The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Private Expression

No. 160: Call On My Compassionate Self

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

… I will create a compassionate self to call on in times of stress and distress. We often have a strong self-critic or even a self-bully that pipes up to tell us all the worst things about ourselves and what we are going through. If we reflect on our self-talk in times of distress we might notice we use blaming, judgmental and sometimes downright mean words with ourselves that leave us feeling ten times worse. Having a compassionate self allows us to use soothing, understanding, non-judgmental, kind and supportive words with ourselves instead of or in response to the self-critic or the self-bully.

The first step is to create a character map of my compassionate self. This starts with thinking about what compassion means to me. I will think about what I might need from my compassionate self and what compassion involves for me. Is my compassionate self forgiving, respectful, kind, aware of what is important to me, caring, accepting, humorous or all of those things and more?  What does my compassionate self think about making mistakes, flaws, limitations, weaknesses and negative life events?

The next step is building a visual image for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self look like? My compassionate self could look like someone who has treated me this way in the past, a creature I have found comforting or it could look like me when I am being compassionate, understanding and kind. I’ll think about what facial expressions and gestures my compassionate self might make to show their compassion and what it feels like to be near that. How does my compassionate self look at me? Next I need to create a voice for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self sound like? I’ll think about what tone of voice it uses, what it sounds like, how loud its voice is and how fast it speaks. Finally, I need to create some words for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self say to me? I will think about what words and phrases my compassionate self uses to soothe, show kindness and be understanding. It’s easiest to do all this on a piece of paper, in writing or drawing, to make it concrete and give us something to come back to later.

When I have created a character map for my compassionate self, I will practice using it by taking one to two minutes each morning to sit mindfully and visualise my compassionate self talking to me about the coming day, whatever it might hold. Whenever I notice other thoughts distracting me, I will describe them to myself, respond to them using my compassionate voice and return to visualising talking to my compassionate self about the coming day.

Once I am familiar with visualising my compassionate self and responding to my thoughts with my compassionate voice, I will add “Call on My Compassionate Self” to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. I will be able to call on the compassionate part of myself to talk me through stressful times with soothing, kind, respectful and understanding words, ideas and images. My compassionate self can even talk directly to my self-critic and my self-bully when they appear. I might not be able to make those parts of me go away altogether when times are tough, but showing compassion for why they are there and sharing some different ideas with them might make them quieten down.

No. 158: Plant Seeds and Nurture Them

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

… I will practice being aware of my valued actions by visualising or symbolically planting seeds for each of my valued intentions. New Years Eve is a good time to set goals for the coming months, but goals tend to be short-lived and easily side-tracked by shifting priorities. On the other hand, our values represent how we want to be in the world, regardless of the state of our goals. Values are always in progress, whereas goals can be achieved, failed or finished with. A goal might be to ‘Quit Smoking’. A value might be ‘Care for my Physical Health.’ Different values tend to take on differing levels of importance as we move through life. Much of the suffering we go through is the result of being distant from our values.

So this week, I will do a ‘Seed Planting Ceremony’ for the New Year. First, I will take a moment to sit in stillness and bring my mind to what I want to nurture in the coming three months. How do I want to treat myself, the planet and others in the coming months? What is most important to me right now? When my mind throws up thoughts of what I don’t want, I will name it to myself and bring my awareness to the values I would like to be guided by in such situations. Next, I will choose an object for each of the important ‘seeds’ or values I want to ‘plant’ and nurture in the coming months, or make ‘paper seeds’ by writing each one down on a piece of paper. Finally, I will take a moment to name each of the ‘seeds’ I am planting, visualise what nurturing that ‘seed’ will look like for me, and place it in a special jar or container. I’ll try to make sure there’s a different seed for each of the most important areas of my life, such as my relationships, my identity/self, my body etc.

As I move through the coming days, I will take time once a day to turn my mind to the ‘seeds’ I planted and my visualisation of nurturing those values in myself.  Over the coming weeks, I will practice bringing my attention to these seeds and seeing how they can guide my actions. When I notice myself feeling lost or confused or distressed or at uncertain, I will pause and visualise how I might nurture each of my seeds as I move forward. Focusing mindfully on these positives that are meaningful to me, might soothe some of that stress or confusion, by opening up a flexible path ahead for me and perhaps balance out some of my negative expectations and self-talk.

Once I am comfortable with setting my intentions by naming and visualising the values I want to nurture, I will add ‘Plant Seeds and Nurture Them’ to my Personal Coping Kete. In times of stress and distress, I will practice planting new seeds or returning to seeds I have previously planted and visualising how I want to move forward, given what I have got.

No. 157: Saying Thank You for the Stories

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

…I will practice noticing and naming the stories my brain tells me and thanking my brain for trying to keep me safe, in all senses of the word. We usually all have a few chains of thought that repeatedly pop up to trigger stress and distress and pull us away from the things we really want to be doing. We can think of these repetitive thought patterns as stories our minds have learned to tell us to try to keep us safe. In a way our brains are automatic storytellers. Often we get caught up and stuck in the stories our minds are throwing up at us. One way to detach from those stories and take the heat out of the distress they create, is to practice naming each of the stories and then literally thanking our brain for doing its job. We don’t need to believe, accept or agree with the story. But instead of resisting it and struggling against it, this week I will practice naming it and saying ‘thank you brain!’

To prepare, I will take some time to write down some of the things that my mind often throws up when I am distressed. I will then name the most repetitive thoughts or the ones that trigger the toughest emotions – there is often some kind of “I can’t cope” story, “bad self” story or “dangerous others” story in the mix.  These are tough thought-chains to deal with when we are caught up believing them or struggling against them, especially when they have been ‘true’ for us in the past. Struggling against a story makes our mind keep repeating it. Naming the story and saying ‘thank you brain’ lets our mind know we are aware and reframes the thoughts as ideas and words instead of realities we need to act on – this often lets our mind know it can stop telling the story so loudly.

Once I have named some of the stories I notice my brain often tells me, I will practice naming them as I notice them throughout my day. This week, I will pause whenever I move between tasks or situations to practice observing what stories my brain is telling in the moment and saying “Thank you brain, for telling me the xyz story. I hear you.”  I will then move forward with my valued direction or do another coping strategy to make things workable.

To start with, I will practice naming stories and thanking my brain for telling them in ordinary, transition moments, rather in times of intense distress when it will be difficult to use a new strategy. It can help to also observe what the function of the story and the emotions that go with it might me.  It can also help to name what our intentions and valued directions are too.  These can be like alternative stories we are learning to tell ourselves. For example, “Thank you brain for the “I can’t cope” story, I know you are trying to make me anxious, to keep me safe from threats. My intention is to discover how to handle this risk because independence and new experiences are important to me.”

Once I am comfortable naming my mind’s stories and thanking my brain for telling them, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. Naming and acknowledging the chains of thought will help me to untangle myself from the automatic stories my brain is telling me, quiet them down and focus on the other story about what is important to me.

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Note: Saying ‘thank you brain’ is a common technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT – pronounced ‘act’). You can find some worksheets to help you identify your common stories and understand how they pull you away from your valued directions at www.thehappinesstrap.com/free_resources  

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No. 155: Make Space for What is Here

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

…I will practice expanding to make space for stress, distress and upsets when they appear, rather than tightening up around them and getting stuck struggling against them or having to make them stop. Being human involves a wide spectrum of emotions; I can feel them all and this week I will practice allowing myself to.

To begin with, I will pick a couple of anchor-tasks that I do every day that I can use to practice with, like making my morning cuppa or waiting for emails to load. Whenever I find myself doing my anchor-task, I will take a moment to observe my thoughts and moods in the moment by putting words to them, one by one. Breathing deeply, for each observation, I will tell myself “I have space for what is here” and imagine myself expanding around it as I breathe and shift into an open, relaxed posture, releasing any muscles I am tensing. If I notice a struggle to expand around something, I will repeat the strategy with that set of thoughts, observing, describing, making space. After a moment, I will bring my attention back to my surroundings and the task at hand (or what I really need/want to be doing), carrying this sense of space with me.

Once I am familiar with using this strategy at a planned time, I can practice using it throughout the day whenever I notice an unwanted shift in my moods, so I start to get used to expanding around stress and distress. Sometimes, part of making space for stress and distress, means soothing it. It might help to respond to distressing thoughts and feelings with supportive self-talk as I breathe and relax around them.  Expanding to make space also means accepting what I need and getting those needs met. I might need some self-care or distraction or support to help me, expanding around distress, doesn’t mean I have to carry it on my own or give up on trying to feel better.

When I am comfortable expanding around stress and distress, I will add ‘expanding to make space’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to survive the times when I am struggling.  I’ll be able to take a moment of observe my thoughts and moods in the moment by putting words to them. Breathing deeply, I will tell myself “I have space for what is here” and imagine myself expanding around it as I breathe and shift into an open, relaxed posture, releasing any muscles I am tensing. If I notice a struggle to expand around something, I will repeat the strategy with that set of thoughts, observing, describing, making space. After a moment, I will bring my attention back to my surroundings and what I need/want to be doing next, carrying this sense of space with me.
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Acknowledgement: “Expansion” is an acceptance strategy found in Russ Harris’s ACT self-help book ‘The Happiness Trap‘.

This post is one person’s way of learning and practicing expansion – it isn’t necessarily the right way. When it comes to coping there is almost never a right way. We’ve each got to experiment to make it our own.   

 

No. 153: Label Thoughts As Thoughts

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

… I will practice noticing my thoughts and seeing them for what they are – thoughts. This week, whenever I notice myself look at a clock, I will take a brief moment to be still, take a breath and register what is in my mind. As I notice a thought running through my head, I will tell myself “I am having the thought that…“.  For example, if I look at the clock, breathe and think “I am going to be late”, I will say to myself “I am having the thought that I am going to be late”.

If I notice a second thought attached to the first, I will describe that to myself too. Thoughts often come in chains of ‘this’ and then ‘that’ and then… etc. Sometimes we have second thoughts about our first thoughts. I will let these surface if they are there too. If I notice myself judging or labeling my thoughts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in some way, I will describe that to myself too, “I am having the thought that…”. I will try to use neutral words.

When my mind goes blank or I feel distressed, I will label my thoughts about that and come back to my breathing. After I have taken about five good breaths in and out, I will return my attention outward again by describing what is around me right now, “Right now I see…Right now I hear… “. Then I will turn back to whatever I was about to do before. As thoughts pop up to distract me from my task, I will label them as thoughts and return my focus to what is around me and what I am doing now. Sometimes I might only spend a couple of seconds noticing one thought and labeling it as a thought, it doesn’t matter what thoughts I notice and label, but this week I will practice stepping back and labeling my thoughts as thoughts.

Usually our thoughts are constantly running through our minds without us noticing them and we just go along reacting to them on auto-pilot.  By doing this exercise, I will get used to taking a step back to observe my thoughts and recognise them as ideas happening in my mind. Labeling my thoughts as thoughts will highlight the distinction between what is coming in through my senses and what is the meaning attached to it by my mind. Often these two things we will be an obvious match. However, just as often things are a bit more ambiguous and unclear. Often there are multiple potential meanings and labeling thoughts can help me keep sight of that. This can help the body know it is safe to calm down any stress responses it has been automatically firing off.

It is harder to step back and label our thoughts as thoughts when our emotions are high. This is why practicing for just a moment at regular intervals when emotions aren’t high is helpful while we get the hang of it. I might find that looking at a clock isn’t the most useful reminder to practice for me. If that’s the case, I can pick another thing I do everyday to use as a reminder to practice.

When I am comfortable with stopping to label my thoughts as thoughts during everyday moments, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping in times of stress and distress. When I notice my emotions getting high or my mind starting to race, I will take a moment to breathe into my belly and let my thoughts register one by one. As I notice a thought, I will describe it to myself “I am having the thought that…” . Once I have sat for a moment and let each of my thoughts register and be recognised as  a thought, I will turn my mind to the sensation of breathing and what is surrounding me right now. “Right now I see… Right now I hear…”. I will turn my attention to what I need to do next by telling myself, “Right now I could…” . This might be a self-soothing or distraction exercise or some form of expression, support or engagement.  Labeling my distressing thoughts as thoughts might help to soothe their sting if they are overwhelming, slow them down if they are racing or make them clear if they are clouded.

No. 151: Mindful Moment

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

… I will pause once a day to practice being mindful of the present moment and myself inside it. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment on purpose, without judgment and with full awareness of both the internal and the external parts of our experience. I can do this by purposefully observing the present moment, describing it to myself and then participating in the experience.  In order to fully observe, describe and participate in the moment I need to focus on one thing at a time, take a non-judgmental stance and be effective. Being effective means choosing the direction that is most helpful or doing what needs to be done without being trapped in our emotions but without ignoring them either. This week I will practice taking the time to observe what is around me and what is inside me. I might need to set an alarm or decide on another reminder ahead of time to help me remember to practice. While I’m new at mindfulness, I’ll practice at a time when my emotions aren’t running super high.

Once a day I’ll practice taking a mindful moment. Breathing calmly and moving into a comfortable position, I will focus my mind on the here and now…Noticing what is happening around me right now, I will observe my surroundings and describe them  to myself without judgement. When I notice myself making judgments, I will observe them that way, carefully re-word them and return my mind to the present moment as I continue with my breathing. I can ground myself in the present moment by paying attention to my five senses and participating in them with awareness. What do I see around me right now… what do I hear… what do I smell… what do I taste… what do I touch? I will allow my thoughts and feelings to register and come back to my senses. I will name thoughts as thoughts, feelings as feelings, separating the past from the present, acknowledging the things that are unwanted instead of pushing them away. I will observe and describe any thoughts and worries about the past or future that arise, without evaluating them or chasing them. I will then turn my attention back to observing and describing the physical environment around me and how I experience it. Once I have observed the whole of my surroundings and what is going on inside me, I will turn my attention to the next task I have at hand, carrying my wider awareness with me.

When I am comfortable paying attention to the present moment at an ordinary time, I will add ‘Mindful Moment’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I notice my emotions starting to run high, I will be able to pause, ground myself in the present and tolerate my distressing thoughts and feelings without pushing them away. I will be able to observe and describe my experiences for what they are and continue to be fully aware of my surroundings and my senses.

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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. 150: Make a Memory Jar

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

… I will practice holding onto positive memories by making and using a Memory Jar. To make a Memory Jar, all I need to do is get a jar with a lid that I can fill with reminders of my positive memories throughout the year. Each day, I will write down at least one positive thing I want to remember later. I’ll write down the small things like amazing views or scenery I have seen or fabulous food I have eaten or moments of laughter with friends as well as the big events and achievements that happen throughout the days and weeks of the year.  Some people add objects and pictures to their memory jars too – like ticket stubs from good movies and concerts, photos of friends, shells from beach trips, dried flowers etc etc. My Memory Jar can become a real lucky dip of treasured moments that I will be able to use as fuel for feeling good in days to come.

To start with, I’ll need to get my Memory Jar ready.  Click here to see some Memory Jars made by other people. Some people decorate their memory jars – I could get really creative with this. I might find myself having pessimistic or cynical thoughts about the activity, especially if I am in a low mood when I sit down to do it. Finding it hard to remember positive things doesn’t mean that there have been no positive things. It just means I haven’t noticed any positive things. Sometimes it can help to write down something I think I would find positive on a different day if I was in a better mood. By practicing the art of writing something down every day, I will practice holding onto positive memories in the face of difficulty and hardship.

After I have made my Memory Jar, I will schedule in some time each day for the next week, to write a new memory on a slip of paper and add it to the jar.  If I have been feeling low, I will sit down with the Memory Jar during the time of the day when I usually feel the best. It is harder to notice positives when we are feeling negative, so if I find it tough to think of positive memories from the day, I won’t be hard on myself for it. I will have compassion for myself and let myself start small. I might find it easier to carry some little slips of paper with me, so I can write down positive moments as they happen. This might help me be able to notice these things so I can add them to my Memory Jar.

At the end of the week, I will look through my Memory Jar and practice remembering each of the good moments in my week. I will then plan in how to continue adding to my jar as I move through the year. At the end of each week, I’ll review a few of my good moments and again plan how to continue adding to my jar. It might help to keep it somewhere I will see it often. Reviewing my memories each week will help me to get comfortable holding my positive memories in my mind without cancelling them out with the bad stuff that has happened. This will help me to be more comfortable remembering good memories when I am feeling bad.

As I gather more and more  slips of paper with good memories on them, and get comfortable noticing and recording positive memories, I will add ‘Use My Memory Jar’ to my Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. If I am finding things hard, I will take out my Memory Jar and use the little slips of paper to shift my thoughts to good times and moments of gratitude. I might even find some ideas for positive things I can do in the present to shift my mood to a more enjoyable place. In times of stress and distress, as well as remembering good memories, I will add one new good memory to my Memory Jar. Even when everything is terrible, I will be able to find one good thing to add to my Memory Jar. Doing this during tough times might help me to balance out some of my unwanted thoughts and feelings and shift the intensity of my moods a bit. Turning my mind towards positive events when I feel distressed might help me learn to let go of unhelpful thoughts and hold onto more helpful ones. Each time I notice I am dwelling on something unhelpful, I will use my Memory Jar to help me talk myself through in a way that gives me a more balanced viewpoint that takes the good on board with the bad.

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Happy New Year from Engage Aotearoa/CMHRT and Engage Resources Ltd.

No. 148: Practice Compassion

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

…I will practice being compassionate towards myself. When I notice critical thoughts or judgments about myself or things I have done or not done, I will practice responding in my mind with kind words, that share sensitivity for my suffering and respect for my humanity. I will practice choosing compassionate and accepting words to talk to myself about my mistakes, weaknesses, flaws and limitations.  Other people can criticise me if they wish, but I will give myself compassion.

As I move through my week, I will keep an eye out for self-talk that is harsh, critical and judgmental. For example, I will watch out for self-talk where I label myself stupid or useless when I make a mistake. When I notice I am labeling myself harshly for my mistakes and limitations, I will give myself compassion by pausing to remind myself it is human to struggle. I will appreciate my strengths by remembering them to myself and recalling that my flaws and limitations are simply part of a whole, not all that I am.  By responding to myself with compassion throughout the week, I will practice accepting my whole self, warts and all. I do not need to be perfect, nor would I want to be.

When I am used to talking to myself with compassion and acceptance on an ordinary day, I will add ‘talk to myself with compassion’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I find myself in distress, I will be mindful of how I am talking to myself and be careful to use compassionate words. In times of stress and distress, I will be better able to give myself messages of kindness, instead of giving myself messages of shame or judgement that make me feel worse.

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. 131: Mindfulness of My Breath

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

...I will practice being mindful of my breath as a way of changing my state of mind in the moment.

This week, I will try to pause at least once a day to spend a few minutes simply noticing my breathing, as I observe my thoughts and come back to being aware of my breaths.  Observing my thoughts means that as I notice my mind has wandered I describe what I am thinking to myself in my head. For example I might say to myself “Oh I am thinking xyz about work right now…”  and then I will turn my mind to noticing my breathing. Observing and describing my thoughts might help me express to myself what is really going on for me.

I won’t try to change my breathing at all, I will simply sit still for a few minutes while I breathe and notice myself breathing. As I see thoughts come into my head, I will notice what I am thinking and then I will bring my thoughts back to my breathing. I will notice the sensation of the breaths as they come in and out, I will notice the temperature of the air, the sound of my breathing, the way the breath feels on the way in and the way it feels on the way out. While I notice my breathing and observe my thoughts, I will practice having compassion for myself  and not criticising myself for the thoughts I have. Even if I notice myself criticising myself, I will simply bring my thoughts back to my breathing without further judgement. After a few minutes, I will open up my eyes and come back to my day.

It might seem pointless at first, but giving ourselves a chance to be mindful of our breathing has been shown to help a lot of people feel calmer about things, even though it doesn’t change the situation. Taking time to be mindful of our breath can help us  feed ourselves the air we need to have a clear head and give us the space we need for our thoughts to become clear to us.

Once I am used to spending some time being aware of my breathing while I observe my thoughts, I will add this exercise to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of dealing with stress and distress. When I notice myself becoming tense or upset, I will pause and spend some time focused on my breathing while I observe my thoughts without judgement and come back to my breath. No matter what happens, I am still here breathing. This can be an excellent way to give myself some space when things are tough. Sure, breathing doesn’t change anything I am facing, but it gives me some time and room to clear my head and become aware of where I am at in the moment, so I can move forward through my day with awareness and a bit more clarity.

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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.