By Gail Schuster, LICSW
Many people think of therapy as a place to “work out” a problem.
That isn’t wrong … but for most of my clients, the real “work” takes place between sessions. That’s when they practice the coping strategies they’ve been developing, with my help, in therapy.
The goal could be anything from improving the way the client communicates with a loved one, to reducing anxiety, to recovering from a loss.
Each time we meet, we might talk about what they tried, what worked and what didn’t and how they can continue an upward trajectory.
Over time, the underlying issue, such as depression, grief, or a difficult relationship, may still be present in a client’s life. But the way we talk about that issue will have changed, because now we’ll be recognizing the strategies that are helping the client cope – and the fact that the client is feeling better.
With repetition, these coping strategies can become as habitual as tooth-brushing.
Below are a few of the strategies and techniques that, when practiced regularly, can lead to a happier and healthier life.
- Get moving – You don’t need to be pounding away on a cardio machine to get the mental health (and physical) benefits of exercise. A daily 15-20-minute walk is enough to help many people clear their mind, see the neighborhood and feel more connected to their community. At first, it can seem like a like a big commitment, but for most people, it quickly becomes a routine to which they look forward.
- Change your environment – This is a simple one. If you never go anywhere you don’t have to go, get yourself to somewhere you might like to go. A park or public garden. A museum or library. A coffee shop or special boutique. Enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and textures of a new environment. This does not require interaction, and there doesn’t have to be a special goal, except for being in a new place.
- Control your media diet – The news, for many of us, can be a source of emotional upheaval. While It’s important to keep up with current affairs, almost no one needs to be exposed during their every waking minute. If the news is affecting your mental health, choose one or two times a day when you will check it, then block it out for the remainder of the day. Also, remember that today most news sources, whether left- or right-leaning, have a bias. If you’re getting all your news from one network or news site, that may be what’s upsetting you. Find out what the other side is saying by checking out alternate sites or channels. You may learn that some of the issues that are upsetting you are not as clear-cut as you thought.
- Rearrange your brain – Sometimes, when we’re distressed, it’s helpful to focus our thoughts on something outside our immediate experience. Listen to an upbeat podcast or audio book. Learn to identify the birds at your backyard feeder. Try a puzzle or a new game. When we exercise our brains in new ways, we feel freer and more capable.
- Embrace change – If the pressure of planting a vegetable garden feels more like work than recreation, go a little smaller this year, or plant flowers instead. If a toxic relationship is dragging you down, change it or let it go. You don’t have to do the things you’ve always done if they don’t support your mental health.
- Sleep – Establish a sleep routine that makes it possible for you to get adequate rest. A bedtime ritual can be helpful – reading, listening to music or taking a bath or shower before bed.
- Cut yourself some slack – If you hear yourself frequently thinking “I didn’t,” “I shouldn’t have,” or “I should have,” remember that we’re all human, and that means making mistakes. Appreciate the things you’re doing right, and forgive yourself when you fall short.
Counseling from CJFS is confidential, and it is often covered by insurance. To learn more, visit https://cjfsbham.org/our-mission/professional-counseling/ or contact Clinical Director Marcy Morgenbesser, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 205.879-3438.