6 Simple and Effective Techniques to Curb Your Self-Defeating Perfectionism in 2021
The pursuit of perfection is the road to unhappiness.
Has anyone ever told you that you were a perfectionist? Perfectionism is a barrier to sound mental health and stands in the way of you developing sound wellness and wellbeing. But, have you ever tried to stop your perfectionism? People are quick to give off-the-cuff advice about things you should or shouldn’t do. Maybe they say, “Stop this”, or “Do that”, but it is rare that they follow their advice up with practical steps on how to change the habits they point out. In David Burn’s powerful and life changing book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, he spends a chapter outlining 15 practical techniques to overcome perfectionism. Our mental health counselors have chosen the top 6 of his simple and effective techniques that will help you to overcome perfectionism in 2021!
- Make a list of the Pros & Cons of being a perfectionist.
If you take some time to think about it, you might realize that your perfectionism isn’t really helping you. Have you ever stopped to wonder if your perfectionism does more harm than good? Perhaps you feel like it gives you an “edge,” but have you thought about the downsides? And what if you could perform just as well, or even better without it? Maybe it’s not that you’re successful because of your perfectionism, but rather that you are successful despite your perfectionism. The first simple tip is to take some time right now to write down a pros and cons list of being a perfectionist. You can do this on your phone, or on a piece of paper. Do the pros outweigh the cons? You may find that the advantages are pretty slim! If the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages, why don’t you give the advantages a second look and test them out.
The Pleasure of Perfection Experiment.
Try altering your standards in various activities so you can see how your performance reacts to high standards, middle standards, and low standards. You might be shocked to realize that by lowering your standards of perfection you will feel better about what you do and do it more effectively! Use the following experiment to test out the advantages of your perfectionism:
Believed advantage from your list of Pros: “My perfectionism makes me more effective.”
- Choose an Activity for example cleaning, reading, writing a report for work, cooking a meal for a loved one, or anything else in which you think striving for perfection makes you more effective.
- When you start that activity instead of trying to be 100% perfect, set the goal for 80% perfection, 60% perfection, or even 40% perfection.
- After completing the activity with a less then 100% perfection standard see how much you enjoy the activity and how well you completed that activity compared to before.
Now ask yourself, “Was I less effective? How much did I enjoy that activity?” You can try this with any task, and any standard of perfection. Give it a try and see what happens!
- Developing a Process Orientation
Another approach to curb your habit of perfectionism is to learn to adopt a processes orientation. Focusing simply on outcomes is a recipe for all-or-nothing thinking. When David Burns was a young therapist he held the belief that he had to do outstanding work with each client each session. When his patients benefited from a session he was on top of the world, but when a client responded poorly on the other hand, he’d feel miserable all day and tell himself he was a failure. Bringing this problem to his colleague Dr. Aaron Beck, he was told. “Imagine that you had a job driving a car to City Hall every day. Some days you hit mostly green lights and made great time. Other days you’d hit lots of red lights, and traffic jams and the drive would be much longer. Your driving skill would be the same each day, so why not feel equally satisfied with the job you did?” The Dr. Burns learned that instead of focusing on outcomes, he could focus on good, consistent effort at each session, regardless of how the patient responded. This process outlook guaranteed he could experience 100% success with the effort he put forth each day.
Emphasizing the process you are engaging in, rather than the outcome, provides a greater opportunity for learning and mastery. Appreciating your engagement, learning, and the effort you put forth on activities, protects you from your perfectionistic evaluation. It allows you to be more present in the moment, and to develop a sense of mastery. Try to focus on learning, development, and effort in activities you do, rather than a success or failure perspective. Ask yourself, what are some ways that you can focus on developing a process orientation in your life.
- Overcome perfectionism by setting strict time limits on all your activities for one week.
Place a time limit on how long you plan to engage in each of your daily activities for a week. This will help you focus on the flow of life and allow you to enjoy your time more fully rather then getting wrapped up in perfecting everything you do. If you want to be happy, set modest goals! Schedule your time in the morning and decide the amount of time you will budget on each activity. When the time is up, quit that activity whether or not you have completed it, and move on to the next project. Most people have a tendency to overestimate how much they are able to get done in a day. Your perfectionism likely becomes procrastination because you insist on doing everything so thoroughly. This means taking far longer than necessary to complete daily and weekly tasks. The result is an ever-growing to-do list that is never completed. At the end of the day you probably beat yourself up for not getting “enough” done. This is completely avoidable by more effective planning and placing time limits on activities. Instead of trying to completely organize your closet, set a time limit of 20-minutes each week. This way, you create a frequent habit, rather than a weekend cleaning frenzy! Planning your activities based on specific amounts of time promotes the development of healthy, sustainable habits, and helps you to move past your self-defeating perfectionism.
- Learn how to make mistakes.
Are you afraid of making mistakes? This may be holding you back from taking healthy risks! We can easily forget that mistakes are not all bad! This leads to trying to do everything perfectly. Mistakes give us an opportunity to learn, grow, and relate to each other. A powerful method for overcoming perfectionism is learning how to make mistakes. One helpful approach is to write an essay describing why it is both irrational and self-defeating to try to be perfect and to fear making mistakes. Writing a personal essay for yourself exploring why it is okay to make mistakes can help you to be more confident in your journey to give up perfectionism. Remember the world won’t come to an end because of a mistake you make! Writing a letter can be a tangible reminder that mistakes are okay, and that they allow us to learn and grow!
- Focus on your success’s not your failures.
Do you have a habit of only focusing on the ways you fall short? If you are a perfectionist, you probably have a tendency to focus only on the things you have not done perfectly, or that are incomplete. You end up ignoring and forgetting all the things you have done right. This can create an unhelpful and overly negative view of yourself and the world. It doesn’t make any rational sense to just focus on the things you have on your to do list, and completely forget all of the things you have already completed! Here is a very simple, but very effective technique to help you foster an attitude of appreciation and recognition for your accomplishments and successes both big and small.
Try this simple exercise to reverse this habit!
- Keep a piece of paper next to your bed.
- Before you go to sleep at night, go through your day and count all of the things you did right. Make sure to count all of them, nothing is too small!
- Write down that number of things you did right, or that you completed on your paper each day for two weeks and allow yourself to notice all the things you are doing right!
- Keep a weekly count of all the positive things you’ve done, and tasks completed.
This exercise will help you focus on the positives and have a more balanced perspective. Remember to count literally everything you do right! This might seem too simplistic, but just because it is simple, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. What do you have to lose?! Give it a try and see how you feel after two weeks.
- Use logic.
My personal favorite tool to use is this logical equation:
Premise One: All Human beings make mistakes.
Premise Two: I am a human being.
Conclusion: I make mistakes because I am a human.
If all humans make mistakes, and I am a human, then it follows that I will make mistakes because of my humanity. Logically you will and even should make mistakes. It’s in your nature! Next time you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, say to yourself, “I made that mistake because I am human,” or “That mistake just proves that I am human like everyone else,” or “Making a mistake doesn’t mean that I am a failure, it just means that I am a human.” Mistakes are a part of who we are; they are an essential part of our development.
You can take it one step further and ask yourself, “What can I learn from my mistake?” Write down one of the mistakes you have made and then list all the things you have learned from that mistake. Learning to appreciate mistakes helps us to realize that being perfect is not part of the human condition but learning and growing certainly is! In the words of David Burns, “If you were perfect, there’d be nothing to learn, no way to improve, and life would be completely void of challenge and the satisfaction that comes from mastering something that takes effort.”
The Pursuit of Perfection is the road to Unhappiness.
If you maintain a standard for evaluating your performance that you cannot ever meet you are going to make yourself miserable! If the standard of perfection doesn’t fit reality, why not give it up!? Perfectionism is founded on all-or-nothing thinking. Most of the time, it just steals our joy and satisfaction. If you look around you, how many things can really fit into an all-or-nothing mold? Is your room a complete mess, or are some (maybe even many) things out of place? Do you know anyone who is perfectly calm and confident all the time? All-or-nothing thinking doesn’t really fit life very often, and neither does perfection. Most importantly, you don’t need to be perfect to be happy. If you don’t believe me try this thought experiment, take a moment to imagine a time in your life when you were really happy. Close your eyes, and picture that moment in vivid detail. Now ask yourself, “What was perfect about that time or experience?” In all likelihood, nothing was completely perfect, but it didn’t stop you from being happy! You don’t need to be perfect. Just be you. This year, instead of seeking perfection, use these tips and techniques to focus on thriving as your own unique self.
This Post was adapted from Dr. David Burns book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
Burns, D. D. (2017). Dare to Be Average: Ways to Overcome Perfectionism. In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy(pp. 345-375). Blackstone Audio, Incorporated.
At this point, we are all aware that mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing help to protect us against contracting and spreading the Covid 19 virus.1 Taking this a step further, let’s ask ourselves: “What else can I do to prevent a viral infection? Does my diet and lifestyle really matter?
The answer is YES!!! The foundations of a healthy immune system start with a healthy diet and lifestyle. We are not powerless- Let’s discuss actionable steps we can take to protect our physical and mental health during this pandemic.
What we know: Scientists hypothesize that excessive inflammation, oxidative stress, depressed immune system, and an activate cytokine storm substantially contribute to the pathogenesis of COVID-192. So lets become a robust host!
4 CONSIDERATIONS TO BECOMING A ROBUST HOST
- Optimize Quality Sleep
- Reduce inflammation
- Eat a Whole Foods Diet
- Limit stress
Get Quality sleep
Sleep actually increases the ability and number of your white blood cells to fight viral infections more efficiently.3 On the other hand, sleep disturbance is associated with increases in markers of systemic inflammation.4
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Keep your bedroom cool & dark
- Avoid screen time and blue light exposure 2 hours before bed
- Wear blue light blocking glasses when using screens
Inflammation is a major feature in COVID-19 patients.2 Anti-inflammatory diets and melatonin causes a reduction in the pro-inflammatory cytokines.2 On the other hand, foods that are highly processed and/or contain chemical additives, trans-fats, oxidized fats and added sugars contribute to inflammation. 5
- Address blood sugar control
- Lower omega 6 fatty acid intake and increase omega 3 fatty acids.
- Eat melatonin rich foods like eggs, walnuts, oats, pistachios, pomegranates, and broccoli
- Avoid inflammatory oils: trans-fats, omega 6 vegetable oils like safflower, cottonseed, soybean, corn, canola
Eat a Whole Foods diet
80% of your immune system is in your gut. A high quality nutrient dense diet that focuses on eating whole plant-based foods that are rich in healthy fats and phytonutrients (multicolored fruits and vegetables) is foundational to decreasing overall inflammation.5 Nutrients found in whole foods plays a dual role in immunology, supporting immune surveillance while also reducing inflammation.5
- Eat a variety of color in your diet
- Incorporate herbs and spices like Turmeric, ginger, honey
- Focus on vitamin A, D, C, zinc, Quercetin (plant flavonol)
- Avoid processed foods and foods made with artificial chemicals
- Avoid sugar and alcohol
- Use targeted supplements suggested for you by your healthcare provider
Stress chemistry is inherently inflammatory.5 Physical activity helps to decrease inflammation at the right intensity (moderate levels effective at lowering inflammatory markers while intense exercise does not)5
- Do enjoyable physical activity (walking, yoga, dancing to music)
- Practice mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques (MBSR)
- Connect with others via phone calls and video chats.
- Take Epsom salt baths
- Diffuse essential oils like lavender
- Zhang R, Wang X, Ni L, Di X, Ma B, Niu S, Liu C, Reiter RJ. COVID-19: Melatonin as a potential adjuvant treatment. Life Sci. 2020 Jun 1;250:117583. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2020.117583. Epub 2020 Mar 23. PMID: 32217117; PMCID: PMC7102583.
- Dimitrov, S., Lange, T., Gouttefangeas, C., Jensen, A., Szczepanski, M., Lehnnolz, J., . . . Besedovsky, L. (2019, March 04). Gαs-coupled receptor signaling and sleep regulate integrin activation of human antigen-specific T cells. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://rupress.org/jem/article/216/3/517/120367/G-s-coupled-receptor-signaling-and-sleep-regulate
- Zhang R, Wang X, Ni L, Di X, Ma B, Niu S, Liu C, Reiter RJ. COVID-19: Melatonin as a potential adjuvant treatment. Life Sci. 2020 Jun 1;250:117583. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2020.117583. Epub 2020 Mar 23. PMID: 32217117; PMCID: PMC7102583.
- Yanuck SF, Pizzorno J, Messier H, Fitzgerald KN. Evidence Supporting a Phased Immuno-physiological Approach to COVID-19 From Prevention Through Recovery. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2020;19(Suppl 1):8-35.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 23, 2020 children mental health, wellness for kids0 comments
How to Praise Your Child
Kids are constantly begging for attention from parents. How you respond to their accomplishments and their success has a big impact on their emotional development and self esteem. Praising children through verbal encouragement and recognition can be one of the most effective approaches to teaching your child to develop good habits. It is one of the best tools you can use as a parent to ensure your kids learn important life lessons and learn healthy habits of success! Giving children praise is an important part of their development and will increase their wellness, but not all praise is created equal. In fact, some types of praise can backfire! There is a large and continually growing body of psychological research that has found that how you praise your child can have a significant effect on their sense of self-esteem and their psychological well-being! Perhaps most importantly, this research has found that certain praise can actually be harmful for your child! See what family therapists say is the best approach to raising emotionally resilient kids!
Not all Praise is Created Equal
Praise is the primary way that we reward children when they exhibit good behavior. When children demonstrate good behavior, rewarding them increases the likelihood that they will repeat that good behavior again in the future. This type of learning is based on the idea of positive reinforcement. We praise successes, both big and small, and try to build a sense of achievement and confidence in our children. Many parents hope that giving children frequent recognition and approval will build healthy habits as well as boost self-esteem. This is all done with good intentions, and may appear to make sense, but there is more to the picture of praise then you might realize! When we praise children, we are not just encouraging them, we are teaching them lifelong lessons about their own capacity for growth and development. If we believe that all praise is the same, we will likely fall victim to a simple mistake that can have lasting effects on our children and their development. All praise is not created equal.
Person-Praise vs. Process-Praise
Praise that focuses on the fixed traits or characteristics of a child is known as person-praise. The name is pretty straight forward; person-praise means that when children are successful, we praise their personal traits. An example of person-praise would be saying, “You are such a good student” when a child gets an A on an assignment. The second type of praise is called process-praise. When using process-praise, the praise focuses on recognizing the process the child carried out that led to their success. Rather than focusing on being a “good student,” which is a fixed trait, you would praise the process of work and dedication the child exhibited. An example of process-praise would be, “The time and effort you have been putting into to your school work has been awesome, and it really paid off on your test!” Process-praise teaches children that they have ownership and responsibility for their success. When your child succeeds, praise the process, not the person. Research has found that process-praise is one of the most effective and healthy ways to encourage your child, build resilience, and instill a strong sense of self-esteem.
When we praise our children, we are not just recognizing and encouraging successful habits. When we praise children, we are teaching them why they were successful. We either teach them that their success happened because of traits they have, or we teach them that they earned their success! Praising the child’s fixed abilities actually undermines their confidence and self-esteem. Often, as adults, we do not realize this, and we end up overemphasizing traits of the child rather than the things the child actually did to reach that success. We say things like, “You are so smart!” instead of saying “Wow, you have been working so hard at your school!” Praising the resilience and dedication that was part of the process of success is the key to fostering a healthy growth mindset and building a true sense of self-confidence in your child.
“Person-praise,” is the tendency to praise the fixed traits that a child possesses. Praising things like being pretty, smart, talented, good at math, intelligent, or a natural athlete are all examples of person-praise. When we praise these traits, we foster unhealthy beliefs about both success, and their personal worth. When we say things like “You are so smart,” or “You are such a good painter,” we are teaching children that they are praiseworthy because of fixed qualities that they possess. When a child is successful, and we praise their traits, we are telling them that their success is due to the traits that they have. This teaches them that the praise they receive is based on the qualities and characteristics they have, rather than the things they do. Research findings consistently demonstrate that person-praise reduces motivation, focuses students on their performance, and encourages them to compare their performance with that of others.
Praising these fixed traits influences the way children view themselves and their ability to change. Whether we realize it or not, we are teaching children to use all-or-nothing thinking, and to judge themselves and their abilities on fixed traits. This creates a “fixed mindset” and makes children more likely to limit their own potential and be harder on themselves when they fail. The lesson that they learn is, “I am successful because of the traits that I have and I can’t do much about it.” In praising the traits of the child, we teach them that success is something that happens to them, rather than something they can achieve. Instead of building self-confidence, we teach children to think with an all-or-nothing mindset.
Children learn to value the qualities that adults praise. In using praise that focuses on fixed trait’s, children learn that it is those fixed traits that adults’ value. In turn, they may come to believe that their value is fixed, based on the praiseworthy qualities that they do or do not possess. Rather than learning how to value themselves, children learn to evaluate themselves. Children learn to base their personal value on the number of good and praiseworthy traits they have and beat themselves up if they don’t measure up! Even though we are trying to build a sense of confidence by telling them how great they are, we teach children that their worth and success is based on a fixed set of characteristics that they cannot control. Ultimately receiving person-praise teaches the child all-or-nothing thinking and fosters an internal dialogue of comparison and self-criticism. In trying to build self-esteem, we destroy it. We teach children that their value, like their success, is based on their fixed traits.
When you focus on praising the process of success you emphasize the effort, dedication, and problem solving that the child used to succeed. Process-praise also includes recognizing and praising when a child asks for help in appropriate situations. Recognizing and praising the process, teaches your child that they have the ability to determine their own success and get through difficult situations. Process-praise teaches the child that they have self-control, and they have the ability within themselves to improve. It focuses on the good things the child does, rather than what qualities the child has. Focusing on things like effort, the investment of time, creative problem solving, persistence, and dedication are all ways to give process-praise.
As a parent, pointing out the free choices your child made gives them the opportunity to take ownership of those choices, and take ownership of their success! Praising the process of success teaches children that they achieved success through their problem solving, effort, and asking for help when necessary. This builds a true sense of accomplishment, fosters accurate self-confidence based on their experience, and develops a sense of self-determination. Children learn that their brains are flexible, and their abilities can be developed. Success becomes something children can achieve through hard work, diligence and practice, rather than something that happens to them. Process-praise creates a “growth mindset” which instills a sense of hope for the future and also teaches responsibility for actions. Praising things such as effort, problem solving, dedication, thinking creatively, and appropriately asking for help teaches the child that their worth does not depend on their traits or characteristics, or the approval of other people. It teaches them those habits are valuable and good, but success or fixed traits are not what give them value.
The idea of using process praise instead of person praise has been applied in schools and classrooms, but it is especially applicable now as many parents find themselves working as teachers aids in the “virtual classroom,” aka the living room! With some extra mental effort, you can learn to reframe unhealthy person-praise, to be focused on effort, dedication, and problem solving. Learning this type of approach can be difficult at first, so here are a couple of examples to illustrate the difference between person-praise & process-praise.
The Way You Praise Success Matters Most When Children Fail
Shortcomings and failures are an inevitable aspect of being human. We all experience failure in large and small ways, and our children do too! Whether we use process-praise, or person-praise has a tremendous impact on our children’s thinking when they experience these failures. If we teach our children to have a fixed mindset by telling them things like “You are so good at Math, good job!” then when they don’t do well they will assume it is because of their traits, rather than a lack of effort or dedication. Person-praise fails to teach children that they could improve through effort and dedication and they can learn better at math skills! When children experience continual person-praise, failure decreases motivation due to faulty beliefs about the reason for their failure. If they learn that success is due to personal traits, then failure is also due to fixed traits and there is nothing you can do about it. This ultimately results in children being less likely to apply themselves in classes, or areas where they struggle. Person-praise undermines self-control. Instead of realizing that they need to put more effort and time into math they label themselves saying, “I’m just not a math person.” or “My brain just doesn’t work that way.” Failure, like success, is falsely believed to be determined by personal traits, rather than effort.
Person-praise teaches children that if they fail, it is because they lack some quality or trait. In reality, it is due to the lack of a skill, lack of dedication, or poor problem solving. Skill, dedication, and problem solving are all flexible traits and can be developed and improved! Process-Praise teaches children that if they fail it is because of what they did or didn’t do, and that gives them the opportunity to adjust their approach. When we use process-praise we teach children that they can learn from failure and mistakes. Children learn that they have the control to adapt and learn based on their experiences of failure. Failure becomes an opportunity for growth, rather than a reason for harsh personal judgement.
Praise the Process, Not the Person
Remembering to praise the process can have a very beneficial effect on your children from infancy to young adulthood! It instills an attitude of growth and development. It also teaches them a valuable lesson about their own ability to overcome difficult situations through problem solving, dedication or asking for help when necessary. Praising the process of success in children creates a foundation for a sense of self determination, and healthy independence in adulthood. When praising your child, try to remember to focus on what your child did that made them successful, or their effort that helped them act in a praiseworthy way. Look for things like dedication, or creative problem solving, and encourage your child to continue working on those flexible abilities! By doing this, you can teach your child about their capacity for development and success, and you instill a healthy growth mindset! Just remember, praise the process, not the person.
Bayat, M. (2011). Clarifying Issues Regarding the Use of Praise with Young Children. Topics in Special Education, 31(2), 121-128.
Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. London: Robinson.
Henderlong, J. & Lepper, M. (2002). The Effects of Praise on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation: A Review and Synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 774-795.
Maclellan, E. (2005). Academic achievement: the role of praise in motivating students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 6(3), 194-206.
Master, A. (2015, August). Praise That Makes Learners More Resilient. Retrieved from http://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Praise-That-Makes-Learners-More-Reslient.pdf
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 1, 2020 clinical herabalist, clinical herbalist pittsburgh0 comments
Annie Fox Derek (She/Her/They/Them) is a clinical herbalist, animist, and folk healer. They have over 10 years of experience studying plants, first completing a BS in Plant Biology, followed by 4 years of study in clinical herbalism with Ola Obasi at the Well of Indigenous Wisdom School. Since then, they have trained with herbalists and folk healers from around the world, and devoted countless hours of independent study to learning the local edible and medicinal flora of western Pennsylvania. They also helped to start the Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People and have taught about herbal medicine and foraging to hundreds of people throughout Pittsburgh and beyond.
Annie promotes health sovereignty with the use of natural, sustainable, and often local plant and herbal agents, they encourage people to feel actively engaged and empowered in their own health and wellness. They believe deeply in the holistic nature of healing, the connection between mind, body, emotions, and spirit, and the profound wisdom and love that plant medicines have to offer each of us.
Are you wondering what to expect as a client or participant in a Herbal Consultation?
You can expect during an herbal consultation that Annie will ask you about your medical, mental health, and psycho-social or personal history to gauge exactly what barriers and strengths she may enlist in the optimization of your wellness. Annie is respected for her use a variety of clinical diagnostic tools to better understand your personal constitution. Following the session, they will create a unique wellness plan for you that includes hand-blended herbal formula(s), dietary/nutrition suggestions, and personalized rituals to help you on your journey towards wellness. Follow-up sessions will track progress and offer the opportunity to adjust herbal formulas as needed.
How long do Herbalist Appointments Last?
Each session is one hour long and can be offered in person in Pittsburgh or Telehealth. A typically duration of treatment for herbalist support can vary from 1-10 sessions depending on the severity of your concerns and the kinds of modifications that are utilized to strengthen and enhance your wellness. Appointments include the opportunity to order dried plants and herbs directly from Annie Fox Derek.
Annie specializes in deep listening, holding non-dual awareness, and cultivating loving acceptance, all with a healthy dose of playfulness. Their favorite activities include exploring local forests and swimming holes, participating in earth-based rituals and ceremonies, talking to plants, singing around fires, playing board games with friends, and hanging out with their feline companion, Nimbus. They are actively engaged in decolonization and anti-racism practices and carry this throughout their work.
Annie is available for telehealth and in-person consultations at the Pittsburgh Counseling and Wellness Center location.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 15, 2020 hypersomnia, insomnia, sleep disorder, sleep hygiene0 comments
Sleep hygiene is a science formulated to help people overcome disrupted rest by removing any barriers that a person might be unknowingly creating that prevent against deep and complete rest. According to the American Sleep foundation, 47% of Americans report poor quality sleep has affected their daily performance in the last month. As mental health counselors know, there is a significant relationship between sleep and well being. Finding solutions for better rest are vital when your health is on the line, research suggests that sleeplessness can accelerate cancer, erode cognitive performance, and it also impacts mental well being in a variety of ways. Did you know that not getting enough rest can activate many mood disorders including bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression? In fact, sleep disruptions are a very common complaint among those who are seeking treatment for mental health disorders. Of course, most people have experienced a sleepless night as a result of a situational challenge or period of stress. There is a lot to lose when it comes to sleep but more than ever so many are so sleep deprived. By now you are likely wondering what you can do to enhance your sleep. This is where sleep hygiene comes into practice. There are some evidence-based ways to help you achieve a more restful state. Simultaneously, there are certain sleep disorders such as parasomnia, insomnia, and hypersomnia which should be ruled out with a medical or mental health counselor.
Know your sleep type! There are two primary types of sleepers, night owls and roosters, night owls are biologically programmed to sleep and wake a little later. Roosters crow at the sun, roosters, will do best to find a job routine that can be done early in the morning. Same goes for night owls, their peak performance will be later in the day. For both of these types of people, constructing a life that honors biology will do a lot for wellness and emotional wellbeing. For example, a rooster shouldn’t take the night shift if they want to feel their best.
Have a good routine- Routine is paramount to having improved quality and quantity of sleep. Find a regular hour in which you can rest. When you achieve a regular schedule, your body will be responding to multiple environmental cues that will help falling asleep and staying asleep easier. You should really be aiming for 7/8 hours per night so plan to go to bed that amount of time before your alarm clock will start buzzing.
Limit screen time at least an hour before bed. Our eyes are brimming with light receptors which are impacted by the screens we look at. When you are reading your email or social media account your brain is getting a large dose of light that signals to wake up! Limit exposure to at least an hour before bed to give your brain a chance to relax.
Spending time outdoors in the morning– The light from the sun helps us to become more alert in the morning giving our bodies higher energy. By maximizing exposure in the early hours we can find our way to relaxation in the evening. If a morning walk is not your thing, some people enjoy ‘sungazing.’
Work out in the am– Multiple studies have shown that working out in the am morning hours does help fitness friends to sleep better in the evening. Interestingly however, having an evening work out has not shown any effect on sleep.
Lengthen your exhale- When using your breath as a relaxation tool, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. It works like this, by lengthening your exhalation to be longer than your inhalation, for example inhale for a count of 6 and exhale for a count of 8, do this 10 times. This small but powerful technique is a potent relaxant as you are attempting to drift off to a deep slumber.
Limit Caffeine- Be mindful of what you are consuming, the half life of caffeine is quite long, if you are drinking caffeinated beverages after 1 or 2 pm, it will still be in your system at 8 or 9pm. Try to limit caffeine to one cup upon waking and the same goes with sugar.
Try Essential Oils- Many people find that a calming essential oil will help them achieve a more relaxed and restful state. Scents such as lavender and chamomile are widely used as a part of night time routines.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 21, 2020 self care month, sex therapist, sexual wellness, Uncategorized0 comments
May is Self Care Month! In honor of that, let’s explore a form of self care that might not be the first thing you think of when you think about wellness. When the oxygen masks drop on the plane you always put on your own before helping someone else. This is self-care. The actions you take to keep all dimensions of your own health (physical, emotional, social, spiritual, mental) as strong as possible so that you can continue performing at your peak, whether at home, at work, or in your personal life. The phrase ‘self-care’ has made its rounds in mainstream media and for many people may include a spa day, sleeping in, or saying ‘no’ to certain obligations. However, one activity, self-pleasure or masturbation, has not gotten the credit it deserves as the ultimate form of self-care. Sex therapist Lauren Aikin-Smith from Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh shares her expertise in masturbation as a form of self care.
To start, anyone can masturbate. It isn’t restricted by wealth, gender identity, body shape/size, ability, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. It’s easily adjustable based on your other life factors. For example, you can get it done in a few minutes while the kids are napping or leisurely take up an afternoon if you have the time. It can be done alone or with a partner(s). It’s cost effective and fits every budget. It can fit everyone’s personal style and isn’t limited to just involving the genitals, but may include a bubble bath, rubbing lotion on your body, or even involve other erogenous zones like the ears, scalp, and nipples.
Self-pleasure simultaneously has positive effects on the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions of health. The sensations, relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness that accompany masturbation promote the release of endorphins and oxytocin, even without achieving orgasm. Orgasm is accompanied by a surge of dopamine, activating the brain’s reward pathways. The endorphins and flow of blood throughout the body help release pent up energy, and promote stress and pain relief throughout the body by relieving stress, tension, headaches, and period cramps. Finally, there is a release of serotonin which is responsible for good mood and relaxation and can help promote sleep, another essential aspect of self-care.
Self-pleasure connects the mind and body, and can help you better understand what arouses and turns you on. It can help you recognize how your body responds to touch, sounds, and smells. Over time, you’re able to get a better sense of the sensations and movements that are pleasurable for you, which in turn also promotes body positivity.
Masturbation is empowering. You will never be in control of all aspects of your life, and many times you may feel like you aren’t in control of much at all, but, you can at least be in control of your own pleasure. You don’t need to rely on someone else for pleasure, it can be all your own.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, masturbation is the ultimate form of self-care because through all the craziness of life, it allows for a few moments that are focused solely on nothing other than your own personal gratification. The only way any of us are going to make it through life is by making time for ourselves, for our self-care, and for personal pleasure.
To discuss any sexual or intimate health concerns with one of our licensed counselors or sex therapists, call us at 412-322-2129 for an appointment.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 2, 2020 best ways to build self care plan, mental health matters0 comments
We hear lots of people taking about self care these days but what actually is it? Is there a right way to do it? I hope to answer some of these questions for you today because mental health matters and you matter. Self care can be defined as any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. Most of us are crazy busy, we have stressful jobs, are taking care of children or aging family members or are too consumed with technology to make time for ourselves. “Me time” is usually last on our agenda and we can often feel guilty about taking the time required to take care of ourselves. Self care is not selfish. We can’t take care of others well if we don’t take the time to care for ourselves and good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced stress and anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with ourselves and others. So, where do you start? It’s important to build a self care plan. Begin by sticking to the basics for now and overtime you’ll find a routine that works for you. Overtime, you can implement more and more specific items into your plan. In the meantime here are some basic principles of self care to help get you started:
- Eat right- the right foods can help improve memory, combat inflammation and promote good gut health. All of which can have a direct impact on your physical and emotional health. If you have questions or want to learn more about this consider setting up a consultation with a nutritionist.
- Sleep- make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, establishing a healthy bedtime routine can promote deeper and more restful sleep. Avoid sugar and caffeine before bed and help reduce distractions such as light and electronics in your bedroom
- Physical exercise- this can mean lots of different things for different people. This can be a walk with your family in the evening or by yourself at lunch, swimming, or yoga. The type of activity isn’t as important as choosing something you enjoy and can commit to your schedule
- Schedule time away- this can be as simple a taking a half day to spend at the park or an extravagant weekend getaway
- Take care of your spiritual needs- this can be attending religious services, meditation, prayer, spending time in nature or making a gratitude list
- Learning to say “no” and setting boundaries- this can mean you don’t check email after business hours, don’t attend events or gatherings that you don’t want to or don’t take on additional tasks that you don’t have the time or energy for
- Get organized- get a planner for tasks or appointments, this can be especially helpful in scheduling your self care time or spend time prepping lunches so you have more time in the morning for an extra cup of tea and some meditation
- Spend time with loved ones and people that are important to you
- Lastly if you work in a field with high burnout rates seek consultation and supervision from mentors and peers to help reduce stress
Self care will look different for everyone for some it’s getting up 15 minutes earlier to practice deep breathing or journaling before the day begins. For others it’s an evening run, but just like many other things self care takes practice. I challenge you to commit to adding one self care element to your schedule for 2 weeks and see the difference it makes in your life and relationships.
Written By: Nicole Monteleone, MA, LPC, NCC
If you are looking for a counseling center near you, reach out to our reception team monday through friday from 9-5 and we will be glad to get you an appointment with one of our licensed counselors in 4 convenient locations, Counseling Pittsburgh, Counseling Wexford, Counseling Monroeville, Counseling South Hills.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 28, 2019 gratitude, gratitude challenge, reframing cognitive distortions, thanksgiving0 comments
The Real Gratitude Challenge
It’s Thanksgiving and everyone wants to talk about turkey and gratitude. Newsfeeds and flyers encourage us to take the ‘gratitude challenge’ by sharing how happy we are for our kids, our marriage, families, our job, our house. Nowonder, according to the National Institute of Health, gratitude can help us increase our life satisfaction and mental health! Oh, how nice that is! Things really are so well and good through the lens of this gratitude, but isn’t it almost too easy when we simply share what is great? I want to talk about a different kind of gratitude, the dark side of gratitude if you will, this is what I call a gratitude challenge. It is not the shiny happiness and gloating we feel when everything works out just the way we want it, but instead, this gratitude challenge, is the kind of gratitude that we can choose to cultivate when we are sitting on a big tall mountain of suck. In this vast beautiful adventure of life, reality more often than not smacks us in the face, universal are the experiences of hurt, loss, and grief. Yet, even more important than making a mental note of gratitude for all of the ways that we are blessed, our mindset truly evolves when we deliberately choose to frame our losses in one beset by gratitude.
Of course on the day that you get the job, and then again when you land the promotion, you are elated, but can you be grateful for those years of success and comradery even when you get the news that company is downsizing and you are handed your severance? Of course, you are beaming at the altar on the day that you say “I do” to the love of your life, but can you still find gratitude when you are headed to marriage counseling because you’re in conflict and bickering about who is doing more cleaning around hte house? Of course, you will be joyful on the day when you learn that you have finally conceived the child you have been yearning for but can you still be grateful that it has happened when their little heart stops beating in utero? Of course, you are thrilled when you finish the marathon in 2nd place, but what can you choose to be grateful for when you have knee replacement surgery from all of that running?
Choosing gratitude amidst the sucky moments of life doesn’t mean that we pretend it’s all ok. Instead, we do not try to block the hurt of our losses, we feel the devastation and despair deeply because let’s be honest here, we have no choice! Some things in life will rip the wind right out of our lungs and bring such agonizing hurt that we will fall to our knees in the pain of it. Yet, the difference is that we choose to live in the memory of the joy that they brought us, we choose to be grateful that the wonders in life have happened no-matter how long or short they stay with us. Cognitive behavioral therapy instructs us to reframe the despair of our cognitive distortions, we do not allow misery or grief to frame the pictures of our memories or the loss in our life. The gratitude challenge is to be penetrated by the suffering of a life well lived but then to hunt like a little scavenger for every little bit of joy, peace, and hope that our experiences have shown to us. Some days that might mean that we are grateful to know that they pain won’t last forever and allow ourselves to contemplate the gratitude for that. When you get here and can nurture this sort of perspective, you take a little bit of power and direction back to your life. On Thanksgiving and every day, the decision to live a life peppered in gratitude is yours. So go ahead, take the challenge, how grateful can you be, what about your pile of suck can you be grateful for?
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 30, 2019 self care, self care strategies for mental wellbeing0 comments
Self-Care Strategies That Promote Positive Mental Well-Being
It’s safe to say most of us would rather be happy than unhappy. However, sometimes it’s easy to roll through life allowing your attitude to be shaped, rather than taking steps to increase your own happiness. With that in mind, read on for key self-care strategies you can add to your lifestyle that help promote positive mental well-being.
Stay Connected as a Couple
Are you in a long-term relationship? If so, you probably are well aware that all couples go through ups and downs, and sometimes intimacy can suffer during the down cycles. You might not feel very affectionate when times are tough, but Healthline points out that there are worthwhile health benefits associated with intimacy. For instance, hugging someone dear to your heart can lower your blood pressure, and kissing for just 30 seconds can boost dental hygiene. Beyond that, couples who are intimate on a routine basis lower risk for prostate cancer and heart disease, and they give their immune systems a lift.
One of the toughest times in life for many couples is the period following a baby’s birth. New parents are exhausted, and there may be periods when they feel the workload is unbalanced.
To keep things healthy and happy, consider setting aside time for one-on-one, routine date nights. If you can’t get out of the house, simply enjoying a movie and cuddling on the couch with your favorite healthy takeout can help you feel connected and close.
Gut Health for General Health
Are you familiar with the tiny world living inside your digestive tract? There are trillions of microscopic organisms that dwell inside your gut, and how well they are balanced can have a profound impact on your overall wellness.
As such, it’s important to read up on some key players in gut health; for instance, if your Akkermansia is low it can contribute to weight gain. Also, if you’re feeling stressed, more L. helveticus and B. longum might help you feel more relaxed.
Beyond those few, your metabolism, attitude, energy levels, immune function, and general digestion are just a handful of things directly affected by certain gut bacteria. Becoming more familiar with the various key players can help you identify issues and adjust your diet, or you can add a supplement as needed.
If You Don’t Snooze, You Lose
Sleep sometimes gets an undeserved reputation as a lazy, pointless activity. However, getting enough sleep each night can make a big difference in your well-being. There are benefits galore, from raised productivity to improved calorie regulation. It can help you ward off depression, lower your risk of heart disease, and improve your performance in the gym. While you sleep, your mind and body make repairs from the day before and prepare you for the next day, so ensure proper sleep hygiene is part of your self-care plan.
Tuck points out that sleep hygiene begins with a healthy bedtime routine. By doing the same thing to relax each night before bed, and by doing it at the same time, you condition your mind and body to recognize the signs that sleep is coming. Try spending some time meditating, sipping herbal tea, or listening to soothing music.
Also, address any issues with your sleep environment. Keep your room free of noise and distractions, aim for a cool temperature, and ensure the room is dark. Earplugs, adding a room air conditioner, and blackout curtains can make a big difference if you have ongoing issues.
Positive mental well-being is something all of us prefer, yet sometimes we struggle finding it. Staying connected with your partner, tending your gut health, and ensuring sufficient sleep can go a long way toward helping you feel better. Try making these simple self-care strategies part of your routine — you’re worth it!
Brad Krause, Self Caring Strategies.comLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 10, 2019 why its important to take care of your mental health0 comments
This Is Why its important to take care of your mental health
By: Melissa Howard
One in five American adults experiences some form of a mental disorder each year, yet only 25 percent feel that others show them any compassion due to the negative stereotypes often associated with mental health disorders. Sadly, this can prevent individuals from getting proper treatment, or disclosing their condition in the workplace for fear of losing their job. Matters can become even more complicated if someone is dealing with persistent and irrational fears, otherwise known as paranoia, or general anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is like a proverbial vice in that it causes stress and prevents one from carrying on with daily activities. To an outsider, these individuals appear high-strung, neurotic, and perfectionist because of their anxious personalities. Researchers have concluded that this behavior is caused by a dysfunction in parts of the brain responsible for dealing with fear, emotion, and memory.
While medication and psychotherapy are two of the top ways to control the side effects, self-care is equally as important for maintaining mental and physical health in the present and in the future. Here are some ways to make conscious, daily efforts to nurture your own well-being.
Banish Any Bad Habits
Whether it’s cigarettes, binge drinking, or experimenting with drugs, your entire being is compromised by bad habits. It’s only logical, as when you’re feeling poor physically, it’s going to affect the way you feel mentally, too. First, determine whether the monkey on your back is too heavy for you to lift off on your own. If so, seek the necessary treatment, such as rehab or a nicotine patch. Of course, this is easier said than done, but in many cases, it’s a matter of life or death. Consider confiding in a trusted friend or family member if you’re scared about next steps — it’s likely that they’ve already noticed something is wrong.
Learn To Become More Present
Being paranoid can conjure up irrational thoughts like thinking about dying in a natural disaster or losing a job. Taking up yoga can help you be more present while feeling grounded and getting a grasp on reality. In fact, doctors are actually recommending it as a complementary, holistic therapy. The gentle poses and breathwork from a vinyassa yoga class have been known to improve sleep, and reduce panic attacks and overall anxiety levels, not to mention it’s a great practice for building strength, increasing flexibility, and improving balance. The average cost of a yoga class ranges from $12 to $16, but prices go down if you pay for multiple sessions.
Set Aside Time to Get Organized
Getting organized and keeping your house clean, believe it or not, can go a long way toward improving your mental health. Not only can organizing your possessions help reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep you get each night, but it can also reduce the symptoms of depression and help you become more productive. Once you have everything organized, consider bringing in a maid service to give your home a good deep cleaning, which is a surprisingly affordable option. For example, in Pittsburgh, a one-time cleaning will run you between $93 and $204, depending on the size of your property.
Embrace Alone Time
While you don’t want to isolate yourself, taking advantage of having ‘alone time’ can be beneficial for one’s mental health. Not only can it help you to focus on self-help, but it also boosts creativity, increases productivity, allows you to explore personal interests, and provides a sense of empowerment. Taking time for yourself also makes it easier to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, preparing a healthy meal, and exercising. When you learn how to be comfortable with yourself, the easier it is to be confident in social situations.
Don’t worry about the stigmas surrounding mental illness. Instead, establish a supportive network who understands that life can sometimes be challenging for you. For some, family and friends are enough of a support system, but others may be more comfortable adding a network of like-minded individuals into the mix. Talk to your doctor about getting a referral for a local support group in your area — you may need to try a couple of different ones out to find the right fit. You need not feel the pressure to participate. Sometimes, just listening to others share similar stories, concerns, and successes are enough.
Photo Credit: PixabayLearn More