A Check-Up From the Neck Up
Happy Thursday everyone! I have a huge treat for you today. The fabulous Kassandra Lamb is in the house and is going to hang out with us. You know how I like to
go on and on share my thoughts on fitness and nutrition. Well, Kassandra is going help us tune-up our mental state. I don’t know about you, but I needed to read this blog because I’m totally messed up sure I could use a minor adjustment. Trust me, we are in good hands, as you can see from her bio.
Writing and psychology, have always vied for number one on Kassandra Lamb’s Greatest Passions list. In her youth, she had to make a decision between writing and paying the bills. She was partial to heat, electricity and food, so…
Now retired from a career as a psychologist, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe in which her protagonist, Kate, is always the kind, generous and insightful person that Kass wishes she were. When not at her computer, transported in mind and spirit into Kate’s world, she lives in Florida and Maryland, with her husband and her Alaskan Husky, Amelia. She also hangs out on Twitter –> @KassandraLamb and Facebook.
So, without further adieu, here’s Kass!
A Check-Up From the Neck Up
Thanks for letting me hang out with you today! Since you’re so in to health and fitness, Ginger, I thought I’d talk a bit about mental health.
Most of my clients when I was a psychotherapist, came to see me because they were really hurting. Going to therapy is right up there with having a root canal for most people; it tends to be a last resort kind of thing. And once my clients had cleaned out their psyches sufficiently that the pain went away, i.e., they were ready to leave therapy, I rarely heard from them again. Which was okay with me. It’s the nature of the job that you work yourself out of a job.
If I did hear from them, it usually meant that something was causing them pain again. So when I got a call one day from a former client, who said she felt that she was due for a “check-up from the neck up,” I thought, Uh, oh, I wonder what’s happened.
When she came in for her session, she talked about how her elderly mother was starting to need some care-taking, then segued into some quite normal frustrations with raising teenagers. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: she was getting divorced, her kids were into drugs, she’d been abducted by aliens. Nope, she just needed to talk through a few things, get my take on them, make sure she was on the right track with her mother and her boys.
Every year or so after that, she’d come in for her check-up from the neck up. And I realized that this was a very healthy thing she was doing. She was checking things out with a professional before they became a big deal, making sure she was on the right track as she handled life’s stresses.
I’m not sure what reminded me of this client recently but I got to wondering why we don’t have mental health check-ups, like we do for our physical health. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we nipped our psychological problems in the bud, instead of waiting until they abscess and we can’t ignore the pain anymore? Equally important, we should have more emphasis on preventive mental health practices. Like we do with our physical health.
So here are my Top Ten Tips for a Healthy Psyche:
#1: Drink more water.
Wait that’s Ginger’s list. I picked up the wrong one. Okay, here it is.
#1: Remind yourself daily that you are responsible for your own happiness. Others can’t make you unhappy. Oh sure, their actions can affect your feelings, but then you have a choice about whether or not you go on letting them affect you. You can (a) confront them to try to get them to change their behavior (good luck with that one, but certainly give it a try), (b) choose to ignore them (this is not pretending that you don’t care; you have to truly let it go), (c) change your attitude about what they are doing or the situation, and/or (d) get away from them. When you think about it, that’s a simple checklist of options whenever we don’t like something: change it, ignore it, adjust to it or get away from it.
#2: Check in with yourself several times a day and ask yourself how you are feeling. Make it a habit that you link to something else in your routine, like mealtimes or driving to and from work. Just stop and take a second or two to assess where you are emotionally. If you’re not reasonably content, then ask yourself why not? This ties in with…
#3: Avoid doing things you don’t like to do, if possible. What!?!? you may be thinking, There’s lots of things I don’t like that I have to do. I’m a responsible adult. Key words are “if possible,” but there are often a lot more possibilities than people realize.
I hate to exercise! (Ginger’s frowning at me.) But I know it’s a necessary evil, so I looked long and hard for a way to exercise that I at least didn’t mind. And I found one. I love Zumba! Now I’m only facing minor inertia when it’s time for exercise class; not dread and loathing!
When faced with a task you really don’t like (I’m not talking minor annoyance here) you can also ask yourself how you might do the task differently. I hate cleaning even more than exercise, but I discovered that if I did one or two chores every day or so–clean a toilet here, dust a room there, as needed–I always have a relatively clean house without spending an entire day, every few weeks, on the drudgery of cleaning (yes, I used to put it off for weeks).
We can also look at delegating and trading off options.
When my husband and I were dating, we would quite often end up at K-Mart during the course of the evening, where he would buy yet another package of underwear so that he could put off doing laundry awhile longer. Now you might be wondering why I kept dating this guy. Actually I am too because it sounds kind of creepy in the retelling, but we’ve been married almost 36 years, and that’s pretty much the weirdest thing he’s ever done. He just really, really disliked doing laundry.
But he likes to cook, which I’m not all that fond of. So when we got married, he took over the kitchen and I rule in the laundry room and we’re both a lot happier.
#4: Really avoid the things you truly hate! Why? Because if you hate them that much, they are probably pushing your psychological buttons. And if you keep forcing yourself to do them, it will make you mentally and emotionally sick. Kinda like forcing yourself to eat spoiled food. Ick!
If you can figure out why that thing is pushing your buttons, that’s great! Then you may be able to pull the wires loose inside your psyche and disconnect the button. But even if you can’t do that, at least you will know why you need to avoid that thing that you really hate. You’ll go from feeling a little crazy to knowing you are taking good care of your mental health.
If you can’t figure out why your buttons are getting pushed or how to disconnect them, then look for a way to get around doing that thing that you hate, or again perhaps doing it a different way (See #1 and #3 above).
After about 14 years of doing psychotherapy, I started to burn out. I got into teaching part-time, so I could cut back on my therapy practice some. My first department chair and I, well, it’s not that we didn’t get along; it’s more that we didn’t quite know how to react to each other. I had trouble reading him and he seemed to have just as much trouble figuring out where I was coming from. Now I was used to being self-employed, with no boss at all. I discovered that I really hated working for someone else again, and worrying about whether or not they were going to keep me on as an employee (I was contractual, so I worked at his whim). My stomach was so twisted in a knot over it that I was contemplating quitting, even though I loved the teaching itself.
I had a little conversation with myself, and eventually realized that this situation was pushing my control buttons. I didn’t like somebody else having control over my ability to survive (i.e., make money to pay the bills). But then I realized I was thinking about it all wrong. I needed to think of myself as a self-employed contractor who chose to teach for that particular institution, and if I didn’t like it there, or if they didn’t renew my contract, I’d go teach somewhere else. I changed my attitude toward the situation and suddenly I felt in control again. I taught for that institution for nine years and, aside from private practice, it was the best job I ever had.
Now let me make an important distinction here, between the things you hate and the things you fear.
#5: Face the things you fear if they are obstacles to getting where you want to be. If you’re afraid of snakes and you live in the city and hate hiking, don’t worry about it. We do not have to face every one of our fears. Only the ones that are stopping us from achieving our goals. But facing our fear doesn’t necessarily mean you just forge ahead, making yourself do something. That may make things worse.
One approach is to try to figure out why we are afraid of something. Again identifying the button may help us to disconnect it. But sometimes, often even, we are just afraid of the unknown or the unfamiliar.
I was that way regarding promoting my books. I had no idea what I was doing and I knew I’d have to learn about Twitter and Facebook and blogging, and…, and… *grabbing paper bag*
I am techno-challenged and this all felt very overwhelming. So I gave myself some of my own advice. I told myself to…
#6: Slow down and “chunk it down” when you feel overwhelmed. I gave myself permission to take it slow, to just learn one form of social media at a time. So I got on Twitter (it helps if you get some instruction in a case like this as well; thank you, Shannon!) Once I was tweeting away with ease, I tackled Facebook. Now I’m starting to develop some confidence in my ability to learn these networks and I’m getting kind of antsy to try Pinterest, or maybe go get some bones over at Triberr, whatever the heck that means. But I remind myself to take it slow. I’m not quite there yet with Facebook and I don’t want to get overwhelmed again.
#7: Don’t procrastinate! If you are nervous about doing something, start it as soon as you possibly can. Then one of two things will happen: (a) you will get it over with, breathe a sigh of relief and can stop worrying about it, sooner instead of later; or (b) if it really is as hard as you imagined, you’ve got plenty of time to deal with it.
#8: Trust your gut! If you’ve got a gut feeling about something, know that there is a reason for that feeling. What we call our gut instinct is really some part of our brain, that we are not currently in direct communication with, that has noticed something is off, or has made some connection between two or more pieces of information that puts a different spin on whatever is happening.
Your gut is never wrong! Let me repeat that, your gut is never wrong! The problem with our gut instincts, however, is that the gut doesn’t talk. So we have to figure out what it’s trying to tell us. And sometimes we misinterpret the message. But that gut feeling means our brains have picked up on something!
The tricky part about this is that we need to trust our gut even when others are telling us we’re wrong, overreacting, being silly, etc. We are none of those things. We are just trying to figure out what our gut has picked up on and what it means; in the meantime, we need to keep ourselves safe, physically and emotionally, by remaining a bit on guard. Better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.
#9: Relax at least three times a day. And one of them needs to be right before bedtime so you sleep well. This is basic stress management. And no whining that you’re too busy and can’t do this. I’m talking about a 5 to 10-minute break (although 15 to 20 minutes is better). If you stop and relax, and lower your stress level for a few minutes, you will be more focused and more productive when you go back to what needs to get done.
#10: Get and give lots of hugs! Research has found that physical affection increases the release of a hormone called oxytocin, in both men and women. This hormone calms us and helps us cope with stress, and it also works on our brains to encourage “affiliative behavior.” That’s psychobabble for it makes us want to hang out with others more, which helps us get our emotional needs met, and helps us get more hugs. Isn’t that a cool little hormone!
Now I’m not saying that doing all these things will guarantee good mental health, any more than eating more fiber and drinking lots of water will guarantee physical health. But training yourself to do these things on a daily basis will drastically increase the chances that you will be more mentally healthy, and happier!
Ginger’s over there on the treadmill, so we have a little while yet. Any thoughts about all of this? Any helpful hints for mental health that I’ve forgotten to mention?
Oh, by the way, I had a new book come out this week, in my Kate Huntington mystery series (she’s a psychotherapist too), and to celebrate, misterio press is holding a contest. Anyone who comments here today will get their name put in the hat to win a free three-book set of the series. If you go to www.misteriopress.com and comment on my blog there, we’ll put your name in the hat again, and you can get a third entry by showing up tomorrow over at Jennifer L. Oliver’s place, http://www.small-escapes.com where she and I will be chatting about writing, eating and puppy dogs. And there’s another way to get a bonus entry, but you have to go to misterio press to find out what that is (because we like to be mysterious).
Here comes Ginger.
Hey thanks for letting me come visit today. You’re the best, Ginger!
~Isn’t Kass awesome! Thanks so much for your tips. There were a lot of those that I have been neglecting to do in my life.
Now I know you all want to run out and get Kassandra’s book. I know I do! Check out this fabulous cover.