Coping Skills Intention Problem Solving

I Can’t Stop Worrying!

Have you ever had one of those times that worry seemed to be the theme of the day? We all struggle with worry or anxiety. Often, we cannot change the thing we are worried about but we invest much energy, either consciously or unconsciously, in the process. We want and need our mind to slow down and give us a break from our thoughts. We are looking for peace and balance in our lives.

We all know that worrying won’t change the outcome but we still get trapped in the cycle.  The worry process can generate much negative energy for us. It can invite us to try to control others’ behaviors or resent them when our needs are not being met. A new process that allows us to work through our worry will benefit us. There is something we can do. Consider the three questions below.

What you are worrying about?

What do you want to happen?

What do you need?

I suggest that you write these three things down when the worry is getting to much. After we identify and write down the specific worry we can move on to what I want to happen; “I want him to stop criticizing me; I want her to return the money I loaned her; I want my kids to do what I tell them to do…” and the list goes on.

Next, what do I need? “I need to feel loved and supported by him; I need her to understand that was money for my own bills and now I am in a bind; I need my kids to listen to me so I don’t have to get angry with them.”

After you have determined the answer to the three questions above, ask yourself another very important question. How much control do I have in this situation? The answer might surprise you. We often have less control than we realize or if we do have some control, we may not be using it in a way to obtain a positive result.

Often our worry is about the actions of others or when they let us down. It can be that we are powerless in a situation and we do not know what to do. Do I have any control over my husband’s critical comments? Do I have any control over another person’s budget or how they spend their money? Do I ultimately have any control over how my children choose to behave?

If you said, “I have no control” over my critical husband you may feel loss and disconnection in the relationship; his criticism may drive additional negativity and resentment. On the other hand, you may feel more hopeful. If you said, “I have 50% of the control because I can talk to him about how I feel, change some things I am doing, or ask him to make changes” then you can work on how you will influence change. The idea is to be realistic about how much control we actually have.

How we perceive the amount of control we have over circumstances or other people will have a direct correlation to how we manage our worries.  Do I feel that I have any control over the situation causing my worry? If so, what are my choices now and am I doing everything I can do? If I have no control, am I spending my precious life energy worrying?

Sometimes I reflect on how many times in my life I worried, lost sleep and spent days being fearful or fretful, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, only to find out that the situation was resolved in some way I did not expect.  Worry dissipated my energy and left me feeling drained. One of the greatest lessons I have learned is about knowing my limits and using my energy to create more positive outcomes.

Having skills to redirect our thinking, to understand our worries, wants, and needs and how much control we can exert in any given situation can greatly influence our happiness and our relationships with others. We can assess how we are using our energy and modify what we are thinking and doing.  We can increase our happiness by managing our thoughts, understanding our options and using our skills in relationships with self and others. By managing our thinking, we increase our happiness and decrease our anxiety.

Coping Skills Intention Problem Solving Self Care

When Art is More Than Meets the Eye

Most of us have been to museums where we have experienced the pleasure of art: a painting, a sculpture, an installation, antiques, or perhaps a living museum as some gardens or zoos are called. Images on social media can also have a powerful effect on us. We are transported to other places in our minds, hearts, and imaginations.  

I am reminded of a trip to the Smithsonian museums where I experienced paintings by both Monet and Renoir. As I stood in front of those aged masterpieces, I got lost in the beauty of them and of the artists who painted them. I had many moments of wonder and reflection that day.

As you view the picture above, can you describe it in detail? As you look at the picture what do you see? What does it make you think or how does it make you feel?  What, if any, sounds or smells does it evoke? How long can you invest yourself in this process?

What I have described above is a technique to increase coping mechanisms. While I could write volumes about art and my experiences, I am particularly interested how you might use art as purposeful distraction. These skills are called “grounding,” and knowing how to do them can improve your ability to cope in a moment of elevated stress when you need it the most.

Here are some ideas and tips to begin using these skills.

Mental Grounding Skills Most people would say “counting to 10” is one skill, and that would be correct. Additional skills could be:

  • Describing your environment in detail, and include everything that you see. Aim for three minutes of focus to start learning this process.
  • Describing objects; this is where art can be useful. Add additional details of sounds you hear, textures, colors, smells, shapes, and numbers. Try to engage all of your senses.
  • Describing things by category. Name your favorite rock bands, flowers in your garden, zoo animals, bible characters … and the list goes on.
  • Describing an everyday activity in great detail. How to cook a meal, change a flat tire, or complete an art project. There are so many things to do and life processes to explore.
  • Imagining a pleasant place you have been, a place that feels safe and nurturing to you. If you struggle with this you can create such a place in your mind. See if you can stay in this place for 5 minutes to begin.
  • Reading aloud to yourself. Start from the end and read to the beginning. This will really give your brain something challenging to work on.

Physical Grounding Skills

  • Run cool or warm water over your hands and wrists.
  • Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can; notice the sensations and the experience.
  • Touch various objects around you: your pen or pencil, a leather handbag or the fabrics you are wearing, furniture you are currently sitting on, or anything that is safe to touch in your environment.  
  • Carry a grounding object in your pocket – a small stone, piece of cloth or object that you can touch when you are struggling with any unpleasant emotion.  
  • Notice your body in the physical space you inhabit. Move your hands or toes and notice the sensation, lean against your chair or experience your feet firmly planted on the floor below you.
  • Jump up and down.
  • Eat something in a slow and mindful way. Try a raisin or an M&M. Don’t swallow it but rather notice the texture on your tongue and in your mouth. Describe it to yourself.
  • Focus on your breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale. How wonderfully your lungs provide oxygen for your body. Focus on this only and do not let your mind wander. Aim for 6-10 focused, deep breaths.

 Soothing Grounding Skills

  • Create kind statements that you can say to yourself, “I am a good person. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to know everything. I am enough.”
  • Ponder on favorite things.
  • Imagine people you care about, that care about you, and look at photographs of them.
  • Remember the words to an inspiring song, bible verse, quotation or poem that makes you feel better. Social media sites like Pinterest have many quotes that can inspire.
  • Use coping statements like, “I will be OK. Nothing lasts forever. This feeling will pass. Tomorrow is a new day.”
  • Think of things you are looking forward to the next day, week, or month. Maybe spending time with family or friends, an upcoming vacation, a meal you will enjoy, or doing something for others.

Some say, “That sounds too simple” and others say, “I can’t focus on anything else but feeling upset in this moment.” Do not underestimate the value of distracting yourself with skilled intention.  Grounding works because our brains cannot focus on two things simultaneously. 

Grounding skills take practice, but the effort will pay off. They can be used anywhere and cost nothing except the wise use of our time and a desire to invest in yourself. They can transport our thinking and change our emotions, which is sometimes exactly what we need to help us get through this moment, this day, or this trial.  Try them, you may be surprised to see how these skills can enhance your coping strategies and your life.

Art is ubiquitous. It is the sculpture in the park, the painting in your hospital room or hallway; it is architecture, a warm smile from a stranger, a favorite coffee mug, or a snapshot of someone you love. Art is more than art; it is a gift we can use to enhance our lives.  

Couples Therapy Goal setting Intention Relationships

Where Do I End and You Begin?

A cat and dog nervously befriending each other

We all need relationships. Family, friends, and intimate partner relationships drive our universal needs for love and connection. Even if we have been hurt hundreds of times, we will still long for a relationship where our needs for love, connection and acceptance are met and, hopefully, where we can meet the needs of another. How do I know where I end and you begin? Healthy relationships need boundaries to create safety and allow for growth. Healthy boundaries share these qualities:

  1. Being able to assess trust in the relationship
  2. Knowing my limits in relationships
  3. Emotional Safety
  4. Physical Safety
  5. The freedom to be myself

Trust is a key feature in healthy relationships. Depending on our life experiences, we may, or may not trust easily. This may have worked well for us or it may have allowed us to be hurt by others. If you have struggled in this area, it may be helpful to think of trust as a gift that is earned slowly. About new friends you may ask yourself ‘Does this person act in a trustworthy manner? Is this person known to be trustworthy by others including family and friends? Is this person honest and how do I know the answer to that question?  Does he/she talk negatively of others?’ Honest assessments will help us to make better decisions about who we choose to trust.

If we struggle with trust in relationships this may be linked to personal needs for safety; this can be especially true if we have experienced trust violations.  We may feel that we can only trust ourselves and that others will ultimately let us down or betray our trust. A general sense of mistrust will lead to feelings of disconnection, isolation and loneliness. Finding persons we can trust will enhance our lives and is a worthwhile effort.  Sometime, working with a therapist can help us restore our ability to trust others.

Time is a factor for long-lasting and trusted relationships. You cannot rush the process.

We might ask ourselves, ‘How do I define myself in relationship with you? Where is my place and how do I hold it when we are together so that I don’t lose myself in this relationship?’ We want to be treated with dignity and respect. One way is to use limits for myself and for others. These are road signs that tell others to stop or to proceed. Examples of limit setting may be:

  1. I can decide how much or how little time I spend with you.
  2. I can say no with or without explanation.
  3. I cannot talk about this subject, but I am grateful for your support.
  4. I do not want you to share the contents of this conversation with anyone.
  5. I would like to receive hugs, or I would not feel comfortable being touched.

Perhaps the most disheartening thing about limit setting or use of boundaries in relationships is when others do not respect them. I always encourage my clients to have a plan that they may follow if others cannot respect limits or boundaries. Each of us is responsible for maintaining our boundaries. For example, if you are not treated with dignity and respect, you could:

  1. Restate the boundary perhaps using different language. This is sometimes called the “broken record” method.
  2. Use an “if-then” statement, e.g. “if you continue to raise your voice with me, then I will hang up the phone.”
  3. Leave the conversation, leave the physical space you are in together, or ultimately leave the relationship.

Don’t underestimate the value of acting on the limits that you set for self and others.

Emotional safety is another important feature in healthy relationships. It means we can share our feelings, be assertive, and be interdependent with one another. Mistakes can and will be made without shaming or being shamed. We can be different and that is OK.  We can be sensitive to each other’s feelings and have empathy for them.

Physical safety in relationships is about making physical boundaries clear to others. How much physical space do you need when talking with others? Studies show that the average is about three feet unless that person is a trusted loved one or friend and then the distance may be less. Physical safety boundaries respect the rights and needs of self and others. They utilize compromise and negotiation in the relationship and include asking permission to touch others when their boundaries may be unknown to us.

In a healthy relationship we get to be our authentic selves. What a relief!  We don’t have to hide our thoughts.  We can share our emotions and be open and honest about our needs. We can see the value in others even if they have different views and needs in relationships.   

We all need relationships.  While no one can do or be the perfect other, healthy relationships continue to evolve and bring us a sense of belonging and connection. Author Donald Miller wrote, “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are” Now, that is my kind of friend!

Goal setting Intention Perspective

10 Ways to Live with Intention

In a world where we spend most of our time making a living and juggling our basic needs, sometimes we get stuck on auto-pilot, going about our daily lives, and miss opportunities to live with intention.  To enhance feelings of connectedness, joy, and accomplishment, consider these 10 ideas: 

“Do the hardest thing first” to increase feelings of accomplishment. We tend to procrastinate on the hard stuff. This can ultimately leave with us feelings of dread. By doing the hardest thing first, we create a space to feel good about ourselves, and other tasks become easier and feel less burdensome. Try it and see!

Make a decision” to do something instead of staying stuck. Procrastinators often struggle with this and end up not accomplishing necessary tasks. This can lead to negative emotions. Even if our decision needs to be revised later, just making a decision and taking a small action creates momentum in your life.

Acting as if” is a skill that can affect self-esteem in a positive way because instead of ruminating on negative thoughts, we improve brain chemistry. Instead of worrying (“Can I do this?”), act as if you can do it, then at least try. See if the outcome isn’t more positive. You might surprise yourself!

“Make a to-do list and start at the bottom.” Just mix it up. Sometimes our brain needs that!

“Do something for another person.” Getting out of our own head and seeing the needs of others can help us to find more balance and gratitude in our life.

“Make gratitude lists.”  Every day. It’s easy to forget who and what we are grateful for in our lives. Gratitude generates positive emotions that act as a buffer for depression.

“Send a thank you card.” Or any kind of card. Who hasn’t gotten a card from the mail and been especially delighted? Studies show that written communication has a powerful effect on the brain. We feel better because someone cares.

“Asking for help” can be hard but everyone needs help at some time or another. While the answer may not always be yes, when we can enlist the help of others, we feel cared for, problems get solved, and burdens are lifted.

“Create a budget.”  Having command of our finances gives us a sense of competency and creates order and structure in our lives. 

“Organize a space in your home.” This idea has taken on more meaning since Marie Kondo showed us how to rid ourselves of things that do not “spark joy” in our lives. Really, we feel more in control of our lives when we can find our stuff.