The Importance of Keeping Busy

The idea of ‘keeping busy’ may seem exhausting to an already overworked generation of individuals out there in the workforce. They can’t bear the thought of adding one more thing to their packed schedule and may wonder about the sustainability of their ventures. In theory, these individuals know the merits of relaxation, however, the messaging may seem at odds at first to find that a healthy existence values both.  Keeping busy involves one’s ability to separate the important from the trivial. It is dependent upon prioritizing what actions are meaningful and pursuing them while refraining from getting caught up with those that waste precious time. A person who keeps themselves busy embraces change and hard work and acts accordingly to achieve their goals in life.

Staying busy for your mental health

However, for those who are anxious or depressed, their life likely reflects a diminished capacity to go on with ‘life as usual’ or to do things that they would otherwise enjoy were they not experiencing such mood disorders. They have likely lost sight of all values for their life, of pursuing health, security, personal growth or development, of taking time to build positive relationships or make time for social activities.  Truly, it can become a vicious cycle, as inactivity can be a source of depression, of boredom and unhappiness, and it is these individuals that most benefit from creating more structure and activity in their daily lives. To be clear, however, the advice is not simply to fill your days with more Netflix, or more “chill”. It is getting your butt out of bed, out of the house, even if it is just a walk to the end of the block to start. 

Behavioral Activation Strategies

Behavioral Activation is a specific Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique that focuses on the ability of our actions to influence how we feel and is the process for assisting individuals in creating routines to fill their life with positive practices.  Think of your mind as a car’s battery, that has gone cold from not being used in a long time. It will likely have a hard time getting started, or building any sort of momentum. This is what it’s like to be depressed– You become more detached from people, places and things that once brought you joy. Behavioral activation, in this case, is like the jumper cables, that presents a strategy to activate the proverbial “stalled engine” by helping you regain your focus by closely examining yourself and daily routine. Researchers have found behavioral activation to be slightly superior to medication because it shifts away from cognitions and feelings to focus on an individual’s behavior and environment and works to identify and observe patterns of behavior. Negative life events such as grief, trauma, life stressors, or even just having a genetic tendency toward depression can lead someone turn to unhealthy behaviors like alcohol and drug use, or even social withdrawal in an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable emotions associated with certain activities. Behavioral activation will not only help in replacing negative avoidance behaviors with new ones but it also increases the amount of positive reinforcement a person experiences in real life. One main symptom of depression is loss of interest in things that were enjoyable. In this case, this therapy can help an individual engage more enjoyable activities and experience the rewards of feeling accomplished and even leading to having a sense of meaning.    Working with a therapist and implementing behavioral activation strategies will also encourage people to schedule enjoyable experiences and taking actions that steer them toward a positive solution and goal. Consequently, it moves them past the paralyzing inaction that once locked them in the clasps of depression.

Professional Self Care

Anyone who has worked a day in their life will likely know a thing about the stress that working day-in and day-out brings. Second only to worries concerning financial matters, one’s work life is the second-biggest cause of stress in the US, an even more impressive number when considering how inextricably linked are our finances and profession. In an effort to understand today’s workplace culture, The American Institute of Stress reported that among other concerning statistics, over half interviewed stated that they often spend 12-hour days on work-related duties and an equal number frequently skip lunch because of the stress of job demands. Without attention to our professional self-care, we run the risk of becoming more self-critical, less focused and stressed. Procrastination of tasks and getting distracted can make employees feel like they are stagnant, overwhelmed, and unable to get out from under a massive workload.

For Yourself

Ideally, you will have found yourself on a career path where you have been able to cultivate an opportunity to ‘Love what you do, and do what you love’. True, working in an environment or a field that doesn’t fit your personality and your goals can cause burnout, depression, and anxiety. However this is not always the case, and we are not always so lucky. While you may need to contemplate a career change, take the time to first think about what you are putting into your current situation. In any given day, identify the aspects of the job that you find most exciting or are most passionate about. Use these as rewards for completing more menial tasks. Best practice suggests setting manageable goals each day and giving yourself 2-3 prioritized tasks to focus on. When you feel overwhelmed, remember that it is often all in our mindset. When we procrastinate, the magnitude of what we need to accomplish appears to only grow until it seems impossible. However, remind yourself that you are capable and it is possible. Divide it up into smaller tasks, and complete the smallest bit until you work up your confidence to achieve more.

Your Workspace

Take pride in the space that you work in. Whether that means a minimalist and organized work station, or one filled with motivational quotes and mantras; remember that where you spend your time affects the way that you feel about yourself and your work. Perhaps taking the time to clean up an overflowing mail pile seems tedious, however, it might be that this is the task needed to truly clear your mind. Maybe it’s bringing in a new set of sticky notes or your favorite pens; incorporate things into your work life that bring excitement and rejuvenate your spirit.   Arrange your workspace so that it is comfortable and inviting, and don’t be afraid to mix it up, especially if yours is the type of job where you are able to do work from home or at a coffee shop a couple of hours or days a week.

Throughout Your Day

Remember that a balanced day is the key to a balanced life. Give yourself permission to schedule in “white space”, or time to decompress. Take regular breaks, especially after completing difficult tasks, whether this looks like chatting with your colleagues, a walk to the coffee shop, having lunch outside and away from your desk, or taking a walk around the block to ‘get your steps in’.   In all these ways, self-care is vital for individuals that are prone to feeling burnout, especially when other areas of life are suffering. The steps to alleviating this are simple: first, identify when you are starting to feel overwhelmed and tempted to resort to procrastination. Start small, build on existing routines and good habits you already have in place, and remember that self-care is a practice rather than a quick fix.   Our physical, mental and social health are often threatened by a world that prioritizes productivity over the needs of individuals. To counter this phenomenon and achieve an overall state of wellness, it is therefore important to structure your life in ways that suggest the importance of self-care through developing habits that improve your physical, intellectual (psychological, emotional and spiritual) and social well-being (relational and professional).   At Riviera Recovery, we are dedicated to helping you develop the habits that you need to succeed in life. Give us a call today to find out more!

Spiritual Self Care

Many people might overlook this aspect of self-care, despite its absolute importance for maintaining our mental health. pea Regardless of your religious beliefs, do not fall into the error of reading this section quickly or skipping it completely. Indeed, taking care of oneself spiritually is not only about simply believing in a deity but about the connection with something greater than ourselves, and applies to atheists, agnostics and non-religious people. True, due to a rise in modern reliance on reason over faith, Americans seem to be looking less and less to religious institutions to define their social, cultural, and moral identities. A growing share of Americans is beginning to define themselves as “spiritual but not religious”, at an increase of 8% between 2012 and 2017. This, according to the Pew Research Center does not describe a moral deficit, but rather, new expressions of one’s spirituality.

Spiritual Wellness

Spiritual self-care corresponds to maintaining contact with your values ​​and what really matters to you. This type of self-care allows you to have long-term goals in life and to develop a sense of belonging to a noble and important cause. Here are the main tips to increase attention towards your spiritual self-care:

Engage in Regular Reflection.

Whether it is through meditation or prayer, take the time to think about the ultimate goal of your existence, and what you are seeking out of life.

Be open to inspiration

Allow yourself to be inspired. Seek out inspirational videos or Ted Talks, read inspirational literature or quotes, or even listen to that podcast of that famous person you admire. Find ways to lean into your optimism and hope for the future, and allow that to inform your daily identity.

Be open to not knowing

Try at times not to not have to be in charge or to be the expert. Allow yourself to learn from others, ask questions, and admit that you don’t have it all figured out. Find the courage to ask for help, and embrace your own vulnerability.

Be open to creativity

Be creative, whether through art, music, writing or anything else. Sing your heart out, or pour yourself fully into the art of making.

Engage in Meaning-Making.

Lean into the nonmaterial aspects of life: spend time in thought about what you are passionate about, whether it is a relationship, person, or project. Identify what is means to you and notice its place in your life, whether that is spending time with children, nurturing a connection to a spiritual community, or contributing to causes in which you believe. Give of yourself, and volunteer as often as possible.

Engage in Thoughtful Thinking.

If you believe in a specific religion, find out more about the roots of your beliefs and perhaps even explore the shared beliefs and nuances of other religions as well. Read poetry from similar time periods or track philosophical thought throughout the ages. And while it’s important to take time to think critically about religion, also allow yourself to get lost in its message. Spend time in nature, and allow yourself to get swept up into experiences of awe and wonder. If you missed it, check out Self Care: An Introduction; The importance of Physical Self Care; Psychological Self Care and Emotional Self Care Next Up: Relational Self-Care 

Relational Self Care

We know that the human being is a highly social creature. However, even in the ultra-connected era in which we live, while connectivity is at an all-time high, a true connection seems to be lacking. While social networks certainly allow us access to more people, these connections are often superficial and insignificant. Yohann Hari, in his book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, states,  “The Internet was born into a world where many people had already lost their sense of connection to each other. The collapse had already been taking place for decades by then. The web arrived offering them a kind of parody of what they were losing—Facebook friends in place of neighbors, video games in place of meaningful work, status updates in place of status in the world.”

Relational Health

Our well-being depends very closely on the quality of our relationships. Thus, when subject to a life absent of healthy relationships, we lose our sense of self-esteem, our capacity for empathy and compassion, and our mutual support. This often leaves room for a focus on individualism that encourages isolation and creates conflicts.  Under our current economic system, we are often rewarded for these behaviors as well, but more on that in our next segment. Here are some tips for improving the quality of your relationships:

In General:

Smile More.

The easiest and most effective advice to follow to improve your relationships with others is to smile. Smiling reduces aggressiveness, hacks your brain’s reward system to release dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, and tends to help others’ have more positive perceptions of you.

Compliment People More Often & Be Sincere.

Keep track and notice the positive changes or the progress made by the people around you. Sharing with someone the ways that they have made a positive impact on your life, or even that you admired the way they handled a situation, can be a powerful gift, for you and for them. Taking the time to expand your focus onto others can have a huge ripple effect in your relationships.

Meet New People.

There is nothing quite like the intoxicating feeling of getting to know someone new, and connecting over a shared interest. C.S. Lewis’ famous quote reads, “Friendship is born at the moment where one man says to another, ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one…’”

Nurture Important Relationships.

Spend time with people that you like, or time connecting with them via phone or writing and sharing updates. Check in with family members as well, and nurture your ability to ask for help.  This also includes being the one to take initiative in organizing activities with these people to increase the quality of time spent with them.

Complete a Digital Detox.

Digital detox refers to a period of time during which a person abstains from using electronic connecting devices such as smartphones and computers. Regardless of the length of the detox, it is considered an opportunity to reduce stress or to increase focus on social interactions in the physical world. Benefits include increased awareness, decreased anxiety, a better appreciation of one’s environment, and approaching the world in a more person-centered way.

In Close Relationships:

Spend Alone Time with Your Romantic Partner.

Firstly, see ‘digital detox’ above. More than just spending alone time together, engage one another in stimulating conversations, continue to seek understanding of the complex inner world of the other. Try not to spend all of your time together “doing” and cultivate a practice of just “being” together.

Develop Your Listening Skills.

It is absolutely impossible to achieve good long-term relationships when you are unable to listen. Embrace the fundamental idea that ‘you do not need to agree with what is being said to listen to what is being said’. Try to stay out of fixing the problem, invalidating feelings, or stealing the focus of the conversation.

Admit Your Wrongs.

One surefire way to make sure that you avoid happiness is to “be right, always right. Be the only one who is always right and be rigid in your rightness.” On the other hand, willingness to admit your shortcomings tends to go a long way in creating authentic and lasting relationships. While by no means is this an exhaustive list for how to have a good relationship, shifting focus to some of these practices will certainly help to increase relational wellbeing and overall life satisfaction. Next up: Professional Self Care.  

Emotional Self Care

This is the fourth blog in our series about the importance of Self Care. Make sure to check out the importance of physical self-care and psychological self-care as these two constructs, body and mind, set the stage for our ability to have good emotional regulation and emotional self-care. Together with these other foundational practices, as the primary rings of self-care and the main focus of cognitive behavioral therapy, these three elements are important to master in order to move on to the deeper realms of spiritual, relational and professional self-care.

Emotional Well-being

Emotional well-being can be defined as the overall state of one’s emotions, as well as their sense of purpose, and ability to pursue meaningful goals. However, emotional well-being is not the absence of emotions, but rather, the ability to understand the value of your emotions as signals of what is happening internally, and to use them to propel your life forward. Becoming an emotionally mature adult involves first taking responsibility for the way that we feel, and the way that we communicate those messages to others. It involves ridding our vocabulary of the phrasing, “you made me angry! (frustrated, sad, violent, etc.)” or in essence, “you made me react that way!” In this process, it is imperative that we remember that emotions are not “good” or “bad”, and it is truly only our attitude and reactions that matter. Often considered as a taboo subject in today’s culture, this aspect of our person is an intimate constituent of our happiness as indeed, taking care of your emotions is a delicate process. However, it remains a necessary process, and involves the following considerations:

Love Yourself.

Practice giving yourself affirmations and praising yourself for a job well done. Set yourself up for success by planning out several small tasks throughout the day which you know that you can accomplish, this will help to boost your self-esteem and help to feel good about yourself. Start with making your bed.

Listen To Your Needs.

Pay attention to what might be going on in your emotional world, and seek out healing activities to bring comfort to the storm raging inside of you. Reconnect with your inner child by reading your favorite books again, or re-watch your favorite movies and leave space for yourself to connect with any and all feelings that arise.

Identify with Your Feelings.

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown speaks of her practice of writing permission slips to herself as she goes about her daily life. This advice is useful for those of us who have a hard time expressing emotions. Give yourself permission:
  • To be sad
  • To be excited
  • To Cry
  • To act goofy
  • To laugh boldly
  • To have fun
  • To express your political or social outrage

Create a Healthy Support System

Make an effort to stay in contact with important people in your life, and balance your schedule to make time to be with friends or family members who really understand you. Devote time and energy to these and other relationships that bring you joy.

Embrace Vulnerability

Although many people aren’t comfortable talking about their feelings, or what’s going on in their emotional worlds, we know that it is through our ability to have an honest connection with others that we are able to find true healing. Opening up about personal issues is never easy but can have huge effects. Whether in a community support group or with a therapist, talking it out and processing through your emotions can reduce your sense of helplessness and provide relief in the shared burden of your struggles. Stay Tuned for the next installment in the Self-Care Series: Spiritual Self-Care.

Psychological Self Care

After establishing physical practices to take care of your body, the next important aspect of self-care to master is in learning to take care of your mind. Both physical and psychological well being lay the foundation for one’s ability to have good emotion regulation and experience emotional wellbeing. Thus, psychological or ‘cognitive’ self-care is another important pillar of mental health, focused on control over one’s thoughts and mental state. Psychological self-care is the practice of paying attention. When you are able to become aware of the details of the sensations around you, it is easier to live in the present moment; and when you are in the present, you can more effectively abandon the resentment of the past or anxieties about the future. Here are some ways to increase your mental well-being:
  1. Make time for Reflection.

So often, life can be lived on autopilot, where we may be constantly moving from one activity to the next, never truly stopping to take stock of our current reality or to pay attention to the thoughts rattling around in our minds. One of the most important elements of learning to take care of our minds is to stop and give them a voice, to take a moment to listen, and to adjust our course of action as needed. Writing in a journal can help to begin to notice and identify patterns of thinking, or other thought errors, or even simply serve to quiet the racket of thoughts screaming for our attention. Participating in your own personal psychotherapy can also assist in cultivating this practice of paying attention, and also may provide you with some feedback about factors outside of your awareness.

2. Practice Meditation and Relaxation.

An important aspect of psychological well being often seen in meditation techniques and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is to practice non-attachment to our thoughts. Russ Harris, a proponent of ACT, states that mindfulness is “Consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience, with openness, interest, and receptiveness.” When we engage as an observer or even researcher of our thoughts, we are able to truly notice our inner experience—listen to our thoughts, judgments, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings without the burden of defense. Focus on the movements of your own breathing, and become aware of your bodily sensations.

3. Explore Different Sides of Yourself.

Get to know yourself, and let others know different aspects of you. Experiment with your relationship with control, either by practicing your ability to receive help from others or by showing up and taking charge, even if it is just in some small way. Try letting someone else be the “expert”, or see what it might be like not to have the pressure to be the one in the family who brings the comedic relief. Increase your awareness of the role that you serve in the important contexts of your life, and decide whether you are happy with it.

4. Be Curious.

Spend some time trying on some new hobbies or attending events that help you engage your intelligence in a new way, whether that is going to a history exhibit, science center, sports event or theatre performance. Say “yes” to something you may be hesitant about, and give yourself the permission to try. Read literature or contemplate a work of art. Maybe even get in touch with the inner artist inside you.

5. Get Focused.

When was the last time you gave your full focus to something?  Say “no” to extra responsibilities sometimes so that you can truly focus on what brings you joy. Regardless if it is completing a jigsaw or sudoku puzzle, reading a book, or working on a paint-by-number, engage in an activity that requires your full focused attention. Again, give yourself permission to miss that phone call or text, and relax into the knowledge that there is nothing else you need to do and no one that you need to respond to for a while. Continue reading our series about the importance of self-care. Next up: Emotional Self Care.