicing the No Sandwich on day-to-day things might help me get my own needs met more, manage my time and deal with the demands of saying ‘no’ without having to worry about causing anyone offense. If someone does not accept my No Sandwich, I will offer them another one.
Part of saying no, involves knowing what we do and do not want and accepting those wants and needs as valid. We all have different levels of awareness of our own needs, so part of this week might also involve noticing my own needs and how I respond to them, such as whether I usually tend to put them aside to please others or not. I might start the week by making a list of things I know I need this week, like time to sleep, prepare and eat food, do my work or study tasks, house-work and family time, friends time and alone-time, so I know where my boundaries are on the day-to-day stuff from the start.
When I am comfortable using the No Sandwich to say ‘no’ in ordinary day-to-day situations, I will add The No Sandwich to my Personal Coping Kete  as a way of expressing myself during times of stress and distress, when others may be crossing my personal boundaries or asking more of me than I am comfortable giving. When I am distressed, I will be able to use the No Sandwich to say ‘no’ to the things that don’t help me in a positive way. 

No. 141: Observe My Physical Connection to the Moment

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellness…

…I will, practice grounding myself in the physical moment as a way of changing my experiences. This week, I will interrupt myself once a day, place both feet flat on the ground and take a few deep breaths into the bottom of my lungs (see belly breathing exercise here). As I breathe, I will focus my attention onto the sensation of my feet connecting with the ground. I will look around me and notice the other sensations I feel as my body connects with the environment around me – the air on my skin, the temperature of the light. After a few moments, breathing slowly and noticing my connection to the space around me, I will turn my attention back to my day.

I might set an alarm on my phone to help remind me to practice turning my attention away from one thing and onto my connection with the physical environment around me in this specific moment. In this way, I will get skilled at letting go of one moment and shifting my attention to something calm and grounding.

When I’m familiar with interrupting an ordinary moment to ground myself in the space around me, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. When I notice myself becoming upset or focused on unhelpful thoughts, I will be able to take some time out to calm my distress before returning to what needs my attention next. The breathing will help me to soothe my physical responses while being mindful of my physical space will distract me from unwanted or unhelpful thoughts.

_ _ _

Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 140: Observe the Facts of the Moment

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

 once a day, I will practice distracting myself from unhelpful thoughts by mindfully interrupting myself in the middle of an ordinary daily task  and spending a few seconds observing and describing the current moment to myself without using any emotional words. While I am observing and describing the current moment to myself I will practice belly breathing to help me relax. Once I have observed and described each element of my current moment to myself, I will go back to my task. 

I could use an alarm to help me remember to interrupt myself each day.  

I will pass my mind over the space I am in, the people present, what they are doing, what the air feels and smells like, the weather, the sounds around me, the scene out the window, the position of my body in the room, the sensations within my body – all of the physical facts of the moment.  If I notice my mind making judgements about anything I observe, I will watch the judgement pass by me like a train and turn my mind back to describing the moment around me. Everything but these observable facts is my perception. I can choose which perceptions to attach myself to and which perceptions to let pass me by. I will remember this as I move back into my task. 

Once I am comfortable with interrupting an ordinary experience to mindfully connect with the physical moment, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to interrupt distressing thoughts and get some space from my emotions. When I notice I am getting distressed, I will give myself permission to let go of my worry for a little while and turn my attention to my breath and the physical facts of the moment around me. I will keep observing and describing the physical facts of the situation until I have calmed down and am able to think a bit more clearly about how to cope. As distressing thoughts come into my mind I will observe them as they pass by, without chasing after them and turn my mind back to noticing the physical facts of the situation and continue with my breathing until I am feeling calmer.

No. 139: Replace “I Can’t” with “I Don’t”

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…
…I will practice using my word-choices to help me work towards my goals. Often, when we want to make changes, there is something we want to stop doing and other things we want to do more of. This week, I will practice choosing words that focus on my control and power to decide.

Research has shown that often when we  start telling ourselves ‘I can’t do xyz thing’ we tend to want to do that very thing even more. Only one out of ten people who tried to cut back on chocolate by telling themselves “I can’t eat chocolate” actually managed to stop eating chocolate. On the other hand, the same study showed that eight out of ten people who told themselves “I don’t eat chocolate” managed to reach their goal. Telling ourselves that we can’t do things tends to leave us feeling restricted and wanting to rebel against ourselves, telling ourselves that we don’t do things tends to leave us feeling like we control what we choose to do. 

So this week, I am going to practice noticing myself thinking “I can’t do that now” or “I am not allowed…” and I am going to mindfully replace the word ‘can’t’ with ‘don’t’… “I don’t do that now”. As I move through the week, I’ll try to notice how this affects me, when the strategy is useful and what I do with the strategy to make it work for me. There might be times when I really can’t do something, like fly down to the bus stop, but I might be surprised at just how often the things I think are limits are really choices and preferences that I have.

Once I am comfortable with replacing my can’ts with don’ts on a day-to-day kind of basis, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of engaging with my goals to stop things that are no longer helpful to me. I will be able to pick up on any unnecessarily limiting thoughts I am having about my goals as things “I can’t do” and use my self-talk to transform the can’ts into don’ts. If there is something I want to change, like to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs, I will be able to take control of my language to help soothe the pressure from the situation and make myself feel more in charge of what I am doing. I might make a list of the things I feel like I can’t do anymore, and then re-write each item using the words I don’t, and keep the list with me for times when I’m feeling tempted.

No. 138: Visualising My Intentions

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will practice telling the difference between my expectations and my good intentions and get in the habit of letting my intentions guide me instead of my fears. While my expectations are useful, they can get in my way at times, but my good intentions bring me back to what it is important to me, back to my values.

This week, I will take a moment every morning to practice slow, belly breathing while I focus my attention on visualising my positive intentions for the day. 

Before I get out of bed in the morning, I will lie back and do a few minutes of belly breathing.

As I breathe slowly down into my belly and let each breath float back out, I will think about my good intentions for the day by saying to myself “today I would like to ….” and then picturing it happening in my mind.

If my self-critic or inner future-predictor interferes and I start thinking about barriers to my good intentions or reasons why it won’t work out, I will notice the thoughts then come back to my breath and my intentions for the day. After a few minutes, I will open my eyes if I had them closed and move on into my day, carrying my values and positive intentions with me.

In this way, I will get used to setting aside my expectations to get a clear sense of what I value and what I want to happen, so I can carry these things throughout my day and come back to them when I find myself in a tough moment. I’ll also get to start my day off with a bit of calm breathing which might help set me up for a more relaxed day too.

Once I am comfortable with spending a few moments breathing and connecting with my values and wishes rather than my fears and expectations, I will add this to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for self-soothing during times of stress and upset.When I notice I am distressed, I will be able to take a moment to breathe, come back to my own values and intentions as a way of soothing my unhelpful thoughts and problem-solving how I will deal with the situation I am facing. 

No. 137: Use the Three Gates of Expression

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice effective expression by regularly pausing before I speak to ask myself three questions.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

I will let my answers to these questions guide me in what I choose to say and how I choose to say it. In this way I will get used to (1) speaking accurately, (2) saying what I need to say and (3) expressing myself respectfully, even if what I have to say might be hard for the person to hear.

This strategy is inspired by a Sufi saying that translates into English as:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.
At the first gate, ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ 
At the second ask, ‘Is it necessary?’
At the third gate ask ‘Is it kind?’

As I move through my week, I will practice pausing and briefly reflecting on these three questions in everyday conversation. This will help me work out how to pause myself, how to think about the three questions and how to work my reflections into what I choose to say. It might be that I need to take time out to reflect or I might be able to reflect quickly in the moment.

When I am familiar with doing this kind of reflective communication, I will add ‘Use the Three Gates of Expression’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of expressing myself during times of stress and distress. When I am upset, I will be able to consider what the grains of truth beneath my reaction are, whether it is necessary for me to talk to this person about this specific thing and how I can express what I have to say kindly and with respect. It might also help me to balance out my thoughts during moments of distress when things can easily become distorted or blown out of proportion.

No. 136: One Thing I Can Do/ One Thing I Like

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice focusing my attention on the things I can do and the things I like to engage with so I can self-soothe when I am stressed and create  positive emotion when I am low.

To prepare, I will take a page in a notebook and divide it into two columns. The first column, I will title ‘One Thing I Can Do’ and the second column I will title ‘One Thing I Like’ (see example below).

To practice, I will take a moment at the end of each day to write down an example of ‘One Thing I Can Do’ and ‘One Thing I Like’ from my day. In the ‘One Thing I Can Do’ column, I will write down one thing that I did that day that I think I did well and what skill it involved. In the ‘One Thing I Like’ column, I will write down one thing from my day that I enjoyed or appreciated and what it was that I liked about it. If I’ve been having tough times for a while, it might be hard to do this because I will be out of practice at noticing these things and I might have stopped doing a lot of the things I am good at and like. If I find it hard, I will have compassion for myself and practice noticing the smallest of small signs of ‘Things I Can Do’ or ‘Things I Like’ – for example, getting out of bed, showering and single moments of laughter.

As I move through the week, I will think through my growing list and know that there are things I can do to get through and things I like that can change my mood. As my awareness grows I will start trying to mindfully do those things when I notice my mood is low or my thinking is negative.  This week, I will practice building the evidence that lets me remind myself “there is always one thing I can do and one thing that I can enjoy.”

Once I am comfortable noticing what I can do and what I like, and mindfully doing those things, I will add this to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with distress. When I find myself feeling stuck, hopeless or unsure of myself, I will be able to self-soothe by coming back to my old list to remind myself of all I can do to get through and change my mood and engage with a way of shifting my experience by doing just one of the things I can do and one thing that I like. This strategy could become self-soothing, engagement or mindful distraction depending on how I used it. 

My notebook columns would look something like this… 

No. 135: Reward Myself for Surviving

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice injecting enjoyable moments into my daily life and appreciating myself by scheduling reward points into the end of every day. During my scheduled reward points, I will be able to practice being aware of what I deal with each day and responding by rewarding my efforts, whatever they may be, whether I struggled or succeeded.

To get started, I will write a list of things that I find enjoyable and can use as rewards. The list could include things like going to a movie or having a treat food or doing a hobby activity or lying around listening to music or catching up with someone you enjoy or having a massage or anything at all. Rewards can be big or they can be small, but they cannot be harmful. So having a binge-drinking session or taking drugs wouldn’t be the right kind of reward to use.

Once I have my list of rewards, I’ll schedule time to give myself one reward at the end of every day for the next week.

At the scheduled time each afternoon/evening, I will take a quiet moment to reflect on what I have survived that day. When I think of difficult moments in the day, I will observe the thought and say to myself “and that was hard so I can reward myself for getting through.” When I think of positive moments of the day, I will observe the thought and say to myself “and that was good, so I can reward myself for having a part in it.”

Once I have reflected for 2 or 3 minutes, I will go ahead and give myself the reward I had planned.

When I am comfortable with engaging in rewarding behaviour on a usual week, I will add ‘Plan Little Rewards’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy to use during times of distress. When I notice I am upset, I can reflect on what I have been surviving, make myself aware of how much I have to reward myself for by saying the reflection statements and then planning some rewarding activities for the coming week.

No. 134: Grounding Myself with Sounds

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice getting grounded by slowing down and observing the sounds around me. I will begin by closing my eyes and noticing the sound of my breathing, then I will gradually move my awareness away from my body as I notice the sounds I can hear close to me, then further into the distance. Then I will bring my awareness back towards my body until I become aware of the sound of my breathing again.

Each time I notice my mind wandering back onto concerns of my day, I will bring my awareness back to the sounds around me. As I return from the distance to the sound of my breathing, I will remind myself “I am here, in this place, breathing my breath.” Then I will open my eyes and return to my day.

I’ll start out by practicing this exercise for one or two minutes every morning or night and then move to practicing pausing during the day between tasks to take a moment to ground myself within my body and in environment around me. In this way I will get used to letting go of my thoughts and concerns and giving myself a moment of peace. This will help prepare me for interrupting unhelpful thoughts and giving myself a moment of peace when emotions are running high.

Once I am familiar with this kind of exercise I will add ‘Grounding Myself with Sounds’  to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of shifting my mind away from unhelpful thoughts during moments of stress and distress.

_ _ _ _

Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 133: Play

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I am going to play everyday. It’s true that all work and no play makes for a pretty dull time – it also means that we don’t get a chance to properly wind down after something stressful. Life can’t be all serious, sometimes we need a bit of silly. This week, I will spend some time everyday playing. I might spend five minutes seeing if I can still do knuckle-bones or an hour with a friend and a board-game or twenty minutes outside with a basketball or half an hour in the park on the swings. I might need to do a bit of prioritising and planning to make sure it actually happens. If I find it hard to think of something to play, I will make a list of things that I enjoyed playing as a child and work my way through each of them. It could be tricky to fit a play in everyday, but I can do it if I have lots of different kinds of play, some that I can do in the space  of five minutes and fit in at a busy time. Sometimes I will play with another person, and other times it can be solitary play. The key is that there is a time of light-heartedness in my day. This week, no matter how I feel each day, I will make sure I get at least five minutes of play. I will try to notice what things make me laugh or lift my mood and what things don’t make any difference, so I can repeat the things that work for me.

Once I am comfortable with playing everyday, I will add ‘Play’ and a list of the things that worked for me to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for times of stress and distress. When I notice myself having a low mood or starting to get stressed on a regular basis, I will engage with some play to inject some balance in my life and shift my mood for a little while. Playing won’t change the bad things in my life, but it will give me a break and insert some lighthearted variation into my daily life that might make it easier to cope with and recover from the tough stuff. When things are stressful, we all need a bit of time to recover, I will be able to use play as a way to recover my energy levels when things are hard.