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


Problem Solving

Step-by-step problem solving

Below are 8 steps you can follow when faced with a problem

Problems are a normal part of life. You can think of them as challenges—like a puzzle to be solved—or you can think of them as burdens that you are powerless to resolve.

Your willingness and ability to solve problems has a huge effect on the way you feel, and largely determines whether or not you become frustrated, despondent or depressed. In some cases the solutions are pretty obvious—you know what you need to do to fix the problem. In other situations, the solutions are not clear and you’ll need to consider lots of possible options before you can find the best one.

When you’re confronted with a problem there are ways to deal with it.

How being faced with a problem might affect you

When you’re faced with a problem, it’s not uncommon to feel:

  • Overwhelmed

  • Stressed or anxious

  • Annoyed and frustrated at yourself or others

  • Down or depressed

  • Excited by the challenge

  • Confused

  • Angry

  • Pressure or expectations from yourself or others

  • Physically sick, including headaches or nausea

  • Distracted or finding it hard to concentrate

  • Tired, especially if you’re sleeping too much or not enough

If you’re experiencing these feelings, it’s important to look after yourself. Take time out to do something that you enjoy. Even though you might not feel like it, exercising and eating well can help. If you want to explore other ways to cope, check out of Developing Coping Strategies article.

Having tools to help you make a decision can help you reach a successful outcome. If you’re finding that your feelings are affecting your day-to-day routine, it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust. This could be someone like a friend, school or campus counselor or family member.

Focus on solutions

Working through a problem one step at a time can make you aware of lots of possible solutions. This increases your likelihood of getting what you want and helps you to feel more in control.

Sometimes it’s helpful to get ideas and alternative perspectives from other people like family members and friends, although in the end it’s up to you to decide what action to take.

Whenever you’re feeling bad, it is a good idea to ask yourself:

“What is the best thing I can do to resolve this problem?”

If there’s an obvious solution, make a plan of action and get it done. If there isn’t, you might need to take some time to sit down and brainstorm some possible options.

Remember that for most problems, it is possible to find partial or complete solutions. The challenge is to look for the best solutions and put them into practice. Also, it’s important to not act on impulse, no matter how mad or upset you are. If you act on your immediate emotional response, you might do something you will regret later.

Using step-by-step problem solving doesn’t always lead to perfect solutions, but it increases your likelihood of resolving the problem—partially or completely. It might also help you feel more in control of the situation or more confident in your ability to make sound decisions.

Problem solving in eight steps

When you do something towards solving a problem, you usually feel better, even though in some situations there’s not much you can do.

Going through the steps of problem solving might be difficult at first, but will become intuitive with practice.

Step 1: Define the problem

Be specific, because vague descriptions can lead to vague solutions. Without being specific, you’ll find that a whole lot of problems are all tied in together. When this happens, try to separate the problems so you can work on each problem separately.

For example: “I hate my school” can be broken down to:

  • I get upset when people in my class make fun of me.

  • I get annoyed when Mr. Simpson picks on me.

  • I feel tired because I don’t get enough time out from studying.

These are three individual problems, which, although related to each other, are best dealt with separately.

Step 2: Work out goals for each problem

Remember the question to ask yourself is, “What is the best thing that I can do to resolve the problem?” Try to focus on the things that you can do, rather than what you would like to happen.

For example, thinking I would like all the painful people in my class to disappear isn’t a realistic goal because it’s not within your control. However, I would like to have lunch every day with Emmy and Joe is a realistic goal because it’s more likely to be within your control. Similarly, get rid of Mr. Simpson is not a realistic goal, but work out a strategy to help me cope with Mr. Simpson without getting upset is more feasible.

Step 3: Brainstorm lots of possible solutions

Be creative! Come up with as many possible solutions as you can think of. Some of your ideas might be out there, but remember: You aren’t judging or evaluating how good or bad your solutions are at this stage.

For example, some of the possible solutions for dealing with annoying people in your class might be to:

  • Totally ignore them

  • Be rude back to them

  • Be nice towards them regardless of how they speak to you

  • Talk to one or two of them and tell them how you feel

  • Change schools

  • Speak to the principal and ask to change classes

  • Hit them over the head with a hard object

  • Ask your parents to contact the parents of the main culprits

Try to come up with as many different strategies as you can think of, and don’t try to evaluate them at this point.

Step 4: Rule out any obviously poor options

Look for all the ideas on your list that are unrealistic or unlikely to be helpful and cross them out.

For example, hitting someone over the head might really hurt the person and get you in trouble. Would it really be worth it? Is it feasible to change schools, and even if you did, would the same problems follow you? You might also be wary of having your parents contact the other parents, as it could escalate the problem or remove some amount of control you have over the outcome. In some instances, however, the problem could be so severe that getting parents involved is the only thing that makes sense.

Step 5: Evaluate your remaining options

Now you become the judge. Go through the options that are left and write down the ”pros” and ”cons” of each.

For example, being rude back at the other students might help you let off steam (positive), but it might also make the situation more unpleasant (negative).

Being nice toward them in spite of their put-downs may make you feel frustrated (negative), but it might change the way some of them respond to you (positive).

Explaining to the others that you don’t like the way they are treating you might make you feel embarrassed (negative), but at least they will know how you feel (positive).

Ignoring them might be really hard to do and some people find this doesn’t work very well. But if you do it successfully - meaning really ignore them, it might help you feel more empowered (positive).

Step 6: Identify your best options

Once you’ve considered the positives and negatives for each possible solution, it’s time to make a decision. Go through the options and pick out the ones that seem the most practical and potentially helpful.

There may be one option that stands out as better than the others. If there are a few possible solutions, you might be able to implement all of them. For instance, with the above example, you might decide to talk to the people who are hassling you and explain how you feel and what you want. If it happens again, you might then decide to go to your advisor or counselor to discuss the problem and perhaps ask to change classes.

Step 7: Implement the best options

Now it’s time to put your ideas into practice. For example, you might approach one of the girls in your class who makes nasty comments about you and use an “I-statement” to tell her how you feel and what you would like. Try saying, “When you make jokes about me in front of the class, it upsets me. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t speak about me in that way.”

You might even write down the things that you plan to say so that you have it clear in your mind. If this doesn’t work, your next action might be to go to your teacher or counselor to talk to him or her about the problem. Again, you can write down in advance what you plan to say.

Step 8: How did it go?

The last step is to review how things went. So you tried it out—what happened? Did it solve the problem, or do you need to try another approach? If your current approach worked, then that’s all you need to do. But, if you didn’t get what you wanted, then it’s usually helpful to try a different approach.

What if you can’t fix the problem?

Although problem solving usually helps us find solutions, in some situations, despite our best efforts, we still can’t fix the problem. If you’ve tried a number of strategies and none of them have worked, it may be time to focus on coping strategies.

Try it out

Is there a situation that you don’t like? If you can change it, try working through the steps towards finding a solution to your problem. If not, see how you feel after trying to cope with the situation. What can you say to yourself to accept the situation? What sorts of things can you do to get on with your life in a positive way, in spite of the situation?

Remember that problems are a normal part of life, and that we usually feel better when we do something constructive toward resolving our problems rather than just dwelling on them.

It’s often helpful to go through step-by-step problem solving, using the eight steps described. But, if you can’t solve the problem, it can be helpful to change the way you think about it by practicing acceptance, and moving on with life in a positive way.

 

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 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


Putting Pressure on Ourselves

The “Shoulds”

I should do this. I should be like that. I should know already. Ever find yourself saying these things to yourself? You’re not alone. Many of us set expectations for ourselves that start with “I should…” that are actually damaging to our mental health and personal growth. Below, we unpack the “shoulds” and how to reframe your thoughts around these expectations.

Why “shoulds” shouldn’t be a thing

We all have rules that underlie many of the things that we do. We call these “shoulds” because we often think in terms of “I should do this” or “I should do that”.

In our society, certain behaviors and qualities are promoted as desirable, while others are given very little importance. For instance, things like being good at our work or being attractive, outgoing, sociable, self-disciplined, etc. are often reinforced by our parents, schools, friends and the media.

Some of our “shoulds” can be helpful. For example, believing you should be friendly and supportive to others will help you get along with people and have better relationships. Similarly, the belief that you should work hard at school may help you do well on your exams, and the belief that you should look for solutions when problems arise may help you to solve problems.

In an effort to be liked and accepted by other people, we often take on many of these rules, which become part of our own belief system. However, these should statements can get us into trouble, especially when we can’t live up to them. Often we aren’t even aware of our “shoulds” until we start to think about them.

Should statements can make you feel bad

While some of our “shoulds” are helpful, when you hold onto these beliefs in an absolute, inflexible way it raises your chances of feeling bad about yourself and can damage your self-esteem. This is particularly the case when we can’t meet our own expectations. For example, if we believe that we should always do well in our assignments but in reality we fail to do so, or if we believe that we should always be confident and relaxed, but in reality we feel shy and self-conscious, we may end up feeling very stressed and unhappy.

Whenever we tell ourselves that things must be a certain way or that we must achieve certain things, we put ourselves under a huge amount of pressure and increase the likelihood of upsetting ourselves. Of course, learning to be flexible doesn’t mean that you have to ignore your values or preferences. It is important to know what you want and to work towards your goals, while also being aware of how realistic your goals are.

You also need to accept that things won’t always work out the way that you would like. For example, self-talk such as: “I would like to do well in my assignments, and I will try my hardest” is healthy and appropriate because it is flexible—it doesn’t demand that it must be perfect. This type of self-talk doesn’t create stress or anxiety because the thoughts are preferences rather than rigid rules.

For more information on challenging thought patterns, check out our Common Thinking Errors article.

Some common “shoulds”

Take a look at some of the common “shoulds” or rules that many people live by. Are any of these relevant to you?

  • I should be liked and approved of by everyone

  • I should always be successful in the things that I do

  • I should always do things perfectly

  • I should be thin/muscular/sexy, etc.

  • I should always look good

  • I should have a boyfriend/girlfriend

  • I should be the same as everyone else (I shouldn’t be different)

  • I should feel confident in every situation

  • I should be clear about my future and know where I am heading

  • I should always say the right things at the right time

  • I should always be able to meet other people’s expectations

  • I should always do what people want

  • I should always feel calm and in control

  • I should always be happy

  • I should never make mistakes

  • I should put other people’s need before my own

  • I should never say anything that might make other people feel uncomfortable

  • I should always make the right decisions

The trouble with “shoulds” is that they are inflexible. While there is no problem with wanting or preferring things to be a certain way, when we believe that things must be a certain way we make ourselves feel bad.

Converting “shoulds” into preferences

Identifying and challenging your “shoulds” is one of the most helpful ways of avoiding upsetting emotions like anxiety, anger, depression, or resentment.

Example: Michelle: “I don’t have as many friends as some of the other girls in class.”

Michelle’s shoulds: I should be popular. I should be more outgoing and make friends with everyone. Everyone should like me and want to hang out with me. If I’m not as popular as everyone else, then I am no good. Because I don’t have as high a number of friends, it means that I am no good.

Converting Michelle’s shoulds into preferences. I prefer to be popular, but this isn’t always possible. People are different and have different personalities. Sometimes it’s better to have a few friends I truly care about than a lot of friends who I hardly know. I am OK as a person, whether I have 10 friends or 100. My friends do not define who I am as a person.

You’re allowed to have ideas on how you wish to present yourself in this world and how you want to be seen. However, those ideas are not always possible as we are complex beings living in a complex world. Remember to be forgiving of yourself and that the perceptions of others don’t have to be yours, too!

Blaming others

People let us down at times, and sometimes you might do things that you later regret. It is reasonable to be disappointed or annoyed when this happens. However, if you have very strong ‘shoulds’ about how people should behave, you may end blaming people for their actions. For example, “They should do the right thing!”, or perhaps, “I should do the right thing!”. 

The problem with blaming is that it makes you feel angry and frustrated, but it doesn’t solve the problem. In the end, it is a waste of your energy. Even if other people are at fault, telling yourself that they should not be this way doesn’t change the situation—it just makes you feel bad.

Try it out

You can avoid getting upset in all sorts of situations by learning to think flexibly. This means learning to prefer things to be a certain way, but accepting that situations will not always be the way we would like them to be. Often times, life affords us a learning moment or the opportunity to have patience and forgiveness when things don’t go our way, and that’s okay.

Try it out! Try and identify any “shoulds” that cause you to feel bad, and change that should into a preference.

  • What thoughts are the sources of my pain and frustration?

  • How can I transform those thoughts into preferences?

  • What would be the advantages of doing this?

  • What would I need to say to myself to do this? (Hint: try repeating the mantra, “It is what it is”)

  • How might changing this should into a preference affect the way I feel and respond to those around me?

 

 

Information for this article was provided by:

  • This fact sheet came from: 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) www.fls.org.au


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

Resolving an Argument

Handling conflict with confidence

A closer look at some tools to use for better communication during an argument or disagreement

Why do people argue?

It is normal to argue or disagree with people. Everyone experiences some conflict in their life. Conflict can occur between friends, family and couples. It can also occur between you and your teachers, co-workers or even someone you barely know.

Disagreements or conflicts with people you see regularly, or those you are closest to, can turn into an uncomfortable and stressful experience. Resolving this kind of conflict or disagreement isn’t always an easy thing to do. Conflict or disagreements with people you know can arise for any number of reasons.

Here are a few:

  • You may be having trouble understanding someone else’s perspective on an issue

  • You might feel that your point of view or perspective isn’t being heard or considered

  • You may have different beliefs and values than someone else

  • Your needs may conflict with someone else’s needs

  • You may not be happy about how someone is treating you

  • You may be feeling stressed, anxious or angry about something and need to address it with another person

How to resolve your differences

Approach them in person. If it’s at all possible, try to meet with the person so you’re face to face. If you’re unable to meet in person, avoid having this difficult conversation over text. It’s hard to understand what either of you mean when you can’t hear it in their voice and things can easily be taken the wrong way. Phone calls are a much better option if you’re speaking long distance.

Be mindful. Talking to the person about your disagreement can be helpful as long as it is done in a mutually respectful manner and is most effective when both parties can talk calmly. Make sure it is done in a constructive way by thinking about the points you want to express. How you discuss your differences will be very important to come to a conclusion that all parties will feel happy about. It can be easy to get back into an argument while you are trying to resolve it, and that’s okay. It might just mean you have more work to do in addressing all facets of the issue, so that everyone’s needs are being met.

Allocate time to talk. It’s not a good idea to spring the discussion on the other person, unless you’re in the right time and place. Tell them calmly that you want to talk to them about the disagreement at a time when you can both be present with each other.

Gain an understanding of each other’s perspective. To help understand why the disagreement started, it may help to ask questions about their point of view. It is important to make sure that when you are listening to the other person’s perspective; you are actually listening and not adding your opinion or thinking of a response. You will have the opportunity to tell your side or give your opinions. When it is your turn, nicely remind the other person that you gave them the space and time to tell their side of it and it is now your time. You both might even prefer to write down your point of view so you both can read it and think about what the other has said. Then you can come together and discuss the disagreement knowing where each of you stand. Remember, there is a possibility that the other person might not want to talk about it. Writing down your point of view and how you feel might be helpful to you, but you have to prepared that the other person might not want to discuss the conflict with you or may take what you said wrong because they couldn’t hear how you meant for things to come across.

Explain how you feel. When you talk to the person, tell them how you feel. Your feelings are different from your perspective or point of view. Using “I feel ____ when you ___” helps keep the conversation open without blaming the other person. Everyone has a right to their feelings. You can try to explain how you feel as a result of their opinion, e.g. “I felt that you wouldn’t hear me out” or “It felt like you were judging me”. Try not to blame them or make statements about their perception of the problem. This should be about how you felt. Give them the opportunity to tell you how they felt too. Being in touch with each other’s feelings can make both parties more empathetic of the other’s experience.

Use a mediator. You may need someone else to help you resolve the disagreement. Asking another person to act as a mediator can help you both get another perspective on the disagreement. It is important that this person is neutral in both of your eyes (e.g. having your boyfriend mediate a conflict with your best friend might not be the best option). Anyone can act as a mediator including friends, a counselor, a supervisor or a psychologist.

Conflict with someone at work or at school. If you have a disagreement with someone you work with and you feel that you cannot resolve your differences together, you might need to contact your human resources department for the procedures to resolve the issue. They may tell you to discuss the matter with your supervisor or they may handle the conflict. Each employer is different on how they handle conflicts for employees. If you have a conflict with someone at school who may have a higher status than you (e.g. a professor, school administrator or teaching assistant), there are usually counselors or ombudsman that can help you resolve these conflicts.

Agree to disagree. Resolving a conflict should not be seen as a contest to see who won or who was right or wrong. Even after taking steps to resolve a conflict, you might not still be able to agree. If the person you are in this conflict with is an important person to you and their relationship with you is one you want to keep, it is okay to agree to disagree on this issue.

What if the disagreement turns into a yelling match?

If the argument is becoming too heated, it may be best to put a pause on the discussion. Tell them you need a little space to collect your thoughts and leave the room for a while. Take a walk and allow yourself to process what just happened. When you are both level headed again, re-enter the conversation. It can be easy to say things you didn’t mean if you don’t allow yourself the space to cool down.

Although not every argument or disagreement will lead to the extinction of a relationship, there are times when it does. If neither of you can come to an agreement, and the issue is extremely important to one or both of you, it may be good to take a break from each other. There are some issues that cannot be resolved, and that’s okay. It’s all a part of this process we call life.


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

Survivors of Suicide

After someone ends their life by suicide

A guide to understandings your feelings

Questions you might ask after someone has succumbed to suicide

If someone you love has taken their life, you might be feeling devastated. You could be feeling shock, disbelief and horror. You might be asking yourself: Why did they do it? Could I have prevented it?

All these and so many other emotions can overwhelm you leaving you feeling hurt, helpless and confused. At times you might even question whether you’re going crazy. You may wonder whether you are the only person in the world experiencing such trauma. All these thoughts are very normal.

But you are not alone. Many people before you have faced the same crisis.

When someone takes their own life, it can deeply affect not only the closest family and friends, but it also brings pain to more distant relatives and acquaintances like grandparents, cousins, friends, classmates, teachers and co-workers. Those directly affected by someone’s suicide is considered a survivor of suicide or suicide survivor.

Why didn’t I see it coming?

You might be saying to yourself: I’ve known this person for so long. I should have seen it coming. We talk every day. Why didn’t I know they were in so much pain?

Changes in a person’s behavior leading up to a death from suicide are often gradual. It can be extremely difficult to identify them and to recognize the point when they become significant. Often times, there are no obvious warning signs and the event is seemingly out of nowhere.

Once a person has made up his or her mind to do this, they might go to considerable lengths to conceal their distress and plans from loved ones. Even doctors and mental health professionals who specialize in this field can have difficulty seeing the warning signs.

It’s possible to survive

Many people feel such intense emotional pain after the suicide of a loved one that they wonder whether they can survive. These feelings can sometimes be so intense that you might want to take your own life. If you feel this way, it is best to talk about your feelings with someone you trust. You can always call Lines for Life at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or another crisis helpline to speak with a trained volunteer who will listen and understand what you are going through.

It is extremely important to take care of your own mental health, especially in the case of losing someone to suicide. Suicide is a known contagion, meaning people that were affected by the suicide are at a higher risk of engaging in suicidal behavior or having suicidal thoughts. In order to end the cycle, we need to process what has happened to this person, how it has affected us, and seek help when we need it.

No matter the circumstances leading up to the death of your loved one or acquaintance, try to remove any personal blame you may have in the situation. Their death is not your fault. If you cannot shake the feeling of guilt or blame, consider joining a Suicide Survivor group online or in-person, or unpacking your own trauma from the suicide by scheduling one-on-one appointments with a therapist specializing in grief and loss.

You might find it hard to believe now, but your grief will not always feel like this. Grief changes as you work through it, and though you’ll never forget, time will change some things. Everyone’s process looks differently, and however that looks to you, that’s okay. If you choose to and if you have the necessary support, you might grow as a person from the experience and integrate what happened into your life.

What to tell others

Many people find it extremely difficult to tell others the truth about the cause of their loved one’s death. They might be tempted to give other reasons. This strategy can seem to ease the initial feelings you might have like embarrassment but in the long run though, it adds to the stress because you might feel like you have to keep the lie going. When the truth eventually comes out, it can also be hard to explain the original deception.

Although suicide can be very hard to talk about, the more it is brought up in casual conversation or the more vulnerable we are in talking about our experiences with it (without going into detail), the more we can fight the stigma against it. The less stigma there is, the more people will be willing to talk openly about what they’re feeling, which is the goal of suicide prevention. As stated earlier, suicide is a contagion, so make sure your needs are met and that loved ones know there are other options too. Suicide prevention is a community effort.

You might find yourself in the position to have to tell people about your loved one’s death, which is a very difficult task regardless of the reason for their death. It might be easier to tell a number of people at once or by giving a simple statement in regards to their passing. Try not to go into too many details, as it can be triggering for you and others you tell.  

Information in this article was provided by:

  • Psychology Today

  • After Suicide: Help For the Bereaved by Sheila Clark, published in 1995 by Hill of Content Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Melbourne 3000

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed 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


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A brief look at CBT and how it can help you

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT?

Different therapists use different approaches when helping people. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a frequently used approach that has strong evidence supporting its effectiveness with a variety of problems. CBT has been shown to be particularly effective with feelings of depression and anxiety and aggressive behavior.

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on helping you understand, manage and change your thoughts or cognitions as a first step in changing patterns of behavior and feelings. So from this perspective, if you change the way you think, you will begin to feel and behave better.

This counseling approach is used by many clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors. Some therapists will specialize in this form of therapy while others will integrate some of the techniques with other approaches to help you work through your difficulties. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used in conjunction with medication.

How does CBT work for depression?

If you are depressed you may feel hopeless, lacking in energy, empty, and possibly anxious. These feelings make it difficult to think positively about yourself, your relationships with other people and life in general.

Cognitive behavioral therapy will help you review how you managed certain events and situations in your life. Together with a therapist you look at troubling events in your life and talk about your thoughts related to those events.

Someone who uses cognitive behavioral therapy believes that depressive feelings come from a person’s illogical or negative thinking patterns. When a therapist works with a person using this approach the therapist will teach the person how to challenge negative thoughts (“I’m worthless”, “I’ll never be any good at this)”, and then helps the person develop more positive ways of thinking (I might not be able to do this perfectly, but that doesn’t mean I’m worthless”).

Through this process, negative, unhelpful, or irrational thoughts are identified along with more positive thoughts about the situation. Through this process you learn how to replace negative thinking patterns with more positive ones that will eventually help you to feel better about yourself, your relationships and life in general.

Cognitive behavioral therapy will help give you strategies for managing problems both small and large so they don’t get on top of you.

How does CBT work for anxiety?

CBT for anxiety disorders aims to help a person develop a more adaptive, or positive, response to a fear. The cognitive part helps people change the thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioral part helps people change the way they physically react to the situations that provoke their anxiety. Another name for this CBT approach is stress inoculation training.

A CBT therapist may expose the person gradually to the object or situation that is feared, perhaps at first only through pictures or video, then later face-to-face. At the same time, the person practices new thought patterns and new behaviors. When the time comes to confront the feared situation in person, the therapist often accompanies the person to provide support and guidance.

How does CBT work for aggressive behavior?

Aggression replacement training is the name of the approach used with a person who has difficulty managing anger and behaves aggressively. Aggression replacement training is based on CBT principles. With this approach, the therapist helps the person identify the triggers that lead to angry feelings and aggressive behavior, how to anticipate and prepare for these triggers, and then how to keep calm when faced with situations that arouse anger and aggressive responses. The person learns a variety of skills, including things to say to themselves (also known as “self-talk”) to keep from losing control. This type of therapy also focuses on helping the person develop positive social skills and moral reasoning.

What is likely to happen when you visit a therapist who practices CBT?

Usually, CBT is structured so that you have regular sessions with the counselor or therapist. How often will depend on a number of factors, but at the start it will likely be weekly and then become less often over time.

Many therapists will also agree with you to come for a set length of time. For example you may see the therapist weekly for eight weeks and then assess progress and reassess the need for future sessions.

Reviewing progress is often an important part of the process. The sessions may vary in length but are usually an hour long. It is not uncommon for the therapist to also give you some tasks that you do between sessions.

The first time that you see your therapist, you will likely talk about what is the best arrangement for you; if they don’t you may want to raise this yourself.

Information for this article was provided by:

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


Challenging Negative Self-Talk

 
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Challenging Negative Self-Talk

A brief look at self-talk and how to reframe our negative thinking patterns

 

What is self-talk?

As we go about our daily lives, we constantly think about and interpret the situations we find ourselves in. It is like we have an internal voice that determines how we perceive every situation. We call this inner voice our “self-talk”, and it includes our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions and beliefs.

Negative self-talk often causes us to feel bad, and can make us feel hurt, angry, frustrated, depressed or anxious. It can also make us behave in a self-defeating way. For instance, thoughts like ”I’m going to fail for sure” might discourage you from working hard when you are preparing for your exams, and you might actually fail as a result.

Positive self-talk is challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking, and replacing them with more reasonable and helpful thoughts. This is a powerful way to feel better either about yourself or a situation.

Negative self-talk

An example of negative self talk would be if you tell yourself that there’s no reason to study for an upcoming test because you already know that you’re going to fail. You may not even try to study because you believe you won’t pass, regardless. However, if you believe that you will do well on the test or that studying will help, then you’re much more likely to do well on the test. Don’t doubt yourself, you’re capable of achieving a lot more than you think.

A challenge with negative self-talk is that what you think or say to yourself might seem true. You might assume that your thoughts are facts, when in reality they are based on your perceptions. If you are feeling down on yourself for some reason, this can lead to your thoughts being especially harsh.

Negative self-talk can also affect your self-esteem. When you feel down, it is likely that you’re hard on yourself, and you might criticize and judge yourself unfairly. The worse you feel, the more negative your self-talk is likely to become. It can be helpful to put a more positive perspective on things. For example, challenge your self-talk by imagining it's a friend in your situation and reframe it based on what you'd say to them. We're often nicer to friends than we are to ourselves!

Challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way. You can practice noticing your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way. You might be surprised to realize how distorted some of your previous thoughts were before.

Challenging negative self-talk

Identifying self-talk can sometimes be tricky because it's so automatic, you might not even be aware of what’s going on in your own mind. However, whenever you find yourself feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, use this as a signal to reflect on your thinking. A good way to test the accuracy of your perceptions is to ask yourself some challenging questions. These questions will help you check out your self-talk and see whether your current interpretation is reasonable. It can also help you discover other ways of thinking about your situation. Recognizing that your current way of thinking might be self-defeating—and prevent you from getting what you want out of life—can sometimes motivate you to look at things from a different perspective.

1. Reality testing

  • What evidence supports my thinking?

  • Are my thoughts based on facts or my interpretation of the situation?

  • Am I jumping to negative conclusions?

  • How can I find out if my thoughts are true?

2. Alternative explanations

  • Are there other ways that I could look at this situation?

  • What else could the situation mean?

  • If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?

3. Perspective

  • Is this situation as bad as I’m making out to be?

  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?

  • What’s the best thing that could happen?

  • What’s most likely to happen?

  • Is there anything good about this situation?

  • Will this matter in five years?

4. Goal-directed thinking

  • Is thinking this way helping me feel good or achieve my goals?

  • What can I do that will help me solve the problem?

  • Is there something I can learn from this situation to help me in the future?

Try it out

Think of a situation in the last week when you have found yourself feeling bad. You might have been feeling upset, stressed, angry, sad, depressed, embarrassed or guilty. Try applying some of the above tools.

For example:

  • ”I tried on my jeans and I looked so disgusting and ugly and fat” turns to ”I tried on my jeans and they were too small”

  • ”Sally said ’hi’ to me and I made a total idiot of myself" to ”Sally said ’hi’ to me and I blushed and looked away. It's perfectly okay to be shy”

  • "I totally messed up that exam, I'm a loser and I'll never get a good job" turns to "I didn't do as well in that exam as I would have liked but that doesn't mean I'm not going to get the job that I want".

For more tips on challenging negative thinking patterns, check out the Common Thinking Errors article.

Information from this article was provided by:

  • This fact sheet comes from 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


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

Common Thinking Errors

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Common Thinking Errors

Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that can cause you to feel bad and sometimes act in self-defeating ways. If you feel more upset the more you think about a situation, you may want to consider the possibility of thinking in a different way.

Challenging your thinking errors

Here are 10 common thinking errors and ways to challenge them.

1. Black-and-white thinking

When you’re thinking in black-and-white, you see everything in terms of being either good or bad with nothing in between. For example: either you’re great, or you’re a loser; If you don’t look like a model, you must be ugly; if you do something wrong, then you are completely bad.

The challenge: Look for shades of gray

It’s important to avoid thinking about things in terms of extremes. Most things aren’t black-and-white, but somewhere in-between. Just because something isn’t completely perfect doesn’t mean that it’s a total disaster.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it really so bad, or am I seeing things in black-and-white?

  • How else can I think about the situation?

  • Am I taking an extreme view?

2. Unreal ideal

Another common thinking error is to make unfair comparisons between certain individuals and yourself. When you do this, you compare yourself with people who have a specific advantage in some area. Making unfair comparisons can leave you feeling inadequate.

The challenge: Stop making unfair comparisons

Ask yourself:

  • Am I comparing myself with people who have a particular advantage?

  • Am I making fair comparisons?

3. Filtering

When you filter, first you hone in on the negative aspects of your situation. Then you ignore or dismiss all the positive aspects.

The challenge: Consider the whole picture

Ask yourself:

  • Am I looking at the negatives, while ignoring the positives?

  • Is there a more balanced way to look at this situation?

4. Personalizing: The self-blame game

When you personalize, you blame yourself for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s not your fault or responsibility.

The challenge: Find all the causes

Ask yourself:

  • Am I really to blame? Is this all about me?

  • What other explanations might there be for this situation?

5. Mind-reading

We often think we know what other people are thinking. We assume that others are focused on our faults and weaknesses—but this is often wrong! Remember: your worst critic is probably you.

The challenge: Don’t assume you know what others are thinking

Ask yourself:

  • What is the evidence? How do I know what other people are thinking?

  • Just because I assume something, does that mean I’m right?

6. Exaggerating

When things go wrong, you might have a tendency to exaggerate the consequences and imagine that the results will be disastrous.

The challenge: Put it in perspective

Ask yourself:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?

  • What’s the best that can happen?

  • What’s most likely to happen?

  • Will this matter in five years?

  • Is there anything good about the situation?

  • Is there any way to fix the situation?

7. Over-generalizing

Over-generalizing is a lot like exaggeration. When you over-generalize, you exaggerate the frequency of negative things in your life, like mistakes, disapproval and failures. Typically you might think to yourself: I always make mistakes, or everyone thinks I’m stupid.

The challenge: Be specific

Ask yourself:

  • Am I over-generalizing?

  • What are the facts? What are my interpretations?

8. Fact versus feeling

Sometimes you might confuse your thoughts or feelings with reality. You might assume that your perceptions are correct.

The challenge: Stick to the facts

Ask yourself:

  • Am I confusing my feelings with the facts? Just because I’m feeling this way, does that mean my perceptions are correct?

  • Am I thinking this way just because I’m feeling bad right now?

9. Labeling

When you use label, you might call yourself or other people names. Instead of being specific—for example, saying “That was a silly thing to do”—you make negative generalizations about yourself or other people by saying things like “I’m ugly” or “she’s an idiot”.

The challenge: Judge the situation, not the person

Ask yourself:

  • What are the facts and what are my interpretations?

  • Just because there is something that I’m not happy with, does that mean that it’s totally no good?

10. ‘Can’t Stand-itis’

Some people get intolerant when they have to do things they don’t enjoy. They tell themselves that they “can’t stand” certain things instead of acknowledging that they don’t enjoy them. As a result, they easily become frustrated and angry.

The challenge: Accept that frustration is a normal part of life

Ask yourself:

  • I don’t enjoy it, but I can stand it.

  • This is a hassle, and that’s O.K.! Life is full of hassles.

The effect of challenging thinking errors

What is the effect of challenging your thinking errors? It can make you feel better and encourage you to change some of your behavior.

Remember: When you’re feeling down, try to examine your thoughts. If they’re negative or critical, try challenging them. Once you get into the habit of disputing your negative self-talk, you’ll find it easier to handle difficult situations, and as a result, you’ll feel less stressed and more confident and in control.

Write it down

It can be useful to write down the changes that occur after you’ve challenged your thinking, as this helps you see the advantages of working on your thoughts, and motivates you to keep at it. While you’re learning to identify and challenge your thinking patterns, it’s a good idea to write it all down in a diary or notebook to help you to develop your skills. Initially it might feel like work, but the more often you do it, the easier it will become, and the better you will feel.

Try it out

Now that you know a few common thinking errors and how to challenge them, why don’t you try it out? It might not be easy at first, and it can take some time. But the rewards can be huge! People who choose the way they think about things, are at peace with the past, live in the present, and are optimistic about the future are generally happier.

Information for this article was provided by:

  • This fact sheet comes from 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 “Tyranny of the Shoulds”

  • The “Ten common thinking errors” are derived from the work of David Burns, MD, author of Feeling Good

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

 


How Talking to Someone Can Help

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When you need to get it off your chest

How can talking about your feelings help?

Talking about your concerns can give a different perspective

Are you having a rough day? Have you been feeling down for a while? Everyone goes through tough times, and no matter how long you’ve had something on your mind-whether for just a few hours or months-it’s important that you talk to someone about it. You don’t have to confront your setbacks alone. Here are a few of the benefits of talking to someone about how you’re feeling.

Sort through your feelings. Talking about your feelings can help you make sense of them. Sometimes, just verbalizing what is upsetting you to someone you trust can help you sort through your feelings, or make the situation clearer.

Put things in perspective. If you’ve been keeping things to yourself, a situation seem more overwhelming than it actually is. The person you talk with might help you see the situation in a new or different perspective. Someone outside the situation might also be more neutral about what’s going on because the outcome won’t affect him or her personally. The person you speak with might also suggest options that you had not thought about before.

Release tension. Talking through your concerns can also be a great way to vent and release pent-up tension. Just “getting the problem out” can help you feel better. Not only does it feel great, but it can also give you new insights into what’s happening in your life.

Who should I talk with?

Deciding who you want to talk to is an important first step. It’s important that you can trust the person you decide to speak with. You might want to talk with a friend, or someone slightly older, or a family member. Sometimes potential helpers may not have the experience or knowledge to provide the advice or support you need.

Depending on your situation, you might also want to speak with a professional, like a teacher, counselor, doctor or nurse. If it’s necessary, each of these individuals can point you in the direction of someone specially trained to help you cope with your specific issue. If you can’t find someone you know to talk to, or talking to someone you know might feel too embarrassing, you might want to try youth helpline YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 or by texting teen2teen at 839863, where trained individuals will listen to you. You can call 24/7 to talk with someone if you are in crisis, or call between 4pm and 10pm PST to specifically speak with youth.

Sometimes it isn’t easy

If you’re used to bottling everything up, it can make it very hard to actually talk about what’s going on. Just know, no matter how much or how little you share and get off your chest, you’re allowed to take time to process your feelings and to become comfortable with sharing yourself. Once you find someone that can honor your story and hold space for you to talk freely, you’ll find it much easier to continue doing so. Remember that it’s okay to move at your own pace.

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