Self Help & Self Care
On this page, you will be able to find guidance on self-help techniques that can be used as strategies when you are in need of personal support and personal care. Creating time in our lives for self-help and self-care will help us understand ourselves better because it allows us to build a better relationship with our selves because we are listening to our personal needs. Helping yourself and caring for yourself is not a selfish act, it is essential that we as individuals know how to look after ourselves so that we are more balanced, present and emotionally available in our lives. Self-help does not have to be a massive task or a lengthy process. Self- help can be as simple as changing how you are thinking about a situation, to a kinder thought process, that allows your feelings to soften and allows you to relax. Or, your self-help needs could follow a pattern, a routine that promotes relaxation, such as a healthy eating routine, exercise and regular meditating. The overall point is with self-help and self-care is what you choose to do as your own self-care can, and will be, unique to you. What works for one person may not work for another. However, listed on this webpage are some well-known suggestions that can be used when you are looking after YOU.
Self-help may not come easily for you, and that is ok. There may be many reasons behind what could be causing this struggle. Some times it can be linked to our past and early childhood experiences. If we grew up in an environment that did not promote self-care, or it was not shown to us by our primary caregivers, then the very concept of self-help could feel completely alien or uncomfortable for us. That might cause you to feel resistant to trying, nonetheless if you manage to push through this resistance, sit with those feelings, and start your journey from where you are now, taking small steps, you will notice the benefits on your overall wellbeing. Other reasons that could affect trying or maintaining self-help is when you are under the effects and feelings of mental health difficulties. For example, if you have been diagnosed with depression from a medical professional you may find you have lost all interest in doing any activities at all.
Below find a list of self-help techniques.........
Writing can be a really useful tool if you notice a build-up of thinking and feelings and need an outlet. For example, if you are feeling angry, writing out what's causing your anger is a healthy way to vent this feeling without harming yourself or others. This is an individual exercise to try when you are alone and in a safe space. Choose whichever writing tool feels most comfortable to you. Some people may prefer to use their computer, and feel most comfortable and satisfying typing onto a keyboard. Others may prefer to physically write onto paper and the action of writing itself to be more cathartic.
If writing is the right tool for you, try this exercise;
Create time to go to your safe space. Some people may find that writing in the morning is better for them, others may prefer the evening or writing spontaneously as and when they feel the need. Some people may need 10 minutes to do this exercise, others may need half an hour. There is no right or wrong to how much time you have or need for this exercise. You might find that if you start to practice writing and journaling as a self-help technique, that in the beginning, you might need longer. Then, as you are processing your feelings and thoughts through this writing exercise, at some point you might need less time and the exercise becomes more of a "check-in" with yourself.
Writing style- Some people might choose to freehand write (or sometimes referred to as automatic writing) This is when you just want to start writing about what comes to the surface in your mind and feelings, and what you notice when your pen touches the paper. Or, you might have set questions and feelings or thinking patterns that you want to vent about or explore. Because you are writing alone, you are giving yourself confidentiality and it is your choice what happens to your writings. If you are currently in therapy you might want to share your letter with your therapist and get support on the feelings that might have been triggered or processed.
After you have finished writing take some time to centre your self (see the section for centring self for information). You might find it helpful to read to yourself what you have written. Has any of your feelings changed? Have you noticed a theme in your writing? Do you want to keep your writing or safely destroy it? (i.e shredding) Now that you have processed some raw feelings with your writing you might feel in a more balanced place to be able to talk to friends and family if you need extra support. Remember that helping professionals are there for you too.
If you have had previous therapy, especially if it was with a C.B.T practitioner, you might have already learnt that how we think about our selves and the thoughts that we have in our minds affect how we feel. If we find ourselves consistently believing in self-limiting thinking patterns, then we will repetitively experience limits and negative experiences that match this thinking in our lives. For example, sometimes we might find ourselves being harsh and critical towards ourselves in our minds and will feel extremely low as a response to the negative words, statements and judgements we are thinking about ourselves. We can easily fall into the trap of believing every thought we think, this then develops in thinking patterns (healthy and unhealthy), which then affects how we behave towards ourselves and towards others. These types of negative belief, inner dialogue and thinking patterns can be understood and categorised as cognitive distortions. For more information about cognitive distortions click here.
Types of Cognitive distortions
Below is a list of some of the most common cognitive distortions. For full extensive list click here.
Black & white thinking
This thinking pattern creates a judgemental type pattern of good or bad, right or wrong. For example, if we think that we are a "bad" person we will be totally disregarding the positive qualities about ourselves or a situation. In reality, there is a massive "grey area", more than two sides or two possibilities and we all are a mixture of light and shadow personality traits. Learning to sit with the grey-area-middle ground we remove judgement and start to see other outcomes, accepting ourselves as who are we and seeing situations as "it is what it is".
This thinking pattern creates a constant uneasy feeling because the person thinks they are to blame for external situations that are out of there control. For example, a young person or child may feel they are to blame for their parent's divorce. A person in a relationship may feel they are to blame for their partner's low mood. If something goes wrong around a person with this thinking pattern then they will feel like the cause of the problem. This results in the person taking everything personally. They might fixate on a passing comment, or become defensive if someone is talking to them about their own issue, even if they are not to blame.
The details of our thinking can shine a light on where our issues could be rooted. For example, if you find yourself thinking "I should be doing better" or "I shouldn't be making mistakes" then this can be linked to how we learnt to think from our primary caregivers when we were children and young adults. If we were raised by critical caregivers then this will, unfortunately, create our own critical thinking. Our thinking can be influenced by other relationships too, and from other people, we encounter throughout our lives. For example, you might find yourself working under a critical boss or manager, or you may be at the receiving end of workplace bullying. Where ever the root of your thinking patterns take you to, know that you do have the power to change them, which will with practice result in you feeling differently and not so heavy, down or burdened by your mind.
This distortion creates patterns of thinking the worst-case scenario of situations that occur in life, or the fear of the worst possible outcome happening in the future. This then places the person in a feeling of fear and anxiety, because what we think creates our feelings people who catastrophise will find themselves in a constant state of alert because they are assuming the worst possible negative outcome. Unfortunately, if this distortive thinking pattern continues the person will find themselves in more negative situations because catastrophising is like a magnet to further difficult situations. We all experience difficult times in our lives that feel out of our control. The difference is how we respond to the difficulties changes how we feel about it. When we think in a distortion pattern we are limiting our ability to cope with everyday stress without suffering too many negative feelings that can damage our overall wellbeing. For example, if you think you are going to fail your driving test constantly, then you are more likely to fail and the journey to that point will be psychologically stressful.
Magnifying & Minimizing
Magnifying & Minimizing
The cognitive distortion Magnifying is very similar to catastrophizing as a negative thinking pattern, with a similar feeling of fear and anxiety being produced. The difference is with Magnifying situations that happen to the person will feel blown out of proportion. Of the person may describe version of events in an exaggerated fashion, feeling intense reactions as a result. This may lead to a sense of dramatisation in communicating with other people and provoke intense reactions in others.
This negative thinking pattern is distorted in a way that reduces the positive experiences in a person's life. At the root of this cognitive distortion, there may be a sense of feeling not good enough and low self-worth. This then limits any positive feelings and experiences in a person's life. For example, you get a promotion at work with a significant increase in your salary. But in your head you are thinking "but I'm still not good at my job and they might sack me."
This cognitive distortion is the opposite of "Personalization" because rather than the person feeling that they are to blame for everything and are responsible for other mistakes, the blame is placed onto other people. Blaming is a thinking pattern that removes responsibility from the person experiencing it. Which, in turn, removes any learning or growth, resulting with the person being stuck in their negative status quo. When someone blames other people they are not owning their issues and might say statements like "you did this to me", "why can't you be better?!" Or speak in a self-limiting language such as "It's your fault I can't___", "If it wasn't for your ____ we could do it!"
Once the person starts "owning" their own feelings this distortion can change. One way of doing this is using "I" statements such as; "I am sorry for my part of the fallout, I was feeling scared of losing you." "I am feeling anxious and I need to talk." "I am willing to become more observant of my thinking patterns so I can then know when I'm thinking negatively.
This takes practice and cultivation of inner self-awareness. Once a person can stop blaming others and own their issues real growth in their lives can be made and an increase in relational satisfaction.
It might seem like a simple concept that changing the way we think about ourselves, life, situations and relationships can really benefit and change your life for the better because changing our thinking changes our feelings and behaviour as a result. Sometimes you might find your cycle may go the other direction. You might notice you are feeling a strong emotion and your mind will try to rationalise it or try to discover why you are feeling such a strong emotion. For example, you might feel a sudden wave of anxiety and fear without thinking of anything first. Your mind might respond to your anxiety and fear by thinking you are in danger when you aren't. This can lead to obsessive-compulsive thinking patterns being created. For example, a person may feel they are unclean and dirty and then think they need a shower, even if they have washed numerous times already. If you find yourself in the situation you do not have to deal with it alone. Counselling and psychotherapy will help and your therapist will never judge you and will take your issues seriously,
The diagram above; what we thinking affects how we feel, which then affects how we respond, react and behave.
It may be hard to believe that we do indeed have the power to choose how we think. It may not feel like it to you now in your current mindset, however, once we start to change our thinking patterns and replace them with healthier alternatives or affirmations it will eventually become easier for you and you can create new, healthier habits of thinking patterns. At first, it is not unusual for our minds to want to rebel and resist new thinking. This because you will need to re-train the mind to think differently. Author Louise Hay explains that this process can be like setting a new, earlier bedtime to a child that has been used to going to bed late every night. The first couple of nights the child will cause chaos and noise when asked to go to bed at the new bedtime. However, after a couple of nights, a new routine will be set which is ultimately healthier, and the child will adjust. Much like our minds, once we get into the habit of practising thinking differently on a daily basis the process will become easier and we will feel different, resulting in improved mental health. This is not discounting the terrible things and losses that can happen to us throughout our lives, thinking differently will not remove what has happened to you. Paradoxically, sometimes the seemingly simple task of reframing and choosing to think differently about a situation or issue can help you cope and heal and live your life.
Thinking Differently; Re-framing and Affirmations
Date and time of thought
What situation were you in?
Description of the thought
What did you feel as a response to this thinking pattern?
What happened to your behaviour as a response to your thinking?
Alternative response, affirmation, re-framing
The above exercise is a basic C.B.T (cognitive behavioural therapy) worksheet. This can be useful for you do to as a part of your self-help and also do with your therapist. What this exercise focuses on is challenging your thinking patterns and replacing them with healthier more provocative thinking.
For a printable PDF version click here.
Music can be a great tool for self-help, especially if you already have a creative type of personality. If music is the right tool for you to use for self-help then you may already have a strong interest in a specific genre. If you are new to working with music then a good starting point would be to match a type of genre to the mood you are already in. This can help you process your emotions. For example, if you are feeling reflective you may want to listen to classical music to encourage your feelings to come to the surface and to promote further internal thinking. Alternatively, if you are feeling angry, you may want to listen to music that has a higher BPM (beats per minute) or that means to more aggressive overtones for you to be able to process some anger in a non-harmfull way.
Another option for the type of music you may want to try is meditation style. When listening to this type of music it is beneficial to use a pair of personal headphones in a safe space where you cannot be disturbed. Meditation music is designed to promote relaxation on a deeper level, acting as a tool to access your subconscious (precocious) and unconscious levels of the psyche. Some pieces of meditation music also have vocals, affirmations and instructions which lean more towards guided meditation.
Try this exercise
Listen to a piece of meditation music and see if it works for you as a tool for self-help
Meditation can be a useful tool for relaxation, for centring to yourself, to gain mental clarity and to grow a sense of inner peace. There really is no right or wrong way, the idea is to try, not to force or judge yourself. A good starting point is to find a space where you can be alone, then find a position to rest in that you feel most comfortable with. For example, some people prefer to lay down when they are meditating, others choose to remain in a seated position, or having support for their backs by sitting in a chair. Once you have found your preferred resting position close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Some people prefer to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. The most important thing is that you are breathing comfortably in which way suits you. Next, begin to focus solely on your breathing, feel your breath going in and out of your body. If your mind starts to wonder that is ok, just return to thinking about your breathing as soon as you can. Some people may find that their mind will not stop thinking whilst they are meditating and this can prevent them from trying. It is ok for your mind to do this. Whenever you can return your focus back onto your breath in a gentle, kind way. Avoid being harsh towards your self if you struggle to meditate and remember that everyone's mind wonders at some point.
Try this exercise
Focus solely on your breathing, focus on how it sounds and what it feels like breathing
It's ok if your mind begins to wonder, when you notice, bring your attention back to your breathing.
Close your eyes and begin to concentrate on your breathing
At your own pace and however feels most comfortable, take breaths in and out.
Continue to do this process for however long you can. It's ok if its for 5 minutes or 50. Whatever feels best for you.
Open your eyes when you are ready.
Repeat as often as you can or as often as you need.
Self-help and self-care techniques may be seen as being quite similar. Nonetheless, self-help and be viewed as an active approach to dealing with your immediate psychological distress through concentrating on a task such as writing and actively choosing to thinking differently and work on affirmations and re-framing your thinking. Whilst self-care can be viewed as an immediate soothing of self when times of physical, mental and emotional needs have increased. Self-help and self-care techniques can both help you cope and be useful coping techniques, especially when you find a combination of techniques that work for you.
Below is a list of self-care techniques to try;
Aromatherapy is the use of naturally grown, plant-based, organic material that is usually reduced down into an essential oil which produces a strong aroma that is derived from the original plant and flower. This technique is a recognised method is changing how we are feeling and helping people cope with an array of both physical and psychological and emotional ailments. Such as pain management, coping with depression and stress. For more information click here.
The science behind why aromatherapy is such a successful self-care technique can be better understood through neuroscience. We all have smell receptors inside of our noses. And what we smell has a 'short cut' to our limbic system in our brains. The limbic system's job is to control our emotions. So what we smell can heavily influence the limbic systems and how are feeling. Click here for more information.
Aromatherapy can be used in many different ways, which one would suit you and your lifestyle?
Roll on (directly onto pulse points on side of wrist), Niels yard pre-mixed relaxing oil is very helpful for grounding, de-stressing and coping with anxiety.
Mindfulness is a psychological state of mind that is achieved through a deliberate focus on the present moment, away from thinking and feeling. Mindfulness has become more popular over the last few years because more people have become aware of this method as a way of finding inner calmness and for rest bite from the impact of mental clutter and intense feelings that can prevent you from living fully. For example, when we overthink, this creates an excess of feelings associated with our thinking. This can keep you stuck in the past, which can cause depression, or create anxiety if you are fearing the future. Being mindful and creating more mindfulness moments in your day-to-day life will help you live fully by experiencing as many present moments as possible.
To become mindful you need to be able to take a step back from your feelings and thinking. Become the watcher and observer of your feelings and thinking. Accepting your feelings without trying to change them, experiencing your thinking without judgment. This can be done whilst you are in a meditative state, sitting or laying down with your eyes closed. Or, this can be done consciously whilst you are going about your day-to-day activities (as long as your not in control of a vehicle or your full attention is required elsewhere for your safety). When you are ready, consciously choose to place your attention onto something you can see, followed by something you can hear and something you can touch. If you are having intense feelings you could stimulate your tastes sense as well, perhaps with a sweet. Then concentrate on your breathing, allow your breath to flow in and out as naturally as possible, not forced. Then concentrate on the space in between taking breaths. Once this is done you will be in a mindful state of consciousness. Imagine you are watching any feelings or thoughts that come to you on a movie screen, or on a passing train, or flying away in ballons. Repeat this process as often as possible.
Food can have a powerful influence on our general wellbeing and overall health because the relationship we have with food and eating can affect how we think and feel about ourselves. For example, if you find your self being unhappy with your weight this can affect how you see yourself, your body image, which then, in turn, can affect your self-confidence and self-worth. Some people may find that they struggle to eat regularly, having large gaps between eating, which leads them to make poorer food choices because they are so hungry and start to crave unhealthy foods. For some people, under-eating may be an issue that could lead them to have an eating disorder. They may feel out of control with external circumstances in their lives that their food intake becomes the one element they can control. For others, they may feel their weight is an issue for them and may find themselves reaching out for food when they need to self-soothe and self-comfort. Some people may not relate to any of the examples above, because we are all unique, individual people, with different relationships to food.
Fundamentally, we all need food to survive, it is one of our basic needs as humans. What we choose to eat can affect our overall wellbeing that is not always linked to our physical appearance or what clothes size we currently are. Food can also affect our mental health, and poor nutrition can be a factor of influence in a struggle to maintain and promote healthy mental health. For example, when we experience a sugar rush this can cause elated feeling, for us to then feel low in mood when the sugar wears off. Our brains need a mixture of vitamins and minerals to be able to function to full capacity and to have mental clarity. For example, foods rich in omega3, and drinking water, will promote healthier brain function and improved mental health, for more information click here. For guidance on creating a healthy, balanced diet click here. If you are concerned about your diet and feel you may be lacking vitamins and nutrients always speak to your doctor, GP or dietitian. Health food stores can also be a useful source for food supplements and advice click here.
The importance of sleep;
Sleeping is an essential part of life, we spend over 1/3 of our lives asleep, and during this time we are healing our bodies, processing our emotions and clearing our minds. The impact, psychologically and emotionally, we could feel as a result of not getting enough sleep and being sleep deprived will affect our overall wellbeing mentally and physically. Not getting enough sleep will put your body under more stress and can lead to serious health conditions if not addressed. If you are experiencing sleep problems there is a sense of urgency around starting to prioritise your sleeping patterns and you may need to seek assistance from a medical professional.
We need two different stages of sleep, two different cycles, of 'Quiet Sleep', which allows our brains to cleanse, and be supported in any neural activity and changes. 'Quiet Sleep' also supports our immune systems and any healing in our bodies. 'REM' (Rapid Eye Movement) is the other cycle experienced during sleep. This stage allows us to be able to process our emotions, memories and learning.
Lack of sleep can cause mental health problems, and mental health problems can cause a lack of sleep. This can feel like you are stuck in a cycle and it can be difficult to pinpoint where the sleep problems started, click here for more information. Seeking counselling could be an option for you to be able to explore your sleep problems and gaining emotional and psychological support.
The psychological impact of a lack of sleep would be impaired thinking, you might notice an increase in darker thoughts and racing thoughts, you might also experience a change in your ability to self-control your thinking, it might be harder to replace negative thinking with positive affirmations when you have had a lack of sleep. This is because when we are asleep your brain cleanses and cleans itself, thanks to the glymphatic system. For more information, click here.
The emotional impact of a lack of sleep is a lack of emotional regulation. This may feel unconscious to you, out of your awareness. Or you might be able to notice that you are communicating in a more reactive manner. You might notice you are more snappy and low in mood and interactions with other people trigger your emotions more.
The physical impact of a lack of sleep would be an increase in stress hormones, such as cortisol (for more information, click here) increased blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions (for more information, click here).
Mental health problems can cause a lack of sleep and sleep disturbances. For example, Anxiety can cause you to feel alert and on edge when you are trying to sleep. Having racing thoughts can cause your body to feel stress when you are trying to settle. Depression can cause you to oversleep, but some people may experience a lack of sleep. Experiencing trauma in your life can cause you to have nightmares and other sleep disturbances. For more information, click here.
Things to try when you are struggling to sleep.
Note pad next to your bed
Trying having a small note pad next to your bed with a pen, so that at night when you are trying to sleep you can write down any thinking patterns, reoccurring thoughts, worries, tasks, onto paper. The action of physically writing may help you place what is going on in your mind onto paper to create more space in your mind to be able to sleep. Allow yourself to be able to pick these up when you wake and not be thinking about right now.
Try this body scan technique;
Lay down in your bed and close your eyes. Take a few focused breaths. Starting from your feet clench each muscle for 3 seconds, moving up to your legs, stomach, chest and face. Then clench all your muscles together for 3 seconds. Are there are parts of your body feeling more tense than others? Are you holding onto any feelings in your body right now? Can you acknowledge these feelings and let them go for now?
Challenge yourself to create a new bed time routine that promotes sleep health. Try not having any caffeine after 8pm. Try not watching any TV or potentially emotionally and psychologically provocative videos after 10:30pm. Lower the light on your phone screen in the evening before sleeping. Have a bath in the evening before you sleep to promote relation before getting into bed. If you notice any negative thinking try re framing those thoughts with positive affirmations.