By: Vanessa Soleil
A warm welcome back from the staff at the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Center (CCERC). As we resume counseling services after summer break and launch into another school year of partnership with the WELL, we’re continuing to explore wellness for all in our community. Our belief at CCERC is that counseling can support growth and positive development for anyone, in any stage of life, and help families and individuals to live a full and meaningful life. Central to this approach to our counseling is the model of the Indivisible Self. Last spring, we shared information with readers about 4 of the 5 components of this wellness model. Those were the social self (family, friendship, and romantic love), the essential self (your spirituality, cultural identity, and self-care), the physical self (exercise and eating well), the creative self (your thoughts, your emotions, what you do for work/study, and your sense of humor). Our final installment in this series focuses on the coping self (what you do in your leisure time, your stress management, and your self-worth). Reach out and connect with a counselor at CCERC if you would like support in using this model to make positive changes in your life.
Coping relates to our ability to move through difficult emotions and events and to adopt beliefs and behaviors that reduce our levels of stress. Knowing our inherent value as a person and having a strong sense of self-worth is one aspect of the coping self that can go a long way in fostering positive mental health. While self-esteem is based on our accomplishments, activities, and external standards of beauty or success, self-worth is instead based on who we are, not what we do or what we look like. We don’t have to buy into the competitive culture of comparing our relationships, careers, vacations, or attractiveness to anyone else’s. Instead, we can develop our self-worth by knowing our values, acting in integrity with them, and practicing self-compassion by speaking to ourselves in a kind way. Often, we are our own biggest critic, while we see the best in others and are willing to forgive our friends’ flaws and mistakes. Learning to encourage and assure ourselves the way we would a friend, can help to soften the inner critic.
How we spend our down time is another piece of the coping self. Being able to experience pleasure and find flow while absorbed in leisure activities and hobbies can help lift us out of the day to day routines of work and domestic responsibilities, and bring out our creative, spiritual, or social dimensions. Research shows that participating in enjoyable leisure activities or hobbies is linked to a decrease in stress, and to favorable outcomes in physical health measures such as lower blood pressure.
Lastly, learning to manage stress means understanding what brings on stress in your life, knowing how it impacts you, and developing tools to prevent or overcome stress. Stress management is the skill of organizing our time and energy so that we don’t get burnt out or overextend ourselves.
Here are some specific ideas that may help you to build up your coping self:
- Take a self-compassion break. Writer and therapist, Dr. Kristin Neff, offers this exercise for when we are facing a stressful or painful circumstance. We bring the situation to mind and tune into what we are feeling. We then say to ourselves: 1) “This is a moment of suffering.” Or, “This is stress.” 2) “Suffering is a part of life.” Or, “I am not alone.” 3) “May I give myself compassion.” Or, “May I learn to accept myself as I am.” Choose language that feels right to you. You can also imagine what a friend would say to you in a challenging moment, and say these words to yourself.
- Set healthy boundaries. Part of managing our time and energy includes being able to say “no” to invitations or requests on our time and effort, as well as building in free time into our calendars to account for unexpected events and distractions. Some questions you can ask yourself before agreeing to take on another commitment are: “Does this line up with my core values?” “Does this bring out my strengths or work towards my goals?” and “Is this something I will easily be able to fit into my schedule?” Alexandra Franzen offers this advice on how to say “no” to someone when you are worried about hurting a relationship or are feeling obligated to say “yes,” but know you cannot comfortably add more into your schedule.
- Practice 4-7-8 breathing. Intentional breathing with awareness can slower breathing, improve blood pressure, reduce stress and enhance wellness. Start by sitting up in a comfortable position, spine long, shoulders rolled back and body alert and relaxed. Touch the tip of your tongue to the ridge of your upper gums, behind your teeth. Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for another count of 7. Open your mouth slightly, keeping your tongue in place, and exhale for 8 counts. Repeat this cycle 4 times.
- Rediscover an interest or develop a new passion that helps you lose track of time. Getting absorbed in an activity and forgetting about all of life’s lists and labors is great for your health. I lose myself in music and making mixes for friends. Some of my clients feel flow in their yoga practice, boxing classes, poetry writing, comic book reading, baking, or painting. Is there a craft, sport, or field of knowledge you used to love that you lost track of as life got busy? Carve out some time to reconnect or explore new possibilities in your community. If you’re not sure where to start, flip through the Indy’s Fall Guide for inspiration and see if an event jumps out at you to join in, or explore classes that Wake County Parks and Recreation offers here.
- Come in and speak with a counselor at CCERC. We will take the time to listen to you, discuss your goals, and together we can create a wellness plan that nurtures the coping self, as well as the physical, social, creative, and essential selves.