Coping Skills, Positives

There are still good things even when you don’t see them

I’m on the train going to my family’s home for Thanksgiving and am noticing all the good things.

We rode past beautiful bays and beaches, over rivers emptying into the ocean, through forests of bare branches with sun streaming through.

A little girl, maybe 2 or 3, in a cute dress and white sweater walked down the aisle of the train while looking at a phone, like an adult, and bumped into someone. It was so cute. It made me smile, and the person across the aisle from me (the one the little girl bumped into) saw me smiling and smiled, too.

I texted a bunch of friends I haven’t spoken to in a while. Scrolling through my recent text messages, I can see people from middle school, high school, college, my summer program, and my family. All these nice friends! I’m so glad I have all these great people in my life, even if I don’t see them that often.

The guy sitting next to me apologized after being on the phone for a while (which didn’t bother me at all) and asked if I’d mind if he ate lunch. It was very nice to be treated so politely and considerately.

I’ve been thinking more about gratitude lately since it’s Thanksgiving time. This year I have been making a real effort to pay attention to the good things.

At the beginning of the new year, I saw a BuzzFeed post that mentioned keeping a calendar of good things, or something like that. I liked the idea, and I’ve been actually following through on it, for the most part. I have a calendar with nice pictures hanging on my wall, and each day I write down one good thing that happened in gold sharpie (or green sharpie more recently because my gold ran out).

I don’t put pressure on myself to decide on the best thing that happened that day; just one good thing is enough. Sometimes it’s a good dance class, or someone saying something nice about me, or a yummy dessert I ate, or laughing at something. Some days, or weeks, I forget to fill it out, but that’s okay.

I’ve also been keeping a gratitude journal, which I write in as part of my morning routine. I write in it somewhat infrequently, but when I do do it, it really starts my day off well.

I say all this because noticing, remembering, and focusing on these good things has actually been really helping me. I notice such a difference in myself when I do these things regularly. I’m more tuned in to all the good things going on throughout the day. I’m happier, more appreciative, more loving, and more relaxed.

Sometimes when I’m feeling hopeless and depressed, I challenge myself to think of five good things, right now. In that state of mind, it’s hard to think of good things. I tell myself that anything good is fine; it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Oh, look, that cloud is really nice. That leaf that just fell in front of me has pretty colors. I’m walking and able to use all four limbs. I have a therapist. My jacket is warm. That’s five right there.

I have a friend who sometimes talks very negatively about the world. I wish she knew that when everything looks awful, it’s the depression talking and not the way the world really is. There are good things in the world. I have been in that place where it looks like there aren’t. But that’s just because my emotions are clouding my vision.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t bad things, too. There are, and those are very real and very valid. But it’s not all bad.

There are so many good things in the world, in my life, in my present. Even when I don’t see them, they’re still there. I think that’s important to remember.

Coping Skills

Getting stuff done when anxious and depressed

College has been a struggle with my mental illnesses. I thought I’d make a list of stuff that I have found through trial and error that works for me in hopes of having a nice list for other students who are struggling, anyone who has stuff to get done and has trouble doing it, and myself for when I inevitable forget about all the good skills I have to remind me that I can do things.

Set a timer and work on something for only x amount of time.

  • This is good if the assignment seems too scary or overwhelming.
  • You break it down into a smaller piece that you can handle and feel okay with. Sometimes I set my timer for 20 minutes, and sometimes I set it for 5, or even less. The key is to do something manageable.
  • Then when the timer goes off, I stop and take a break. If I’m up for it, I set the timer again, but I don’t put any pressure on myself to do that.

Rewards!

  • I give myself stickers when I do important stuff, especially stuff that’s hard for me or things that I’ve been procrastinating. I actually mainly use this for therapy stuff, not school stuff, e.g. I give myself stickers for doing exposures, being vulnerable, using skills instead of doing target behaviors, etc.
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I have a sheet of paper pinned to my wall where I write down my accomplishments in pretty colors and give myself a sticker and checkmark.
  • Rewards can go along with the timer thing above. During my break, I can get to  play one round of a game on my phone, go out to the lounge and hang out with friends, read comics, etc.
  • Important note: do not use self care as a reward. A reward is something extra. Keep up with your normal self care habits regardless of whether or not you complete something. Take breaks regardless of whether or not you got anything done.

Ask. for. help.

  • This can be really hard to do, and sometimes asking for help doesn’t actually get you the help you need, which feels awful, but overall asking for help is so essential. 
  • To me, asking for help means:
    • asking questions in class when I’m confused,
    • emailing the professor or TA when something is unclear,
    • emailing my professor to ask for an extension when I’m going through a rough time,
    • asking people in my class if we can work together on the problem set (if collaboration is allowed),
    • asking people in my class how they did x problem I’m struggling with,
    • going to office hours,
    • emailing my disability services coordinator if I have questions or need something or am having a rough time,
    • going to see my advisor,
    • asking to switch my advisor when the relationship isn’t working,
    • asking my friend if I can talk to her when I’m having a bad day,
    • asking a friend if I can hang out with her,
    • asking for a hug,
    • asking my therapist if we can talk about something that’s been bothering me, or if we can have more frequent sessions,
    • asking people in my suite if there’s a problem I’m not sure how to deal with or could just use some help with (mouse in my room, people are being too loud at night when I’m trying to sleep, etc.)
    • and many other things
  • The main thing that gets in the way of asking for help, for me, is lots of shame. I try to check the facts on whether the shame is justified and if the intensity is justified and effective. It’s usually not. Generally, asking for help will a) get me what I want and b) help to solve my problems and also c) show people I care enough about something and d) am working on it enough to ask.

Be realistic when planning out what to do.

  • This is hard for me, especially when the amount of things I have to do is not possible.
  • I have to radically accept that I cannot do everything, and I cannot be perfect.
  • In that case, I have to decide what to skip. Sometimes this means getting less sleep, but I try not to do that because I know less sleep will make me feel worse later. Sometimes it means I don’t go to a club meeting, don’t answer all the questions, get some wrong, skim readings, miss a class, and don’t do things as thoroughly as I like to or as thoroughly as I think my professor would like me to, ideally.
  • In these times it’s helpful for me to remember that other people are skimming the readings, not understanding everything, and getting questions wrong, too. No one is doing all the work.
  • Being realistic is beneficial in the long run because I don’t feel as guilty later for not doing everything. I knew from the start that it was unrealistic, and I had already decided not to do something and accepted that I wasn’t going to do it.

Prioritize, and do the priorities first.

  • I have a new planner this year that categorizes the to-do list into three sections: top priority, priority, and errands. This has been helpful to me because I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the things I have to do. When I put them into the categories, I find that I only have a few top priority things to do, and most of the things I have to do are errands. It will be okay if I don’t get to the errands because they’re less important and less urgent. Knowing this helps me feel less stressed.
  • When deciding what’s a priority, I think about this equation: priority = important + urgent.
  • I also have a drawing on my wall of the fish tank thing where you put the big rocks in first. The fish tank thing…I’m not sure where I heard of this, but it was a while ago. Basically, you want to put the big rocks (important things) into your fish tank (you life, day, schedule) first so that the extra space is filled up with the less important things. If you put the smaller things (sand, gravel) in first, you will fill up your tank before you have room for all the big rocks. Here’s a video explaining it.
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This is my drawing. It’s some sort of vase instead of a fish tank, and I have flowers instead of rocks. The size of the flowers roughly represents the amount of time, relative to the other things, that I want to spend on it. Sleep and self care are the biggest. Classes, homework, and eating are second. Hygiene, fun, planning, and replying are third. Clubs, socializing, and cleaning are next. (some of these things also fall under self care) Projects, events, and volunteering are the smallest.
  • In more concrete terms, for me this means having a rough bedtime to make sure I get enough sleep, blocking out time for meals, going to classes and doing homework before reading random emails and fiddling around on my computer, doing the assignment that’s due tomorrow instead of the one that’s due in two weeks, etc.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to motivate me to do the highest priority things first when other things are more fun or easier. Recently I’ve learned (the hard way) just how guilty, ashamed, sad, angry at myself, and stressed I feel when I don’t do the important things. Although the intensity of these feelings is not justified (i.e. the magnitude is greater than the actual situation calls for, and I should use opposite action), I still want to avoid feeling like that. I’m currently using that as motivation to do the most important things first. (or first-ish)

Take breaks!

  • Lots of little breaks while you’re working (see timer thing),
  • some longer breaks, maybe every few hours (or more/less frequently, depending on how you’re doing)
  • and some really long breaks — I like to take Friday afternoon though Saturday afternoon off and not do things related to school. I also go home about once a month.

Have other important things in your life besides school/work.

  • I like to think of the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” If you put all your eggs in one basket and happen to drop the basket accidentally, all the eggs will crack. But if you keep some eggs at home and put some in a purple basket and some in a green basket, and then if something happens to the eggs in the purple basket, you will still have most of your eggs.
It’s like this cartoon. 🙂 (image from https://www.reddit.com/r/GetMotivated/comments/3i8z5r/image_convertible_and_a_lake_peanuts_by_charles/)
  • When one things gets tough, you can rely on another to keep you going.
  • Therapy, dancing/ballet, arts and crafts, and relationships with friends are things important to me outside of school. I spend time on them, have fun, and make progress. This also helps me keep some perspective. There is more to me than this one thing.

If you’re going to procrastinate, procrastinate effectively. 

  • If you just can’t do that hard thing now, do something else productive. Take a shower, do laundry, eat a meal, reply to an email, etc. Then you won’t have to do it later on, and you’ll feel accomplished!

Take care of yourself when you need to.

  • If your anxiety is too high to concentrate at all, or you’re dissociating and can’t focus, or can’t stop crying and thinking bad thoughts, take a step back and evaluate what skills you need to use. Forget about work for now and just focus on taking care of yourself and your mental health. It’s more important. Use skills that you know work for you. Then go back to the work later, once you’ve recovered. Communicate upfront if you didn’t do something that others were relying on or expecting (e.g. group project). Be honest if you can.

Budget in extra time. Allow for mishaps. 

  • I’m not very good at this now but hope to be better at it. I sometimes have flashbacks or other crises that take me out of commission for a few hours. Ideally, I would not be doing my homework right before the deadline, and I would schedule in a few spare hours with nothing planned so that other things can flow over into it so that when this happens, it wouldn’t cause as great a problem, but I’m not there yet. I’m working on it.

Listen to music while working.

  • This probably doesn’t work for everyone (well, nothing works for everyone), but I find music helpful in blocking out distractions. If I listen to upbeat music, it also keeps me somewhat energized and hopeful about what I’m doing. Today I’ve been listening to a 60s music playlist on youtube. 🙂

Keep up with normal self care habits.

  • They generally make people feel better overall and more motivated and able to do things.
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Also on my wall — this reminds me of what self care means to me. The blowing bubbles imagery reminds me to breathe out as if I’m blowing a bubble.
  • Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. You can do it!! 🙂

 

In summary, because this was a long post:

  1. Set a timer and work on something for only x amount of time.
  2. Rewards!
  3. Ask. for. help.
  4. Be realistic when planning out what to do.
  5. Prioritize, and do the priorities first.
  6. Take breaks!
  7. Have other important things in your life besides school/work.
  8. If you’re going to procrastinate, procrastinate effectively.
  9. Take care of yourself when you need to.
  10. Allow for mishaps. Budget in extra time.
  11. Listen to music while working.
  12. Keep up with normal self care habits.
  13. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. You can do it!! 🙂
Coping Skills

How to be non-judgmental (towards yourself)

I’ve been trying to be more non-judgmental towards myself.

I wasn’t sure how to go about this at first, and google searches didn’t really help and were more aimed at being non-judgmental of others. (“Start by being non-judgmental towards yourself!” yes, but how?!) I’ve been thinking about this and working on it, and now that I’ve made some progress, I can share (what I think is) how to actually be non-judgmental.

  1. Notice judgments. (Observe) How will you know how you’re being non-judgemental if you don’t know how you’re being judgmental?

What is a judgment? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing,” or “an opinion or estimate so formed.” A judgment is an opinion. It is subjective, not factual.

People make judgments all the time. Most of them are harmless or even helpful. “Pink is the best color” is a judgment. “She’s smart” is a judgment. “I’m an awful person” is a more problematic judgment.

Notice judgments in what you say out loud. For example, I preface a lot of things with, “This is weird, but…” “This is silly, but…” “This isn’t a big deal, but…” and I say “Sorry for being annoying” and “sorry for being weird.”

Notice judgments in what others say. When you’re talking to someone one-on-one and can really listen to what they’re saying, be on the lookout for judgments. At my DBT day program one day at lunch, I was talking to someone new, trying to get to know him. Someone else asked him to tell us something about himself, and he said, “I’m a failure.” I said, “That’s a judgment” (this was a therapy program, after all). It was helpful for me to notice what judgments others had in order to be more aware of what judgments were in general. And it can help other people have a more balanced perspective if you point it out.

Notice judgments in what you think. I think, “Aah! They hate me!” “I should shut up” “I’m so weird” “Why am I doing this, this is weird” “I’m so annoying” etc.

Notice judgments in what you write. If you have a journal, notice judgments you have in it. I’m generally less judgmental in my writing, but I do say things like, “I need to…” “I f***ed this up” “I can’t do this” “This is awful”

2. Label them as judgments. (Describe) You could say something like, “I notice that I’m having the judgment that I am annoying.” “I notice the thought that I am weird.” “I am having the thought that I am pathetic.”

3. Stop yourself from saying them. Freeze your muscles, pause, stop in the middle of the sentence or word.

4. Replace judgments with facts and self-validation. Be as specific as possible. (I’m not good at this still working on this part, so these examples below aren’t that good could probably be improved on!)

  • Replace “I can’t do this” with “I’m having a hard time doing this.” (self validation and more true)
  • Replace “I’m so weird” with “I walked into the room when everyone was silent. I did not know that they were going to be silent when I opened the door.” (the facts)
  • Replace “This is silly” with “It makes sense that someone I know going on vacation makes me anxious because I was in a bad car accident while on vacation.” (self validation)
  • Replace “Sorry for being annoying” with “I hope I wasn’t bothering you by texting you twice in one day” (being more specific)

It’s probably hardest to be non-judgemental in your thoughts.

  1. To start, try writing your thoughts in a journal in a stream of consciousness way.
  2. Read it over and highlight or underline the judgments. I notice that I am much more aware of my thoughts when I’m writing in my journal.
  3. Then, practice noticing, describing, and replacing your judgements while meditating. Set a timer and pay attention to everything. I like to use the Calm app.
  4. Finally, catch yourself while thinking.

Yay! Being non-judgmental towards myself helps me feel much better about myself. 🙂

After writing this, I realized that my initial google searches weren’t actually very thorough, and I was able to find some websites that were useful:

Do you notice judgments that you have about yourself?

Coping Skills

Nightmare Plan (and ice dives)

I have a lot of nightmares and have a hard time getting out of the fear and/or dissociation when I wake up. It is hard to either fall back asleep or to get up and get on with my day. So, this is the plan I came up with after some suggestions from my therapist.

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My plan has suggestions of things to try that will probably actually help me. It also has pictures of me doing them, so that it’s easier to figure out how to do them when my brain is slow.

It says:

Nightmare Plan:

  • Ice dive
  • Drink water
  • Play catch
  • STUN wave (Sensations, Thoughts, Urges, Name the emotion)
  • Listen to music
  • Paced breathing (in-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4, out-2-3-4, hold-2-3-4)
  • Go for a walk (go to the bathroom, go outside, pace in room, stretch/yoga/ballet)
  • Self-validation
  • Ground in present (5-4-3-2-1 senses, colors of the rainbow)

Self-validation:

  • “All emotions are valid.”
  • “It makes sense that I am feeling this way, given my life experiences.”
  • “It’s okay to feel strong emotions.”
  • “Something scary happened to me, and it makes sense that being reminded of that would be scary, too.”
  • “I am feeling ___.” (scared, sad, angry, happy, loving, shameful, guilty, envious, jealous, disgusted)
  • “I had a nightmare.”
  • “It was intense and very scary.”
  • “And, in this moment, I am safe.”

I tried this last night, and the ice dive followed by paced breathing and listening to music or calming sounds seemed to help. Identifying that I was feeling fear also helped.

An ice dive, if you haven’t heard of it, is a way of getting your heart rate to slow down (and therefore making your anxiety come down a bit) pretty quickly by making your face very cold. It’s a way of hacking your evolutionary reflexes. Your body thinks you just fell into an icy river, so it brings down your heart rate.

You can simulate diving into an icy river by sticking your face in a bowl of ice water for 10-20 seconds a few times. Making a bowl of ice water is too much effort and thinking for me when I’m coming out of a nightmare, so I do the ice dive differently.

I keep instant ice packs near my bed and just crack one and hold it over my eyes while lying in bed. It calms me down fairly quickly. A slowed heart rate also helps me to fall asleep! I also keep ice packs with me during the day and try to use them when I am having a flashback, anxiety attack, or am just feeling intense fear and having a hard time calming down.

Ice dives are a part of the “Temperature” component of the TIPP DBT skill. TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced breathing, and Progressive muscle relaxation. It’s a Distress Tolerance skill and is intended to change your body chemistry when you are super overwhelmed. I think it’s really cool how well it works. 🙂

More info about ice dives! description of ice divesdescription of TIPP skills, including ice dives

This Nightmare Plan is taped to my wall near my pillow so that I can see it while lying in bed.

Yay for things that work!

Coping Skills

Using Coordinated Movement for Dissociation

This week I learned a new technique to use when I’m dissociating.

I started an intensive outpatient treatment program in DBT last Monday. I think DBT is awesome. 10/10 would recommend. I am learning a ton of new skills and getting answers to every question I ever had. I feel very lucky to be able to participate in this incredible program.

I have learned many new skills, but this is one that I had no idea existed beforehand and that has been really helping me. I’m not sure if this is a DBT skill or just a grounding skill, but it was my DBT therapist that explained it to me and helped me to practice it, so I am crediting the program with this.

Basically the thing is this: Our brains can’t dissociate and coordinate our movements properly at the same time. So, if someone is dissociating, or beginning to dissociate, doing some sort of coordinated movement can help to stop the dissociation and bring their mind back to the present and their surroundings.

What is a “coordinated movement“? It’s something you do that requires you to focus your body on moving. My DBT therapist suggested standing on a balance board, playing catch, and dancing.

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I have learned on my own over the past year that dancing can bring me out of a flashback surprisingly quickly. I have a playlist of specific songs that I dance to in order to ground myself. So, it was validating to hear that dancing requires coordination and that that’s probably why it was helping.

If I don’t have a balance board readily available (I can use one while I’m at the program, but not at home), or if it would be too hard to get access to one in the moment, I can just try to balance while standing on one leg for as long as I can. If that’s too easy, I can stand on my tippy toes, too.

Throwing something around is also great. If there’s someone else around, and they’re willing to do this with me, we can play catch. If I’m on my own, I can throw a ball against the wall or bounce it on the floor. If I’m in a group of people, I can simply toss anything from hand to hand without feeling like I’m being weird.

I am going to start carrying around a bouncy ball!

I am also learning that I dissociate a lot. I’ve known for a long time that dissociation is a symptom of PTSD, but I’ve always thought of it as “that one symptom I don’t have.” I don’t think I really understood what the word was describing.

Now I am beginning to pick up on the clues that I am starting to dissociate. I feel dizzy, all thoughts flee my mind, I zone out, I’m not really looking at anything in particular, it’s hard to remember what I was just saying, I ask “whaaat?” in my head or out loud, my muscles feel weak, my legs feel like they’re dropping out from under me and disappearing, I feel like I’m not here, I feel like things aren’t real, I have an urge to run away and hide.

Grabbing something and throwing it up and down or from one hand to the other is hard in the moment. It is hard to remember to do it, it is hard to be willing to do it and trust that it could probably help, and it is physically hard to do it because I am attempting to override the dissociation.

Standing up when I want to freeze and stay still forever because I think that if I don’t, something bad will happen, is hard. Moving any part of me, even just readjusting the position I’m sitting in, is hard because that is not what my body is wired to do.

But I am safe now. In this moment, I am safe. It is okay to move. It is okay to stay present and to experience this moment. I am having a reaction, that is all. I have gotten through this before, and I will get through it again. It’ll be okay.

Had you heard of this skill before? Have you tried it? If you dissociate, what helps you bring yourself out of that?

Coping Skills

Morning Routine

I’ve been having a lot of nightmares recently, so I’ve come up with a morning routine to help me get on with my day. I like keeping this sheet next to my bed so that once I’ve woken up I’m not at a loss for what to do and how to live. This routine really helps me to start my day right. I sometimes change up the order or skip some steps, but having a methodical, ordered plan and doing positive things to wake myself up has been really helping me.

I found that I often got stuck between reading something funny on Buzzfeed and getting out of bed. I just stay there reading more and more, or start looking on Pinterest or Youtube for other funny things in order to cram out the bad in my mind. I think the idea of getting out of that warm, safe place and facing my day is too intimidating. So, I tried to break up that step into smaller steps. My ideas about how to transition from lying in bed to standing up are in the picture on the right. They’re intended to get myself to move around a little because after a nightmare I really want to fall into the freeze response, and that doesn’t do me any good. So there they are! 🙂

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What do you do to get yourself going?