The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Private Expression

No. 130: New Descriptions Exercise

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

…I will try experimenting with new ways of describing things. This might help me be able to express myself when I find I want to talk to someone else. But for this week, I’m just going to do it for myself. Once a day, maybe at lunch or before bed, I’ll sit down and do a word-play exercise.

In one column I will write a list of words that are nouns (names of things e.g. sadness, tree, people, day). Beside it, I will make a second column of words that are verbs (action/doing words, e.g. walks, dip, stumble, fall). Then I will mix the two colums together with joining words (‘like’, ‘and’, ‘of’, ‘but’) to make new descriptions of things. Finally, if I want, I will put them all together into a poem.

For example, using the words above… 

Sadness walks

like trees dip

and people stumble

but only

the day

falls over

the edge

~ ~ ~

I could do this with as many or as few words as I want. The point is to spend a bit of time playing around with expression each day.

Once I am a bit used to playing around with words, I will add the ‘New Descriptions Exercise’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of distracting myself from the present and expressing myself in moments of stress and distress. This way I can stop chasing my distressing thoughts and turn my attention to the simple task of listing words and turning them into whatever I can. It might even help me find new ways of looking at things as I go.

No. 127: Give the Future the Benefit of the Doubt

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

… I will practice coping by experimenting with being at peace with not knowing what the future will bring.

Rather than following any worried thoughts about what might go wrong and getting stuck there, I will give the future the benefit of the doubt by reminding myself that I don’t know what will happen and letting the mystery of my future unfold as it will.

This week, as I move through each day, I will practice catching negative or stressful thoughts about the future and saying to myself ‘I do not know what the future will bring and I am at peace with that, I trust my future to unfold as I need it to.’  I will then simply move forward, doing my best with what I have. This week I will trust myself to do what I need to do, to get through.

Once I am familiar with trusting my future to unfold as I need it to, on an ordinary day in the face of my day-to-day stresses, I will add this strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of distress.

No. 114: List Poems

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

…I will spend 10 – 15 minutes every day writing a list poem about the things I have seen, done and felt that day. Each evening, I will sit down with a notebook and write a list of five things I saw that day, five things I did that day and five things I felt or thought. I will try to make each item on each list different. Then I will rearrange or join the items on my lists into a poem. I might add words and images or change things in my lists as well.

In this way I will practice regularly reflecting on my daily experience and finding a creative way to express it. While I am thinking of the words to use and working on rearranging the lines, I might get a bit of time out from worrying about things. If I get distracted by concerns of the day I will work them into the list and return my focus to the creative task at hand.  By working to include a number of different experiences in the list I will practice having an expansive awareness of my day without letting one experience override everything I have been aware of.

If I felt like it, I could share my poems with someone else as a way to connect with support and encouragement, but they are really something that I will do just for myself.

Once I am comfortable making list poems about a typical day, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for distracting myself from the moment and creatively expressing myself in times of stress and distress.

Example list poem. 


The aluminium sky
the neighbour’s stray cat
my own reflection in the window
outside the path littered with petals
the wind-blown tree.

I have typed so many messages
dressed myself to match
bought new socks and worn them
cooked hot food and eaten it
peeled an orange and given you half.
My small victories. 

I was caring about everything
sadness for all the news
I thought I saw you flinch when I said that
worrying over the day’s mathematics
joy in the act of nurturing something.

 – M. Barr

No. 113: Time to Think

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

…I will give myself a little while to think each day. I will plan a 15 minute slot of time into each of my days, to allow myself time to simply think. Life can get so busy and the tasks of daily living can become so much the focus that we don’t get time to actively make sense of what we go through each day, whether it is enjoyable or distressing or a mixture of both.

First, I will sit down with my schedule and plan in each of my 15-minute spots – they could be at the same, regular time each day or just whenever I can fit them in.

Then for the rest of the week, no matter how I feel, I will sit down at my scheduled time to think each day. I will consider this my own private “defrag” time – a moment to organise my mental files of the day and figure them out.

I might think things through better when I have a pen and paper to jot things down or I might just think to myself silently. For 15 minutes I will cast my mind over my day and my responses and let the things I need to sort out, rise to the surface. I will think about resolving problems that have arisen, talking to a supporter about things I have found upsetting, giving myself comfort for the things that have been hard and congratulating myself for the things I have survived and done well with. In this way, each day, I will spend a moment in which my automatic thoughts and feelings are able to rise to the surface where I can be aware of them and do something to about them if I wish. This week, I will make sure life slows down for 15-minutes a day to allow me to process my experiences and make sense of where I am at. This could help prevent me from getting overwhelmed by things, especially when life gets really busy.

Once I am comfortable taking 15 minutes to think on a regular basis, I will add ‘Time to Think’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for coping with stress and distress. When I find my thoughts are getting repeatedly stuck on something negative or find myself constantly trying ‘not to think about it’, I will use this strategy to insert a moment in each day when I give myself permission to think about what my daily life is throwing at me lately and how I might shift the unwanted elements of my experience. When I find myself thinking unwanted thoughts during my day, I will mindfully notice the thoughts and remind myself to think about them later when I get my ‘time to think.’ I will then be able to turn my attention to something in my present moment, with the knowledge that I will think about it later.

No. 108: Hum Tiddely-Pom

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

… I will practice humming an upbeat tune to myself to help myself feel optimistic in moments of uncertainty.

It seems like such a little thing it couldn’t possibly help. But sometimes a simple thing like humming ‘tiddely-pom’ in a ‘what-shall-we-do-now kind of way’ can give a person just the kind of positive break they need before responding to something stressful or confusing.

This week, I’ll take a lesson from Winnie the Pooh and I will practice humming or singing ‘tiddely pom’ (or something like it) to myself in a ‘what-will-I-do-next kind of way  whenever I notice I am in an ‘in-between moment’ where I don’t know what I am going to do next.

Once I am used to doing this in the everyday in-between moments, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of giving myself space before I respond to things that are distressing or difficult. I could maybe even use it as a light-hearted way of opening up a line of communication around not being sure what to do next.

In those moments where I might usually start criticising myself for not knowing what to do, I will instead do something positive (humming), that still acknowledges the difficulty I am facing (not knowing what to do). I will notice whether it has any effect on my mood, the way I respond or those around me. Humming has been known to have physical effects on the body because it changes the way we breathe. It might even help change my mood that way.

Strategy 108 is inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh’s Little Book of Wisdom by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shephard. 


No. 97: ABC Thought Catching

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

… I will practice engaging with my thoughts and how they are affecting my mood by practicing thought-catching. Being able to catch my thoughts and follow their connection to my moods is a key step towards being able to reason myself out of stress and distress when I need to. Taking a moment to be aware of the core components of my experience will help me be able to respond with awareness.

This week, whenever I notice a slight drop in my mood, I will take a moment to ask myself what just happened (A), what it did to my mood (C) and what I might have been telling myself about whatever happened to cause that mood change (B).  It is not easy to notice our own thoughts, which is why I will start out by trying to catch thoughts associated with minor changes in mood. Once I’m comfortable with that, I will move on to using thought-catching as an engagement strategy in times of stress and distress.

It is often helpful at first to use a pen and paper to note these things down in three columns.

(A) Activating event: What just happened?

(B) Thoughts / Self Talk: What might I have told myself about that?

(C) Mood Change: What happened to my mood?

In this way, I will start to build up a picture of the kinds of thoughts that make my moods swing, and the kinds of situations that trigger those thoughts. This will prepare me to be able to recognise and catch those thoughts later when they are fueling my distress.

Once I have gotten good at making myself aware of what my thoughts are, I will add thought-catching to my Personal Coping Kete. In times of stress and distress, I will be able to practice catching my thoughts and observing to myself what triggered them and how the thoughts made me feel. By engaging with my thoughts and emotions before I respond, I will be better prepared to soothe, express, distract myself from or get support with them.

No. 83: Riding the Wave

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

…When I notice shifts in the way I feel, I will stop, take a deep breath and acknowledge that even though they are distressing and unpleasant, I can survive them. I will say to myself “I am riding the wave of emotions” and I will keep breathing.

If I can, I will name what I am feeling and thinking to myself. And I will keep breathing.

It is okay to feel what I feel. Feelings always fluctuate and change, it’s impossible to experience one feeling non-stop, so I can also trust that what I feel in this moment will change. Feelings come and go, rise and fall, like waves as my attention shifts throughout the day.

As I stop and breathe in, I will breathe into an awareness of the feelings and when I breathe out, I will pretend to exhale the feelings with the air – as if I am releasing them. As I am doing this I will remind myself, “I am going to get through this, I am riding the wave of my emotions.”

By riding the wave instead of running from the tide, I will get through this. 

There is an excellent video resource for this well-known mindfulness technique on the DBT Self-Help Website.  If I find it hard to do mindfulness by myself at first, this website has excellent videos that you can practice with until you are familiar enough with the exercise to do it independently.

Once I am familiar with mindfully thinking about my emotions in this way, I will add Riding The Wave to my Personal Coping Kete to help me get through moments of distress.

No. 75: Putting Myself in the Moment

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

…when I find myself wanting or wishing things to be different, I will practice tapping into Buddhist philosophy and regularly remind myself that “whatever I say to the universe, the universe will respond with only one answer – yes.” I cannot ever have what I want, because ‘wanting’ is a statement of lack to begin with. As long as I put myself in that moment of wanting, the universe will provide me with the conditions of wanting. My thoughts, words and actions are the tools with which I create my reality and I can never experience something I am unwilling to express (meaning ‘push out’).

This week I will practice using my self-talk and my imagination to ‘push out’ the object of my desires into reality, rather than ‘pushing out’ my wanting.

Step One: When I find myself wanting or wishing things were different, I will change my thought commands and statements to put myself in that state now. Instead of saying to myself “I want…” or “I wish…” I will say to myself “I have…” or “I am…” or “I will be…”. So for example, instead of “I wish I was in love” I will say to myself “I am going to be in love.”

Step Two: I will then imagine what it will feel like to have that which I want. I will let myself feel those feelings, not the feeling of wanting it, but the feeling of actually having it. I will put myself in those feelings in advance. The mind knows no difference between imagination and reality. I am already having the experience that I want to have, I know what it feels like and sounds like and looks like within me. I will stay with those feelings no matter what, I won’t let external conditions tell me otherwise.

Life is happening through me. Life is not happening to me.

I will start out with the little moment-to-moment wishes for different interactions and things like that. Once I am comfortable putting myself in the moment I am seeking with everyday things, I will add this to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for dealing with distress. When I notice myself feeling distressed, I will tune into what it is I want and use my imagination and self-talk to put myself in that moment now.

No. 56: The Kind-Hearted Self-Therapist

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

I will practice using a self-interview technique to give myself support and get clear on what is happening for me each day. The self-interview technique involves inventing my own ideal supporter or self-therapist and then taking on the role myself by asking myself a series of gentle questions and answering them. I can do this in my head or on a piece of paper. A lot of people find it easier on paper to begin with.

In preparation for practicing the technique, I will write a short list of questions down on a small piece of paper that I can easily keep handy to jog my memory. This is important because I will probably find it hard to think of useful questions to ask myself when I am in the middle of feeling stressed or distressed.

Also in preparation, I will invent a whole character around this self-therapist based on the ideal form of support I would like to receive when I am distressed – then when I do the activity, it might be easier to practice talking to myself in this loving, compassionate way, especially if it is something I don’t do very often.

I will then practice using my kind-hearted self-interview about my daily experience every day.

Once I am comfortable interviewing myself about my daily experiences in a compassionate way like this, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of dealing with stress and distress. When I notice that I am feeling stressed or distressed, I will pause and use the self-interview to give myself a moment to become aware of what is driving my response and what could balance it out in a supportive, compassionate way.

Some good questions to ask myself might be:

  1. What is in my mixed-bag of feelings right now?
  2. What thoughts have been running through my head?
  3. What is happening around me right now?
  4. What are the other possible interpretations of these events?
  5. What evidence do I have for these alternative interpretations?
  6. What interpretations take all of the evidence into account?

This exercise will allow me to practice stepping out of the moment to access a more objective state of mind that fits with my way of seeing things. When human beings are distressed our attention naturally narrows down to focus only on the things that are distressing so we can react to them – this exercise will allow me to return to a more expansive viewpoint that is able to take in all of the elements of the situation around me before I react.  Often this will change the way I feel about the situation and bring the intensity of my responses down.

It takes time to get familiar with techniques like this one – if we are used to being our biggest self-critic, we might find ourselves engaging in self-judgement at various times, which can sometimes make these thought-based activities distressing.  I will pay special attention to giving myself encouraging self-talk and compassion during the activity, respecting the way I react to and cope with things.

In this way, I will take the role of kind-hearted, self-therapist.

I could give myself my ideal form of support, regardless of what kinds of support I am actually being given from the people around me. 

No. 54: Paint

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

I will practice painting something on a piece of paper, wood, cloth or canvas to shift the moment. It doesn’t matter what I paint, I will focus my attention on the sound of the brush on the surface and allow myself to get lost in the brush-strokes.  I could simply colour in the surface, paint how I feel or try to copy something that is around me. Painting is great because I can start it and then come back to it later. When things get stressful or distressing, I can return to the artwork and add to it or I can start a new one if I am feeling completely different.

This will give me some brief valuable ‘me’ time in my day where I can distract myself from what’s going in my day or a moment. This gives my unconscious mind a bit of a rest and sets me up for a moment of safety.

I could get a few tubes of acrylic paint for a few dollars each from my local stationary shop. Some emporium style shops have a great range of really cheap paints, brushes, papers and canvases – but really, I can paint on anything. If I keep in mind that I can do a lot with just one colour and I’ll be able to get started almost straight away.

Once I am used to taking a few moments to paint in my everyday life, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of shifting or expressing moments of stress and distress.

This week’s strategy comes from a participant at today’s RCNet Monthly Forum. We’ve fleshed it out a bit.