Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

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Survival. The one word can mean so many things. Usually, we consider survival to be the bare minimum. “At least she survived that horrific shark attack,” “He was fighting for survival in the woods for 5 weeks,” “I’m not trying to just survive, I’m trying to thrive!” Something a lot of people without mental illness take for granted is their ability to simply survive without trying. For those of us with Mental Illness, survival is a daily goal. I’ve often said to myself, or out loud, “I just have to survive today.” And I’ve meant it.

Survival is often a daily struggle for me, and while I don’t tend towards suicidal thoughts, many people with mental illness do, so surviving is a VERY real battle for them. Somedays, it’s all I can do to move from my bed to the couch. Sometimes, just staying awake once I wake up is hard. These are very few and far between days for me now, but they still happen. So how to I prevent these types of days? The answer lies in a whole lot of self-care, and coping mechanisms!

(Before I go any further, I would like to say that I currently see a counsellor for my anxiety and depression, and while these coping mechanisms below may work for me, they may not for you or for someone you know, and THAT’S OKAY! They also may take time to start working. My best advice to anyone struggling with mental illness (Or really just anyone at all) is to find a counsellor or therapist to help you. We all need a mental tune-up once and awhile and mental health professionals are great at tuning up your brain! I’m not a mental health professional, so please don’t sue me if one of these coping mechanisms doesn’t work for you. I have no money for you to take anyways!)

So here’s a breakdown of all of the different coping mechanisms I use to help me get through my days and be mostly productive:

Meditation: I haven’t been as good about doing this one lately, but it really does help. Meditation is all about being aware of your body, and noticing feelings and emotions without judgement. This is particularly good for people with mental illness because it teaches you both to listen to what your body is telling you, and helps you practice not labeling things you think or feel as good or bad, but simply as they are. I’m going to do a whole blog on this topic later, but it’s very important to see your mental illness as something apart from you, instead of you. It’s okay to be angry with your anxiety or frustrated that it’s back, but if you don’t define it as something other than yourself, it often feels like you are mad at yourself, which simply isn’t fair to you. It’s not your fault you have mental illness and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you do! Theres a great app for your phone that you can get called “Calm.” It has all kinds of meditations from beginners to advanced, and will guide you as you learn about meditation. To find out more about the app, click here.

Puzzles or Brain Teasers: For me, a big part of preventing a full blown panic attack is taking my mind completely off of whatever is causing my anxiety. A great way that I have found to do this is to engage in something that hold your brain’s focus, and makes you think. For this reason, I have lots of puzzles and brain teasers around my house and on my various pieces of tech. There’s a super useful one that I’ve found called Flexi Puzzle. It’s a string of cubes on an elastic that you have to manipulate to create over 80 patterns. I’ve been using it for a year now, and I still haven’t figured out all the patterns. I use it both before a panic attack and during to help my brain refocus and find something else to think about. It has about a 95% success rate for me, which is pretty incredible for a toy that costs $7.99 at Target! 

I also use a jigsaw puzzle app on my tablet called Magic Puzzles, that is great for when I’m on the plane. The puzzles are pretty tricky and engaging, and there are lots of different modes. I’ll link it here.

Exercise: Man, this is a big one. I hate exercising, going to the gym, or even looking at my yoga pants sometimes, but exercise really does help my anxiety and depression, so I do it anyway. Now, I’m going to say this really clearly: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, TELL SOMEONE THAT ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS EXERCISE AND THIER MENTAL ILLNESS WILL GO AWAY. That’s not how it works, but for some reason people think that exercise is like the Holy Grail of mental illness. IT’S NOT! For me, it helps take the edge off, but I still have anxiety and depression. Some people love exercising, and find that it truly is a miracle cure, and that’s awesome! But it’s just not that way for me unfortunately.

Exercising is helpful though, and I like to combine it with other fun things and use it as a way of self-care. For example, I love obstacle courses and challenges, so I like to go rock climbing or to an adventure park once in awhile. I like audio books, so I listen to them while I run, and Yoga is great for practicing mindfulness while doing something active. I would say, giving exercise a try is good for everyone. I’ve found it especially helpful during bouts of depression because it helps with the insomnia for my body to be tired at the end of the day. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you enjoy it at least a little bit, but also don’t over-do it. Listen to your body, and it will tell you what it needs.

Pets: If you follow me on facebook or Instagram, you know that I have a Trained Service Dog that goes with me to most places, especially when I travel, (More on service dogs in a later blog,) so the cuddles are pretty much endless when I need them, but for a lot of people, just having a pet is a great way to combat mental illness. For example, if my dog has to go out to potty, I HAVE to get out of bed and take him. Having something to take care of is a big help when you feel like you might have nothing to live for. If you have a pet, that’s awesome, but don’t feel like you have to own a pet to help your anxiety. There are lots of animal shelters who need volunteers, or services like dog walking for you to get your fix!

Breathing: Okay, this is the big one for me, and it should be for everyone honestly. Breathing exercises are some of the easiest and most effective ways of calming and centering yourself in any situation, after all, you always have your lungs with you, and unlike exercise, it’s not hard to do! The key is to find a breathing pattern that works for you. My personal pattern that I like the best is breathe in for a count of 6, hold for a count of 1, and breathe out for a count of 8. You can find all kinds of breathing patterns on line, but here’s a good link to get you started. It comes from Spire, which is a stone that is proven to decrease stress. You can read about it in the review I did of the stone here.

When ever I am in the middle of a situation that may make my anxiety act up, I begin my breathing pattern, and a lot of times, that’s all it takes for me to be able to calm down and go about my day. Not always though, and especially when you first start using breathing. Sometimes it just helps me maintain a non-crazy person appearance until I get to a place where dealing with a full-blown anxiety attack is something I can handle. For example, when I fly and have a panic attack, I use breathing to get me through until we land and I can find a bathroom to implode in. In short, keep breathing, it’s good for you!

The 5-Second Rule: This is my newest thing that I have started doing and it’s really helping me take on my day in the morning when anxiety and depression make me want to stay in bed and not participate. I’m going to post the link to the video here, but the gist of this technique is to count yourself down and go with your gut. In my case, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I open my eyes, and count 5-4-3-2-1, and shoot myself out of bed before I have time to think about it. It works on other places too. When I’m nervous about going into a building or a meeting, or when I’m afraid to speak up about something, I count in my head 5-4-3-2-1, and then I just do it! Without giving my brain time to talk me out of it. Seriously, watch the video, it’s good for you! (Then google Mel Robbins and get sucked down a motivational rabbit hole and fall in love with her as much as I have!)

And that’s all of them for now; I hope that you’ve found one of these ideas worth trying at least! Tell me what you use to cope in the comments and let me know what you want me to write about next! I’m going to try to be better about writing more (I know, I say that a lot!) but I want to know what you would like to read! Until next time!

Kyra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips and Tricks: How to Choose the RIGHT Counselor

Tips and Tricks: How to Choose the RIGHT Counselor

Hey all, how are we doing? I know, we haven’t seen much of each other lately, which is something I am really going to try to change this year, it’s one of my new goals for the year. Now, I know most of you have set goals for the new year too, and (hopefully) one of them might be to take care of your mental health! If so, a really good first step would be finding some kind of mental healthcare professional to help you get started on your journey, and guide you as you go! If this is something you are interested in, I applaud you! It’s not easy to ask for help, and I’m so proud of you for taking care of yourself so well! I’ve searched for a new counselor several times now, and each time I have learned a few things to make the next time a little easier. Hopefully these few tips and tricks can have you headed to the PERFECT Mental Health professional right away!

Tip 1: Types of Therapy

There are many, many, different types of Therapies, Philosophies, and Practices out there in the world, and it can be really hard to know what kind would best help you. The best advice I can give you in this area is to do a little research. There are some common ones out there, and I will explain my favorites, but make sure to do a little google searching before you even start looking for a counselor to see what type of treatments you might be interested in knowing a little more about.

There are a few therapies that I have had experience with that I absolutely love. I’ll share a little bit about them to give you an idea. Remember that I deal with Generalized Anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, as well as depression, so these techniques are tailored toward that end of the mental health spectrum, and you should always make sure to talk to a licensed healthcare professional before beginning any kind of mental health program.

I personally LOVE Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Mindfulness-Based (MBCT). I have also heard really amazing things about EMDR for trama-based disorders, but I have not personally experienced it.

Psychologytoday.com has definitions for these four approaches and I will list them here, as they do a much better job explaining them than I could, since I’m not a licensed mental health professional.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “…a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Unlike traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, which probes childhood wounds to get at the root causes of conflict, CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior.” -Click Here for the full article

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: “…provides clients with new skills to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. DBT specifically focuses on providing therapeutic skills in four key areas. First, mindfulness focuses on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in the current moment. Second, distress tolerance is geared toward increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape from it. Third, emotion regulation covers strategies to manage and change intense emotions that are causing problems in a person’s life. Fourth, interpersonal effectiveness consists of techniques that allow a person to communicate with others in a way that is assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships.” -Click Here for the full article

Mindfulness Based (MBCT): “…a modified form of cognitive therapy that incorporates mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises. Using these tools, MBCT therapists teach clients how to break away from negative thought patterns that can cause a downward spiral into a depressed state so they will be able to fight off depression before it takes hold.” -Click Here for the full article

EMDR: “…a unique, nontraditional form of psychotherapy designed to diminish negative feelings associated with memories of traumatic events. Unlike most forms of talk therapy, EMDR focuses less on the traumatic event itself and more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms that result from the event. Treatment includes a hand motion technique used by the therapist to guide the client’s eye movements from side to side, similar to watching a pendulum swing. EMDR is a controversial intervention, because it is unclear exactly how it works, with some psychologists claiming it does not work. Some studies have shown, however, that EMDR is effective for treating certain mental-health conditions.” -Click Here for the full article 

What I personally like about the first three treatment approaches, is that they all focus not on venting about my life, but on finding practical and permanent solutions to my anxiety. There is work involved, and I come away each time feeling like I learned something or have another skill to practice or try. There are a LOT of therapies out there though, so poke around and see what you might be interested in trying!

Tip 2: Psychologytoday.com

One of the best resources for mental health information on the internet right now is Psychologytoday.com. Not only can you find information about each treatment approach but you can read articles, research mental disorders, and, my favorite thing, look for a new therapist or counselor! They even have a section where you can take self-tests to find out all sorts of things about yourself. It’s a one-stop mental health shop, and most of it is free! But, I’m not here to tell you about a website, I’m here to help you find a counselor, so here’s how I use this website to my advantage.

On the home page, you can enter your city and state and it will bring up a list of all the mental health providers in your area. I searched Nashville TN just to show you.Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.02.47 PM You can see on the side of the page, you can add filters. For example you can have the site show you only therapist who accept your insurance, and then you can select which issues you want them to be able to treat. I selected BlueCross and BlueShield, and the issues I selected were Anxiety and Depression.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.06.00 PMNext you can refine the search to include only male or female professionals, as well as a few other filters: I chose “Show only Women” and “Christian” as an example. As you can see, your choices are listed at the top left of your screen.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.09.49 PM Next is the important part; If you have found a few treatment approaches that you would like to know more about, you can select them from the list on the left now. I selected CBT and DBT because those are my two favorites right now. This narrowed my choices down to 2 Therapists. I could always take off some of the filters that weren’t as important to me if I wanted more options. Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.11.52 PM Now that I have a few choices, I will move on to the next phase of my process.

Tip 3: How to choose a few professionals to interview (You heard that right, INTERVIEW!)

The next step of my process is to narrow it down to 2-3 counsellors to interview. In the example above, I would probably remove a few filters to give me a wider range of people to choose from, but the process remains the same.

First, I read their info section on their page. You can get there simply by clicking on their name. I’m looking for them to tell me what we will work on together. I don’t need to know their whole backstory right now, and I certainly don’t need just a list of their credentials, (Which is listed below their info section.) I’m looking for someone who is interested in the needs of their clients, and who clearly states what they will do to help clients. This counselor is a great example; She focuses on the words “You” and “We” instead of making it all about her. This can reveal a lot about what a counsellor will be like. Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 10.18.11 PMWhile I’m here I also check qualifications, and make sure that the issues I need help with are in the “Specialties” area. (In green in the photos above.) In this case, anxiety is, while depression in an issue that she covers. I would probably consider this therapist for an interview.

As you are selecting 2-3 people to interview, I can’t stress enough, USE YOUR GUT. If you really like one person’s page, but they don’t have one or two things you wanted, contact them anyway, it could be a great fit. I would also recommend sending these pages to a close friend or family member who knows you well to get their opinions on who you should interview with.

When you are ready to set up some consultations, use the orange “Email Me” button to make contact and set up an appointment for a consultation. Make sure you let them know that it is only a consultation, and that you will have some questions for them.

Tip 4: Successful Consultations

Before you head to your consultation appointments with your “Finalists,” it can really help to prepare a few quick things so that you feel in control and in charge of the appointment. First, I always prepare a list of questions that i want each of the therapists to answer. I usually have answers that I will and will not accept in my head, so they either get a pass or a fail on each question. These questions can be as simple as “How long have you been in practice?” or as complex as this one from my personal questions “I believe that my parents are a huge support system for me, and while many counsellors feel I should distance myself from them, I refuse to do so as I believe it would be detrimental to my health. Is that something that you would be willing to respect or would you encourage me to reconsider?” Get creative, and ask about things that really matter to you. One thing I always ask at the end is if the counsellor feels like they are a good fit for me, because it does matter to me if they an see themselves being able to handle all that I will be needing.

Before going to my consultations, I also prepare a quick little back story/ mental health history, print it out, and bring it with me for them to have. I find that this allows us to make the most of our short consultation, while allowing me to share what they need to know about me. It also keeps me from rambling, as I’m known to do. Only include what you feel comfortable, but a timeline of some kind is often useful.

If you know that this isn’t going to be the person for you, or you start to feel uncomfortable at any time during the consult, feel free to get up, thank them for their time, and leave. There’s no sense in staying in a situation you don’t want to be in for longer than you need to, especially if you don’t sense a client-therapist relationship is possible.

Finally, if you are at all nervous, it is totally acceptable to bring along a close friend or relative with you the first time. Most counselors will be just fine with that, and if they aren’t, you can probably write them off as someone you don’t need to be seeing.

Tip 5: Making the Selection

After you have done all the interviews, and they have answered all your questions, it’s time to make your choice. This can be a slightly tough decision, especially if two therapists seem equally right for you. At this time, I would encourage you again to go with your gut. You will find that you usually connect better with one person than another, so just try that person first. Ask for a month trial period, just to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and to make sure that they remain a good fit as you get to know them.

Congratulations! You’ve got a shiny new Counselor who can help you through just about anything.

Tip 6: Mistakes I have made

As I said in the beginning, I have done this search several times now, and each time I have learned things that I could do better next time. Here are some of the big mistakes that I’ve made on my counseling journey:

1- Not asking questions: It’s as important for you to ask questions as it is for them in the consultation. If you don’t have questions to ask, how will you know if they are a good fit?

2- Not being selective: I have ended up in some pretty weird sessions before because i just took a friends word for it and booked a full session with someone that was not even close to a good fit for me. It’s not worth it guys, be choosy!

3- Staying way too long: I have two times that I’ve done this. The first was when I first got a counselor at 15, and she made me very uncomfortable right away, but I didn’t know how to get out of the situation (I was 15 after all) and so I stayed for the whole session anyway. I learned that day that the minute I feel uncomfortable, it’s time to WALK OUT. Luckily, nothing bad happened, and I was fine, but always listen to your Gut.

The second time I stayed way to long was when I found a counsellor I thought was going to be a good fit, but after a few weeks it was clear that she wasn’t going to be able to handle all of my issues. I felt bad canceling on her though and didn’t want her to be upset, so I kept going to her for 5 MONTHS! It wasn’t fair to either of us, and when I finally got up the nerve to call things off, I think we were both relieved.

4-Not being straightforward and honest. Counsellors are here to help, but they can’t help you if you don’t tell them the truth of what’s going on. I know how hard it can be to open up to someone who you don’t know well, but I promise that once you do, you will feel so much better, and they are TRAINED to HELP YOU. That’s their job, and almost all of them are very good at it. Be brave my loves and be honest!

 

I hope this helps you to find an amazing counselor to help you through some of life’s tricky spots. If you want to know more about anything in this blog, from what questions I ask, to sending me counselors you are considering and getting my opinion, please don’t hesitate to ask. I am more than glad to help!

I wish you the best on your mental health journey and remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Love,

Kyra

Spire: A New-age Anxiety Gadget

Spire: A New-age Anxiety Gadget

I love trying out new things that might help with my anxiety. My motto is, “If you don’t try it, you will never know.” I’ll try anything once, (within reason! you tell me that swimming cage-free with sharks cured your anxiety, and I’ll tell you I’m so glad it worked for you but that I will definitely PASS on that!) and even if it doesn’t help me, that doesn’t mean it won’t help SOMEONE. So I try to keep an open mind with various coping mechanisms and gadgets. I personally think everyone with anxiety should be open to trying things within their personal boundaries, because who knows what might work for you!?

My previous counselor in Oregon, (Shout-out to the fabulous Nancy Olson, she’s seriously amazing!) knows that I like trying new things, and that I’m usually open to giving anything a try. With that in mind, we send a lot of “Cool Finds” back and forth, whether it’s new research, a new coping mechanism, or a cool story, etc. A few months ago, I had sent her an info link about a new product out on the market called Spire. I had thought it looked pretty cool, but it was a little out of my budget at the time, and I wasn’t sure how it worked or if it even looked legit, so I passed up buying it. She ended up purchasing one for her office, and when I visited in June, she asked if I wouldn’t mind trying it out and giving her some feedback on how it works. I was totally game, and told I her I would try it for a few weeks and let her know when I got back to Oregon in August.IMG_9529

What is Spire?

So what is Spire? It’s a small, oval shaped breath and activity tracker, that monitors your breathing and heart rate, and lets you know when your body is experiencing a whole host of conditions, such as tension, calm, focus, and activity. It’s not just for people with anxiety, but also for those who want to optimize their time, or for those who experience a lot of stress every day. It works by helping the wearer to be more mindful, and gives feedback at the end of the day.

 

What does it do?

According to the website, Spire is designed to “help keep you in sync with your mind and body by measuring your breath, all day, and alerting you to sudden changes.” You wear it either on your center bra strap, or hooked to the top of your underpants, in a place where it can “feel” your breathing. I tried it first on my bra, but it kept telling me to reposition, so I tried the underwear and it worked flawlessly after that. It needs a slightly different spot for each person, since no body is the same, so play around with it until you find the place where you get the most consistent readings.

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As you breathe, the Spire will monitor your breath patterns, and identify them as Calm, Tense, or Focused. When it identifies a change in the pattern of your breathing, it will note it, vibrate the signal that corresponds to that pattern, and send a notification to your phone via the free app. Especially if you are tense, knowing right away can allow you to take a few moments to change your breath and calm your body down. It also lets you know when you have had a calm or focused streak, so you can hone in on what you were doing to achieve that state-of-mind.

As a side-note function, Spire also tracks your activity level, and reminds you to get up and move. I found this function slightly irritating, but I also couldn’t figure out how to program it correctly, so it was telling me to move every 10 minutes. I’m sure there is a feature to change this, but as it was a trial, I didn’t want to mess with it TOO much.

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What did I think? The Good News

I wore the Spire for a solid 2 weeks, everyday, from morning until around 8pm. For the most part, it was very comfortable, I hardly knew it was there. I was a little concerned because it has the texture of a stone, and I thought it might be irritating to have a stone against my skin all day, but surprisingly, I barely felt it. The only time I didn’t like wearing it was when I was laying on my stomach, watching a movie, because it pressed into my hip bone, so I would just remove it, and let it sit beside me, or put it back on my bra for that time.

As far as managing my breathing, I think it’s a pretty cool little device, but it wasn’t super helpful for me personally. I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks for 10 years now, and one of  the first things you learn in counseling is how to monitor your feelings and breathing. I’ve always used breathing to help me cope with my anxiety, so it wasn’t that Spire didn’t help, it’s just that it was telling me information I already knew. However, I did REALLY like the breathing game that the free app uses to help you calm your breathing. You breathe with your Spire on, and it corresponds in real time to a game on your phone designed to help you slow and control your breathing. It was super helpful a few times when I really needed a visual aid to help me focus my breathing.

The tension setting is nifty as well. It feels when you start to tense and sends a message to your phone. This would be a very useful tool for someone who is new to the anxiety game and doesn’t notice when they start to escalate. The device lets you know you’re feeling tense by vibrating two long buzzes, and then the message prompts you to open the app and play the breathing game. I can see this being a great tool to help you learn to recognize panic attacks before they hit full force and to take some preemptive measures.

A side note, charging your Spire is SUPER easy! It comes with a wireless charger, so you just take it off and set it on the charger. The charger even has a port to plug your cell phone charger to it, to keep your charging space clutter free!

 

The Not-So-Good News

There were only two problems I saw with this device in the short time that I wore it. The first one I have already mentioned, and that is that the activity tracker kept prompting me to move around WAY more than it needed to. It was sometimes distracting when I was trying to focus on something at my desk. However, like I said before, I’m sure this can be changed in settings if you purchase your own.

The second issue I had was that while it’s super useful to know when you are tense, sometimes your breathing is tense when your body isn’t. For example, Spire can’t tell the difference between the beginning of a panic attack and the suspense of Frodo and Golem struggling at the top of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. I found that even when I was reading a novel and it was a suspenseful part, Spire would tell me I was feeling tense. I’m like “I KNOW SPIRE, KING HENRY IS GOING TO FREAK OUT ON ANNE BOLYEN, IT’S KIND OF AN INTENSE THING!” But it’s better safe than sorry, and you can always just ignore the notifications if you feel like it’s a false alarm.

The End Review:

All in all, I would definitely recommend this device to anyone who is looking for help becoming more mindful and noticing when they are feeling tense. I will probably not be purchasing one, simply because I don’t think I would put enough effort in to really get anything that I don’t already do on a daily basis out of it. But Spire is also great for people without anxiety, because it can help you understand what you need to do to keep yourself focused in on your tasks, and it’s activity reminder could be great in the corporate setting. It’s just a very useful tool for anyone who wants a little extra help with mindfulness, and how much you get out of it depends on how much effort you put in to use it. If you end up trying it, let me know in the comments or in an email what you think of it! I would love to hear if it worked for you, and let me know if there are any products you would like me to try!

Many thanks to Nancy for always suggesting new and exciting things for me to try, and for being such an amazing Counselor!

You can read all about Spire on their website here

You can read User Testimonials here

You can get more information about Nancy Olson here

Cheers!

Kyra