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Mental illness does not discriminate. Unfortunately, some therapists do. Finding an inclusive therapist is often a daunting mission for marginalized individuals struggling with mental health issues caused by racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia. Oppression in psychotherapy continues to prevent indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, BIPOC, and members of the LGBTQIA community to access proper and quality mental healthcare.

Modern therapy often continues to treat categories of individuals instead of treating the individual. Some clinicians still dismiss clients as being oversensitive when racism issues are raised while others continue to believe homosexuality can be fixed. The sole fact that trans people and nonbinary individuals need to base their gender confirmation surgery on a therapist’s official recommendation is a clear indication that modern therapy continues to maltreat marginalized communities and refuses to accept the complexity of our identity.

What is an inclusive therapist?

An inclusive therapist is a clinician who understands the need to include the principles of social justice and intersectionality in their work. They have acknowledged the existence of oppressive therapy practices designed to harm marginalized identities and rooted in our society’s patriarchal, racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic power structures and are determined to deconstruct them while keeping an open mind and heart to understand the individual – their identity, culture, experiences, and struggles. Individuals coming from marginalized communities are often looking for therapists who share their identity or culture in hopes of establishing a connection through shared values and experiences.

Muslim psychologist

However, a culturally responsive, social justice-oriented therapist doesn’t always need to share the client’s identity to provide valuable and competent mental health care services. They do not need to come from the same background nor go through the same experiences to meet them at their intersections and offer the help they need to conquer their fears, embrace themselves, establish healthy relationships, and overcome obstacles imposed by a rigid society. A competent clinician who has taken the steps to acknowledge and conquer their own biases and is continuously educating themselves regarding marginalized communities, gender diversity, racial identity, and other social justice-related issues will have the right tools to know how to listen, ask, and provide feedback to their clients.

Ask yourself the right questions

It would be wonderful if Facebook ads could guide your steps toward the perfect inclusive therapist for you. However, choosing a therapist is a mission too personal to entrust into the hands of keywords and algorithms. You need to do a bit of soul-searching and see what you truly expect and need from your therapist. Ask yourself some questions, and chances are the answers will help you find an anti-oppressive, inclusive therapist.

woman at a session with inclusive therapist

What do you want from your therapist?

Some black people prefer to work with black therapists, people of color may prefer therapists of color, while a religious person may choose a Christian therapist who shares their values. A member of the LGBTQIA community may be inclined to work with an LGBTQIA-inclusive therapist, and a female-identified person may feel more comfortable sharing her inner struggles with a female-identified therapist. However, this is not the only way to find a therapist. A shared identity with your therapist does not guarantee a good and well-attuned fit.

Furthermore, choosing a therapist based exclusively on their identity may rob you of your chance to work with an inclusive clinician whose professional training and expertise may resonate better with your needs and mental health goals. It is important to assess all the information before making your decision and take into consideration the clinician’s identity, as well as their training and experience.

psychologist

What should your therapy experience be like?

You also need to think about your therapy sessions and the way they should be conducted. Do you want your mental health therapy session to be based on a set of questions, or do you prefer a conversational approach? Is sitting on a couch something that will do for you? Would you rather have an online session while discussing your issues with your therapist? Are you looking for individual therapy or do you need couples counseling? Is gender-affirming therapy what you need right now? Make sure your therapy experience echoes your needs and creates a comfortable space for you to share and receive advice.

Ask for recommendations

Recommendations are often a good place to start your research. Talk to people you know who can recommend inclusive therapists and see if they can give you the number of a clinician who can provide the help you seek. You can also go through directories for therapists where you can find clinicians with the training and experience you require.

If you are a member of an online community, you can always ask your fellow members if they can share any positive experience they have had with therapists who address the type of issues you are struggling with. You can also discuss this topic with local groups. For example, if you need therapy related to domestic abuse, you can try to find therapist profiles through a local advocacy organization. Make a list of the therapists who have the training and experience you are looking for, and get in touch with them.

inclusive therapist

Schedule a consultation meeting

A consultation meeting with potential clinicians is the perfect opportunity to assess the therapist’s foundational knowledge of your identity and culture and see if you “click” with them. Now is the time to ask your questions and see how the interaction flows. You could ask them if they have experience in the area you want to talk about, and evaluate their approach to the subject.

It is important to feel you are sharing your experiences in a safe space where you don’t have to continuously explain terminology, culture, and the values of your community. A competent therapist with inclusivity skills will always make you feel comfortable enough to open up about your challenges while providing mental health services tailored to your own individuality, identity, and background.

How do you know if your inclusive therapist gets you?

An inclusive therapist who gets you notices and understands your multifaceted identities. They should not only focus on you being a person of color, a person struggling with gender identity, or an individual with a drug abuse problem. Inclusive therapists should take the time to understand every aspect of identity while considering your background, community, and culture. They should also trust and validate your own understanding of your identity and help you through any life transitions you may be facing.

crying patient

When you are working with an inclusive therapist that’s right for you when you don’t have to constantly defend or explain your identity to them and underline why certain aspects of your identity are crucial for your treatment. An inclusive therapist knows how to honor a client’s experience of identity and they will be open to receiving feedback from their client and allow the space for them to fully express themselves. If the client has concerns or requires therapy adjustments, the clinician should be open to discussing the necessary functional changes to help the client make the most of their time spent together.

“Take a deep breath!” How many times have you heard this whenever you were feeling anxious, stressed, worried, or even annoyed. So many people around us encourage us to take deep breaths, but why? Why is deep breathing important for our emotional health? How does deep breathing help us calm down and regain control over our minds? Can deep breathing really help us with our emotions?

We breathe in and breathe out all day, every day. We’re not thinking about it and we surely don’t see breathing as a self-care activity. It comes naturally because it is our source of life. But how many times do we stop to take deep breaths? Deep breaths have the power to help us through the claws of tension, stress, and anxiety.

Why is deep breathing important?

Deep breathing practice is one of the tools humans have to improve their mental and physical health. Deep breathing techniques can help us reduce our stress levels, combat anxiety, lower our blood pressure, and even improve our posture. No drugs, no expensive aids involved or required. Just deep breaths!

breathing practice

 

Also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, deep breathing is often connected to meditation and relaxation techniques. Even though it is one of the ways to work on various mental health conditions and a powerful tool against stress, deep breathing is rarely used to its full potential.

When you take a deep breath, you breathe in air through your nose, fill your lungs, and your lower belly rises. Not many people enjoy the feeling of having a belly full of air. However, chest breathing to maintain a flat stomach limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. This deprives the lower part of the lungs of oxygen and can lead to shortness of breath and higher levels of tension and anxiety.

When we take deep breaths, we increase the amount of oxygen we take in and the amount of carbon dioxide we let out. And this has numerous benefits for our mental and physical health.

man taking deep breaths

How can deep breathing help your mental health?

The main benefit of deep breathing is the impact it has on our stress level responsible for so many of our health problems. Harvard Health explains that stressful thoughts are usually associated with the “fight or flight” response when faced with what our brain interprets as danger. The stress response results in an adrenaline burst that creates increased blood pressure and heart rate. This may often result in shortness of breath and shallow breathing.

While the stress response has its purpose in times of real danger, when it appears often as a result of generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, it can cause harm to your body. That’s because your body doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threats, and it always reacts as if it were in real danger. This leads to daily adrenaline bursts and an increased level of stress.

Deep breathing techniques can help you reverse the stress response by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Moreover, it calms your mind and induces a relaxation state.

couple doing breath exercises

How can deep breathing improve your physical health?

People who master the art of deep breathing enjoy a series of physical health benefits. Deep breathing helps improve core muscle stability and allows the body to better tolerate intense exercise. It’s an important tool for athletes who learn various deep breathing techniques to improve their stamina and increase energy levels.

Deep breathing can also lower the chances of your muscles wearing out. Breathing exercises help with the release of the air buildup in your lungs and allow for more oxygen to get to your blood. Moreover, studies show that deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins that help alleviate pain and, according to Smithsonian Magazine, can even improve immunity and digestion due to healthier blood flow.

Deep breathing is often recommended for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The disease decreases the diaphragm’s efficiency and affects oxygen intake. With the right breathing exercises, people suffering from COPD can strengthen their diaphragm’s muscle and help the lungs regain their elasticity. More elastic lungs facilitate diaphragmatic breathing and combat the tendency to stick to shallow breathing.

What are the most popular deep breathing techniques?

Deep breathing may feel unnatural at first. We are used to shallow breathing, and we’ll need to practice to learn how to allow the air to fill our lungs and belly. The most popular type of deep breathing requires you to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.

Sit in a comfortable position. Put a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in calmly, through your nose, for about five seconds. Feel the air traveling through your nostrils to the abdomen. Allow for your stomach to expand outward while trying to keep your chest still. Hold this breath in for three seconds and then slowly release the air through your mouth for five seconds or more if that feels comfortable. Follow this breathing pattern five times or more.

 

Woman doing yoga

 

The 4-7-8 breathing technique adds counting to the steps mentioned above allowing you to gain more control of your breathing. Inhale while counting to four, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale while counting to eight. Use your hand to push the air out of your stomach. Repeat the pattern for as long as you consider it to be necessary to achieve a calm state of mind.

You can also try rib-stretch breathing. For this exercise, you need to stand up straight with your back arched. Breathe out until you get tired, and then inhale the air slowly and gradually. Breathe in as much air as you can. Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Release the air slowly through your mouth.

Deep breathing should always be slow and gentle. Don’t be afraid to fill your abdomen with air. Keep your hands on your stomach and chest. Make sure your stomach is rising, and pay attention to your breath and heartbeat. Be aware of everything that happens in your body.

Remember though that sometimes deep breathing may not be enough for your mental health in order to feel better. Sometimes they need guidance from professionals who can help them externalize their most intimate fears and manage their emotions. This is when deep breathing techniques should be associated with therapy and counseling. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You are not alone!

Many of us dread going to medical offices. It may not be the medical consultation per se but rather the traffic we have to face to get there, the nuisance of finding a parking spot and sitting in a waiting room next to other people. Often when you have physical symptoms anxiety can increase.

This is why telemedicine may save the day! More than 80% of a medical consultation entails a conversation with the physician who listens to what you have to say, observes, and asks questions. Telehealth, virtual care, or telemedicine uses digital information and communication technologies to deliver clinical health services. Patients can benefit from health care services remotely, through computers or mobile devices, in a variety of settings, including at home, at school, or in seniors’ residences.

According to Science Magazine, Telehealth is gaining popularity in the United States especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as a solution to provide patient care without endangering public health. As long as both parties have a reliable internet connection and access to technology that facilitates virtual appointments, telemedicine is a convenient way to get a diagnosis for health issues not requiring physical contact with the physician. Moreover, Business Insider explains, it allows for remote patient monitoring (RPM) through devices that send patient readings (blood pressure, glucose level, etc.) to the monitoring medical team.

What is a telehealth visit?

A telehealth visit takes place on a telemedicine platform through HIPAA-compliant software. It is a synchronous audio or video appointment between a healthcare provider and a patient. It is important to remember that the telehealth platform is secure and allows for scheduling, patient intake, patient chart management, billing, e-prescribing, ICD-10 codes, etc. A virtual visit follows the same clinical guidelines as an in-person appointment.

Before any telehealth appointment, you need to make sure you have an internet connection and a networked device with a camera and microphone. The virtual appointment is a “face-to-face” online visit with the healthcare provider who will ask questions about your medical history and the current symptoms you need assessed. Depending on the equipment available during the consultation at the patient’s location, the healthcare specialist may ask for vital sign readings, such as temperature, weight, and blood pressure.

For example, in the case of COVID-19 symptoms, most patients who were diagnosed by phone or other mobile device had a thermometer at hand. Healthcare apps might also do the trick for estimated readings, although they are not entirely reliable. For physical symptoms, a camera is vital for the physician to inspect the area of concern and make an evidence-based diagnosis. When the virtual visit concludes, the patient may get the following if determined appropriate–  a diagnosis, a referral information about the next step of the evaluation, a prescription, or any other recommendations they may get following in-person visits.

Telehealth2

What are the applications of telehealth?

Telehealth has a wide range of applications, including tele-education and tele-consultation. While tele-education focuses on healthcare professionals reducing travel time and attending continuing medical education, tele-consultation addresses the need for virtual patient care. Most telemedicine visit centers focus on gathering symptoms and other information that can lead to diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth is an ideal solution for patients who deal with minor health issues, like a sore throat, flu, insect bites, allergies, cough, eye infections, or sprains, that don’t require lab tests or imaging for diagnosis.

Many primary care clinics have an online patient portal that allows for more secure communication of private medical information than through a regular email. Moreover, the portal is a useful online tool that facilitates access to test result reviews, visit summaries, prescription refills, and appointment scheduling. Everything gets done fast and securely directly on your mobile device or computer.

Additionally, telehealth facilitates counseling and therapy services. The visits are very similar to the in-person sessions allowing the therapist to interact with the patient over the phone or through video conferencing. Telemedicine is a very useful tool for people who battle mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, eating disorders, and obsessions and compulsions because it allows for easier access to mental health care.

Telehealth is an efficient way to provide therapy to people who have busy schedules, live in remote locations, or have limited mobility. Since the sessions can take place without the patient having to visit the therapist’s office, telemedicine may help the patient feel more comfortable and reduce the stigma associated with going to therapy. Furthermore, telemedicine may increase the effectiveness of the treatment because the patient will find it easier to show up for appointments.

How to prepare for a telehealth visit?

Check the patient portal of your health care provider for details about your appointment. Most telemedicine visit centers send an appointment link via email. Before clicking on the appointment email, make sure you find a private and quiet space for your virtual visit. Good lighting is important, especially if you have physical symptoms the physician should see.

Check your internet connection and test your device’s camera and microphone if you are scheduled for a video consultation. The internet speed should be at least 1 megabit per second, and the internet connection should be secure due to the private nature of your conversation. If the visit takes place by phone, make sure you have no family members, pets, or other distractions around you and use a telephone you are familiar with. Check the sound quality.

Log in onto the platform or the program 15 minutes before the appointment and have at hand your recent lab results and any other information that may be useful during the consultation. Depending on your medical condition, you should also be ready to use a thermometer, blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, or glucose monitor.

Prepare a list of questions you may have for the health care provider. If you’re experiencing physical symptoms that need to be assessed visually, like a rash, be ready to expose it to the camera. In most cases, the physician can prescribe new prescriptions and refills via telehealth, and these will be sent to a delivery service or a pharmacy from where you can collect them or have them delivered to your home.

health

You already know exercise is good for your physical health. The numerous benefits of exercise have been praised for decades now. It helps you burn calories and stay fit, protects your heart health, and improves your quality of life. But did you know that exercise has mental health benefits too? Studies have shown that exercise can be an effective tool against stress, depression, and anxiety.

While patients who battle mental health disorders often lack the motivation to practice any physical activity, an active lifestyle may help you keep your mental health conditions under control. Moreover, regular exercise can prevent mental health problems before they start.

How can exercise help with mental illness?

One of the positive effects of physical exercise is its power to enhance well-being. Exercise decreases stress hormones leading to a boost of endorphins, the chemicals that make us “feel good”. This process enhances our mood and improves energy levels. Consequently, we feel more positive and sleep better.

Physical activity can pull us out of the vicious circle of negative thoughts and emotions, often the source of our depression or anxiety, and redirect our focus towards the activity at hand. Exercise is often seen as a buffer against stress. While stress is an innate part of our life, people who work out regularly are less affected by it and find it easier to cope with everything life throws at them.

Exercise gives you a boost of self-confidence, enhances your self-esteem, and makes you feel better about yourself. Whether this happens because you lose weight, get more toned, or simply feel healthier, this benefit of exercise is all about making peace with yourself. Physical activity relieves tension and promotes mindfulness. While you focus on your yoga poses, weight training, or any other type of exercise, you concentrate entirely on your body and manage to be present, away from worries and negative thoughts that consume you. 

Additionally, exercise promotes social interaction and gives you the chance to meet new people, socialize, and escape your bubble of worries. Sometimes, a simple conversation or a smile is enough to boost our mood and feel grateful for what we have. Moreover, exercise materializes into a positive activity that helps you cope in a healthy way.

A study shows that running 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Moreover, maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent individuals from relapsing and promotes various changes in the brain to help you feel calmer and at peace.

What exercise should I do for mental health?

There are many types of exercise that can contribute to your mental health and well-being. All physical activity promotes increased energy levels, stamina, and positivity. You should find exercises that you enjoy to make it easier for you to follow a regular schedule. It is important to remember that when we say physical activity we include everything from walking to formal exercise programs. Exercise is not only about swimming, running, or lifting weights. Daily physical activities like household chores, gardening, washing your car, or taking the stairs, all count and make a difference. Now, it would be great if you were to adopt a regular exercise routine, to add a certain structure to your day that will keep you balanced and grounded. You can try one of these types of exercise:

  • Yoga – a 2018 Science Direct study shows that yoga can help reduce stress levels, lower heart rate, increase energy, and ameliorate the symptoms of depression and anxiety;
  • Tai chi – an ancient Chinese martial art, this type of exercise, according to Science Daily, reduces stress and anxiety, contributes to the treatment of depression, and increases self-esteem;
  • Aerobic exercise – whether it is jogging, swimming, playing basketball, or cycling, regular aerobic exercise improves mental health and reduces the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.

Regardless of the type of exercise you choose, you can expect a prompt release of endorphins, an increased sense of self-efficacy, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Exercise works just like an antidepressant by increasing the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters and enhancing mood.

How often should I exercise to see results?

Fortunately, you don’t have to exercise for hours to reap the beneficial effects exercise has on your well-being and mental health. Only 30 minutes of exercise a day for three to five days a week will be more than enough for you to feel more confident, happier, and less anxious. However, even smaller amounts of moderate exercise, such as 10 or 15 minutes at a time, may help. You can break your exercise schedule into several short sessions or simply plan your physical activity according to your daily routine. Choose to take the stairs, park farther away from your destination or cycle to work.

Remember that more exercise is not necessarily better for you. You don’t need to run 10k to improve your mental health and emotional well-being. The key is consistency. Regular physical activity over a long period of time beats any intense physical activity practiced sporadically.

Time Magazine explains, researchers have found a higher mental health burden for people who exercise for more than six hours a week than for those who keep it to three to five times a week. The answer is not at all difficult to understand: basically, shorter exercise sessions are easier to fit in our daily routine and promote consistency.

Nevertheless, before you begin an exercise program, discuss it with a health professional. They can help you choose the best form of exercise for you depending on your health, medication, fitness level, and lifestyle.

Whether you want to exercise for depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorders, you should start slowly and keep experimenting until you find the perfect type of exercise for you. Our bodies are different and we should respect their limits. Make a commitment to your exercise plan and never overdo it. The role of exercise is to make you healthier and happier. However, if you start seeing it as a burden or task, it loses its therapeutic effects and just adds to your anxieties.

Yoga

Social media has brought the world to our fingertips, but what does it ask for in return? Although free to use, social networking tools can cost us more than we can imagine. On the one hand, social media sites allow us to stay in touch with family and friends, reconnect, and have easy access to news and various communities. On the other hand, they expose us to the dangers of isolation, constant comparison with others, and the fear that we are not enough. Is social media usage affecting our mental health? Can we integrate it into our life without the risk of developing an obsession with likes, comments, and validation from strangers?

Why do people use social media platforms?

Social media is a tool that allows people to come together. In fact, during the current pandemic, social networking sites have proven to be an indispensable part of daily life for people to communicate and check on each other. Moreover, they helped them fight the feeling of loneliness triggered by the quarantines and lockdowns.

Furthermore, social media can make people feel good about themselves and boost self-esteem. Social media platforms follow the same principle that applies to slot machines. Players are not addicted to the game itself but to the unpredictability of the outcome. The idea of a potential future reward is the one that keeps them hooked. The same applies to your social media activity. You post a photo eager to see how many likes or comments it will get without knowing when people will interact with it.

The unknown outcome is the hook that keeps you addicted to your social media account. As soon as you receive a like, a share, or a comment, the brain’s reward center is activated and releases dopamine, also associated with the feeling of smoking a cigarette, winning the jackpot, or eating chocolate. The more likes you get, the more you’re rewarded, and the more you want to keep coming back and repeat the experience that makes you feel so good.

girl browsing her phone

 

How can social media affect our mental health?

Social media is relatively new, and there aren’t any long-term studies on the relation between social media and mental health disorders. However, numerous small studies have brought to light the negative aspects associated with spending many hours per day checking our social media accounts on various mobile devices.

The University of Pittsburgh conducted a study that highlighted a correlation between the time spent on social media apps and negative body image feedback. Moreover, a different study out of the Pittsburgh School of Medicine found a connection between the time young adults spend on social media platforms and the presence of symptoms of depression.

Several studies have found a correlation between social media usage and depression and symptoms of anxiety. One of them was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology and linked social media with negative effects on well-being, particularly depressive symptoms, anxiety, and the feeling of loneliness. Paradoxically, the more time you’re spending on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms, the lonelier you tend to feel.

Additionally, a large-scale study concluded that occasional social media users are three times less likely to experience symptoms of depression compared to heavy users. Humans are social beings who need face-to-face interaction to be mentally healthy. Social interaction skills like empathy and compassion are difficult to build in the absence of real human connection.

Many social media users have also reported accentuated feelings of inadequacy about their life or appearance following usage of social media platforms. Even though they know the images are edited, people still tend to compare themselves and feel insecure about the way they look or how they live.

One of the many other mental health issues associated with heavy usage of social media platforms, FOMO or the “fear of missing out” has been taking social media users by storm. Constantly checking social media platforms to see what other people are doing can exacerbate the fear they are being left behind. This phenomenon can create feelings of anxiety and lead to even greater social media usage to keep up and respond to every alert and status update.

How can we combat the effects social media has on our mental health?

There is no specific amount of time recommended for social media usage. You need to focus on how much time you spend on social media and the impact it has on your well-being. You should keep an eye on possible signs that may indicate an addiction to social media:

  • you spend more time on social media than with your offline social circles
  • you constantly compare yourself with others on social media
  • you feel distracted from work, school, relationships
  • you feel envious and angry with yourself for not “measuring” up
  • you feel anxious or depressed
  • you use social media to avoid dealing with negative emotions
  • you experience cyberbullying
  • you suffer from poor sleep
  • you have no time for self-reflection and self-care activities

As soon as you notice one or more of these signs, it’s important to reevaluate your social media habits and take action before it impacts your mental health. The first step to take is to reduce the time you spend on social media platforms. Sounds easy, but it often proves to be rather challenging!

A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that mental health issues associated with increased social media interaction can be reduced to a minimum if the usage is limited to 30 minutes a day. While in most cases such a “radical” measure is not necessary, a mindful approach will have a positive impact. Use an app to track how much time you spend on social media sites and set a realistic goal. Avoid bringing your mobile devices to bed and disable notifications. Check your phone less, maybe every hour or so. These are all efficient and easy methods to help you reduce the time you spend online.

You can also try to get to the bottom of why you are addicted to your social media apps. If you’re using it as a refuge from real-life issues like loneliness or depression, take the necessary steps to improve them with real-life tools. If you’re feeling lonely, interact with a friend. If you feel bored, go to the gym or take up a hobby. If you feel depressed, talk to a therapist.

Whenever you feel like social media is making you feel disappointed about your life, make a list of the positive aspects of your life. Learn to be grateful for what you already have. You already know that perfect lives don’t exist, so don’t try to keep up with an edited version. Be mindful and switch your focus from everything that you wish and hope you’ll one day achieve to the present. Allow yourself to be happy with who you are today and what you have now, and social media will no longer have a negative impact on your mental health.

girl smiling with phone

While the belief that we can achieve anything we set our mind to is not enough to fulfill all our dreams, it is one of the important factors that contribute to healthy self-esteem. The luckiest among us are taught by our parents to believe in ourselves and to love ourselves for who we are. However, some people grow up in a dysfunctional family or are exposed to negative childhood experiences that have a negative impact on their development and mental health.

Furthermore, self-esteem issues can be a consequence of an abusive relationship, negative experiences, or a mental health disorder. Poor self-esteem is often associated with depressive disorder, anxiety, and negative thoughts. A poor opinion about ourselves, whether it is about our physical appearance or our intellectual ability, can be an indicator of deficient self-esteem.

If you are aware that you have low self-esteem, you are already one step closer to a solution. Take the time to learn more about self-esteem and what may interfere with it, talk to a therapist, and allow them to guide you through various types of therapy such as but not limited to cognitive behavioral therapy toward positive self-esteem. During your healing process, you can also make use of these 7 effective self-esteem tools and practices:

 

Get to know the real you

The path to healing starts with a clear image of ourselves. Take a step back from everything mundane in your life and get to know yourself. Learn about what you like, what you desire, what makes you happy! Evaluate your emotions and see what you can do to balance or strengthen them. Maybe there are some things you should stop doing to make more room in your life for yourself! Find what you are passionate about and what motivates you. People who are doing things they truly love have more chances to improve their overall quality of life and cultivate healthy self-esteem.

 

Learn to say no

Saying no to other people’s demands of you doesn’t make you a selfish person. Many people neglect their own health and sacrifice their self-esteem to please everyone else around them. But what does this really accomplish? Always trying to please people, to get in activities you don’t actually like, or to pretend to have qualities you don’t possess will only hurt you in the long term and take away from your self-esteem. Every time you try to please others, despite what you desire, you are telling yourself that you are not good enough to be loved and accepted for who you are. One of the first things you can do for positive self-esteem is to say no to others and yes to yourself!

 

Learn to Say No

 

Make yourself a priority

I know this is a lot easier said than done but it’s a necessity if you want to have healthy self-esteem. This is especially hard to achieve for parents and people who have others relying on them. However, when putting other people’s needs above our own, we are neglecting ourselves which may lead to hurting our self-esteem. I am not saying to ignore other people’s needs but I am strongly recommending to meet your own needs too. You matter! You have value!

 

Keep a self-esteem journal

Psychologists often recommend keeping a journal as a form of release but also as a way to acknowledge your true emotions. Your self-esteem journal should be filled with positive thoughts and good things that happened during the day. People with low self-esteem tend to have a negative outlook on life, so a positive journal is a valuable tool to unveil the good in their life. Write every day about positive things that happened to you and, with time, you will see there is more positivity than negativity in the world and in yourself. A self-esteem journal is a great way to discover the real you and boost your life satisfaction.

 

Self Esteem Journal

 

Put a stop to negative self-talk

Words matter! Especially words with negative connotations directed toward ourselves. If you move towards having healthy self-esteem you may want to look at the way you talk about yourself. Whether you are bad-mouthing yourself out loud or just in your head, the damages you do to your self-esteem are significant. Negative self-talk leads to lower self-esteem that consequently leads to more negative self-talk creating a vicious cycle that only you can break. How? Through positive self-talk. Every time you feel the need to say something negative about yourself, stop and instead write something positive. Break the negativity cycle with a wave of positivity!

 

Stop Negative Talk

 

Forgive your mistakes and acknowledge your success

People make mistakes! It’s the way we grow and learn. So, don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes. You are not a bad person because you made a mistake. Mistakes make you who you are. They give you the chance to learn and improve yourself. To make a mistake is human and it’s a great opportunity to adapt and change the way you think. Accept them as part of your own and use them to find the motivation to do better next time. While it is very important to stop blaming ourselves for our failures, it is equally important to acknowledge our achievements and use them to boost our self-esteem. Do not downplay your success! It is a big deal and you deserve the praise.

 

Be mindful and exercise

I can’t stress enough the importance of mindfulness and exercise. The combination of the two can help us improve our mental health, our everyday performance, and our self-esteem. Mindfulness helps us to live in the present without unnecessary worrying about a past that can’t be changed and a future that can’t be foreseen. Only 10 minutes of meditation a day can help you get in touch with your true self and put you on the path to healthy self-esteem. Add to this regular exercising, like running, swimming, dancing, or any other physical activity, and you will notice improved stamina and physical health, as well as an “inclination” to feel good and have a healthy relationship with yourself.

Therapy, also called counseling or psychotherapy, is a journey. And like all the other journeys it can feel like an incursion into the unknown. The goal of therapy is aimed at decreasing overall emotional stress and other factors that may interfere with your emotional health. It is imperative to work with someone you feel safe with in order to identify your emotional problems and ways to work through them.
Counseling is not reserved only for persons who have suffered emotional and psychological trauma. Therapy can be of benefit at any point in your life. You can turn to a therapist for a multitude of reasons. If you feel like you simply can’t find your balance or you can’t reach your goals, therapy may be what you’re searching for. Mental health is critical and getting help is not something anyone should be ashamed of.
Many people who take their first step on the path to emotional healing and contact a therapist feel a sense of anxiety and uneasiness before their first therapy session. I am here to tell you that this is natural. After all, it can feel overwhelming and frightening to open up. Our role, as therapists, is to create a welcoming and safe environment for you to face your demons and emerge victoriously. Since professional therapists are bound by confidentiality, they will never betray your trust.

 

Therapist with Person

What is the counseling process?

The first counseling sessions will focus on getting to know one another. The initial visit will involve filling out paperwork with information about your medical history and medical record, as well as about your health insurance in some cases. You will also fill out a questionnaire about your symptoms and sign a therapy-patient services agreement.
During the first therapy session, we will establish why you have sought out counseling and talk about your life in general. I will ask you about your symptoms and what you feel is wrong. We will talk about your childhood and education and discuss a bit about your relationships, career, and current situation.
It’s useful to come prepared with something to talk about concerning yourself because therapy is about you! Never forget that talking about yourself is not a selfish act in therapy. It is recommended and encouraged! You will share only what you feel like sharing and go deeper when you are ready. Therapy is and always will be about patience. Patience with yourself and patience with the therapeutic process itself. Deeper issues will be discussed only when you feel you can talk about them.
Therapists never judge their patients. They conceptualize the issue to get to the root of the problem. I will never criticize you or make you feel uncomfortable about anything you feel the need to share with me. We will focus only on your emotions and try to establish what you feel concerning the situations you’re dealing with. Following a few counseling sessions, I hope we can delve into the depth of your being and bring to the surface the real issues that torment you.

 

psychologist with happy couple

How can counselors help?

Before going into therapy, you need to be aware of the fact that counselors will not have the answers for you. They don’t give advice and make the decisions for you. The entire therapy process focuses on your healing journey. You will be the one that identifies the emotions associated with the problems in your life and you will have to learn how to manage and face them. There are no shortcuts in therapy. Your goals for therapy should be realistic, honest, and clear. Your counselor will be there for you every step of the way guiding you along your revelatory inner journey.
While therapists don’t have the solution to your problem, they know how to help you find it. And this is vital for your mental health. You need to remember that your therapy process is based on a relationship with your therapist. You should be clear about what you want to obtain from therapy and what your expectations and preferences are.
While compassionately listening is an important part of the counseling process, therapists will also ask questions. The questions and tone used are meant to create a friendly space that invites open and honest discussions. Counselors use various techniques like person-centered therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, attachment-focused therapy, or existential therapy to help you achieve your mental health goals and open yourself to healing.

 

Psychologist with her patient

How long does therapy usually last?

The length of your treatment depends on a multitude of factors. As you probably already know, therapy requires time and not many issues can be solved with just a couple of counseling sessions. You may need counseling services for just a couple of weeks or it can take years to fully overcome the issue that brought you to them. However, the effects of therapy will be felt from the very first sessions and you will be able to notice improvements on a daily basis. Each consultation will take you one step closer to your goals.
Whether you need a therapist for relationship counseling or you’re dealing with stress, anxiety, family concerns, illness, or depression, the length of your treatment will be impossible to know at the beginning. However, since some insurance plans cover only several sessions, it’s understandable that some hope to find the solution to their problems in the shortest amount of time. It’s important that these things are discussed with your therapist at the outset because a financial fit is also an important part of the process.
My counseling experience allows me to assess your needs, discuss and select treatment options, and guide you toward self-improvement and self-care. My personal goal is to help you walk out the door feeling better than when you arrived. Each and every session will take you a step closer to finding your voice, embracing your story, and feeling whole. This might take time but it will be the best investment you will ever make.

We were taught to be kind to others, turn the other cheek, and work hard. Helping others has always been seen as a noble and praiseworthy thing to do. The thought of putting oneself first was unbearable for many and an act of selfishness for others. We had chores to do, families to care for, and bills to pay. There was no room for silly things like mindfulness and self-compassion!

Fortunately, times are changing and, with them, the idea that we deserve less attention and care than the people we care for and love. Millennials have found the courage to talk about the power of self-care and there is no going back. We know the truth now! We know that self-love is the shortest path to follow if we want to live happy lives. We know that self-care is not selfishness, indulgence, or a trend. Self-care is a necessity!

As a matter of fact, studies have shown that self-care practices have a major impact on the successful management of diseases like diabetes mellitus. Patients with diabetes manage to have better glycemic control when they include self-care activities in their daily routine. From healthy eating and exercising to monitoring their blood sugar levels, everything contributes to the reduction of complications and a better life for patients with type 2 diabetes. However, you don’t have to be diagnosed with something to start exercising self-care.

If before the COVID-19 pandemic, we associated self-care with yoga classes, gym sessions, going out with friends, and spa treatments, given our current situation, we should think about self-care at a smaller scale but not lose sight of the big picture. There are plenty of self-care activities we can do in the comfort of our home that will invite self-love, peace of mind, relaxation, and motivation in our hearts and minds. We just need to make self-care a priority and treat every day as a mental health day!

 

lady exercising

Exercise daily

You can exercise as much or as little as you want and can, but do it regularly. Whether you take a short walk around the block, do yoga in the courtyard with your dog, or jog for 15 minutes, you will feel the difference. Any exercise is better than no exercise at all. There’s no need for me to tell you about the importance of staying active. It’s common knowledge. However, I will remind you that exercise has the power to improve your mood, well-being, and mental health. It boosts your energy levels and invites positivity into your life. Moreover, exercise helps you achieve better sleep. In other words, exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have against anxiety, depression, or simply a bad day. And of course, it helps you maintain a healthy weight and improve your body image, both important aspects for a healthy relationship with yourself.

 

woman taking a bath

Take a long and mindful bath

Forget about showers on the run once in a while. We know, the world needs you but it will not crumble if you decide to immerse yourself in a world of fragrances and calming music. Your bath can easily become an aromatherapy session if you add jasmine, lavender, or ylang-ylang to your bathing ritual. A 2009-study discovered that fragrances can affect our mood, physiology, and behavior, so include essential oils in your life for indulgent self-care experiences. Try to relax during your bath and focus on the present. Mindfulness is about focusing on the moment and experiencing everything it has to give. Keep any worry away from your bathtub. Focus your attention on yourself and all the positive feelings you exude on your self-care journey.

 

chamomille tea

Make time for tea

Tea time is not reserved only for royalty. It can be the best excuse to take some time off from your daily duties and enjoy a few moments spent all by yourself. Tea time is not necessarily about drinking your tea, although it has been proven that green tea may lower your LDL levels and black tea can lower the risk of heart disease. Tea time is about the ritual of mental self-care. You can savor your tea near a window or in the courtyard while reading a book or eating a piece of cake. The idea is to create a corner of serenity and inner peace. Silence the outside world and think about yourself for a moment or two while spending time away from your phone, to-do list, and everyday life.

 

friends talking

Talk to your friends

Humans are and always will be social animals. We need to interact with each other to protect our mental health. Whether we do it for support or simply to say hi, it’s important to make time for friends. We don’t necessarily need to meet face to face for our interaction to have a positive impact on our mood and state of mind. Hearing the voice of someone we care for floods our body with positivity and oxytocin, a chemical in your brain that boosts the feel-good sensation. Some time alone is a great way to reconnect with yourself but so are conversations with good friends. We often listen to ourselves better when voicing out our thoughts, hopes, and worries. Healthy and smart conversations may reward you with a clearer picture of your life.

What is Mindful Self-Compassion?

Why do so many people stumble or struggle with being kind to themselves? Why is it often easier to be kind to others and not to ourselves? A common fear around self-compassion is that it’s merely a form of self-pity.

Self-pity comes from a perspective of “poor me”, feeling sorry for yourself. Compassion involves recognizing the difficulty of the situation and research shows that those who practice it, focus on their situation or circumstances less overall. For this reason, they usually have better overall mental health than those that do not practice self-compassion.

Mindful self-compassion is the combination of two critical practices that should be applied in daily life — Mindfulness and self-compassion.

What is mindfulness?

Let’s start with the term mindfulness. You’ve probably heard about mindfulness, maybe even seen some books, or heard a podcast on the subject. Mindfulness requires that you bring your attention to the present moment. Being fully conscious and aware of all that is happening right now. This means letting go of those issues you have to deal with at work tomorrow, the bills at the end of the month, the dinner you have to cook for your family, etc. Release everything that is not of the present moment.

Through mindfulness, you replace all those thoughts keeping your mind busy, with all the feelings and sensations you are experiencing right now. Feel each breath as it enters and leaves your body, listen carefully to the sounds around you, focus on all the signals your body is sending you from head to toe. Thoughts from the past or the future may enter, but don’t hang onto them. Let them go with your breath and return to silence, simply experiencing all the sensations within and around you.

Don’t be discouraged, it takes practice to hone the skills of mindfulness. Initially, you may get only a few seconds before thoughts about the past or the future rush back in. Treat yourself with kindness, don’t engage with them, don’t deny them, let them be, and patiently let them go. Welcome to the conscious present moment.

Girl with her eyes closed and smiling

What is self-compassion?

The second piece to mindful self-compassion begins with understanding what is compassion. Imagine that your best friend, or your child, came to you because they had a rough day. Maybe teachers or friends had some harsh criticism for them and they are experiencing some difficult or challenging emotions related to this.

In this situation, most people would show their best friend or their child some degree of compassion. This would entail acknowledging their painful emotions and responding with warmth, caring, and kindness. We’ve all been on the other side of this situation as well, it might have been a parent, a friend, or a skilled teacher, but we’ve all been shown compassion at some point in our lives.

I can already hear the chorus of “this is obvious” and that’s good. But let me ask you, when was the last time you extended that same warmth, caring, and kindness to yourself?

That is precisely what self-compassion is. When faced with our own personal shortcomings and struggles, most people are quick to judge, condemn, and punish themselves. Even now, some of you are defending that behavior. I can hear you, “my struggles occur because I made a mistake”, “I have high standards”, “there’s no excuse for not achieving my goals”, etc.
The people that treat us that way in our personal lives, we usually don’t keep around for very long. So we should make it our goal to practice self-compassion and focus on achieving that goal so that we can be kinder to ourselves.

The 3 Elements of Self-Compassion

Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgement

Compassion emphasizes being kind to yourself. The world is a difficult place, and it’s not always possible to be or achieve what you want. It’s great to pursue ambitious goals. The key is when we fall short, to recognize the difficulties and our imperfection, to realize that a shortcoming does not make us inadequate or incomplete. Judging ourselves for the failure creates suffering that is expressed as stress, frustration, and self-criticism.

Common Humanity vs Isolation

In the face of our defeats, many have a tendency to feel like they are the only ones who have failed. That they alone are damaged in some way and that’s the reason for the failure. The truth is the opposite. All humans are imperfect, fragile, and have many shortcomings. It’s not something to be ashamed of or a reason to judge yourself. Those experiences, those areas for improvement, those failures are shared by all of humanity, not just you.

Mindfulness vs Over-Identification

The last piece is the mindfulness element. This requires that we recognize our fears and emotions when faced with our struggles and hold our attention on keeping them in perspective. Approach the situation and your feelings with openness and clarity. Be fully present in your emotions without suppressing them or amplifying them. This takes focus and practice, but it’s something that once you learn will be beneficial in your daily life.

Self-Compassion Training Exercises

Compassion is like a muscle, the more you practice it the more it develops. So to help you get started on your compassion journey, below are 3 exercises you can do to start leveling up your self-compassion skills.

How would you treat a friend?

As mentioned earlier, we’re usually much better at showing compassion to others than we are to ourselves. So reframe your situation and imagine how you would treat a friend experiencing what you are going through. What would you tell them? How is it different than what you have been telling yourself? Should it be different?

Changing your critical self-talk

The way we talk to ourselves has a profound effect on all areas of our life. Identifying negative self-talk and replacing it with more positive communication is the foundation for improving the way you relate to yourself. This one takes a lot of practice, stick with it.

Keep a self-compassion journal

For some, writing down your feelings can help you process them. Doing it from the perspective of compassion can enhance your mental well-being. Sometimes reviewing our thoughts later when we have a cooler head can reveal issues in the way we reason or communicate with ourselves.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror

Want to Learn More?

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) was developed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff. They have written books on the subject and have a mindful self-compassion program and workshops. As authors and teachers, they have developed and taught a variety of self-compassion practices. They have videos, courses, workbooks, compassion training programs, and are a tremendous resource for all things related to compassion.