One of the greatest gifts I have been able to give myself in my late twenties and early thirties has been the gift of inner healing.
Throughout my early off-and-on relationship with therapy, I never felt like I was growing as a woman or working through my own baggage. But over the last five years, the therapist I see has helped me dig deep into my own story and do the healing work I have long needed to do.
Therapy is a gift I can give to myself and one for which I am incredibly grateful. But I am well aware that, for many women, the luxury of going to counseling is something that may not be feasible in their life for a variety of reasons (finances, insurance coverage, fear of what others will think). While going to therapy is a wonderful avenue, there are still various tools you can use in your life to help you deal with stress, even if you’re unable to go to counseling.
Knowing your triggers
What exactly is a trigger? Triggers are reminders of or flashbacks to a past trauma. This sudden reminder or memory can create a sense of anxiety, fear, sadness, pain, or anger. Triggers can take many forms: sounds, smells, people, the anniversary of a traumatic event, etc. This has become one of the most critical things I have learned about myself and my own story.
In his excellent book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk offers the helpful insight that sometimes our triggers can be an indicator of deeper trauma that may need some healing. Triggers reveal some deeper healing work we may need to embark upon, and there’s no shame in that at all.
How do you determine what your triggers are? Pay attention to your physical bodily reactions. Notice what thoughts are running through your head or any particular feelings or emotions attached to those thoughts.
Some other helpful questions include: are you able to identify who or what triggered that emotion? What happened right before you felt triggered? Do you have any needs in this moment that are not being met?
When we become aware of our triggers, we can grow more self-aware and can choose to not expose ourselves to people or situations that do not feel safe or harm our mental health.
Reading reliable sources
While therapy is the ideal, there are so many excellent books and free resources available to us from the mental health community. If you are unable to go to counseling, consider one of many books, talks, or podcasts that can help support your mental health.
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend will help you understand that boundaries are important, healthy, and something we all need in life to stay emotionally safe. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie teaches readers about patterns of codependency and how to learn to walk away from that in life.
Pia Mellody’s Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love is a book that helped me begin to navigate dating in a new way. My counselor has had me read several of Mellody’s books, and each of them has helped me grow in new ways.
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller looks at the science behind our attachments as babies and children and how it affects us as adults in romantic relationships.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing
When our flight or fight response kicks in or we’re experiencing anxiety, what is one thing our body forgets to do? Breathe.
Deep, focused breathing from the abdomen can help relax your body when experiencing stressful or upsetting feelings or emotions. The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle that helps us to breathe, and this type of breathing is the basis for most relaxation techniques.
While breathing this way helps to deal with anxiety, it also offers the body numerous physical benefits, including lowering the effects of the stress hormone cortisol and helping people with PTSD cope with their symptoms.
The power of gratitude is something that seems to get a lot of press time when the holiday season begins in early November. But daily gratitude can have many positive effects throughout the year for both our mental and spiritual health.
Research suggests a link between regularly practicing gratitude and improved well-being. Gratitude helps us look at our past with more graciousness and the future with more hope; in many ways, it is a healing practice for our souls. A daily gratitude practice not only makes you feel good, it also has lasting effects on your brain.
When we find things in daily life to be grateful for, it can help shift our perspective in a more positive direction. Something as simple as setting a timer for five to ten minutes to practice gratitude or naming what you’re grateful for on your daily commute can improve your heart and mind in many ways.
Catch Your ANTS
No I am not talking about the bugs that show up while you’re on a picnic, but rather the automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) that can seem to bombard us if we’re working through some difficult or uncomfortable situations.
We all experience negative thoughts from time to time in daily life. However, there is a difference between an old negative thought and a negative thought that is continual, constant, and disruptive to your daily life. What often happens is habitual negative thinking creates more permanent ANTS.
And while “thoughts” may seem ethereal and harmless, they have real effects. Did you know that every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals that have a direct impact on how you feel? Every time you have a thought that is good, happy, hopeful, kind, or loving, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel good. However, when you have thoughts that are negative, sad, anxious, or hopeless, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel bad. The good news is that the human brain is incredibly resilient; we do have the power to capture negative thinking before it becomes more ingrained, automatic negative thought patterns. When we correct our negative thoughts and patterns, we can take away their power over us.
During times that can be very heavy and emotionally draining, these tips and tricks can help you live with more peace in the present moment, whether or not you’re able to seek the help of a therapist.