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Sometimes Life is Hard – Take Time to Check In With Yourself

upset-frustrated-depressed-woman-lost-in-thought.JPG

It’s okay to not be okay. Let’s face it, life is hard. Life in 2020 was extra hard. A global pandemic, civil unrest, and an economic recession. Our country has experienced all of these things before, just… not all at once.

One thing we can be grateful for is that we are facing these challenges in a time when stigma around talking about mental health has lessened. This isn’t to say that we’ve won the battle but discussing our emotional wellbeing with our friends or family is more commonplace and more people access of mental health care. As with all things in life, this has its pros and its cons. Comfort in accessing counseling means many people receive the care, validation, and tools they need to improve their quality of life. However, we sometimes make the mistake in thinking there is something wrong with us if we are unhappy, worried, or stressed, when this may be a very natural emotional response to something upsetting. So how do we know the difference? When is it time to seek out professional care and when can we rely on our own tools to reduce our distress?

A common phrase in counseling is “window of tolerance,” meaning to what extent can we tolerate distress. When something is within our window of tolerance, it may be unpleasant and we might prefer it go away, but we know it will pass and we know we can handle it. In some cases, focusing on your own self-care might be enough to begin feeling better. Ask yourself what helped you feel better in the past when you felt down, stressed, or overwhelmed. Perhaps talking with a close friend helped you find a healthy and helpful perspective. Maybe practicing deep breathing or meditation calmed your anxious thoughts. (Tip: Breathe air into your belly rather than just your chest. Try breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of 7, and slowly breathing out for a count of 8.) Physical activity, especially outdoors, is another strategy that many people find effective. If you have trouble sleeping, find ways to implement a relaxing bedtime routine to help your brain slow-down in the evening.

graphic comparing hyper-arousal, window of tolerance and hypo-arousal

When something is outside our window of tolerance, it feels completely beyond all our coping mechanisms. Our quality of life is negatively affected, and it becomes hard to take care of things on a day to day basis. This may be an indicator that we need to seek some outside, professional support. Your Primary Care Provider can help you explore whether medications are a good choice to help reduce your symptoms. You may also consider meeting with a counselor to learn more about your symptoms as well as new strategies or skills that may help you start to feel better. If you’ve seen a counselor in the past, think about what was most helpful and whether you’d like to work with someone that has a similar approach again. If you’ve never worked with a counselor before, or a past experience didn’t quite give you what you needed, remember there are many ways to provide and receive counseling and it can always be adapted to focus on your specific needs and goals. You might also want to consider receiving care at a clinic that offers both medical and behavioral health care as a part of an integrated care team.

It’s important to take the time to check in with yourself when life is hard. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to need a little extra support. Above all, be gentle and kind to yourself; you deserve it!

Sarah Blanning, LCSW
Behavioral Health Director

This article was originally printed the the Frontiersman.

 

 

 

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