When seasons and circumstances change in our lives, it is not uncommon for simple self-care habits to fade away without us even realizing. As it gets colder and rainier and as the days get shorter in the fall and winter seasons, you may find that you feel less motivated to stay active. With efforts to stay physically distant due to COVID-19, you may also find that you have less contact with friends and loved ones. Personally, when I was working from home and with my new discovery of the convenience of Costco, SPUD, and Amazon deliveries, I often found myself asking: When was the last time I even went outside?
When the things that energize us, help us feel connected to the world around us, or make life meaningful for us fall to the wayside, it can often negatively affect the way we think and the way we feel. These shifts can promote cycles of negative self-talk (particularly if we have few positive things going on), which may foster feelings of low-mood or anxiety. This can lead to even less motivation to do the important little things that we do to take care of ourselves and create positive experiences. And so, the cycle continues. Here is a great visualization from The Washington Centre for Cognitive Therapy that depicts an example of what these cycles can look like.
From a cognitive-behavioural perspective, we have two tangible options to help break these cycles by working on how we think (our thoughts) and what we do (our behaviours).
Identifying Unhelpful Thoughts
How we think has a powerful affect on our lives. If you think about it, two different people can experience the same situation and have completely opposite reactions, one positive and the other negative. Working on identifying unhelpful thinking patterns can be difficult to do on your own because these thoughts can often be ‘automatic’ to the point where we do not realize we are stuck in a certain perspective. This is one area where working with a counsellor can be particularly helpful.
However, for your reflection, I wonder, is the voice in your head flexible and realistic, or rigid, absolute, and critical? If you have not been able to stay active, make time for loved ones, or do the things you enjoy, is it because you are ‘lazy’, ‘hopeless’, or a ‘failure’, or are you able to find self-compassion and acknowledge the reality that sometimes life piles up and that we are all human. Remember, thoughts are not facts. In difficult times, it may be useful to ask yourself: Is there valid evidence for why I feel tired, less motivated or stressed? When we identify these answers, then we will have something real to work with that can help us to move forward.
Here is a list of some common unhelpful thinking patterns provided by PositivePsychology.com
Take a read through and try to identify whether or not you use any of these thinking styles. If this is the case, how do you feel when you think this way? Is this way of thinking serving you or slowing you down in moving forward with your self-care?
In regards to how we are thinking about the cold and rainy seasons and social restrictions due to COVID-19, they both have one thing in common: these are circumstances that we are unable to control. Getting hung up on things that we cannot control can very easily lead us to slip into helplessness, frustration, low-mood, anxiety, catastrophization, and even grief, and can kickstart the cycles we discussed earlier. The negative thinking patterns described above have even been shown to increase the experience of pain (remember pain comes from the brain). This season, I encourage you to focus on taking responsibility for the things that you can control to make positive changes in your day to day, no matter how little. In next month’s post, we will take a look at working with our behaviours and what we are actually doing to promote and practice self-care.
Kristofer is a registered clinical counsellor with a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology. Kristofer is a counsellor at the Bach Counselling Group and is also a long-term client of Treloar Physio. Outside of counselling, Kristofer enjoys staying active in whatever way possible. He currently trains in kickboxing/Muay Thai, and likes weight-lifting, stretching, and basketball. However, Kris always likes to find new sports and activities and has recently started practicing the Wim Hof method. Kristofer is also an avid musician, mainly playing bass guitar, drums, and singing, and he loves his other career as a high-school woodwork and guitar teacher. As an integrative-counsellor, Kristofer uses a variety of evidence based therapies such as cognitive-behavioural (CBT), person-centered, and solution-focused therapies to meet the needs of the client. Kristofer offers counselling to adults and youth dealing with anxiety, depression, chronic-pain, self-esteem, grief, anger, stress management, and relational and communication issues.