In a typical workout regimen, you probably do a specific move ranging from 8-15 times in a row. You most likely repeat that set 2-3 times for a total of around 30 reps.
Can you imagine if you practiced one specific skill you learned in therapy 30 times in one day? You would have it down pat in NO time.
Oftentimes, the most challenging part of counseling is not what clients are able to accomplish and explore in session, but what they are able to continue exploring and addressing between sessions. The efforts of putting into practice what clients know will better their lives and relationships make all the difference. Think of your emotional and mental health as another muscle in your body that must be nourished and worked on consistently in order to gain lasting results.
So, while you’re working on those pull ups or crunches this week, here are a few mental health exercises to incorporate into your day. Start with one, and as you strengthen that skill, add another.
1. Anxiety Tool: The Red Stop Sign
Did you know you can take your thoughts captive? A simple tool that many counselors will tell clients to use is the red stop sign. If you experience racing thoughts, excessively negative our outlandish thoughts (always thinking the worst or focusing on what could go wrong), this tool may be for you.
It’s simple: visualize a red stop sign and immediately bring your mind to a halt. Let yourself take a few deep breaths and center yourself. Bring yourself into the present moment. Practice using the red stop sign, and let yourself find a healthier alternative such as writing down the thoughts you are having, talking to a friend, or reading some encouraging words. Once you begin to interject in the racing thought process, you can begin to change it.
2. Reflective Listening
This is one of my favorite skills. Once you really have it down, you will notice how simple it is. Reflective listening takes out the need to fix, answer, or really respond at all to what others say. It is really a winning skill because it leaves the listener feeling heard and focused on. It allows you to really get in touch with what someone is thinking and feeling. You will also probably be surprised to find that, more often than not, people tend to talk themselves into a solution versus needing you to help them decide what they should do about something.
“It sounds like…” (reflect back exactly what you heard the person say. Do it verbatim if you need to at first, just to get into the habit.)
“So what you’re saying is…”
“What I’m hearing you say is…”
Person A: “I’m so sick of my job. My boss acts so paranoid all the time and I haven’t been able to take a lunch for almost a week because we are so backed up with projects. I seriously can’t stand it there anymore.”
Person B: “Wow. It sounds like work is really crazy right now; you’re boss is acting paranoid and you haven’t even been able to take normal breaks for lunch. It sounds like you don’t know how much longer you can take it there!”
(Notice how there is no answer in this response; it’s really just reflecting back pretty much everything Person A just expressed.)
5. Write down 5 things you are thankful for that day.
If you start doing this daily, I bet you will notice a shift in your perception after a few weeks (or sooner). You will notice that, by focusing on what is going well, you will begin to feel and see the abundance your life already has. This is probably one of the most basic gratitude practices there is. All it requires is a pen, paper, and about 30 seconds of your time. No need to overdo it- these can be simple things:
I’m thankful for my job.
I’m thankful for the jerk at my job who reminds me to practice compassion.
I’m thankful for the woman who let me go first at the 4-way stop.
I’m thankful for the sunrise I got to watch on my way to work.
I'm thankful for my sister's funny text this morning that made me laugh.
Work out that gratitude muscle. The results will feel great.