Taking Care of Yourself (page 2)
People who plan their time tend to be happier than people who wander through life not knowing what they want to do and “being bored.” Planning is the basic element of taking responsibility for yourself — and it includes planning for work periods as well as for enjoyable times.
Your moods and feelings about yourself are directly related to how much time you spend doing things you really enjoy, and being with people whom you like. But “enjoyment” that puts off required work (procrastination) destroys its good effects — there is satisfaction in getting jobs done. And “enjoyment” that leaves you hung over or with dulled senses can be counterfeit
- Monitor your “emotional bank balance” each day. Deposits are (1) doing something you really enjoy, (2) having good exchanges with others, especially those close, and (3) getting satisfaction from doing something you need to do.
- Consider how alcoholic drinks, moodrelated substances (even cigarettes) relate to your life and feelings about yourself. Do you need something to “get through”? How much do such things cause you to miss in life? How do they make you feel about yourself?
- Define what “enjoyment” means to you — what really leaves you feeling good and what you think ought to make you feel good but perhaps doesn’t. When does “a good time” become a bad time, or a hard job make you feel good?
- Write down three things you could do to help yourself feel better. Do one of them today. Discuss with a family member how you might help others feel better.
Monitoring Your Daily ‘Emotional Bank Balance’
Your emotional state is not something solid that you carry around with you like an MP3 or iPod. It goes up and down, almost always in response to what is happening in your life at the time — not overall, but daily specifics, the hour-by-hour interactions with those around you (and yourself).
This emotional “checking account” can be flush one day and overdrawn on another. It all depends on the type of transactions: A series of withdrawals without enough deposits quickly puts you in the red.
Debit items are easy to come by: anxiety about schoolwork and tests, keeping up on the job, worries about personal relationships, concerns about your academic future, even world events.
Deposits sometimes seem harder: doing something pleasant for yourself, completing a challenging piece of work that you’ve been avoiding; complimenting yourself for some little thing or for just being yourself; spending time with a good friend.
There are ways we can learn to make more frequent deposits, keep our emotional accounts in the black and avoid emotional pitfalls — and these aren’t really hard at all:
1) Do a simple self-assessment of how you’re feeling and how that might relate to what’s going on in your life.
2) Develop a plan for increasing your deposits, either to get you out of a hole or keep you from getting in one.
3) Monitor yourself, keeping the “balance.” Psychologists and family counselors use many techniques to help clients improve their daily emotional states, but the common denominator in most One huge barrier to keeping a good emotional balance is the feeling: “I don’t have time for one more thing!” Most of the small-step “deposit” techniques are substitutes for debit items, and take no more time or energy. They do require daily doing, not just knowing how to do them.
The cost of becoming emotionally overdrawn is depression — a personal bankruptcy that is a debilitating (sometimes fatal) condition. It can lead to a variety of personally and socially destructive behaviors, from drinking and substance abuse to stressful over-achievement and physical illness.
The cost is too high to allow this to happen. Each of us is responsible for keeping it from happening to ourselves! Everyone has the power to take the small steps to do that.
A highly recommended book on self-monitoring methods, self-control techniques, pleasant-activity planning, social skills, constructive thinking and other elements of personal balancing is Control Your Depression, edited by Peter M. Lewinsohn, Ricardo F. Munoz, Mary Ann Youngren and Antonette M. Zeiss (1978, Prentice-Hall Spectrum).
Lewinsohn, a clinical psychologist, began developing his depression-avoidance ideas and methods in the early 1960s, and they have since become standard fare for many counselors, therapists and individuals.
The ‘Face Test’ Helps You Face YOUR Feelings
Looking at others can help you see yourself, if you know what to look for.
Often when we are feeling vulnerable or overly self-critical we tend to become more critical of others — whether they are family members or complete strangers. We might not even be aware of how we’re really feeling at the time — just that everyone else seems really messed up.
Hence when we look at the faces of other people and they seem strange and “ugly” — or when what those people are doing seems completely inadequate and “all wrong” — there is some probability that we really are being extremely self-critical.
Conversely, days people appear interesting and beautiful it can be a sign that you are feeling good about yourself and how you are doing.
This “face test” idea also may apply when someone is being critical of you. It may be that you are not the real target of that criticism.
When you are being critical, a helpful, constructive step is to convert that criticism into a request for a specific, precise change of behavior. This process can clarify a great deal about what’s really happening in all your relationships.
The Upbeat Cycle of ‘Pleasant Activities’
Nearly everyone has heard of a “vicious circle.” That’s when a bad situation leads to a bad situation that reinforces the original bad situation.
There’s a counterpart, however, that might be called a “benevolent spiral,” and it heads upward instead of downward or ’round and ’round.
The key to the latter is simply finding pleasant activities, enjoyable things to do or think about, satisfying things to accomplish.
The sad part about a vicious circle is that when you are emotionally caught in one you really don’t feel much like engaging in the kinds of pleasant activities that would get you out of it. And, almost always, they WILL get you out if you try them.
Studies of thousands of persons who have used a 320-item “Pleasant Events Schedule” (called PES) demonstratea definite connection between events and mood. BUT, people differ a great deal in what they consider pleasant events. (Thinking about what YOUR pleasant events can itself be a pleasant event.)
Some events stand out as being especially related to moods and feelings. These fall into three groups:
- Social interactions in which people feel they belong — where they feel welcome, respected, accepted.
- Activities in which they feel adequate, competent and able to do things themselves.
- Activities in themselves pleasant — being relaxed with friends,viewing a beautiful scene, thinking about something good in the future.
A quick self-assessment of your pleasant activities level entails first coming up with a list of three to 10 things you enjoy doing, then assessing how many times you have done each of those in the past 30 days.
“Often” is more than 7 times; “a few times” is 1 to 6; and 0 is not often enough. The next steps are planning and doing.
Have some pleasant events today.
Reprinted with the permission of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. 2008 Palo Alto Medical Foundation. All rights reserved.
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