Oh man, here we go again. Another one of those terms we all think has a clear, finite definition that’s ACTUALLY incredibly subjective. “Healthy”.
Lets all visit out instagram influencers with washboard abs, poorly hidden sham ‘health’ products, highly edited and photoshopped contributions and feel less than. Doesn’t sound fun? How about watching a big hollywood RomCom? That’s a way more accurate picture of stalking turning into a happily ever after type situation. Totally realistic. No? Perhaps listening to the mean mommies on the playground talking about their all organic, no screen time, swim classes for a 2 month old parenting style feels super accepting and doable. Visit the grocery store and buy the things with the green leaves on them. Those products are SURE to be additive/chemical/cruelty free… because green packaging.
Ok, back to the real world. Nutrition trends don’t work. RomComs are farcical to the point of being dangerous. Every parent is doing their best. Marketing makes shopping for the most nutritious option difficult. So where does this leave those of us who are making efforts to be “healthy”?
Let us break it down. I prefer the term healthful. Healthful implies more flexibility, personal choice, empowerment, and moderation. “Healthy” states there is one way, one end result of health. Below is a LOOOONG description of some different areas in which we can make healthful choices. We are going to revisit each of these in future blog posts, and in personalized detail in counseling sessions.
Though none of these areas is more important than the others, I discuss physical healthfulness first because if your feeling physically unwell, you may not be able to focus on any of the other areas of your life you’d like to improve. Secondarily, some physical ailments can look very much like a mental health disorder. If we can easily treat a physical ailment and improve our mental and emotional health, why not?! So taking care of your body is paramount to taking care of your mental status, emotional well being, social life, romantic encounters, family relationships, occupation, and spirituality.
For some, the use of regular medication is a necessity. Others feel better physically if they are using as few chemicals or prescriptions as possible. The key is finding a reasonable approach with medical professionals when necessary, and following through with the plan until it needs to be adjusted.
Everyone, with very few exceptions, benefits from regular exercise and eating a wide variety of nutritious foods. Attend to your allergies. Push your body enough to help you become stronger physically or cardiovascularly (or both). Make efforts not to push your body to the point of injury. Weight is not the be all end all indication of health. Let me say that again in different terms: THE NUMBERS ON THE SCALE DO NOT DEFINE YOU OR YOUR HEALTH. There are incredibly curvy individuals who are fit, and thin individuals who are struggling physically. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is off the BMI charts. Most famous models probably could not run a 5K.
The type of diet you choose is completely up to you. Veganism isn’t for everyone. Keto may not make sense for you. Carb free may sound like torture. What is generally agreed on is that choosing a variety of fresh vegetables (think lots of color), with a reasonable amount of protein (from whatever source you prefer), a minimal amount of processed sugars, and some carbs (do your best to find moderation) is a recipe for feeling good and living a long life.
If you have concerns about your physical healthfulness, meet with your primary care doctor. Questions about your diet? Nutritionists are covered under many health insurance policies. Health insurance not covering it? Try researching different diet options and weigh what will work for you. I will be happy to help you explore your options and assess any concerns you have about your relationship to your body, diet, exercise, medical diagnoses.
Refrain or abstain from substances, depending on your recovery status. If you are working on sobriety, consider the negative effects your substance of choice (and the other substances you may use in conjunction or in lieu of your substance of choice) may be doing to your physical healthfulness. Liver problems, cardiovascular problems, infection, and wounds can all go part and parcel with substance abuse and dependence. If you are working on becoming more healthful, using alcohol or other substance may or may not fit in with that goal. We can explore that in more detail together.
Mental and Emotional healthfulness.
Now that we have your physical healthfulness managed, we can look at your mental and emotional healthfulness! The number of important elements to being emotionally and mentally healthful are so numerous it is impossible to list them here. However, I’ll do my best to summarize knowing that I will be adding to this area indefinitely through future blog posts.
Here is the summary: Everyone need all the emotions, and thoughts are not facts.
We need ALL the emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, confusion… all of them. How they manifest looks slightly different with different people, however everyone feels them (barring truly rare mental health concerns). Counseling is useful if you are feeling these emotions in a way that is detrimental to your general well being. If you have extremes of emotions that cycle unpredictably, or if we simply cannot get out of a sad funk (for example). If you are putting your mental and emotional well being at risk in your relationships, at work, or due to trauma counseling can be helpful. As I said earlier, I cannot discuss ALL the emotional concerns out there, but this is a good start.
We have thousands of thoughts a day. They are not all equally important, factual, or reasonable. For instance, I could suggest you think about a purple elephant on a unicycle. You will have a picture in your mind of this highly entertaining pachyderm. Is this picture going to come true? Will you see Wilbur the circus elephant in your living room? No. Imagine that your anticipation of all the worst case scenarios are similarly unlikely. Consider that your fear about how your coworkers are judging you may be as misplaced as Wilbur’s acrobatic feats. Of course there are thoughts, fears, anxieties that are well placed. Counseling can assist in managing these probabilities, and planning for them in a reasonable way in order to maintain your mental well being and healthfulness. There will be future blogs regarding mental healthfulness and thought patterns.
Learning how to care for one’s emotional and mental healthfulness is counseling’s purpose. Accepting all the emotions as necessary and delving into the causes of intensity of said emotions is massively helpful. Challenging unhelpful or inaccurate thought patterns can decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, mania, and substance dependence.
Now is a good time to talk about balance. Balance is a term that is highly overused and continues to be relevant. We all have a finite amount of energy, time, and interest in these areas. How we prioritize social, romantic, family, occupational, and spiritual healthfulness is going to be highly individualized. While the details of physical, mental, and emotional healthfulness are also subjective, they are universally necessary, unlike some of the other ares we are about to discuss. There are individuals who are healthiest without romantic partners, a spiritual outlet, or a lot of socializing, for example.
Being introverted doesn’t equate to social anxiety. There, I said it. Being extroverted doesn’t mean you’re socially healthful. Boom, doubled up on truths. Being socially healthful is about respecting your personal needs regarding who you have in your life, and how you invite people into your life. Are these people supportive of you? Do you set comfortable, agreed upon boundaries? Do you feel content in the level of involvement others have in your life? Do you feel fulfilled in your friendships? Do you feel these relationships are reciprocal? If you’re answering no to these questions, counseling may be for you.
First rule of romantic healthfulness is that everyone keeps their hands to themselves unless you’re laying hands in a consented upon manner. The terms of this agreement differ from romantic relationship to romantic relationship.
Romantic healthfulness hinges on fulfillment and teamwork. In order to achieve fulfillment and come together as a team, romantic partners must communicate. I cannot stress this enough. Communication is not talking at one another, it is not expecting miracles or mindreading. Communication is more about listening, understanding, and retaining information from your partner than winning a debate. Once you listen, understand, and retain information from your partner, and they you, you can go forward.
We cannot assume that there is one set of boundaries that apply to every relationship. Creating a healthful romantic relationship requires that each person involved is on board with the roles they fulfill in the dynamic. Some people are more comfortable in traditional gender roles, for instance. Others prefer polyamory. Most likely, you fall somewhere in between these examples.
If you feel that your needs, preferences, boundaries are not being respected or fulfilled in your romantic relationship, that this seems to be a pattern, or that you are distressed about how to go forward in your relationship, counseling may be for you.
Healthfulness in family relationships.
Now we have reached a sticky area. Family relationships are the basis of our coping skills, core beliefs, values, and manners of engaging in the world. Family relationships are not always healthful or helpful for us. Family is not guaranteed to be supportive, respectful of boundaries, encouraging, or loving. On the other hand, family can be one of the best assets in improving our healthfulness. Utilizing our family support in a way that is healthful is a major factor in improving one’s quality of life. Counseling can assist in addressing what balance will work best for you in achieving healthful family relationships. Counseling can also assist in addressing the ongoing patterns you may be recreating trying to “fix” your relationship with you mom/dad/brother/sister/aunt/grandma/etc with each relationship you now create.
Are you a person who lives to work or one who works to live. Is your work-life balance fitting that need? Sacrificing your physical, mental, emotional, relational, or spiritual well being in order to work more more more is the American Way… right?
Again, it is important to acknowledge that each person’s healthful balance of work-life activities is different. However, if you feel you are not living a fulfilling life as a result of your occupational situation, counseling can help.
There are so many religions, spiritual belief systems, holistic approaches that people can follow. They differ in many ways: where and how to pray, what to worship, what days to focus on your spirituality. They are similar in many ways: join a community, find a way to be centered, acknowledge your own limitations and release what you do not have control over to a larger entity, be kind.
How you integrate or do not integrate spirituality into you life is completely up to you. If you find that you are not doing so in a way that is centering, calming, bringing you a sense of community, care, and kindness, we can discuss this in counseling. We can work to find a spiritual outlet that is healthful in that it meets your personal needs for that larger entity, community, message, centeredness.
In conclusion, there’s a lot to talk about. Health is not a one size fits all situation. Healthfulness is a goal and value that each individual must achieve for themselves in a way that works best for them. I would like to help you find a balance of these areas (and any I didn’t think of here) in order to improve your quality of life.
The term self care is beginning to enter the realm of ‘pop-psychology’. Similar to ‘toxic relationship’ or ‘gaslighting’. So let’s clear this up.
A good working definition of self care is the act of attending to one’s well being. Yes, that is highly general. I know, you’re saying, “how am I supposed to implement that?!” I’m so glad you asked!
What is an activity that helps you feel content, clears your mind, that you generally enjoy? Does it harm your body physically? Does it hurt anyone else? No? GREAT! That’s self care! Your self care activities are going to look completely different than mine, than your siblings’, than your friends’. There may be some overlap because we are all human and people enjoy similar things (I’m thinking about cake specifically…).
Here are some things to remember about self care: 1. You get to decide what is self care for YOU, 2. It is important to engage in self care regularly, and 3. Each person benefits from engaging in many different kinds of self care.
Examples of self care include but are not limited to
Some of those examples are daily activities, habits that will improve our general health and well being. Others are things we may look forward to doing at the end of the day or once a year.
Engaging in self care activities can be the difference between managing or being completely overwhelmed by stress, mental health symptoms, annoying coworkers.
Now you have a better idea of how to define and what to consider self care, so we can work on what is the best combination for you!
This is the question that starts every journey into my office. It is a great question; frequently followed up by “I can handle it” or “I’m not crazy.” And you know what? Those follow ups are completely accurate. You CAN handle it, and crazy isn’t a thing.
Counseling and therapy have been pigeonholed through what we see in movies or what we have been told via the culture of our community as only for ‘others’. ‘Others’ who have major, uncontrolled mental health concerns, poor self control, no stress tolerance. This stigma is so incredibly unfortunate and inaccurate.
A multitude of studies have found that talk therapy and counseling benefit people for a number of reasons (neurological changes, efficacy of counseling). Anecdotal support appears on sites from Buzzfeed to Huffpost, Forbes Magazine to Psychology Today. Furthermore, it is highly likely that you know someone who has benefitted from counseling (cdc stats)!
Here’s what I’ve seen over the years: people are hesitant at first and once they become open to the process, they are able to make incredible strides toward their betterment and goals. Is it a smooth, easy process? NO, absolutely not. If we are doing it correctly, counseling is highly challenging. There will be ups and downs, there will be uncomfortable truths to encounter and overcome, there will be plateaus. And at the end of our time working together, if you are open, honest, and committed to the work, you will experience positive change of your own making.
The honest truth is everyone has the potential to benefit from counseling. Some people utilize it for a short period of time and never go back. Others find it a useful tool to engage in counseling weekly for much longer. Some go for a few months, then get a “touch up” every once and a while. How you utilize counseling is completely up to you, and how you benefit from it is yet to be seen.
Counseling is not only for those who require hospitalization occasionally (or frequently). Perhaps a person is having trouble with losing a loved one, deciding on a job change, becoming a grandparent, going to college, questioning their mood shifts, concerned about their use of substances, or just plain sad more days than not.
Speaking with a caring, unbiased professional about whatever concerns a person may have will help give shape to a problem. Having the opportunity to see a problem from an objective perspective can allow a person to approach the problem from an empowered space, to feel content with one’s decisions, to cope more effectively. Can’t we all use a little more of that?