Happy Valentine’s Day! Practice Loving Kindness for Mental Health

 

Be loving to yourself and to others: Mental illness deserves as much care as any other illness or injury. It’s not “laziness” or being “weak” or flawed in character. Practice acceptance and support instead of criticism.

Mental illness is usually unlike the movies. Cultivate loving kindness to yourself instead of judgment and criticism. [Try Loving Kindness meditation by Tara Brach to spread love to self and others.]

Remember that mental illness often affects every aspect of a person’s life and health.

It Takes Courage to Overcome a Phobia

Image: Courage the Cowardly Dog

Phobias are irrational or excessive fears. If a phobia interferes with someone’s everyday life, it may be anywhere from annoying to debilitating. Other phobias will only come up once every so often, so they are less intrusive.

If a phobia interferes with an everyday or essential activity–such as dental work, flying, or animals–a person might choose to get treatment in order to overcome it. Phobias can be treated by exposure treatment, an intervention in which the person is exposed to tolerable aspects of the phobia in a safe environment until their anxiety diminishes.

First, the treatment focuses on exposure to the least anxiety provoking aspects of the phobia, as determined by the patient in a “hierarchy of fear.” The accompanying anxiety is addressed until it diminishes to tolerable levels, however long that takes.

Then, and only then, does the exposure move to increasingly more anxiety provoking aspects of the phobia. This may take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the nature of the phobia and the person’s level of anxiety.

An example of a phobia hierarchy based on items generated by clients working in exposure treatment:

Hierarchy Example

Just thinking about exposure treatment may be anxiety provoking enough to count as exposure!

As a certain little pink dog has taught us, it takes courage to face your fears. Being courageous doesn’t mean not being afraid, it means taking action, even if it feels scary to begin.

Acceptance: Making People into Trees

Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) expresses acceptance of self and others with a beautiful metaphor:

 

“…when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Remember, emotional and cognitive skills take practice just as physical skills do. Many of us have years or decades of practice in thinking destructively and judgmentally! So practice a little self-acceptance today, and then again tomorrow, and the next day…

 

Checking In With Yourself

When you’re feeling really depressed, upset, or anxious, it can be hard to come up with ways to understand what is happening with yourself, let alone what to do about it. Even the most basic self-care can be hard to remember when your executive functioning is down.

This is a very helpful list to have handy for those times when you are unable to generate the energy to remember how to support yourself: