This blog comes directly from pages out of Francesca Reicherter’s “You Are Not Alone: The Workbook.” For more content and exercises, this workbook is available for purchase on inspiringmygeneration.org or amazon.
Being kind to yourself can be super hard! As humans, it is normal to be critical of ourselves. Often times, we are harder on ourselves than we are on others because we are afraid. Sometimes, we fear what other people will think of us if we gain weight, do not wear the coolest clothes, or do poorly on a test. But, the truth is, we judge ourselves more harshly than others judge us. This is an example of how we bully ourselves. What if instead of being mean to ourselves, we choose to be friends with ourselves?
Be as kind to yourself as you are to your best friends!
Examples of showing kindness to yourself:
Forgive yourself for a mistake. “It is okay to make mistakes.
I forgive myself for . . . “
Positive affirmations. Look in the mirror and say 3 nice things about yourself. “I am . . . I can . . . I will . . .”
Exercises to try:
Write down 3 affirmations you can tell yourself every day.
Social media is centered around connection. We are connected to people around the world 24/7. With the blessing of continued connection and access to everything happening around the world, there is also the impact of mental health. And the impact can be both positive or negative.
What is the positive impact of social media?
The three C’s: Connection, Community, and Change. Let’s think back to 2020, a time when the world shutdown and social media became the center of how we stayed connected. The power of social media is that we can keep up with our friends and loved ones, especially when we are not able to be there in person with. Furthermore, we can meet people from around the world!
We also find community on social media. Social media helps us to find pages, groups, and people with similar interests as us. For example, I have found an amazing community of mental health professionals and advocates on Instagram. The community created by social media helps many of us find a sense of belonging.
Lastly, social media also provides a platform for advocacy that can lead to change. Topics trending is one of the main powers of social media. It helps us to stay educated on what’s happening the world. And, when we disagree with what is happening, we can speak up about it and use our platforms for advocacy.
What are some disadvantages of social media?
With all the pros of social media, we have seen some major cons that affect one’s mental health. For example, as human beings, we often compare ourselves to other people. However, with social media, the level and frequency of comparison is amplified. With all the content we are exposed to, it is not surprising that we compare the way we look, the things we have, the lifestyle we live, etc. I will be honest, when I see a photo of a thin model with little to no body fat, the most gorgeous face, and an amazing wardrobe, it feels impossible not to question why I do not look that way. Or, when I see big families spending time together or public figures jetting around the world, I sometimes wonder why my life cannot be that way too. Comparing ourselves and our lives to others does not make us weak; however, doing it (all day) everyday weakens our self-esteem. And as we know, a weakened self-esteem can have detrimental effects on our mental health.
Let’s also talk about FOMO. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real! In the time before social media, if friends of yours were hanging out and you were not invited, chances are you probably would not have known. And, when summer came around and you were not in school, if people went on fun vacations or hung out, there is a good chance that you would not have known. But today, almost every time you open a social media app, it seems like you have found something you have missed out on.
We cannot talk about social media without mentioning how it has subconsciously trained us to seek validation from others. Is anyone else guilty of removing posts because they did not get enough likes?! I certainly am! Have you ever checked to see if certain people liked or commented on your posts? I have! It’s become engrained in our minds to see if someone cares for us based on how they interact with our social media posts.
Then, we have cyberbullying. Unfortunately, because communication is done behind a screen from one screen to another, it is hard to remember that there is a person on the other side. Lately, I, personally, feel like everywhere I look, someone has something negative to say about someone else. People cannot just share content anymore without being judged and picked apart. Without being able to see the person receiving the message, there is a lack of empathy. We are learning to interact without regard for others’ feelings.
The pressure to keep up, the worry over missing out, the fear of not being liked, the pain of being attacked in your comments or DMs, it all takes a toll on our mental health and emotional well-being.
You deserve to feel proud of who you are and where you are in life. You do not deserve to feel less than or inadequate. Be mindful of how your emotions are being impacted by the content and information you receive from social media. Take time to disconnect from the virtual world and reconnect with yourself and the world around you. Social media is a powerful tool that provides us the privilege to be connected with the entire world, but you are important too. Make time to show yourself the same amount of attention that you show your TikTok.
Please note that this blog contains no original writing. Each section and statement is directly from the aforementioned source.
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
According to John Hopkins Medical, “hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, is a type of treatment used to speed up healing of carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, stubborn wounds, and infections in which tissues are starved for oxygen. If you undergo this therapy, you will enter a special chamber to breathe in pure oxygen in air pressure levels 1.5 to 3 times higher than average. The goal is to fill the blood with enough oxygen to repair tissues and restore normal body function.”
In an article shared by Derrick Walker under Advanced Wound Care Systems, Discovery, Dr. Sherman Johnson, Hyperbaric Healing Center, Walker stated that, “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) appears to be a safe and effective treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post‐ Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression.”
How does HBOT work? According to John Hopkins Medical:
HBOT helps wound healing by bringing oxygen-rich plasma to tissue starved for oxygen. Wound injuries damage the body’s blood vessels, which release fluid that leaks into the tissues and causes swelling. This swelling deprives the damaged cells of oxygen, and tissue starts to die. HBOT reduces swelling while flooding the tissues with oxygen. The elevated pressure in the chamber increases in the amount of oxygen in the blood. HBOT aims to break the cycle of swelling, oxygen starvation, and tissue death.
HBOT prevents “reperfusion injury.” That’s the severe tissue damage that happens when the blood supply returns to the tissues after they have been deprived of oxygen. When blood flow is interrupted by a crush injury, for instance, a series of events inside the damaged cells leads to the release of harmful oxygen radicals. These molecules can do damage to tissues that can’t be reversed and cause the blood vessels to clamp up and stop blood flow. HBOT encourages the body’s oxygen radical scavengers to seek out the problem molecules and allow healing to continue.
HBOT helps block the action of harmful bacteria and strengthens the body’s immune system. HBOT can disable the toxins of certain bacteria. It also increases oxygen concentration in the tissues. This helps them resist infection. In addition, the therapy improves the ability of white blood cells to find and destroy invaders.
HBOT encourages the formation of new collagen (connective tissue) and new skin cells. It does so by encouraging new blood vessel formation. It also stimulates cells to produce certain substances, like vascular endothelial growth factor. These attract and stimulate endothelial cells necessary for healing.
HBOT for Mental Health? What science says:
Psychiatric disorders are prevalent, debilitating mental and behavioral patterns, usually with a complex biopsycho-social etiology, eventually leading to irreversible brain changes. These changes are comprised of chemical and anatomical alterations in neurotransmitter signal transduction pathways which also serve as the pharmacologic target of most current drug therapy. Accordingly, other mental disorders with a solid pathophysiological base of knowledge, such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, etc., may benefit from the use of HBOT as well. In the same manner, as to disorders discussed in this article, research into PTSD and depression does not stand on its own and is always related to physiological insults with biological mechanisms of ischemia, hypoxia, and inflammation. Thus, perhaps these have more potential for improvement with HBOT. [The Role of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Psychiatry: A Review of the Current Knowledge Shani Raphaeli, MD,1 Erez Carmon, MD,2 Boaz Bloch, MD, MHA,3 and Eyal Fruchter, MD, MHA1]
What Brain SPECT Imaging and Other Research Reveals About Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy From Amen Clinics:
Brain SPECT is an imaging technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain. It reveals areas with healthy activity, too much activity, and too little activity. Brain imaging studies have found that HBOT has several benefits for the brain.
Increases blood flow.
Brain imaging studies using SPECT show that people who have had HBOT have marked improvement in blood flow to the brain. Adequate blood flow in the brain is vital for mental health. SPECT scans reveal that low blood flow is commonly linked to mental health/brain health issues, such as ADD/ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addictions, and more. In fact, low blood flow is the #1 brain imaging predictor that an individual will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Improves functioning in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Low blood flow is also linked to ASD. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has helped improve cognitive and behavioral functions in people with autism by compensating for decreased blood flow in affected areas of the brain. A 2009 study showed that children with autism who underwent HBOT had significant improvement in overall functioning, eye contact, social interactions, cognitive and sensory awareness, and receptive language. People have also reported improved sleep and reduced aggression in people with autism who undergo HBOT.
Improves cognitive and psychological function after a concussion.
One study from 2017 showed that 29 military veterans with blast-induced concussions found that they performed better on physical, psychological, and cognitive tests after 40 sessions of HBOT. In particular, the veterans who underwent HBOT showed improvements in memory, attention, anxiety, depression (including a reduction in suicidal thoughts), PTSD symptoms, intelligence quotient, and more. They also reduced their usage of psychoactive medication.
Improves PTSD following a traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) increase the risk of several mental health/brain health conditions, including ADD/ADHD, anxiety and panic attacks, PTSD, suicide, and more. According to research, treating the underlying TBI with concentrated oxygen can promote the healing process. A brain SPECT imaging study from 2011 involved 16 military personnel with PTSD following a TBI. The soldiers underwent neuropsychological testing and brain imaging and before and after 40 sessions of HBOT. After treatment, they showed significant improvement in mood, impulsivity, anxiety, quality of life scores, and more. Their SPECT brain scans after HBOT showed remarkable overall improvement in blood flow.
Improves brain metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2019 brain imaging study involving SPECT and PET scans is the first to document improvements in brain metabolism in a patient with Alzheimer’s disease. The subject of the study was a 58-year-old woman whose cognitive function had been declining for 5 years. She underwent 40 sessions of HBOT. After just 21 sessions, she reported better moods, a boost in energy, and better ability to perform routine tasks. She even said it was easier to do the crossword puzzle. After 40 sessions of HBOT, she reported improvements in concentration, memory, sleep, and ability to use the computer. She also noted a decrease in disorientation, less frustration, and her anxiety was gone. The brain scans showed 6.5-38% improvement in overall brain metabolism, prompting the researchers to suggest HBOT could be a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. “We demonstrated the largest improvement in brain metabolism of any therapy for Alzheimer’s disease,” says the lead study author Dr. Paul Harch. “HBOT in this patient may be the first treatment not only to halt, but temporarily reverse disease progression in Alzheimer’s disease.”
In social studies, we are taught that a boundary is what separates state lines. Personal boundaries, on the other hand, are the line that separates our physical space, feelings, and needs from (ourselves and) others. These boundaries are used to share how we want to be treated by ourselves and others.
Boundaries are often formed to help protect our mental health. These boundaries can be made both externally and internally. The simplest way to explain boundaries is learning to say “no” to things that make you feel uncomfortable, invalidated, unimportant, or overextended.
External vs Internal
External boundaries are boundaries that we create to protect our space, feelings, and needs from other people. These boundaries may include telling someone not to touch us, saying “no” to taking on someone else’s responsibilities, or managing our time. It is important to remember that boundaries interact with other people’s boundaries. This means, a healthy relationship is built on respect between both parties’ boundaries.
Internal boundaries, on the other hand, are boundaries we set with ourselves to honor ourselves. We often overwork and overwhelm ourselves with expectations that exceed our limits. These boundaries help us to acknowledge and respect our limits and values.
Benefits of Internal Boundaries
Internal boundaries allow us to love and respect ourselves from the way we treat and honor our bodies to the way we treat and honor our minds. Internal boundaries are formed to help boost our own self-worth. These boundaries allow us to be mindful of the way we care for ourselves.
Are we criticizing ourselves constantly? Or are we taking time to celebrate all we have accomplished?
Are we overextending ourselves? Or are we respecting our own personal limits as well as time constraints?
Are we invalidating and suppressing our emotions? Or are we allowing ourselves space and time to feel and heal?
Are we blaming everyone else for our discomfort? Or are we honoring ourselves by being honest with our own mistakes?
Are we disrespecting our personal values and beliefs to fit in with society’s expectations? Or we are acting in line with who we are, who want to be, and what we want to offer?
Internal boundaries will follow the second question in each of the above bullet points. The boundaries we set impact what we feel inside. Boundaries that honor who we are and what we want offer encouragement and support. On the other hand, boundaries that ignore our limits and do not align with our values create a disconnect within ourselves.
How Do I Set Internal Boundaries?
Ask yourselves the following questions:
How am I overextending myself?
How am I hurting myself? (Think emotionally too!!)
What are my values?
Who do I want to be?
Where am I not being honest with myself?
Now, create boundaries that align within these questions. Examples of internal boundaries are shared below.
4 Internal Boundaries Examples:
Reframe your negative thoughts to encouraging thoughts.
“I always make mistakes” à “I am constantly able to learn from each mistake”
Tell yourself “no”
“No, I am not going to add more to my to-do list today. I do not have enough time or energy to take on every responsibility today. I respect my own limits. That is okay.”
Validate your emotions.
“I am feeling sad today. It is normal to feel sad. I am going to let myself feel sad.”
Be accountable to yourself.
“I did not enforce my boundaries in the past. My partner was not respectful of my boundaries, because I did not enforce them before.”
The information in this blog comes directly from RAINN (rainn.org)
National Sexual Assault Helpline: 1-800-656-4673
Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 25 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women in the US are raped or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.
Despite ignorant comments such as, “They were asking for it. What do they expect to happen dressed like that? They should not have been drinking.”
Here are the statistics on what the survivor was doing when the crime occurred:
48% were sleeping, or performing another activity at home
29% were traveling to and from work or school, or traveling to shop or run errands
12% were working
7% were attending school
5% were doing an unknown or other activity
The impact of sexual violence extends beyond physical trauma or injuries.
Many survivors struggle to come to terms with what happened, regain their sense of safety and trust, and move forward with their lives. Survivors often blame themselves. They often feel ashamed, in fact, a high percentage of survivors do not speak up or seek legal action.
Below are common results of rape or sexual assault:
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
Feeling Afraid, Ashamed, and/or Alone
Experiencing Nightmares or Flashbacks
Feeling Unsafe, Lack of Trust in Others
Depression occurs when an individual experiences feeling of sadness and hopeless for extended periods of time. These symptoms often cause an disruption in their daily lives. It can have negative affects on not only your behaviors but also your relationships with yourself and others.
Survivors often experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness; however, if the feelings continue for long periods of time, this may indicate depression.
Flashbacks are memories of the trauma that feel like they are currently happening all over again. They can make it difficult to distinguish between the memory from reality.
PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is characterized by feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and nervousness. In more extreme cases, survivors may feel as if they are constantly in danger. Common symptoms include re-experience (ex: flashbacks), avoidance, and hyper-arousal (ex: on edge”)
A survivor of sexual violence is likely to experience mental health symptoms. The trauma truly extends far beyond the physical aggression. Survivors can often benefit from the help of a professional.
Did you know patients hospitalized in psych wards are 100-200x more likely to die by suicide upon discharge?
This is commonly due to lack of emotional support and understanding. Therefore, to combat the lack of emotional support, at Inspiring My Generation, each month we donate hundreds of encouragement cards to behavioral health facilities to be distributed among patients.
When I started this initiative, I was looking for a way to offer emotional support to people who were inside behavioral health facilities. I wanted to offer a burst of light and hope in a dark time. This initiative started with 1 donation of 100 encouragement cards to the psych ward I was hospitalized in following my third suicide attempt.
I wanted to share some hope to the individuals who were in the same position I was a year and a half earlier. I wanted someone out there to know that they are truly not alone. I wanted someone out there to know that someone else understands. I wanted someone out there to know that it gets better. I prayed that out of the 100 cards that were mailed out that first month that one person’s life would be changed for the better. I desperately wanted the chance to save a life.
As someone who has been there, an encouragement card from someone on the outside would have meant SO much. It’s a beautiful feeling to know that you are truly not alone— that someone out there understands and believes in you, especially when you don’t believe in yourself.
But how does an encouragement card save a life?
This is one of the most common questions I get when I ask people to volunteer and make cards.
If you haven’t experienced feelings of hopelessness, feelings of complete and utter loneliness even when surrounded by 100 people, or no feeling at all just completely numb, it’s a very dark and petrifying time. When you cannot find a single reason to keep going, a message of hope and encouragement from a complete stranger means more than you can ever imagine. For the first time in a very long time, you feel seen and understood. You feel important — you may even find a piece of hope within yourself.
Imagine feeling so hopeless, so depressed, so lonely that you feel dying would be better than living. Imagine attempting to take your own life. Imagine waking up in a hospital wondering why you are still alive. This is the reality for MANY individuals hospitalized in a psych ward.
Imagine feeling like no one could possibly understand what you are going through. Imagine feeling like you are alone, and you have to suffer in silence. Imagine being afraid of opening up because someone may judge you. Again, this is the reality for MANY patients hospitalized in a psych ward.
One small encouragement card may seem like a small meaningless gesture, but that card can change someone’s world. That card is a message of support and love. That card is a reminder that you are not alone. That card is the realization that someone out there understands and believes in you. That card is the hope you lost long ago. Every card is a hug in the form of paper.
Creating a card takes less than 5 minutes, but those 5 minutes can save someone’s life. In a moment where they want to disappear, you let them know they are seen. In a moment, where they are debating whether or not to keep going, you offered them hope. You gave them the encouragement they needed to continue on.
A small gesture, yes. But when you feel like you have nothing, something as simple as a card can remind you that you deserve to live.
So, how do these cards save lives? They offer a burst of light in a dark tunnel.
How can I get involved?
Go to www.inspiringmygeneration.org/encouragement-cards to learn more about the program. The program page has example messages and cards as well as printable coloring pages you can submit. After you create the cards, simply mail them to us. We will add them to our monthly distribution.
I ask you to please take 5 minutes and make a card. We need you. People out there who are struggling need you.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of love and belonging are one of our most basic needs as human beings. Why? According to a TEDx presented by Neuroscientist, Matthew Lieberman, as mammals, we are not born with the ability to care for ourselves. In fact, Dr. Lieberman offers an insightful perspective into the power of connection: The only reason any of us survive infancy is because of someone else’s desire to connect with us and care for us.
What does that mean? In simple terms: humans need humans.
Human beings are wired to find a sense of belonging.
Many of us search our whole lives trying to find a place where we belong. Many find that the feeling of belonging within family, friend groups, workplace, community groups, or places of worships. We find a sense of belonging when we feel seen, heard, and understood by those around us.
What is true human or social connection?
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
According to an article written by Donna Pisacano Brown, “Human connection is an energy exchange between people who are paying attention to one another. It has the power to deepen the moment, inspire change and build trust.” Human connection is more than connecting through having a conversation. Real human connection is how we understand and support other human beings. Similarly, it is how we are understood and supported by another human being. Connection comes from our ability to listen, learn, evolve, empathize, help, and love. True connection is not made when we are talking over others, gaslighting their experiences, or invalidating their feelings. It is certainly not made when we speak more than we listen.
The connection we know and utilize today is our kryptonite. Today’s connection is overflowing with arguments, ignorance, and lack of empathy all committed through a digital screen. Humans need humans. Humans need human connection. Yet, we have transformed the means of human connection into the birth of human disconnection.
Why disconnection? Because instead of listening to other people’s (or even our own) needs, we are fighting against it. Everyone is so focused on their opinions, values, and beliefs being the “right” ones, we have forgotten how to appreciate different perspectives. Perspectives that differ from our others are what helps the world to evolve. It is what incites positive progression. If we all thought the same things and believed the same things, nothing would ever change. Nevertheless, instead of appreciating everyone’s differences and learning why people believe in what they believe in, we tear each other down, promoting ourselves and our beliefs as superior. The lack of open communication that stimulates learning and compassion has created a world of disconnect.
Are we truly living in a time of disconnect?
Disconnection develops every time we refuse to listen. You do not have to agree with someone to listen to why they have certain values, thoughts, or beliefs. Engaging in a conversation does not suggest agreeance. Listening and asking non-judgmental questions is not a sign of agreement. In fact, it is simply called a conversation. Conversations do not have a winner. One side is not right while the other is wrong. That is called an argument, which we have normalized as how to have a conversation.
All of this has been amplified by technology. Technology is diminishing the power of human connection. The intent of social media sites was to expand our reach; to communicate with people around the world. The progress of this technology was aimed at unifying the world by magnifying our ability to join in conversations with people around the world and learn new perspectives.
“The true value of technology is the human outcome it produces.”
If you have been on social media lately, then you know the use does not match the intent. What started out as a beautiful opportunity to breakdown echo chambers has essentially resulted in a global fight. People around the world are utilizing social media as a way to silence other people’s voices and opinions. There seems to be an urge to be heard with no desire to listen. Honestly, we so badly want to feel heard that we forget other people have that same desire and basic need. And, if we will not let anyone else’s voice be heard, then how do we expect ours to be heard?
As a result of the disconnect, many are living in isolation and fear. Many are hiding behind nameless and faceless accounts. People feel more inclined to communicate solely behind a screen than to engage in the same conversations face to face. This has led to a new generation growing up with an understanding that connecting through social media is the same as “social connection.”
The power of social networking extends beyond social network sites.
“Connection is not an exchange of information. It’s an exchange of humanity. It’s an exchange of emotion.”
In a world fueled by information, it is no wonder that we seek connection through validation and information. We want to be told everything and we want to tell everyone everything. What we do not always remember to do is share emotion.
Deep connections are formed on the basis of vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable enough to share our innermost thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement is the essence of a pure connection. As much as we want to believe that connecting with someone virtually is just as powerful as connecting with someone in person, it is just not true. Virtual connections have allowed for an expansion of opportunities, and it helped us communicate with loved ones during a time where physical distancing was required. However, nothing will ever be able to replace the impact of a face-to-face conversation.
Social networking is not just “connecting” with people on LinkedIn or “friending” people on Facebook, or “following” people on Instagram and Twitter. Social networking is creating social connections with those around us, forming a bond that makes us feel safe and loved.
Human connection is the most powerful tool at our disposal, especially when it comes to our mental health.
The secret ingredient to life: social connection.
Money may not buy happiness, but human connection can.
One of the most common symptoms of someone experiencing a mental health condition or crisis is isolation. How many times do we have to hear someone say. “I have no one to talk to”? Did you know that in 1985, a study was conducted that found the average American claimed to have three close friends they felt comfortable confiding in? That same study was conducted in 2004, but the number dropped significantly. In fact, the average American claimed to have only one close friend they felt comfortable confiding in with 25% admitting they have no one to confide in.
How does that impact mental health? For starters, having someone to confide in helps offer a sense of belonging. When you know that no matter what happens there is at least one person who will be there with you through it, it creates a feeling of hope. Knowing that you never have to go through it alone can help make you feel like you matter. On the other hand, imagine experiencing many tough situations and desperately needing someone to tell you that it is going to be okay, except you do not have anyone there. Imagine feeling so down that you feel hopeless or worthless or simply numb, and there is no one there to comfort you. Then, imagine feeling like no one would care if you were not here.
Social connection has the power to save lives. When we feel accepted by others, it boosts our self-confidence. It reduces the question of “Am I Enough?” When we feel connected to others, it serves as a reminder that we are not alone, and we do not have to go through life alone. Life is a lot fuller and a lot more meaningful when we share it with others.
None of this means that you cannot be there for yourself. It simply means you do not have to be the only one there for yourself.
To wrap it up, I am going to simply share a powerful quote given to Emma Seppala by Brene Brown in an interview for an article called Connect To Thrive.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” We are profoundly social creatures. We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, eternal youth or a new car, but at the root of most of these desires is a need to belong, to be accepted, to connect with others, to be loved. We pride ourselves on our independence, on pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, having a successful career and above all not depending on anyone. But, as psychologists from Maslow to Baumeister have repeatedly stressed, the truth of the matter is that a sense of social connection is one of our fundamental human needs.”
The social brain and its superpowers: Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D. at TEDxStLouis
According to an article written by Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson on Help Guide called, Burnout Prevention and Treatment, “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”
Why Fran Faces Burnout.
One thing I have always struggled with is taking a break. I know taking a break is good for my mental health. And yes, I know it is important to allow myself time to rejuvenate. However, sometimes, it feels even more exhausting to separate myself from my work.
Overtime, between managing a full-time job of running a nonprofit organization and a full-time master’s program, I get mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. Add all of that to waking up at 5am to read new books, research, and articles to stay up to date on trends within the mental health field, I often forget to turn my brain off. Even in the car, I listen to podcasts on mental health, health, and business. My life is consumed by learning and producing, which I absolutely love. But, even when you love every single thing that you do, you can still burnout.
For me, burnout looks like laying in bed longer than usual. It looks like eating more processed foods and skipping workouts. Burnout reduces my desire to read, study, or work. I often stare blankly at my to do list or computer screen trying to find a piece of energy to get me going. In fact, I even start to lose confidence in myself and my work. My depression sometimes takes control of my brain.
I often question if anyone relate?!
Well, if you can relate, fear not! I have developed my own burnout recovery plan to share with you! And some tips on how to create one that works well for you!
Fran’s Personal Burnout Recovery Plan:
One of the biggest pieces of my burnout recovery plan is clearing my calendar for 72 hours – with the exception of mandatory items (like school attendance or meetings). Over the 72 hours, each day I try to accomplish 1 very small task that is on my current to do list to silence the negative voice in my head telling me I am lazy or unproductive.
Step 1: Reaching out to friends.
I used to really disconnect from those around me when I start to burnout. I would hide in my room and binge-watch comfort shows (The Nanny and Friends, anyone?!) Now, I reach out to my friends. I live in different cities and states from many of my friends, so FaceTime and Zoom have become staples in staying connected. I prefer seeing someone’s face and hearing their tone rather than texting behind a screen, because it feels more genuine which improves my ability to connect with them. When I have the ability to see my friends in-person, I often schedule daily breakfast, coffee, lunch, or study dates. Forcing myself to be around people helps prevent my depression taking over.
Step 2: Prioritize My Work.
I am sure it is not surprising to hear that I often overwhelm myself with things to do. I must think I have some kind of superpower that allows me to accomplish more than humanly possible in 24 hours. Thus, I create a very long to do list of everything I want to accomplish. Any task, big or small, that has appeared in my head is written down. Then, I separate the list out into different sections.
Section 1 is items with actual deadlines, not self-imposed deadlines. I organize this in chronological order to ensure I meet deadlines.
Section 2 is items that are super important to me that make me feel accomplished when completed. I organize this chronologically by the self-imposed deadlines I created.
Section 3 is items that are important but will not negatively impact my life or self-esteem if I do not complete right away. I organize this by ease – items that take less time and energy are often ranked higher.
Lastly, Section 4 is long-term goals. These items are simply listed without any specific order. After splitting up the four sections, I create weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals that combine items from all the lists. I break down bigger projects into smaller milestones, such as outlines and rough drafts. Identifying my goals in an organized way helps to alleviate some of the overwhelming emotions I face.
Step 3: Update My Morning and Evening Routines.
My usual morning and evening routines often include new items added on as each day passes. Thus, my mornings and nights are consumed by too much external work, reducing the quantity and quality of internal work. To start, I usually go back to the basics. Food, water, and skincare. These are my necessities to feel good. Day 1 is just the basics – I cook, I track my water intake to ensure I consume 64oz of water, and I do my daily skincare routine. Then, each passing day for the next 5 days add 1 priority item. For example, my 5 priorities are: moving my body, reading, journaling, cleaning, and drinking tea. By restarting my routines slowly, I am able to mentally and physically slow down while re-introducing tasks that work as self-care / coping mechanisms.
Step 4: Sleep.
On the last day, I turn off my morning alarm and remove my phone from my bedroom. I sleep until my body naturally wakes up and feels ready to get out of bed. I do my morning tasks without checking the time or offering energy to other people and/or social media. And I go to bed when my body feels tired and ready to sleep. There is no concept of time or deadlines. I allow my body to naturally tune in with itself and the earth. This helps separate my addiction to production by deadlines and my ability to enjoy each piece of what I accomplish.
How Do You Make Your Own Plan?
I know what you are thinking: “This recovery plan sounds great, I will copy it!” No! Do not copy my plan, instead create your own. Your needs, your body, and your mental health are different than mine. What your body and mind crave may not be the same as what my body and mind crave. So, instead of copying my plan, you can copy the questions I asked myself when creating this plan:
What am I feeling right now?
Where are these feelings coming from?
When I feel this way, what do I tend to do?
What have been my priorities lately?
When I prioritize this, what am I sacrificing?
What small changes can I make to not sacrifice my productivity or myself?
Listen to my body, what is it asking for?
Listen to my mind, what does it need?
After answering these questions, I realized that my depressive symptoms increase when I experience burnout. I isolate myself and give in to the depression. I do not listen to my body or my mind’s needs; I just listen to the focus on production. I tie my work to what I produce. Then, I decided on 4 things I could do to help change my answers from “negative” to “positive.”
So, I challenge you to listen to yourself and create your own burnout recovery plan. You got this!
In my opinion, the current emergency response system often overlooks the complexity of mental health crises. First of all, every mental health crisis looks different. One of the biggest misconceptions on mental health as a whole is that idea that there is one standard look to each mental illness. For example, society (and the DSM) put each mental illness into a box. Symptoms of depression, like hopelessness and sadness and fatigue, fit into one box; and symptoms of anxiety, like worrisome and overthinking, fit into another box. They often forget to take into consideration not only the overlap of two mental illnesses but also the root cause of the mental illness(es), such as genetics, brain chemistry, trauma, environmental factors, etc. Thus, even if two people have the same mental illness, that does not mean they have the same root cause. Different causes, different symptoms, different traumas, different resources accessible, different backgrounds, and more all create different ways of coping and reacting to a mental health crisis.
Why is this important? Without understanding the complexity of a mental health crisis, we cannot begin to form an approach that provides safety and support to individuals struggling.
Let’s look at the facts.
There are 4 million adults with untreated severe mental illness. Adults with severe mental illness make up:
Using data covering 2009-2012, a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that “one in five (21.7%) legal intervention deaths were directly related to issues with the victim’s mental health or substance-induced disruptive behaviors.”
Meanwhile, surveys by the National Alliance on Mental Illness have found that people in a mental health crisis are more likely to encounter police than to get medical attention, resulting in two million people jailed every year.
What is one of the top factors contributing to these statistics?
A lack of listening.
A few months ago, I was privileged to have the opportunity to share in a conversation with a licensed social worker. The social worker dedicates time to train police officers on how to properly approach and de-escalate a mental health crisis. During our conversation, we spoke about how the current emergency response system fails mental health and what we can do about it. The biggest concern she shared was a lack of truly listening.
What do I mean by a lack of listening? According to the social worker, when a police officer is dealing with an individual experiencing a mental health crisis, a few of the most important things they need to do are:
Be honest about what the process is. Ex. Are you taking them to jail? Are you taking them to a behavioral health facility?
Explain why. Ex. I have to take you to jail because … I have to take you to behavioral health facility because …
Actively Listen. Do not keep your head over the radio ignoring the person speaking. Do not interrupt the person speaking, allow them the space to speak.
Note: This is not inclusive of threatening situations where the police officer’s or civilians’ lives are in danger.
Remember, sometimes we just need someone to listen to us. If we offered a listening ear instead of assuming we know what to do, we can significantly reduce the number of fatalities and jail time for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT)
While I was speaking with the social worker, I learned a lot about Crisis Intervention Teams.
Recently, there have been amazing developments with the formation CITs which consist of specially trained police offers and mental health professionals. The goal of this team is to address and de-escalate a mental health crisis while also having the skillset required to manage unsafe situations, such as abuse and violence. Having both police officers and mental health professionals at the scene helps the individual struggling to receive emotional support, ensures there are options other than arrest (unless arrest is necessary) such as mental health treatment, and still offers the required skillset to navigate life-threatening situations. Some CITs even offer a follow-up care system, where they pick up the individual as they are released from a Behavioral Health hospitalization or jail following the mental health crisis. This is followed by helping to ensure the individual has a safety plan in place and offering resources to the individual and family.
Someone experiencing a mental health crisis is 16 times more likely to experience a fatal police encounter. We can work to significantly reduce this statistic. How? By engaging our lawmakers in conversations regarding mandating Crisis Intervention Teams. Paying attention to whom we are voting for as our city and county Sheriffs. By listening to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis (when not in immediate danger), instead of assuming the situation is dangerous.
Do I have to open up about my mental health to my partner? No, you do not. When you share information about your mental health and who you share it with is entirely up to you.
My rule of thumb is to share when you feel comfortable enough to receive their response. It is not about them; it is about you. When you are in the right frame of mind where their response (good or bad) will not affect your mental health, then it is a good time to share. However, if you are not comfortable with sharing, it is completely up to you.
To be honest, most of us fear judgement and lack of acceptance. This does not make us crazy or dramatic, it makes us human. As human beings, we tend to crave acceptance. And that is okay. The idea of being rejected can feel overbearing. The thought of being labeled can feel overwhelming. Therefore, knowing if, when, and how to open up can feel impossible.
Common reasons people want to open up.
To share more about yourself with your partner
Help your partner to understand that your emotional reactions may not always be reflective of problems within the relationship
To not have to feel like you are hiding a piece of yourself from your partner
To not live-in fear of how your partner may react if they found out.
Here are some examples of what you can share in an intentional mental health conversation.
How you are really feeling
What you have been going through
Ways they can offer support
Important things to remember.
How your partner reacts is not a reflection of you or your mental health status.
If they invalidate or judge you, then they are probably not the right person for you and your needs.
Your partner may need guidance on how to show they understand and are there for you. If they have never had a conversation about mental health, they may not know the right things to say. The conversation should be a collaboration of continuous growth and learning.
They may also need to feel supported and have their own mental health journey to share. Offer them space as well.