Fostering Resilience with Self-Care

  • By 7016369785
  • 05 Jun, 2017

By Christy Porter

Since the myth of the stress-free life has been shattered for most of us, we are left with managing our stress. Even “good stress,” or positive life events, add to the overall stress load a person carries. Using self-care to offset stress not only involves getting enough sleep and good nutrition; at its best, it universally involves looking for some level of fun and sources of joy.  

Fostering resilience in the face of stress, rather than trying for perfection or pretending stress doesn’t have an impact, gives people more pleasant options for relief, as well as healthier options. Even the definitions of resilience suggest more than one attitude toward managing stress. One such definition emphasizes strength in the face of adversity and the skills that people can learn to foster that strength. Another definition of resilience , the ability to “spring back into shape” or “elasticity,” brings to mind favorite children’s toys, like the hippity-hop, the trampoline, or, for today’s adults, the modern Pilates ball. A well-rounded program of self-care should include fostering habits of mind and body that contribute to strength under pressure and encouraging play as a source of strength and refreshment.

The concept of the need for self-care gained prominence as mental health professionals began focusing on the needs of caregivers; however, everyone needs to consider their own self-care to allow them to live fulfilling lives, manage their health, and contribute to their own well-being.

Self-care is not the same thing as self-pampering. Christine Meinecke points out in “ Self-care in a toxic world ” that “Medical and mental health professionals pioneered the concept of self-care by prescribing healthy lifestyle changes and stress management behaviors.” However, commercials and marketing practices often sell self-care as “self-pampering,” regardless of whether people can afford things like spa days and fancy chocolates, or not. Meinecke suggests that if you can’t afford such things, what is being suggested to you is self-indulgence rather than self-care. The key difference she outlines is that “Self-indulgence is characterized by avoidance of the effortful and substitution of quick and easy antidotes,” while self-care involves attention to needs and proven stress relief tactics. This doesn’t mean that the occasional self-indulgence is wrong, but regularly indulging in activities or purchases that are not readily affordable are more likely to increase long-term financial stress.The “quick-fix” isn’t worth that extra stress and is unlikely to have consistent, long-term positive benefits.

Identifying how stress feels in your body is of primary importance. In “ Taking care of yourself , ” the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that “Stress affects your entire body, physically as well as mentally. Some common physical signs of stress include:

   ·         Headaches

   ·         Low energy [including sleeping more than usual]

   ·         Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea

   ·         Aches, pains, and tense muscles

   ·         Insomnia

 

In “ Managing stres s ” NAMI also highlights non-physical symptoms such as frequent mood swings, difficulty concentrating and feeling overwhelmed. NAMI also points out that “When experiencing long-term stress, your brain is exposed to increased levels of a hormone called cortisol. This exposure weakens your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.”

Eliminating all stressors isn’t a realistic option for any of us, but paying attention to the way stress makes us feel gives us a starting point for recognizing when we need additional care or when to make use of acute stress management tactics, even if those symptoms occur after, rather than during, a stressful situation, or if they build up over time.

Self-care plans have to be tailored to individual lives and needs. NAMI has a “ Self-Care Inventory ” with detailed basics and spaces for people to add their own details like playing with pets, enjoying pleasant spaces, or a prompt to go looking for something to enjoy this week.  When under a lot of stress, the idea of taking on another checklist or list of expectations can be intimidating. Rather than using the inventory to criticize yourself or others, consider using it simply as a way to explore what you are currently doing, and ideas you might consider. Not all of the items on the list will work for each person, but they might produce ideas. The general areas of self-care on this inventory include physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and workplace or professional self-care. Sketching out these basics to make sure there’s not a huge gap in self-care tactics, or using the inventory to track changes and results, are just two ways such a list can be useful. Using the inventory as a starting point for really examining specificactions that can help you be more resilient and more flexible regularly and under stress makes this a useful tool. 

Recognizing the build-up of long term stressors by checking physical symptoms or running through a checklist can allow a person to review their self-care habits and see if they’ve started dropping helpful habits or if they need to investigate new ones. Cutting back on sleep or numbing out in front of a screen are some of the initial tactics people use when they want to escape stress, but both will actually increase physical stress responses.

In “ Seven types of self-care activities for coping with stress ,” Barbara Markway Ph.D. tops her list with sensory activities that bring a person into the present moment and space, including: breathe in fresh air; snuggle under a cozy blanket; listen to running water; sit outdoors by a fire-pit, watching the flames and listening to the night sounds; wiggle your bare feet in overgrown grass; stare up at the sky; lie down where the afternoon sun streams in a window; and listen to music. Her other categories of suggestions include pleasures like enjoying a favorite meal, mental/mastery activities like cleaning out a junk drawer or reading something on a topic you wouldn’t normally explore, spiritual activities like lighting a candle, writing in a journal, or spending time in nature, and emotional activities such as accepting your feelings, laughing when you can, and practicing self-compassion.

Self-care habits need to be tailored to the individual. In “ 7 ways to help you destress ,” NAMI’s Laura Greenstein recognizes the scientifically proven benefits of meditation for many people, but admits that it just doesn’t help her much at all. Instead, she’s put together a list that includes the reasons these activities are beneficial and how to do them responsibly (particularly “retail therapy”). Making a music playlist is her first suggestion and she points to relatively new research in music therapy which indicates that music “has the ability to affect the speed of your brainwaves, which can help us achieve a therapeutic state.” As you might expect, her next suggestion is singing – in the car, in the shower, to the dog, alone, in a choir. “Research shows that singers have lower levels of cortisol, which suggests lower amounts of stress. It feels good to let something out and your voice, whether you know how to sing our [sic.] not, is something that you always have with you.” Coloring and calling your favorite funny friend are two of my other favorites from her list. Again, check out her article for full explanations and support for her suggestions.

In January 2017 Inc. magazine came out with “ 52 Ways You Can Be Kinder to Yourself , ” acknowledging the importance of finding healthy ways to manage stress and build resilience in our work lives as well as our personal lives. TED talks also put together a playlist of nine of their best talks on “ The importance of self-care ,” available for free on Youtube.

All of this attention to stress and to self-care as a remedy for stress emphasizes the importance of fostering resilience in our lives. Learning self-care tactics helps people manage stress, thereby reducing its traumatic effects. Instead of becoming more stressed, people can take action to become more flexible in their responses and thinking patterns. Stress can be managed, rather than just endured. This change in cognitive thinking leads to real resilience – both strength and elasticity – in our lives.

The New Yorker’s 2016 article “ How people learn to become resilient ,” by Maria Konnikova, covers the history of research into resilience, beginning with the work ofNorman Garmezy with school children four decades ago. Garmezy’s breakthrough was to flip the question from asking about areas of vulnerability in cases of trauma and negative life events, to a focus on resilience -- the “elements of an individual’s background and personality that could enable success despite the challenges they faced.” Later research revealed that not only could the key factors of resiliency be identified, they could be learned.

Konnikova notes the research of George Bonanno at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College and the Loss, Trauma, and Emotions Lab, and sums up his results with this statement: “In a sense, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.” Skills identified by the research of  Martin Segilman at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that working to shift:

   explanatory styles from internal to external (“Bad events aren’t my fault”), from global to specific (“This is one narrow thing rather than a

   massive indication that something is wrong with my life”), and from permanent to impermanent (“I can change the situation, rather than

   assuming it’s fixed”) made them more psychologically successful and less prone to depression. The same goes for locus of control: not

   only is a more internal locus tied to perceiving less stress and performing better but changing your locus from external to internal

   leads to positive changes in both psychological well-being and objective work performance.                  


Many people may recognize these shifts in thinking patterns as similar to those worked on in cognitive behavioral therapies, using Dr. David Burns’ list of cognitive distortions .

The key take away from Konnikova’s review of the research for most of us is that, “The cognitive skills that underpin resilience, then, seem like they can indeed be learned over time, creating resilience where there was none.” Reducing overall stress loads and increasing self-care allows people the energy and the time to make these cognitive changes and provides more immediate relief.

For suggestions on ways to reduce acute stress reactions, particularly at work, see Melanie Greenberg’s recent article “ 7 Stress Hacks You Can Use in the Next 5 Minutes ” for suggestions, including deep breathing, sitting or standing up straight, and looking at a nature seen for several minutes. Her additional tactics are all also great for immediate relief while a person works to develop a self-care plan with more individualized options for both long-term and acute situations.

MyStrength.com is a free online resource to track wellness and self-care, and can be used for both acute and long-term self-care, as well. After helping a person develop a wellness profile, it makes use of prompts, video resources, articles, and stress management tactics. As of May 1, 2017 MyStrength.com has also introduced a “robust” set of new stress management resources as well. If you are interested in using the free myStrength.com online self-help resource, please contact our office at 724-981-7141 to receive an access code. MyStrength is a nonprofit, privately owned business dedicated to making behavioral improvements.


You can learn more about Community Counseling Center of Mercer County at www.cccmer.org . We also invite you to connect with us on Facebook, or to contact us by calling (866) 853-7758 or 724-981-7141 for information or to schedule an evaluation if you’d like assistance in developing a self-care plan.


Resources

Burns, David, Dr. (1989) "The feeling good workbook" New York: William Morrow and Co.

Daskal, Lolly. (2017, January 30) 52 ways you can be kinder to yourself. .Inc Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/52-ways-you-can-be-kinder-to-yourself.html

Greenberg, Melanie Ph.D. (2017 April 24) “7 Stress hacks you can use in the next 5 minutes.” Psychology Today . Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201704/7-stress-hacks-you-can-use-in-t...

Greenstein, Laura. (2016, January 22). “7 Ways to help you de-stress.” National Alliance for Mental Illnes. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2016/7-Ways-to-Help-You-De-stress

Konnikova, Maria. (2016, February 11) “How people learn to become resilient.” The New Yorker . Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/the-secret-formula-for-resilience

 Markway, Barbara Ph.D. (2014 March 16) “Seven Types of Self-Care Activities for Coping with Stress” Psychology Today . Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is-nice/201403/seven-types-self-care-activities-coping-stress

Meinecke, Christine, Ph.D. (2010 June 5) “Self-care in a toxic world.” Psychology Today . Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/everybody-marries-the-wrong-person/201006/self-care-in-toxic-world

National Alliance for Mental Illness (n.d.) “Managing stress.” Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition/Managing-Stress

National Alliance for Mental Illness (PDF) (n.d.) “Self-care inventory.” Retrieved from https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nami.org%2Fgetattachment%2FExtranet%2FEducation%2C-Training-and-Outreach-Programs%2FSignature-Classes%2FNAMI-Homefront%2FHF-Additional-Resources%2FHF15AR6SelfCare.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHj1E___o5OqIpmhYBnnH-gyc4GTw&sig2=XUfp3mGsKcSdGpXH6zwWQQ

National Alliance for Mental Illness (n.d.) “Taking care of yourself.” Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Family-Members-and-Caregivers/Taking-Care-of-Yourself

TEDtalks (videos) “The importance of self-care.” Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/playlists/299/the_importance_of_self_care










Community Counseling Center Blog | Hermitage, PA

By 7016369785 20 Jul, 2017

Chasing the Dragon (Part 2)

Addiction is a brain disease. Many people have difficulty separating the person from the disease. We cannot see inside our loved one’s brain to see that there is something wrong. Instead, what we see are the behaviors that develop over time which support the addiction. These behaviors are what cause relationship issues within a family. Personality change, irresponsible decision making, secrecy, not coming home on time, missing important events, absenteeism, and job loss and emotional instability are a few of the observable signs that the addiction is present. The addicted individual becomes unable to respond to his environment in a healthy, adaptive manner as the addiction takes over the brain.

Early use attacks the brain on a level that provides a feeling of extreme pleasure and satisfaction as it inserts itself into the reward centers of the brain. Many addicted will say that they had never felt better in their life. Because of their genetic and biological susceptibility, this euphoria is intense and consuming. Once it wears off, the desire to seek that feeling again leads to a repeat of the behavior. The problem is, they can never reach that place again. This is not always immediately evident and the individual will continue to try to reach that same level of pleasure, repeatedly. Eventually, with repeated use, the body “improves” its ability to detoxify the substance. This leads to higher and higher tolerance of the substance, meaning it takes more to get an effect. Eventually, the brain and the body believe that the substance is necessary to survival.

Our reward, or pleasure centers have a purpose in maintaining the survival of our species. The reward center is stimulated when we eat, drink, have sex, and participate in exercise. All of these behaviors are necessary to keep us alive and thriving. The reward center assures that we want to repeat these behaviors. However, the use of a substance like alcohol or opiates overtakes the reward system, delivering a more intense feeling of pleasure than the other natural materials like food and water. It therefore becomes the behavior to be repeated. This leads to the obsession to use and the compulsion to use.

While the chemical is overwhelming the pleasure center, it is also eliminating natural neurotransmitters which in turn eliminate receptors for those neurotransmitters. Hence, when the person tries to stop, they become extremely uncomfortable, sad, depressed and unmotivated. There is no reward for not using the substance.

Thus, the person we care about becomes consumed by the addiction. They no longer seem to be the caring, responsible person they once were. They resort to behaviors that we do not expect from them, as they become even more focused on chasing the dragon that they can never catch again.

By 7016369785 17 Jul, 2017

I am a poet, teaching artist, and a full-time creative who inspires the, individuals of tomorrow, today. But what does that even mean?

In a nutshell I use my stories, along with poetry, as a catalyst to get students to unpack stressors that they have been harboring or have bottled up.

I speak at assemblies (Grades 5-12) and perform at universities and colleges all across the country. I workshop with people by helping them, through the use of creative writing, to bring their experiences to light by enabling them to develop something tangible and concrete.

Something they can feel, see, and hold.

I grew up in a home where substance abuse and domestic violence were common, while struggling with my diagnoses of bipolar, anxiety, and depression.

Juggling all of these issues caused feelings of displacement and when you add being a person of color on top of this trauma, the best way to describe how I felt was…full.

I always carried a feeling of being under attack, while simultaneously pretending that none of it was affecting me, ultimately refusing to bring it all to light.

Until spoken word became my outlet, a life preserver, and a catalyst for more than I could ever imagine.

When you are growing up black and lower class, you are made to feel as if you don’t matter. But maybe that is the issue.

Maybe that is why mental health is such an issue in our community and with individuals of color in general?

Because we are constantly facing issues (both systematic and concrete) and are taught that we have more important battles to fight.

But how can we fight the larger issues if we aren’t taking care of our strongest weapons - our minds?

I published my first book, “Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms,” to help individuals battling with mental wellness, and the stressors that come along with being a person of color in America.

I did this because I wanted to help young people who grew up feeling the same way that I did, show them that they are not alone, and encourage them to vocalize their experiences.

To celebrate who they are, inside and out, not only during the month of July during Minority Mental Health Month, but to cherish themselves year-round, ignoring the “Standards” and “Norms” society tries to use as a foundation, which are often constructed without them in mind.


Marcel "Fable the Poet" Price is a bi-racial North American writer, teacher, community activist, performer, motivational speaker, and is the second-place winner of: "The 2016 Missouri Review Audio Poetry Contest. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/blog/power-spoken-word

Fable the Poet is a nationally touring artist highly noted for his work with youth; spreading mental health awareness using his own stories to consume the audience, and spread a much needed message: "At times, we all feel fragile. We are all paper boats entertaining the waves of life."

He is an official partner of Mental Health America, and has sat on panels across the country discussing the importance of mental health awareness with our youth. He is known across the nation for crowd-interactive features that leave those attending enlightened and empowered.

To learn more about Fable the Poet and his work check out the following video https://youtu.be/ROS6vGEEhl4


By 7016369785 06 Jul, 2017

The Echo Center community members donated the $420 in proceeds from their May car wash fundraiser to the Keystone Adolescent Center, whose facility near Greenville, Pa., was destroyed by fire in May.

The Echo Center, a part of Community Counseling Center, provides opportunities for social rehabilitation for its members. They hold their monthly fundraising car wash and bake sale April through October on the third weekend of each month. Proceeds normally go to help fund programs at the Center itself. Upon hearing about the complete loss of the school building, living spaces, and all the boys’ possessions in the Keystone fire May 17, members of the Echo Center decided to contribute to the larger community by helping meet some of the boys’ needs.

Students from the Keystone Adolescent Center have been relocated to another location while the organization seeks to rebuild the facility.

As part of their programming, the Echo Center focuses on developing social interactions through healthy activities like the car washes and bake sales, friendly sports, pool, games, and other gatherings in their recreation and TV rooms, and through monthly community meetings. They also have a movie night every other Friday evening. They have just completed their spring art show, and will have a craft fair in the fall. Lunches are provided for a nominal fee on Mondays and Thursdays to members participating in preparation and clean up, and are free on Wednesdays to those who attend the community meeting.  

The Echo Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is also open on all holidays except Christmas and Easter. Car washes and bake sales take place on the third weekend of each month in the parking lot at 133 S. Irvine Ave. in Sharon.

Anyone interested in the Echo Center’s programs can contact Janet Martell at (724) 981-1166 or Community Counseling Center at 724-981-7141.

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By 7016369785 06 Jul, 2017

July has been designated Purposeful Parenting month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Human Services. It’s a time when kids are home for summer vacation, which creates the opportunity for more parent-child interaction.

Why the term purposeful parenting ? “It embodies a specific set of goals and objectives for the child,” According Dr. Mary Ann Franco, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Argosy University . The most outstanding benefit of purposeful parenting would be that you will attain your hopes, wishes and desires for your child in a very conscious, deliberate and intentional manner.”

Mary Ellen Renna, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician, spokesperson, mother and author of the book 10 Steps to Almost Perfect Parenting   outlines a series of six no-nonsense, everyday techniques involved in purposeful parenting.

  1. NO means NO. Once you have said “no” to a child’s request, do not change your mind. This tells the child that NO doesn’t mean no , it means maybe .
  1. Once a child starts to whine and cry, do not engage the child. Almost pretend that the child is not there until he or she can speak to you in a proper voice (not whining and crying). If you respond to children when they are whining and crying it unknowingly reinforces the whining behavior.
  1. Ask them only once. If you have to repeat yourself multiple times when asking your child to do something, your voice will be muffled. Ask once and only once. If your child ignores you, follow through with a consequence.
  1. Try to spend alone time, one on one time, with each child, every day. It doesn’t have to be hours each day. It can be 15 minutes of complete attention directed to your child and only your child. That means NO TV, cell phones, or computers. Instead, spend time talking, reading, and playing games in the backyard.
  1. Exercise as a family. Bike rides, hiking, and walking have a dual purpose: you get to spend time as a family but you are also teaching the kids that physical activity is essential to good health.
  1. Make sure your children have daily household chores. This is important for each child. It gives children a sense of self when they become part of keeping the household functional. They also feel important because they have job. Having chores also helps children learn what it means to take responsibility.

In my research I found an inspiring comment from Wiley Wakeman, a life coach and blogger at Genuine Parenting : “I believe a key component of executing purposeful parenting is being in tune with what you value and believe in. From there you can make more space to be present with your child as you are purposefully parenting. It’s about being able to engage with them in a way that you didn’t in the past. You get on their level and get interested in whatever they are doing at the time, while bringing your true self to the table. No cell phones, no talking with friends, no interruptions and instead you are fully there whether it is for 5 minutes or 5 hours. Just take the moment to form your connection with your child and then you will have time to tap into all that other stuff when you have shown as much interest in your child as you have in all these other things.”

Wakeman went on to say, “within weeks, my daughter’s behavior has shifted, as has mine. I find it fascinating, wonderful and beautiful.”

For more information go online and search the term “Purposeful Parenting.”

To all of you who touch the lives of children, and to the children whose lives are touched, may you enjoy a fun and enjoyable second half of your summer together.  

By 7016369785 27 Jun, 2017

CORY BYKNISH | Herald file Members of the Youngstown Fine Arts Brass group perform last summer at a Brown Bag Lunch concert at Columbia Theatre Park in downtown Sharon. The musicians are scheduled to return June 28.

 

SHARON – The Arts Commission of the City of Sharon announces the lineup for its summer Brown Bag Lunch Concert series from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays in Columbia Theatre Park, Sharon.

These artists are scheduled:

• May 31 – Carolyn Longo performing pop/rock.

• June 7 – Edelweiss performing light classical.

• June 14 – County Mayo performing Irish folk.

• June 21 – Dylan Fest with Kristi Blue performing blues/rock/folk.

• June 28 – The Youngstown Fine Arts Brass performing light classical/pop.

• July 5 – Steve Vuich performing classic rock/Americana.

• July 12 – Maureen Murray performing contemporary hits.

• July 19 – Max Schang performing blues.

• July 26 – North Side Jazz.

• Aug. 2 – Orkestra Braca performing tamburitza.

• Aug. 9 – Trontel Jake Review performing polka.

• Aug. 16 – Rock Jazz Trio.

• Aug. 23 – Terry Dach performing roots/rock/folk.

• Aug. 30 – James Willaman performing modern/classic rock.

In case of bad weather performances will be held at Cravings Cafe & Creamery, 76 Shenango Ave., Sharon.


By 7016369785 05 Jun, 2017

Since the myth of the stress-free life has been shattered for most of us, we are left with managing our stress. Even “good stress,” or positive life events, add to the overall stress load a person carries. Using self-care to offset stress not only involves getting enough sleep and good nutrition; at its best, it universally involves looking for some level of fun and sources of joy.  

Fostering resilience in the face of stress, rather than trying for perfection or pretending stress doesn’t have an impact, gives people more pleasant options for relief, as well as healthier options. Even the definitions of resilience suggest more than one attitude toward managing stress. One such definition emphasizes strength in the face of adversity and the skills that people can learn to foster that strength. Another definition of resilience , the ability to “spring back into shape” or “elasticity,” brings to mind favorite children’s toys, like the hippity-hop, the trampoline, or, for today’s adults, the modern Pilates ball. A well-rounded program of self-care should include fostering habits of mind and body that contribute to strength under pressure and encouraging play as a source of strength and refreshment.

The concept of the need for self-care gained prominence as mental health professionals began focusing on the needs of caregivers; however, everyone needs to consider their own self-care to allow them to live fulfilling lives, manage their health, and contribute to their own well-being.

Self-care is not the same thing as self-pampering. Christine Meinecke points out in “ Self-care in a toxic world ” that “Medical and mental health professionals pioneered the concept of self-care by prescribing healthy lifestyle changes and stress management behaviors.” However, commercials and marketing practices often sell self-care as “self-pampering,” regardless of whether people can afford things like spa days and fancy chocolates, or not. Meinecke suggests that if you can’t afford such things, what is being suggested to you is self-indulgence rather than self-care. The key difference she outlines is that “Self-indulgence is characterized by avoidance of the effortful and substitution of quick and easy antidotes,” while self-care involves attention to needs and proven stress relief tactics. This doesn’t mean that the occasional self-indulgence is wrong, but regularly indulging in activities or purchases that are not readily affordable are more likely to increase long-term financial stress.The “quick-fix” isn’t worth that extra stress and is unlikely to have consistent, long-term positive benefits.

Identifying how stress feels in your body is of primary importance. In “ Taking care of yourself , ” the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that “Stress affects your entire body, physically as well as mentally. Some common physical signs of stress include:

   ·         Headaches

   ·         Low energy [including sleeping more than usual]

   ·         Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea

   ·         Aches, pains, and tense muscles

   ·         Insomnia

 

In “ Managing stres s ” NAMI also highlights non-physical symptoms such as frequent mood swings, difficulty concentrating and feeling overwhelmed. NAMI also points out that “When experiencing long-term stress, your brain is exposed to increased levels of a hormone called cortisol. This exposure weakens your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.”

Eliminating all stressors isn’t a realistic option for any of us, but paying attention to the way stress makes us feel gives us a starting point for recognizing when we need additional care or when to make use of acute stress management tactics, even if those symptoms occur after, rather than during, a stressful situation, or if they build up over time.

Self-care plans have to be tailored to individual lives and needs. NAMI has a “ Self-Care Inventory ” with detailed basics and spaces for people to add their own details like playing with pets, enjoying pleasant spaces, or a prompt to go looking for something to enjoy this week.  When under a lot of stress, the idea of taking on another checklist or list of expectations can be intimidating. Rather than using the inventory to criticize yourself or others, consider using it simply as a way to explore what you are currently doing, and ideas you might consider. Not all of the items on the list will work for each person, but they might produce ideas. The general areas of self-care on this inventory include physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and workplace or professional self-care. Sketching out these basics to make sure there’s not a huge gap in self-care tactics, or using the inventory to track changes and results, are just two ways such a list can be useful. Using the inventory as a starting point for really examining specificactions that can help you be more resilient and more flexible regularly and under stress makes this a useful tool. 

Recognizing the build-up of long term stressors by checking physical symptoms or running through a checklist can allow a person to review their self-care habits and see if they’ve started dropping helpful habits or if they need to investigate new ones. Cutting back on sleep or numbing out in front of a screen are some of the initial tactics people use when they want to escape stress, but both will actually increase physical stress responses.

In “ Seven types of self-care activities for coping with stress ,” Barbara Markway Ph.D. tops her list with sensory activities that bring a person into the present moment and space, including: breathe in fresh air; snuggle under a cozy blanket; listen to running water; sit outdoors by a fire-pit, watching the flames and listening to the night sounds; wiggle your bare feet in overgrown grass; stare up at the sky; lie down where the afternoon sun streams in a window; and listen to music. Her other categories of suggestions include pleasures like enjoying a favorite meal, mental/mastery activities like cleaning out a junk drawer or reading something on a topic you wouldn’t normally explore, spiritual activities like lighting a candle, writing in a journal, or spending time in nature, and emotional activities such as accepting your feelings, laughing when you can, and practicing self-compassion.

Self-care habits need to be tailored to the individual. In “ 7 ways to help you destress ,” NAMI’s Laura Greenstein recognizes the scientifically proven benefits of meditation for many people, but admits that it just doesn’t help her much at all. Instead, she’s put together a list that includes the reasons these activities are beneficial and how to do them responsibly (particularly “retail therapy”). Making a music playlist is her first suggestion and she points to relatively new research in music therapy which indicates that music “has the ability to affect the speed of your brainwaves, which can help us achieve a therapeutic state.” As you might expect, her next suggestion is singing – in the car, in the shower, to the dog, alone, in a choir. “Research shows that singers have lower levels of cortisol, which suggests lower amounts of stress. It feels good to let something out and your voice, whether you know how to sing our [sic.] not, is something that you always have with you.” Coloring and calling your favorite funny friend are two of my other favorites from her list. Again, check out her article for full explanations and support for her suggestions.

In January 2017 Inc. magazine came out with “ 52 Ways You Can Be Kinder to Yourself , ” acknowledging the importance of finding healthy ways to manage stress and build resilience in our work lives as well as our personal lives. TED talks also put together a playlist of nine of their best talks on “ The importance of self-care ,” available for free on Youtube.

All of this attention to stress and to self-care as a remedy for stress emphasizes the importance of fostering resilience in our lives. Learning self-care tactics helps people manage stress, thereby reducing its traumatic effects. Instead of becoming more stressed, people can take action to become more flexible in their responses and thinking patterns. Stress can be managed, rather than just endured. This change in cognitive thinking leads to real resilience – both strength and elasticity – in our lives.

The New Yorker’s 2016 article “ How people learn to become resilient ,” by Maria Konnikova, covers the history of research into resilience, beginning with the work ofNorman Garmezy with school children four decades ago. Garmezy’s breakthrough was to flip the question from asking about areas of vulnerability in cases of trauma and negative life events, to a focus on resilience -- the “elements of an individual’s background and personality that could enable success despite the challenges they faced.” Later research revealed that not only could the key factors of resiliency be identified, they could be learned.

Konnikova notes the research of George Bonanno at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College and the Loss, Trauma, and Emotions Lab, and sums up his results with this statement: “In a sense, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.” Skills identified by the research of  Martin Segilman at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that working to shift:

   explanatory styles from internal to external (“Bad events aren’t my fault”), from global to specific (“This is one narrow thing rather than a

   massive indication that something is wrong with my life”), and from permanent to impermanent (“I can change the situation, rather than

   assuming it’s fixed”) made them more psychologically successful and less prone to depression. The same goes for locus of control: not

   only is a more internal locus tied to perceiving less stress and performing better but changing your locus from external to internal

   leads to positive changes in both psychological well-being and objective work performance.                  


Many people may recognize these shifts in thinking patterns as similar to those worked on in cognitive behavioral therapies, using Dr. David Burns’ list of cognitive distortions .

The key take away from Konnikova’s review of the research for most of us is that, “The cognitive skills that underpin resilience, then, seem like they can indeed be learned over time, creating resilience where there was none.” Reducing overall stress loads and increasing self-care allows people the energy and the time to make these cognitive changes and provides more immediate relief.

For suggestions on ways to reduce acute stress reactions, particularly at work, see Melanie Greenberg’s recent article “ 7 Stress Hacks You Can Use in the Next 5 Minutes ” for suggestions, including deep breathing, sitting or standing up straight, and looking at a nature seen for several minutes. Her additional tactics are all also great for immediate relief while a person works to develop a self-care plan with more individualized options for both long-term and acute situations.

MyStrength.com is a free online resource to track wellness and self-care, and can be used for both acute and long-term self-care, as well. After helping a person develop a wellness profile, it makes use of prompts, video resources, articles, and stress management tactics. As of May 1, 2017 MyStrength.com has also introduced a “robust” set of new stress management resources as well. If you are interested in using the free myStrength.com online self-help resource, please contact our office at 724-981-7141 to receive an access code. MyStrength is a nonprofit, privately owned business dedicated to making behavioral improvements.


You can learn more about Community Counseling Center of Mercer County at www.cccmer.org . We also invite you to connect with us on Facebook, or to contact us by calling (866) 853-7758 or 724-981-7141 for information or to schedule an evaluation if you’d like assistance in developing a self-care plan.


Resources

Burns, David, Dr. (1989) "The feeling good workbook" New York: William Morrow and Co.

Daskal, Lolly. (2017, January 30) 52 ways you can be kinder to yourself. .Inc Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/52-ways-you-can-be-kinder-to-yourself.html