Staying Safe

 
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Assessing your safety

A closer look at keeping yourself safe

 

Steps you can take to stay safe

At times we underestimate the amount of danger we could be in either because we don’t realize we’re in danger, or we don’t want to accept how dangerous a situation is. Being safe is important.

Here are actions you can take to ensure your safety:

Assess the situation. Ask yourself: How likely is it that someone could hurt me? If it’s necessary, you might have to move to a location that is safer or not take risks that you could avoid, such as walking across campus or home from a bus stop alone late at night.

Find support. Making a decision to leave a situation or relationship, where you feel unsafe might be hard and scary. If possible, talk to someone you trust, like a friend, teacher, counselor, or other mental health professional.

Talk to the police. If you feel you are in imminent danger, call the police. They can also help if you or someone else has been hurt, or if someone has threatened your safety.

Believe in yourself. If someone is threatening to hurt you or harming you in any way, it can be hard to maintain your self-confidence. Remember: It’s never O.K. for someone to hurt or threaten to hurt you. You are worth far more than that.

Know your rights. It might be a good idea to check out your legal rights if you suspect someone is breaking the law. Harassment and assault laws, as well as other laws dealing with your safety, vary from state to state.

Prevent access to your internet activity. If someone is hurting you and you are searching for help on the internet, you may not want that person to have access to this information. Remember to turn your browsing history off or to delete it after the fact, if you feel you have to.

Generally, it’s good to be cautious about your safety when using the internet. With so many forms of personal information on the internet, you have to be careful. The Nemours Foundation and WebMD offer several suggestions for internet safety.

Stop and think about the consequences of taking unnecessary risks

Some things that jeopardize your safety are things you can control, which is great! That means you can be proactive at ensuring you’re safe. Some of those things might be:

  • Making good decisions about drinking and not driving

  • Knowing your limits when drinking alcohol

  • Not going home with someone you don’t really know

  • Not having unprotected sex

  • Watching your drink at a party (See Date Rape Drugs for more information)

  • Driving yourself to a party, so you can leave if things feel unsafe

  • Being aware of your surroundings

  • Not picking up hitchhikers

  • Listening to your gut or intuition

It’s particularly tempting when you first get out on your own and are not under your family’s eye to experiment and try things that you might not have tried before. That’s natural, but you can still be independent without making unsafe choices. Our Risk-Taking article offers more on this topic.

Consider a safety plan

It might be necessary to have a safety plan in place before you leave the situation where you feel unsafe. Consider these points before making your safety plan:

Have somewhere safe to go. If you can’t think of anywhere to stay, you might want to contact a shelter.

Tell someone. If possible, tell your friends and family members to see if they can help protect and support you. You might also want to talk to someone who’s removed from the situation, like a counselor, social worker, or one of the trained volunteers at the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, or RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network at 1-800-656-4673 or Lines for Life’s Suicide LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255. Even if you’re not suicidal, they’ll still talk to you and give you support regardless of what you’re going through. If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

Have cash on hand. If you can, save some money so you can leave a situation you don’t feel safe in. In these situations, you might need to pay for transportation or temporary housing, so having cash on hand can make this easier.

Minimize your time alone. Remember: There’s safety in numbers. Try and be around other people whenever possible.

After you feel safe

Once the crisis has passed, it’s usually easier to work out what to do in the future should you find yourself in the situation again. If someone close to you is putting you in danger, it might be necessary to end your relationship with the person, which could include moving. This will probably be a hard step to take, so have as much support as possible.

If you’re concerned for your safety in the future it might be necessary to talk to the police, change your phone number or screen your calls through an answering machine. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides important advice about protecting your identity after moving to a new location. You might want to check out the website even if you are not worried about a specific person, as it contains useful tips for anyone to protect themselves.

Remember: There are many people and services that can help. Just talking to someone you trust about your concerns can help you see your options more clearly.

 

Additional resources, and information for this article was provided by:


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Happiness

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Finding happiness through gratitude

A closer look at how reconciling the past can improve your overall happiness

How forgiveness and gratitude directly impact happiness

Being grateful—or having gratitude—for the past can positively affect your future. Research has shown that people who think about the past in an optimistic way have increased capacity for happiness.

You might experience a variety of feelings when thinking about the past—from pride, satisfaction and contentment to bitterness and anger. These feelings are all controlled by your memories, which you can manage. If you have bad memories, you might be able to change them to neutral or good feelings by challenging your thinking or through forgiveness.

This means that you have ultimate control over your feelings about the past. If you can control your thoughts and feelings, you can influence your happiness. This might not be easy at first. Talking to someone like a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional can be a helpful way to manage difficult experiences so that your feelings about them become neutral.

The past doesn’t dictate your future

Do you believe that your past determines your future? If you do, you’re reducing the amount of control that you have in what happens in your life. If you believe you have no control over your future, you’re also more likely to experience the feeling of “stuckness,”—like no matter what action you take, it won’t make a difference to your life.

Research suggests that childhood events don’t always determine the course of your life. You don’t need to be a prisoner of your past and it doesn’t have to determine your future. You can control your future, your thoughts about the past and present, and the way that you act on these feelings.

Incorporating gratitude into your everyday life

One way to change your feelings, thoughts, actions, and the course of your life is to keep a “gratitude journal”. You might find it useful to keep a daily or weekly diary where you write down everything that you’re grateful for. This can include things that happened to you, things you noticed about your own thoughts or progress, people, where you live, work, school, etc.

Controlled experiments have shown that people who record things they’re grateful for experience an increase in joy, happiness and overall satisfaction with their lives. This is because when you focus on things you’re grateful for, you amplify good memories about the past. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

To get an indication of how grateful you are already, check out the Gratitude Quiz on the Greater Good Magazine website. After completing the quiz, they share your results and some suggestions to foster more gratitude in your life. You might want to re-take this test once you’ve kept your gratitude diary for a couple of weeks, and see whether keeping a diary has had an impact on your level of gratitude. If it has increased, you might want to continue keeping your gratitude journal for the long-term.

Forgiveness

If you have intense and frequent negative thoughts about the past, it’s likely that these thoughts will block any positive emotions like contentment and satisfaction. Sometimes it might seem like there are good reasons for not forgiving and for holding on to bitterness. If you’re having trouble deciding whether to forgive, you might want to evaluate the pros and cons of forgiveness.

Your experience could be a very complex and difficult one. It might be especially difficult to forgive if you’ve been really hurt by someone. Forgiveness can take time, and it’s O.K. if at first it hurts too much to forgive. However, if you reach a point where you’re no longer feeling bitter, forgiveness can give you a much greater chance of moving on and enjoying life. Forgiveness transforms bitterness into a neutral feeling, or even a positive feeling, making you happier.

In addition to having a positive impact on your happiness, if you forgive, you’re more likely to be in better physical health, especially when it comes to your heart.

If you choose to reconcile with a person after you’ve come to terms with a situation, there might be even more benefits. Your relationship with that forgiven person is likely to improve greatly—and better relationships can lead to increased happiness.

To get an indication of how ready you are to forgive someone or something, you might want to take the Forgiveness Quiz on the Greater Good Magazine website.

Challenging negative thoughts

In addition to forgiveness, challenging your negative thoughts about the past can be helpful. By challenging these memories, you might realize that the way you think about the event is not actually “correct” or accurate, and that this faulty thinking is making you feel negatively about something that actually deserves neutral or even positive feelings. For additional information, check out the Challenging Negative Self-Talk and Common Thinking Errors articles.

Other tips that might help

It takes practice to be able to identify and change negative thinking about the past and it might not be easy at first. Forgiveness is not always an easy choice. The following tips might also help you challenge negative thoughts and make decisions to forgive.

Find support. Talking to people you trust and respect about the way you feel can be helpful, particularly if you talk to people who have experienced a situation similar to the one you’re in. Try talking to a family member, friend, teacher or counselor.

If you’d rather talk to someone confidentially, try Lines for Life’s YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491. This hotline is free and staffed by trained volunteers who are available 24/7 to talk to you. They also have texting and online chat options available.

Keep a diary. Not only is a gratitude journal important, but having a place to put all your thoughts out of your mind can be really beneficial. You might be experiencing a whole lot of thoughts and feelings about the past, and it might help you keep track by writing them down. Once you identify negative feelings about the past, challenge them. See if you can re-write history.

Remember that the way you think about the past will influence the way you feel about it, and you can control this! Try out some of the suggestions, and see if you can re-shape the way you think and feel about the past, and increase your happiness.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgments: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Dieting, Weight Loss, and Finding Peace in Your Body

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Dieting & Weight Loss

A closer look at the misconceptions of weight and health, finding out your body’s natural weight, and learning to find peace with the body you already have

From diet tips in magazines to snack food commercials that emphasize calorie counts and weight loss above all else, the pressure to be thin and the resulting “fat phobia” can be hard to avoid. We often pick up messages from the media about how we should look and the measures we need to take to get there. This message says to us that we aren’t good enough as we are, a message that can be detrimental to our self-esteem. The contradictory information around dieting, weight loss and body image can make it difficult to know what is healthy and how we can eat well, live in and celebrate our bodies as they are.

Body weight and health

Despite what popular culture tells us, body weight alone is not an indicator of health. This means that someone can be at a higher weight and be healthy, or at a lower weight and be unhealthy. To say that everyone who appears overweight is unhealthy or that anyone who looks thin is healthy is an inaccurate generalization. To accurately assess health, we have to take into account a person’s natural set point weight range (see more below), height, muscle mass, bone structure, body fat, genetics, activity level, eating patterns, and relationship to food.

There is also strong evidence of childhood trauma or traumatic experiences being associated with obesity and the development of binge eating disorder. It’s important to remember that body weight is not only associated with physical health, but also with mental health. If you think your body weight may be connected to trauma in your past and it’s something you’d like to heal from, it’s important to talk to a trusted mental health professional.

Natural set point weight range vs Body Mass Index (BMI)

Set point weight theory says that our weight, like our height, settles at a natural range due to our inherited biology and genetics. Once settled, this is the weight range that our body will continue to work to maintain, despite our efforts to alter it. Therefore, the vast majority of people who lose weight on diets will regain that weight. Although our body will gravitate towards its set point, movement within a range is normal due to fluctuations in activity level, seasonal changes in eating patterns, or illness. Because of the variance among set points, standardized weight charts can be misleading and unhelpful.

On the other hand, Body Mass Index or BMI (sometimes also referred to as Ideal Body Weight) is the ratio of your weight (in kilograms) to your height (in meters) squared and is defined as a measure of body fat based on weight and height. Because BMI does not take into account muscle mass, bone structure, genetics, biology, metabolism, or activity level, BMI can portray an inaccurate, unhelpful picture of your physical health.

So how do I know what a healthy weight is for me?

Throughout your growing years, your body is still building bone and muscle, so your weight increases steadily. If your body is still growing, you may not have reached your natural range yet. However, if you have yourself weighed at the doctors, they can tell you where your height and weight averages for your age range. This may give you some insight, but remember, you’re growing. Your body can experience a lot of fluctuations in a short amount of time.

For the rest of you, one way to think about a healthy weight for yourself is to ask what weight range your body has naturally settled in for long periods of time. Pay special attention to times when…

  • Maintaining this weight was natural (e.g., you did not have to under or overeat to achieve it)

  • You were eating well (in good health, not preoccupied with thoughts of food)

  • You had the physical and mental energy to do the things you wanted

The weight your body settled at during these times is likely your healthy weight range.

I want to lose weight, is there a healthy way to do so?

That depends.

If you’re eating a variety of foods according to your body cues, exercising for fun and health, and maintaining your current weight, your body is probably at a healthy weight for you. In this case, it is unlikely that there’s a healthy way to lose weight because your body is already at a healthy weight.

Trying to lose weight at this point is likely to disrupt your internal body cues, slow your metabolism, increase likelihood of binging, decrease body image, increase obsessive thoughts about food, lower self-esteem, and/or increase risk of developing an eating disorder.

Instead, you might benefit from focusing on the feelings driving the desire to lose weight and improving your body image through self-acceptance and compassion. You can also change things up while still maintaining healthy habits by trying new recipes or attempting a new sport.

Perhaps instead of losing weight, you actually mean you’d like to become more fit. Muscle mass itself is heavier than fat, so if you start working out and building muscle mass, you may see an increase in weight with a decrease in body fat. That’s another reason not to become obsessed with the number on your scale. It is just the relationship your body has to the gravitational pull of this earth. If you decide you’d like to become more active, try following some fitness plans online or meeting with a personal trainer at a gym for more information. Moving your body and working towards a specific goal with it (so long as it’s coming from a healthy place) can increase your self-confidence and strengthen the relationship you have with yourself.

If you believe your body is at a higher (or lower) weight than might be natural for you, you might want to change your eating or activity patterns. This type of weight change might occur due to inactivity, over or undereating, illness, or disconnection from your internal body cues. In this case, try not to focus on weight loss (or gain), but rather on restoring health.

You may want to try:

  • Practicing intuitive eating

  • Avoid dieting through set foods and restrictive eating

  • Being mindful while experimenting with small, simple changes will be helpful in this process

Check out our Eating Well & Feeling Healthy article for more information.

Can your set point ever change?

Although our natural set point weight range tends to be rather steady, certain conditions can shift it over time. Chronic dieting, aging, overeating, or not getting enough activity can all increase your set point. Having a poor diet or overly restricting your caloric intake can cause a person’s metabolism to slow, resulting in lower calorie requirements to maintain the same weight. For people who have experienced increases in their natural set point, restoring their set point may be possible through increasing awareness (mindfulness) of internal body signals (e.g., hunger, fullness), the experience of eating, and through becoming more active if not already so.

Recovering from an eating disorder and wanting to lose weight

If you’ve recovered from an eating disorder, developing a healthy relationship to food, eating and your body was hopefully a part of your journey. If you’re engaged in eating well, listening to and respecting your body, then chances are your body is at a healthy weight and the urge to lose weight is an important emotional signal to pay attention to and understand.

For example, we are often taught that when we feel uncomfortable in our body, we should do something to change our body. Sometimes we transfer emotions to our body and try to resolve them through the way we eat or treat our bodies. These are important issues, but they are not resolved through weight loss.

If, on the other hand, you are not engaged in eating well and are having difficulty listening to your hunger and fullness cues, it might be tempting to turn to a diet or weight loss to structure your experience and “get things back on track”. The issue with this, however, is that diets ultimately alienate us from our bodies, overriding our body cues and making it difficult for us to eat intuitively and mindfully.

Rather than focusing on a diet or weight loss, if you’re struggling, try shifting your focus to restoring connection to and trust in your body, restoring health, and if needed, seeking out support from others—including, if necessary, a therapist, nutritionist, or doctor.

Steps for seeking support around weight loss

If you’re curious about losing or gaining weight or have questions around your natural set point, it’s a good idea to consult a health care professional. Your local doctor, nutritionist or dietitian should be able to help you with this information. With support, you can focus on mapping out  healthy, sustainable ways of eating that don’t just measure success through weight loss.

If you are working on changing your eating patterns, it may be helpful to check out community health centers or a nutritionist for information about what products or programs they offer. Before spending money, become fully informed about the weight loss program and check out the safety and credibility of the program or product you’re considering. If you have a complaint about a program or product, address your complaint directly to the company involved, so they are aware of the problem and have an opportunity to fix it.

Finally, if you ever find yourself becoming obsessed by the desire to lose weight or maintain a certain weight, it’s important to seek help. There are often underlying emotional issues behind this drive and support can help you address both the emotional and physical components.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Benefits of Activity & Exercise

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Staying Active

A closer look at why moving your body is important and what you can do to stay active

The benefits of exercise and being active

Being active helps you to stay healthy, happy and fit. You can enjoy the benefits of a healthy life in a way that is fun and suitable for your lifestyle. There are many different ways you can get active and finding the activity that suits you is an important first step.  You may enjoy walking, running, dancing, surfing, going to the gym, swimming, yoga, Pilates, hiking, playing a team sport or a number of other activities.

Whatever activity you choose, some of the benefits include:

  • Improving your strength, fitness, and confidence which can help you to achieve your goals in life

  • Enabling you to become involved in fun new activities

  • Increasing your energy, flexibility and mobility

  • Helping you to manage stress and anger

  • Increasing your self-esteem

  • Helping you sleep better at night

  • Improving metabolic rate which prevents weight gain and allows you to manage a healthy weight

  • Exercising can be a good way to clear your head if you have a lot on your mind

  • Playing a team sport or joining an exercise center can introduce you to new people

Suggestions for becoming active

Everyone has a different level of physical fitness and finding a pace that is right for you is important. Exercise doesn’t have to be painful; it can be fun and require minimal organization and money. If you have medical difficulties or are feeling pain when you exercise, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about what type of activities are best for you.

Here are some suggestions that may help when you start exercising:

Start gradually. Try not to do too much too fast. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation, but not be able to sing while you are exercising. Remember that any amount of exercise is beneficial. You could start by using the stairs instead of the escalator or going for a 5 - 10 minute walk. As being active becomes easier, you can increase the time and intensity of your activity. Try not to become discouraged if you find yourself becoming pretty sore after starting your workouts. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become and the less you’ll feel sore. Think of it as really putting the work in and use that as encouragement to keep going.

Make it social. It can be more inspiring, helpful and fun if you exercise with a friend.  Having someone else join you may increase your motivation and give you the opportunity to catch up socially. You could go for a walk, run, or swim together or you could join a group activity together.

Make it part of your routine. With the busy lives we lead, it is sometimes difficult to include exercise into our routine. A great way to start would be to set aside a time in the day for exercising, such as before or after dinner or before school or work. Other options include incorporating exercise into your daily life, like walking to school or work instead of catching the bus.

Make it fun. If you choose something you enjoy, being active and exercising can be a fun part of your day. You may want to kick a soccer ball with friends, play tennis, go dancing with a group, listen to music while walking or running or take the dog for a walk. Also, playing a team sport or joining a group activity will enable you to make new friends while still being active.

Where to go if you want to start to get active

Go to your local YMCA or YWCA. A YMCA or YWCA is a great place to go to work out or join a health or well-being program. Unlike a typical gym, the YMCA is catered towards activities and programs for young people and families. You could go just for a swim, take a class, and join a longer-term program or any number of other activities.

A gym. Even if you can’t afford going to the YMCA/YWCA, there are still fairly inexpensive options for gyms. Often times gyms can set you up with a personal trainer to help design a plan to meet your fitness goals and offer a variety of classes to learn from. If you’re intimidated by all the weights or machines, a personal trainer or gym employee can help explain how to use them safely. There are also videos online that show you how to have proper form when using free-weights like barbells, dumbbells, and kettle-bells, or when performing exercises on the machines.

Your local park. There is a good chance your local park has organized team sports.  Joining a community team could be a fun, casual way to exercise and play your favorite sport. If you are worried about your ability to play the sport, these sorts of teams are usual more relaxed than a school or college team. Parks also sometimes hold events such as tournaments, festivals, yoga lessons or other activities that could be a different way of exercising. Also, a park is always a great place to go for a jog, ride a bike, exercise alone or play a sport with your friends.

Your school. Many states require physical education in schools by law. Taking a physical education class at school is a great way to get your daily exercise and start forming healthy exercise habits early on. If physical education is not a requirement, you may want to take a class anyway, especially if you are too busy with schoolwork and external activities to exercise outside of school. Another great way to exercise in school or college is by joining a team. You can do something you love, make a new group of friends, and have fun all while increasing your health! At the college level, many universities have fitness and recreation centers with a ton of options for exercising. Stop by your college’s fitness center and check out everything you could do there!

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Non-Traditional Medicine & Treatment

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Natural Remedies

A brief look at alternatives to “Western” medicine

What are non-traditional medicine and treatments?

There is a lot of debate about what should be included in non-traditional medicine and treatments. There are even many different names for this kind of medicine and treatment to go by—alternative medicine, homeopathic medicine, or you might hear the name complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is often the formal term used for it. These medicines and treatments can range from herbal supplements to chiropractic care, eating chicken soup for a cold, acupuncture or yoga. Basically, CAM covers everything that doesn’t fit into Western (also called “conventional”) medicine.

CAM is used and may be helpful for many ailments—both physical and mental—such as stress, colds, headaches, and even diseases like cancer.

Are non-traditional medicines or treatments an option for me?

Commonly, these non-traditional medicines or treatments can be used on their own or combined with Western or conventional medicines. However, the use of some non-traditional medicines is very controversial. Some medical doctors do not believe in their use and may discourage it. Others will only use or suggest them if it is proven to actually help people through research studies. The problem is that there aren’t many studies to check out whether non-traditional medicines or treatments work.

The best way to make an informed decision is to talk to your doctor about the type of treatment you are considering. You can also consult with an alternative medicine practitioner. You should never try non-traditional medicine or treatment without consultation. You should also tell your doctor about medications you are currently taking to make sure that the CAM treatment you might be considering wouldn’t have a dangerous reaction with your current medication.

You can also call the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse (1-888-644-6226). They provide publications and searches of the scientific literature on CAM, including topics such as “Selecting a CAM Practitioner” or “Are You Considering Using CAM?”, but they do not offer medical advice, treatment recommendations or referrals.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgement: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Relaxation

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Relaxing

Have you given yourself enough time to relax lately? Take a closer look at what you can do to bring more relaxation into your life

Putting things in perspective

Relaxation is important. It’s easy to forget to make time for yourself when things get stressful. Sometimes you might get so preoccupied that days can go by without you doing anything for yourself.

Many forms of relaxation, like walking or sitting quietly, are very simple, easy to do and don’t cost a thing. Others, like yoga or meditation, require some training or discipline. That being said, you can easily find videos online that walk you through a meditation practice called Guided Meditation, or follow along to yoga routines posted online. Going fishing or playing sports can be a great way of relaxing too.

Put aside some time in the day and try out some of these relaxation techniques to see which ones work for you.

  • Go for a walk, taking the time to notice what is around you

  • Listen to some music you really like

  • Go fishing

  • Sit quietly in a park and look at the things around you

  • Play your favorite sport

  • Take a bath

  • Go to a movie or watch a DVD

  • Visit a friend

  • Be creative, express yourself

  • Go for a swim

  • Do a puzzle

  • Read a book

  • Learn yoga or meditation

Breathing techniques

When you’re anxious or stressed, your breathing can become quick and shallow, which reduces the amount of oxygen going to your organs. Learning how to breathe deeply can help reduce some of the physiological symptoms of anxiety.

To become aware of your breathing, place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach. Take a breath and let your stomach swell forward as you breathe in, and fall back gently as you breathe out. Try to get a steady rhythm going, take the same depth of breath each time to breathe. Your hand on your chest should have little or no movement.

When you feel comfortable with this technique, try to slow your breathing rate down by putting a short pause after you have exhaled and before you breathe in again.

Initially, it might feel as if you aren’t getting enough air in, but with regular practice this slower rate will soon start to feel comfortable.

It might help if you imagine that you’re blowing up a big balloon in your stomach when you breathe in and deflating it when you breathe out. This exercise helps you to breathe more deeply. When you are consistently taking deep breaths, it sends a message to the brain and body to calm down. Give it a try!

For more information

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Mindfulness

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Be Here Now

A closer look at how to stay present through practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness

You may have heard of mindfulness as a form of meditation, or a tool you can use in daily life to lower stress, improve focus, or treat anxiety or depression. You can use mindfulness when you are stressed out about an exam, anxious in social situations, and many other difficult times, but what is it exactly?

What is mindfulness?

One simple definition is by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the main teachers of mindfulness in the United States:

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

In other words, mindfulness means focusing on what is happening right now, rather than replaying things that happened in the past or worrying about what’s going to happen next. Sounds simple, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it is easy! It’s really hard to stay focused on what’s happening now and not get caught up in the past or future. It takes a lot of practice to build the mindfulness habit.

How do people practice mindfulness?

  • Meditation. Some people practice mindfulness meditation, which generally means sitting still with eyes closed for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or longer, simply noticing their breath or other inner experiences happening in the present moment.

  • During your day. Other people use mindfulness principles when doing other activities in their daily lives, like eating, talking to friends, exercising, etc. When you notice your mind jumping ahead to worries about what you are going to do next, or stressing about whether your friend thought your last joke was funny, you bring your attention back to what’s happening right now.

Common Mindfulness Practices

1. Mindful eating: In this practice, you slow waaaay down and spend about three minutes eating a single raisin. It may sound silly at first but it is a powerful exercise! Give it a try:

  • Step One: First hold the raisin in your hand, and spend a full minute looking at it, feeling the texture on your fingers.

  • Step Two: Then place the raisin in your mouth and feel the texture on your tongue before you start chewing.

  • Step Three: Chew very slowly, and notice all the flavors and sensations before swallowing.  Pay attention to each bite, the way the food looks, smells, and tastes.Take at least two minutes to hold, chew, taste, and swallow the raisin.

You can also use mindful eating techniques when you are eating your regular meals. People often report enjoying their food more and reducing overeating when they practice mindful eating!

2. Mindfulness of breath: This is a beginner practice to build basic mindfulness tools, increase focus, and help you feels less stressed.

  • Step One: Find a comfortable place where you can sit and close your eyes for a few minutes.

  • Step Two: Bring your attention to your breath. Don’t try to change anything, don’t make your breath any deeper or slower, simply observe what is happening.

  • Step Three: Whatever you focus on, try to observe ten full cycles of breath, in and out.

Some tips:

  • When focusing on the breath, you can try paying attention to the experience of your lungs filling and emptying, your belly rising and falling, or the feeling of air going in and out of your nostrils.

  • If your mind wanders to something else, don’t worry about it or beat yourself up, that’s part of the process! Just notice that you wandered and return to focusing on your breath.

3. Body scan: This practice helps you build awareness of what’s going on inside you.

  • Step One: Find a comfortable place where you can close your eyes for 3-5 minutes (set a timer if you’d like).

  • Step Two: Start by taking a few deep breaths. Bring your awareness to your feet, feel the sensation of them resting on the floor.

  • Step Three: Slowly bring your awareness up your body, noticing how your lower legs feel, any tension or relaxation there, then upper legs, back, belly, chest, shoulders, arms, and ending with your neck and head. Spend at least ten seconds on each area, more if you like.

  • Step Four: When you have scanned your whole body, take another three deep breaths and then open your eyes

It’s important that you don’t try to change anything, judge any feelings as good or bad, or try to figure out why you feel a certain way. If you notice yourself thinking or judging, simply remind yourself that you are here to observe only and return to your mindfulness practice.

4. Grounding: This practice will help you build your awareness of what is happening around you in your environment.

  • Step One: Sit or stand comfortably, with both feet on the ground.

  • Step Two: Look all around the room, silently naming what you see: blue wall, tall plant, open book, etc.

  • Step Three: Pause and listen to all the sounds you can hear too: traffic outside, hum of the air conditioner, the sound of your own breath or heart. Notice any smells, any sensations (breeze, heat, etc) and name those, too.

  • Step Four: To end, return your attention to the feeling of your feet on the ground.

Benefits of Mindfulness

So why do any of this stuff? Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness:

  • Improves focus, attention, and memory

  • Lowers stress

  • Increases ability to feel happy and enjoy the good in life

  • Helps you spend less energy worrying about what might happen in the future

  • Reduces overthinking or rumination (endlessly replaying things that happened in the past)

  • Helps you identify your emotions, improving self-awareness and your ability to communicate with others

  • Increases your understanding of your body

  • Research shows that mindfulness can have a significant impact on depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions

Resources to learn more:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally written by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Building Resilience

Resilience

A closer look at what it means to be resilient and ways to build resiliency in your life

What is resiliency?

Resilience is the ability to thrive in spite of adversity. When you are able to regulate your emotions after a stressful event and come out okay on the other side, this is resilience. It is your ability to ‘bounce back’ from stressful external events.

How do I become more resilient?

A number of factors contribute to a person’s ability to be resilient when faced with adversity. We call these protective factors. Some protective factors exist outside of our control, based largely in our support system and environment.

These include such things as:

  • Having people in your life who care about you and help you through tough times

  • Having people who believe in your abilities and strengths and who have high expectations for you to be successful

  • Living in a community that provides opportunities for meaningful participation, including being involved in decision making, contributing your talents to the good of the community, and other forms of service

Other protective factors have to do with personal strengths, skills and abilities that buffer against stress and help an individual manage stressful situations. These are things that are in your control and things you can learn and develop.

Personal factors that help build resilience

Some skills to help manage stress and increase your ability to be resilient:

  • Positive social skills. Open, respectful and direct communication techniques, maintaining a positive attitude and having a sense of humor when faced with interpersonal challenges

  • Problem-solving skills. Being able to stop and think before reacting, being able to generate alternative solutions, weighing consequences of decisions before you act, and openness to seeking support when needed

  • Feeling secure about yourself. Having a sense of self-worth, and having a clear sense of self-identify so that you step away or create some physical or psychological distance from things that pull you down or give you stress

  • Having a sense of purpose. Feeling a deeper meaning in your existence that drives you, or having hope for the future by having personal goals, strong values and connectedness to others

If you find that you don’t have people in your life who provide the kinds of external supports that help build resilience, try to be proactive in searching out mentors who care about you and believe in your potential. Some high schools and colleges have mentoring programs. Some of these programs may be linked with career planning and the college application process. Church youth groups, athletic teams, and community sponsored programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs could be potential sources of support.

So even if you don’t have all the external protective factors in your life – you can still develop skills and attitudes and take actions that will help you become resilient against the stressors that you encounter. It might be harder for you than someone who has a ready-made support system in place, but it is important to remember there are still things you can do to help yourself!

For more information:

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Body Image

Loving the body you’re in

Learning to love your body is a process, but will be the biggest investment of your life. Here we unpack our perceptions of our bodies and how to turn them around if they prove to be unhealthy.

What is body image?

Body image is your own attitude towards your body. It’s how you see yourself, how you think and feel about the way you look, and how you think others perceive you. Your body image can also be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes, as well as those of society, social media, and your peers.

Types of body image

There are two types of body image, healthy and unhealthy:

  • Having a healthy body image means that you’re comfortable in your own skin and are happy with the way you look.

  • Having an unhealthy body image means that you have a skewed perception of your own body, such as seeing your body as bigger or smaller than it is in reality or not being perfect on the outside.

You may think that what you look like on the outside defines who you are or what your worth is, but in reality, you are more than just your body!

Why can people have an unhealthy body image?

In mass media and society, you come across images of models who are extremely thin or ripped, bodies that have little to no body hair on them, and people with flawless skin. People of all ages, sizes, and genders are being bombarded with images that might make them feel bad about themselves or skew what they think their body should look like. You may feel obligated or pressured to look like these images portrayed in the media or popular culture because it is seen as what you SHOULD look like.  As a result, a lot of men and women try to control—sometimes in unhealthy ways—their appearances to look a certain way.

The history of the ideal body shape

In actuality, the ideal body shape has changed greatly over time, and this ideal often has more to do with what your body shape says to other people than what it actually looks like. For example, during the potato famine in Ireland, it was very stylish to be plump; as it showed that you and your family were wealthy and could afford food. Today, it is stylish to be slim and well-toned because it shows that you have the money for a gym membership or a personal trainer. Same reason but entirely different shape!

Steps to self-acceptance

Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their body, but having an unhealthy body image can damage your self-esteem and confidence. Once you feel bad about the way you look, you may be inclined to think that you, as a person, are not as worthy. No matter what you look like, you are beautiful the way you are! Having a healthy body image will help you feel more comfortable in your own skin and more confident with your body. Here are some ways to gain self-acceptance and feel comfortable about your body:

  • Relationships: Surround yourself with people in your life who you find supportive, affirming, and accepting of who you are. If you’re not sure if a particular person fits this description, pay attention to how you feel about yourself after spending time with them. Take note of whether you leave feeling warm and supported or whether you leave feeling not good enough in some way.

  • Avoid “fat talk”: Try to avoid conversation that emphasizes how you or other people look. Talk about all the amazing things you can do and things you’re interested in! Remember and remind your friends that people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and are no less capable and deserving than anyone else.

  • Develop media literacy: Learn to detect and challenge the powerful messages in the media which promote a narrow ideal of beauty and value, which emphasize our bodies as objects. Following hashtags, pages, groups, and content creators on social media that align with positive values is far better for your mental health than seeing demoralizing, objectifying content in your feed. Some examples of hashtags you could follow include #bodypositivity, #loveyourbody, #bodyhairdontcare, and #selfacceptance.

  • Stand up for your rights! Activism is a great way to protest messages in the media and culture that contribute to body dissatisfaction. By taking action, you are helping the cause and telling yourself, “I matter, I’m worth it, and these messages aren’t okay!” You have the right to be happy with who you are, as you are. Don’t let anybody take that away from you.

  • Be compassionate to yourself and others: How we treat ourselves impacts our self-acceptance and our comfort in our own skin. Treating yourself kindly generates compassion and this compassion fuels more kind self-care. Some great ways to be kind to yourself and your body include: pledging not to diet (eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full), engaging in exercise that is fun and empowering, and listening to your body when it needs rest or comfort.

  • Describe yourself without referring to your physique: Think about the wonderful parts of your personality. People will come to see you as you see yourself and will describe you as you describe yourself. This goes for how you talk about your friends too!

  • Find your own style: Wear what you want to wear and don’t avoid wearing things because of the perception of others. You’ll never fully avoid people making their own judgements, so you might as well enjoy life to the fullest while you can. Wear that bikini you’ve been eyeing at the store! Wear those clunky boots you swear came out of the 90’s! People will see you being in tune with your own vibe and may be inspired to do the same. Be fierce when it comes to being yourself.

Getting help

If you are feeling inadequate about your body or yourself in general, it may be worth talking to someone about it. This may be a family member, friend, teacher or counselor. If you feel that you might be trying to control your weight in unhealthy ways, please check out our articles on anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and overcoming an eating disorder.

 

Information for this article was also provided by:

  • SAMHSA Family Guide, Body Image

  • South Carolina Department of Mental Health

  • Teen Matters

 

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Happiness

 

Don’t worry, be happy

A closer look at becoming happier in your daily life

 

What is happiness?

Happiness can mean different things to different people. For example, for one person, it may mean being in a relationship, whereas for someone else, it could mean feeling like you have the ability to handle whatever life throws at you.

While you might think that there are certain things that make you happy (or could make you happy if you had them), research has shown that there are certain common traits among happy people—and they aren’t necessarily what you might think.

What makes happy people happy?

You might think that happy people have lots of money, are physically attractive, have great jobs, or own the latest gadgets. Or, you might just think happy people are plain lucky and are born that way.

Research suggests, however, that there are a number of variables that make a far greater contribution to happiness than external and more superficial factors.

That doesn’t mean that if you have a lot of money you won’t be happy, or that having a lot of money is bad, it just means that other factors are more important in determining happiness. In fact, a strong positive relationship between job status, income, and wealth and happiness only exists for those who live below the poverty line or who are unemployed.

What distinguishes happy people is that they have a different attitude—a different way of thinking about things and doing things. They interpret the world in a different way, and go about their lives in a different way.

Why is happiness important?

This might seem obvious. (Why wouldn’t you want to be happy?!) But the implications are greater than you might think. Happier people are generally healthier people—not only mentally, but also physically. Happiness is actually something that is really important, and that you might want to increase if you can.

The “happiness equation”

It has been suggested that there are several factors that contribute toward happiness. This is an ”equation for happiness,” suggested by psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman:

H = S + C + V

H = Happiness

S = Set range (genetics: about 50%)

C = Circumstances (8-15%)

V = Voluntary Control (past, present, future)

This looks very scientific, and is actually based on research findings, but it can be explained quite simply:

Set range/genetics. There is some evidence to support that people are born with a certain “set-point” of happiness, which is determined by our genes. This is supposed to change only slightly, if at all, as we get older. Our genetic predisposition to happiness contributes around 50% to our level of happiness.

So if something dramatic happens—for example, you win the lottery or break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend—within a year or so (depending on the situation), your happiness level will return to its set point.

Circumstances. There’s also some evidence to suggest that the circumstance we live in influence our level of happiness. You don’t always have a lot of control over your circumstances—for example, we can’t all live in mansions and drive new cars. Evidence suggests, however, that this accounts for only about 8% to 15% of our happiness, which really isn’t that much.

Voluntary control. This third factor is the most important factor in the equation, because you can control it, and in the process control your happiness. It includes all aspects of your life over which you have a relatively high degree of control, including your thoughts and actions. This includes the way you choose to think about and act on the past, present, and future, and seems to have a significant impact on how happy you are—it could be up to 42%!

  • Past. When thinking about the past, people who are happier pay attention to what was good about the past, rather than focusing on the unhappy times. They are grateful, forgiving, and don’t believe that the past will determine what happens in the future. For more information on gratitude, for the past, check out the Gratitude, forgiveness and their influence on your happiness fact sheet.

  • Future. When it comes to thinking about the future, happy people are flexibly optimistic. What this means is that they are optimistic (in a realistic sense) about how their future is going to be, but if it doesn’t turn out that way, they know it’s not going to be the end of the world either.

  • Present. The way you think about and act in the present is also essential in determining how happy you are. This might include actions like taking pleasure in life and your surroundings, building and being in meaningful relationships, and the way we react to things in life, good and bad.

You do have control over your happiness

You can see from this equation that you do have some control over your happiness. Even though a certain proportion of your happiness is beyond your control, and is determined by genetics and by circumstances (which you can only control to a certain extent), you can increase your happiness level by focusing on those areas in your life that you can control.

You might choose to control your attitude, the way you interpret situations and the way you think about yourself. If you think about it, and the fact that it could be accountable for around 40% of your happiness, this could make a big difference in your life.

But does aiming to be happy mean you can’t be sad?

Not at all. In fact, going through times where you’re sad can sometimes make that happiness all the brighter.

Sadness is a part of life, and sometimes it’s even possible to feel happy and sad about something. For example, you might be happy to move out of home, but sad that you won’t see your family or pets as much any more.

You might even wonder whether it’s possible, or O.K. to be happy, when there is so much suffering and injustice in the world. Happiness is natural, and it’s possible to be compassionate and caring, and in tune with the sadness of the world, while still experiencing happiness in your life. This awareness might even prompt you to act in a way to help improve the situation of others—an action that might actually increase your happiness.

Working on happiness

Happiness is something that means different things to different people, but overall it seems that it’s the way we choose to think about ourselves, our place in the world, and how we act in that world, that differentiates the happy people from the less happy people.

Happiness is something that you actually have voluntary control over and can work on in your daily life. Not only that, but it can contribute to a large proportion of your happiness, as seen in the equation. It’s up to you.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

 
 

Putting Your Goals into Action

Goal Setting

A closer look at turning your dreams and goals into reality

Once you’ve set your goals and subgoals the next step is to put your goals into action. It’s likely that having your goals broken down into smaller steps, or subgoals, will make it a lot easier for you to achieve your goals in the long-run.

Develop a plan of action

Write a step-by-step plan for achieving your subgoals, and ultimately your main goal. This includes planning deadlines for each subgoal and writing down all the “nitty-gritty” small things you can do today, tomorrow, and later on this week in order to achieve your goal and subgoals.

Case study: Liam’s plan of action

My goal: To be a competent soccer player within one year.

How I will benefit from achieving this goal?

  • I love soccer. I will enjoy it.

  • It will help me stay fit.

  • It’s sociable, and something I can do with my friends.

  • It’s a skill, and mastering it would give me a sense of achievement.

Subgoals (specific steps to achieve this goal), plus target dates for each step

  • Ask mom and dad to pay for new cleats as part of my birthday present. Target date: tonight.

  • Join a local soccer team. Target date: by Tuesday, May 2.

  • Practice with Dan (my brother) who is good at soccer, and get him to give me some tips. Target date: regularly, starting May 4.

  • Play at least three times a week (at least two afternoons after school, and once on the weekend). Target date: Starting May 24.

The nitty-gritty (things I need to do this week)

Tonight:

  • Talk to mom and dad about cleats

  • Talk to Dan about practicing with him

Tomorrow:

  • Call the local team coach and find out about membership

Wednesday:

  • Sign up for the team by Friday of next week

  • Tell Nick and Steve that I want to join them when they play pick up games on Mondays and Fridays once I’ve got my cleats

Give it a try

Choose something that you would like to achieve. Describe it as a specific goal, and include a deadline for its achievement. Then describe the benefits that you will gain, your subgoals and the steps you need to take this week in order to work towards your goal.

You can do this by filling in the spaces next to the following headings:

Plan of action

  • My goal

  • How I will benefit from achieving this goal?

  • Subgoals (specific steps to achieve this goal) PLUS target dates for each step

  • The nitty-gritty (things I need to do this week)

Identify the obstacles

Once you’ve defined your goals and worked out subgoals and a plan of action, you’re well on your way. But keep in mind that it’s not always smooth sailing from here.

Sometimes, in spite of the best intentions and thorough planning, obstacles get in the way. Obstacles are the things that can stop you from getting what you want. They can be practical problems like lack of time, or psychological blocks, like fear of failure.

Some practical problems you may face:

  • Not having enough time

  • Not having enough money

  • Not having enough knowledge or skills

  • Stress and fatigue

  • Parents or friends who don’t approve of your goal

Potential psychological blockages:

  • Fear of failure

  • Fear of disapproval or rejection

  • Lack of confidence in your ability to succeed

  • Frustration

  • Lack of motivation

  • Short attention span

  • Lack of well-defined goal

Obstacles don’t necessarily stop you from achieving your goals, but they present a roadblock. They challenge you to devise strategies to overcome them.

It’s often helpful to anticipate any obstacles that are likely to arise while you are working toward your goals, and to plan out how you can deal with them.

As an example, let’s take a look at how Casey planned to overcome her obstacles in relation to regular exercise.

Casey’s goal: To exercise at least five times a week.

Casey’s plan for overcoming the obstacles

Possible obstacle: I’ll get bored.

Strategies to overcome the obstacle:

  • Vary my exercise (try different running routes, run sometimes on the sand at the beach; take an aerobics class, lift weights at the gym, do a workout on YouTube at home, etc.)

  • Talk to Dad and Sasha about training together in the mornings

  • Listen to good music while training.

Try it out

List all of the possible obstacles that might get In the way of achieving your goal, and strategies that you can use to overcome them.

  • My goal

  • My plan for overcoming the obstacles

  • Possible obstacles

  • Strategies to overcome them

Attaining your goals

Focus on the rewards

You might feel motivated if you focus on rewards rather than the pain involved in achieving your goals. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to write down all the benefits you hope to gain.

Try to think laterally when you write your list. Besides the direct benefits of getting what you want, you might also feel the additional satisfaction of being in control, which can increase your self-worth and self-confidence.

Visualize success

Many people know the benefits of visualizing their goals—it’s a technique that many elite athletes use. Focusing on the image of swimming, or running or winning in front of a cheering crowd helps many athletes stay motivated while they’re in training. In a similar way, you can create an image of the things that you want to achieve and use it for inspiration.

Be flexible. There’s never just one way to achieve something. Have multiple options in mind to achieve your goals. It’s important not to put all your eggs into one basket. Investigate and plan other ways to get to where you want to get, whether it’s a college degree, job or vacation.

Get support. It’s important to reach out and get support from others who can help you achieve your goals. This could be practical support from teachers or coaches, or moral support, from those like friends and family.

Try it out

Setting goals can keep you focused and motivated, and can increase your chances of getting the things you want. You can set goals for different areas of your life, such as your career, lifestyle, friendships, attitudes, interests and health.

In order to achieve your goals, you’ll need to clearly define what you want; set subgoals that you’ll need to achieve along the way, and follow through a step-by-step plan of action.

Perhaps people fail to achieve goals because various obstacles get in the way. Obstacles can be psychological (like boredom or a lack of motivation) or they can be practical problems (like not having enough time, money or support). When setting goals, it’s important to consider the potential obstacles and work out a plan to overcome them.

 

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences, 2005

 

Acknowledgements: This article was originally written by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Counseling and Therapy

What kind of counseling is right for me?

A brief look at different styles of counseling and therapy

What kind of counseling is right for me?

There are many different types of therapy or counseling out there. Some mental health professionals specialize in one type of therapy, and others are trained in multiple styles. Some techniques are better suited for one or two specific mental health concerns while others can be used for a broad range of issues. This fact sheet explains some of the most popular kinds of therapy available.

If you are looking for a counselor, you can ask them what kind of therapy they practice, if that style is recommended for what you are struggling with, and what sessions with them are like. Using the Find a Therapist tool on PsychologyToday.com, you can easily screen what types of therapy and clientele each therapist specializes in. This makes it easy and effective in finding a new therapist that can match your needs. It’s also recommended to give your therapists a brief interview to make sure they’re the right fit for you.

Here are the most common types of therapeutic approaches:

Behavioral Therapy

The main idea: Behavioral therapy focuses on changing patterns of behavior by adopting techniques derived from learning principles, like rewarding positive actions. In this type of therapy, a therapist assumes that certain behaviors are learned, and these learned behaviors can be changed.

What it looks like in practice: Behavioral therapy includes an array of methods such as stress management, biofeedback, and relaxation training.

Who typically finds it most helpful: Behavioral therapy is an approach that is often used to help change compulsive behaviors and is a common approach in treating autism spectrum disorders.

Cognitive Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The main idea: Cognitive therapy or CBT focuses on identifying and changing unhelpful thoughts (called cognitions) that can lead to unproductive feelings and behaviors. Beliefs and thoughts are explored to identify how they affect your behavior.

What it looks like in practice: CBT is a short-term, focused approach that often lasts about 12 weeks, where the therapist helps you recognize negative thought patterns and behaviors to replace them with positive ones.

Who typically finds it most helpful: CBT is commonly used for obsessive compulsive disorders, anxiety and depression. Learn more about CBT by visiting our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy article.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

The main idea: In DBT, you learn ways to tolerate your intense feelings, cope when emotions feel overwhelming, and express your feelings to others in more productive and healthy ways.

What it looks like in practice: DBT often combines individual counseling with group therapy sessions, and homework in between.

Who typically finds it helpful: This type of therapy is commonly used with people who have borderline personality disorder, and people who have strong mood shifts or difficulty regulating their intense emotions.

Family Therapy

The main idea: Family therapy involves a whole family working together to improve communication, relationships, and the struggles of individual family members.

What it looks like in practice: The therapist guides the family in problem-solving or helps them adjust to a new situation. Usually, the whole family goes along to the initial appointment with a counselor or therapist. Later in treatment, the therapist might also want to periodically meet with smaller groups of family members (just the kids, or mom and daughter only, etc).

Who typically finds it most helpful: Family therapy is often used to address relationship conflicts, eating disorders and substance abuse concerns.

Group Therapy

The main idea: Group therapy can take many forms, but most involve bringing together people dealing with similar issues. Groups can be structured and education-focused, where members share coping skills for depression or self-harm, or learn anxiety management techniques. Other groups are less structured and provide a space for members to talk about their experiences and get support, like a grief support group.

What it looks like in practice: Some groups meet for a specific, short period of time and some are open-ended that keep going for years. Therapy groups will be led by one or more trained mental health professionals. In self-help groups, everyone shares equally and there is no trained facilitator.

Who typically finds it most helpful: Groups can be helpful for almost any issue. Read a description of the group or talk to the group facilitator to see if a particular group is right for you.

Interpersonal Therapy

The main idea: Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a short-term treatment that focuses on relationships and the ways you can improve your social support, develop better communication skills, learn how to express emotions more effectively, and become more confident with people at school and at work.

What it looks like in practice: Sessions are likely to be focused more on tasks and learning skills than on talking about what's going on in your life.

Who typically finds it most helpful: IPT is most often used to treat depression, and can also be helpful for other mood disorders including anxiety and bipolar.

Mindfulness-based Therapies

The main idea: Mindfulness therapies help you build awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations and develop acceptance of yourself.

What it looks like in practice: Many types of therapies can include mindfulness tools, including CBT, DBT, psychodynamic and relational therapy. "Mindfulness" means being aware of what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.

Who typically finds it most helpful: These approaches are helpful for many issues, and especially anxiety and self-criticism. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a specific kind of mindfulness treatment that is designed to prevent depression relapse.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

The main idea: This is usually an open-ended or longer-term therapy, where you and your therapist explore your thoughts and feelings and examine their root causes.

What it looks like in practice: While most psychotherapists will set goals with you and talk about what's going on in the present, they will also want to talk about your past and be curious about when and how your distressing feelings and patterns started.

Who typically finds it most helpful: This therapy can be used to address a wide range of issues, as well as provide a place for people who want to know themselves better or work on personal growth.

Relational Therapy

The main idea: This is a common type of therapy that focuses on your relationships with important people in your life.

What it looks like in practice: Through talking about your relationships with family and friends, as well as paying attention to the way you relate to your therapist during sessions, you and your therapist work to address patterns that are preventing you from having the connections you want.

Who typically finds it most helpful: This type of therapy is used for a broad range of issues, including depression, anxiety, and relationship problems.

Information for this fact sheet was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

 


Self-Esteem

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Self-Esteem

A brief look at self-esteem and how to cultivate it into your life

What is self-esteem?

Your self-esteem is the way you look at or perceive yourself. If you have healthy self-esteem, it means that you like yourself and you believe that you are just as cool as everyone else. If you have low self-esteem, it means that you believe that you’re inferior to others. People who have low self-esteem tend to focus on what they believe are their shortcomings, and sometimes blow those flaws out of proportion. They might ignore their strengths and achievements.

How does your self-esteem affect your life?

Your self-esteem can affect how you feel, how you relate to other people, how you deal with challenges and how relaxed and safe you feel in your daily life. Here are a few examples:

The way you feel. In order to be happy you need to like yourself. If you have low self-esteem or if you’re constantly putting yourself down, you’re more likely to feel depressed, anxious or unhappy than someone who has a positive view of himself or herself.

Your relationships. Low self-esteem can influence the way you interact with other people. For instance, you might find yourself being unassertive (not saying what you think, feel or want), and doing things you don’t want to do. Low self-esteem might also cause you to seek constant reassurance from your friends, because deep down, you might not be sure that they like you. Or you might find yourself trying too hard to please other people. You might always agree with them and offer to do things for them in order to”earn” their friendship. Being treated badly by other people can reinforce the belief that you aren’t good enough and lower your self-esteem even more.

Your willingness to move out of your comfort zone. Trying new things and moving out of your comfort zone every now and then is important for growing and developing as a person. Low self-esteem might hold you back from new experiences because you may become overly concerned with the possibility of failure or looking stupid.

How relaxed and comfortable you feel in the world. When your self-esteem is low, it can be difficult to feel relaxed and comfortable in everyday situations. For instance, if you have low self-esteem, you might feel awkward and self-conscious in many situations. You might worry too much about what others think of you, and you might be constantly on the lookout for signs that people don’t like you. If someone doesn’t acknowledge you, you might immediately assume that he or she doesn’t like you.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can become a vicious circle. For example, if you don’t feel good about yourself, you might withdraw from people and give out unfriendly vibes. You might not look people in the eye, smile or initiate conversations. This kind of behavior might make you appear cold and distant, and as a result, people might not make the effort to be friendly toward you. You might then detect unfriendly vibes from people, and your belief that you’re not very likable would be reinforced. This is called a “self-fulfilling prophecy” because your low self-esteem affects your behavior towards others, which in turn causes people to be distant toward you and reinforce your original beliefs about yourself.

Building healthy self-esteem

There are many benefits associated with having good self-esteem—feeling good, taking up appropriate challenges, relating to people as equals and feeling relaxed in daily life situations. Good self-esteem isn’t something that you can achieve overnight. You need to work on it over time. This is particularly important in situations where you’re faced with setbacks or difficulties. Here are a few ways that you can build and maintain healthy self-esteem.

Accept yourself. Every one of us has faults and weaknesses—this is part of being human. The key to good self-esteem is self-acceptance. This means accepting yourself as you are without condemning yourself for your perceived shortcomings.

Avoid labeling yourself. When you don’t reach a goal or perform as well as you hoped, it’s easy to label yourself as”bad” in some way. For example, you might say things like I’m an idiot. This is a form of labeling. Labeling yourself is a negative way of thinking, because it relies on an over-generalization. Each person is a complex mixture of characteristics, traits, qualities and behaviors, and no one—including you—can be summed up by just one trait. Labeling simply makes you feel bad about yourself, and serves no useful purpose. It’s much more helpful to be specific and stick to the facts. For example, instead of labeling and saying things like I’m a failure, stick to the facts and say I didn’t get the grade I wanted. Check out the article on Common Thinking Errors for more tips on how to avoid labeling.

Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Having healthy self-esteem means that you are able to feel good about yourself even though you’re not perfect. You can be aware of your strengths and still acknowledge your weaknesses without judging yourself. Many people are too aware of their weaknesses, but ignore their strengths and good qualities. For this reason, it can be helpful to spend some time thinking about all the positive qualities that you take for granted. It might be helpful to make a list of your strengths and weaknesses you’d like to improve upon.

Set goals. Although it’s important to practice self-acceptance, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim to improve some things about yourself or your life. Sometimes it’s helpful to set goals for things that you’d like to achieve, or to change things that you aren’t happy with. For example, if you don’t feel comfortable in some social situations, it might be useful to work on your communication skills and taking more social risks. While it’s often very helpful to set meaningful goals, it’s also important to maintain a flexible attitude. This means accepting yourself whether or not you achieve your goals.

Be objective about situations. When you personalize an event or situation, you take responsibility for things that aren’t your fault, or you blame yourself for negative outcomes without taking all factors into account. In reality, situations and circumstances might have been beyond your control. Instead of personalizing things by saying I failed because I’m dumb, be objective and say I failed because I didn’t study or I failed because I don’t like French class.

Avoid comparisons. Some people are in the habit of comparing themselves to others. They judge themselves on things like their looks, their grades, their friends, their achievements and even their personality. There will always be people who seem to be doing better than you are, and if you compare yourself to them, you’ll end up always feeling unsatisfied with yourself. The reality is that people have different strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths, have realistic expectations of the things that you could change or improve, and most importantly, avoid comparing yourself to others.

Sometimes parents compare siblings. If this happens to you, you might try asking your parents to stop, letting them know how this makes you feel.

Communicate assertively. The way you communicate to other people gives them information on how you feel about yourself. When you communicate what you think, feel or want in a clear way, the unspoken message you give out is I matter and my opinion and needs are as valid and important as anyone else’s. You can communicate assertively by looking another person in the eye and speaking in a clear, audible voice, rather than looking down at your shoes and mumbling, or communicating in hostile, angry tone. Assertive communication encourages other people to treat you with respect, and helps you to feel good about yourself. Be aware not only of the things you say, but also the way you say them. You’re far more likely to be treated with respect when you communicate

For more information about self-esteem:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com