Self Care

Self-Care and the Pursuit of Wellness

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When I talk to others about what stress management looks like, there’s one word that is usually brought up in the conversation: self-care. This buzzword that people mention seems to be thrown around without anyone truly understanding what it means or looks like practically. I want to challenge myself and you to think of self-care as more than the temporary relief of a bubble bath, video game, movie or whatever else pop-culture defines it as. Rather than talking about self-care and stress management, let’s talk about what it might look like to pursue wellness which requires a deeper look into how we are doing holistically.

When looking at wellbeing, we can gauge how we’re doing by looking at five different parts of ourselves: social, emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. As we look into what each of these mean, let’s think about how we’re doing in each of them right now.

 Social - the relational aspect: do we have meaningful connection with others throughout the day? Are we isolating ourselves or over exerting ourselves in our social commitments? How are we engaging with others?

Emotional – our emotional state: are we in tune with both our positive and negative emotions? Are we denying ourselves from experiencing both the highs and lows of our life? Or are we being consumed and overwhelmed by either one of them?

Physical – our bodies: are our bodies telling us we need more or less of something? Perhaps we are a little tired and hungry so we grab extra caffeine and easy-to-reach snacks that fuel us temporarily. Are we noticing that our bodies need stretches and movements after sitting all day? Or maybe our bodies needing rest because we haven’t stopped moving. 

Mental – our thoughts: are our thoughts racing and preoccupied with something? Are we avoiding making a decision or not wanting to think about a particular event?

Spiritual – our core self: are we honoring who we are? Regardless of faith or spiritual practices, we are valuable individuals. So, are we connecting and being kind to ourselves?

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 So, how do we move towards our well self? Think about what it looks like when we’re doing well in each of these areas. For example, are we feeling connected to others when we eat meals with co-workers or are we needing a one-on-one coffee run with a close friend? Are we melancholic and need to practice gratitude or do we need to let our emotions run free for 10 minutes to be able to refocus on our responsibilities? Do we need to get 6 hours or 8 hours of sleep to feel restful? Do we need to write a to-do list to organize our thoughts or do we need to practice containment to not bring our work stress home? Do we need to rediscover what our preferences are or do we need to spend time reconnecting with our faith beliefs?

 There are more questions we can ask ourselves to prompt how we’re doing in each of these areas.  Regardless of what the questions are, are we pausing regularly to assess how we’re doing? The more frequently we’re able to gauge how we’re doing, the more sensitive we become when we stray from our well self. As we incorporate these steps into our lives and practice them regularly, we’ll be able to advocate for our needs and be kind to ourselves.

About the Author:

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Alex Song, RP, Apprentice, is pursuing an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Denver Seminary. Alex is passionate about helping people become their most authentic and true selves. She loves helping people navigate their life pursuits, identity formation, and career aspirations. She feels honored to walk alongside clients as they share their story with her, inviting her into that sacred space. She desires her clients to live life purposefully and well through evaluating their physical, spiritual, mental, social, and emotional health. As clients navigate meaning making, she works with clients to equip them with the tools to live their best life. Alex desires to connect with the Asian population to help them advocate for their voices as they pursue what wellness looks like. Alex is a Colorado native and enjoys exploring new coffee spots, watching movies, and catching up with friends.

Stress and the Body

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Have you ever noticed that your body aches, you’re more irritable than usual, or that you’re unusually tired? Maybe it’s a combination of all three. The “new” symptoms seem to be coming from nowhere, without any reason. You didn’t exert yourself particularly hard during your last workout, you’re getting a solid 6.5 hours of sleep, and work is going smoothly. So then, why are you experiencing them?

If you’re like me, you may recognize stress after your body is aware of it. If you’re like me, your body tries to warn you that you need to take care of yourself. If you’re like me, you push through it thinking that it’s nothing, until you’re forced to stop because your body refuses to go any further.

April is stress awareness month. Although I may know that I should be more mindful of my stress levels, I constantly find myself fighting the reality that I have a smaller capacity than I used to. For the past two years I have been battling an undiagnosed chronic illness that is accompanied with chronic fatigue and chronic pain. As such, I am more sensitive than ever to my new stress levels.

During my teens and early 20s, I thought I was invincible; I took on more projects and sleepless nights than was necessary. But now, nearly a decade later, I’m finding that my new limits and boundaries my body places on me, forces me to slow down. I can’t say that I have fully adjusted. Often times, I find myself running at the same pace I used to. But as a result, my body reminds me, with aches and pains, that I can’t sprint through life any longer.

The tension between sprinting and pausing in life is a real one I struggle with daily. I grapple with the reality that I need rest – I need physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social rest. There doesn’t seem to be a sweet spot between the two extremes, at least not one that I have found yet. It’s a new challenge that takes time to discover, try, fail, and progress.

With the change of seasons, we often associate spring with new beginnings and new hope. Having a fresh start to try once again, I’m told to slow down, rest, and take care of my body. With the start of spring, I want to challenge myself with looking at stress differently. Stress, and my body’s reaction to it, is a good thing. It’s a physical reminder of the limitations I face. And that’s okay. I’m human. I am finite and this reality puts the value of life into perspective. Despite the challenges I face, there is still a chance at having hope. There is a chance of finding rest. There is a chance at being healthy and having a healthy relationship with stress.

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I realize that you may not experience stress the same way I do. But how many times do you wake up during the week wishing you had a little more energy, a little more quiet time, or a little more rest? Battling stress and pursuing a healthy life does not have to be hard. I want to challenge myself and you with the idea that progress doesn’t always have to be drastic. No, progress also includes the small pauses and increases in awareness of self. Allowing grace in our lives for the reality that we are limited is one of the kindest postures we can have towards ourselves.

So, how can you pause today? What is your body telling you that it needs? What is your soul needing today? What’s one small adjustment to your schedule that would help you find rest? Let’s talk more about the practical steps after reflecting on our current state and stress practices. 

About the Author:

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Alex Song, RP, Apprentice, is pursuing an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Denver Seminary. Alex is passionate about helping people become their most authentic and true selves. She loves helping people navigate their life pursuits, identity formation, and career aspirations. She feels honored to walk alongside clients as they share their story with her, inviting her into that sacred space. She desires her clients to live life purposefully and well through evaluating their physical, spiritual, mental, social, and emotional health. As clients navigate meaning making, she works with clients to equip them with the tools to live their best life. Alex desires to connect with the Asian population to help them advocate for their voices as they pursue what wellness looks like. Alex is a Colorado native and enjoys exploring new coffee spots, watching movies, and catching up with friends.

8 Ways To Be Generous With Your Mental Health

8 Ways To Be Generous With Your Mental Health

The holiday season can be the best of times and the worst of times. We form memories and we’re jolted by memories. It’s extra important to be generous with our mental health during this season. [526 more words]

When Body Positivity Doesn’t Feel So Positive

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When it comes to the topic of body image and eating disorder recovery, much conversation occurs around the concept of body positivity. In recent years, a movement has erupted from beneath the rigid body image expectations perpetuated by our culture to declare that “health” should no longer be automatically synonymized with “thin,” and we have begun to see a greater celebration of the various ways that bodies take size and shape. Instead of enslaving our bodies to harsh diets and punishing workout routines, an alternative approach has been offered to tell us that we can indeed celebrate the feats our bodies are capable of and honor them with nourishing foods and movement that we enjoy.

Many of the leaders in this movement are women who have been brave enough to push back against the unreasonable body image standards to which they have long been held hostage, and often in my work in the field of eating disorder treatment, I have suggested that the rest of us must join the work our sisters have started and begin to cultivate body positivity movements for men, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community, as well.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge, however, that for those of us who have spent significant amounts of time at war with our bodies, the idea of such personal body positivity can seem nearly impossible. The notion may be good in theory, but after years of wrestling with body disgust and hatred, the concept of celebrating and loving our physical selves can feel like nothing more than a pipe dream. To you, my friend, I simply say: I get it. Body positivity does not always feel good and positive, and I know well that the way we feel about our physical selves does not always consist of celebration, warmth, or acceptance. If anything, the expectation that body positivity must be defined by these experiences can lead us into deeper guilt and shame about the actual, darker emotions we sometimes feel when we look in the mirror. The truth is, for some of us, practicing body positivity will at times be the most difficult, and least positive-feeling, thing we ever do.

I recently went through a difficult season in my life, and honestly, I did not feel very positive about my body during any of it. It was a season of hardship, filled with struggle, scarcity, hurt, and grief, and in an attempt to alleviate some of the pain, I turned back to a few of my most reliable and damaging numbing techniques. My body, in turn, adjusted with them.

I am well-practiced at criticizing my body for not being good enough and for changing in ways that I deem to be undesirable and unacceptable, and during this season, it took a lot of my energy to refrain from berating my body and myself for being human and imperfect every time I got dressed in the morning. It took additional energy to then refrain from engaging in even more damaging practices to compensate for its changes. The only body positivity I could muster during that time was an acknowledgement of the ways my body had agreed to hold my pain when the rest of me could not and choose not to actively criticize it or punish it for the way it had done so.      

In reality, body positivity doesn’t always, or sometimes ever, look like a celebration for all of the wonderful things our bodies allow us to do. Some days, body positivity instead looks like whispering to our physical selves through gritted teeth and tear-stained cheeks that despite the pain, the fear, or the disgust, we will choose not to do anything we know will cause them harm. Some days, it looks like nothing more than putting in the fight to ride out the wave of body distress without engaging in destructive, quick-fix ways out of the emotion, even if we know those ways will temporarily dull the pain. Some days, body positivity is desperately seeking out a glimmer of gratitude, no matter how small, that our bodies have endured our mistreatment, made space for our pain, and have kept us alive. And on those days, my friend, that is enough. 

Body positivity, in its truest form, is not always pretty, and it is certainly not always connected to any actual positive feeling. For some of us, loving our physical selves may feel futile or impossible, and yet, if there is even one small act of physical kindness that can get us through the difficult days, if there is even one time we can show our bodies appreciation instead of harm, the hope that inspires body positivity remains.

My dear friend, if you are afraid that celebrating your physical self is out of reach, I feel you. However, if you are also tired of waging a constant war against your body, I am with you. Let us begin the hard work of making peace with our flesh and bones together, and in doing so, discover that in the moments when we feel like celebrating our bodies least, even the smallest acts of physical kindness are cause for celebration, too.           

 

About the Author:

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Zach Verwey, MA, LPC, NCC holds a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from a CACREP accredited program and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. In his clinical practice, Zach has worked extensively with LGBTQ+ concerns, eating disorders, holistic sexual health, values and identity, and grief and loss, and he is Prepare/Enrich certified in working with couples. He is especially passionate about addressing the ways in which body image difficulties impact the LGBTQ+ community and regularly works with clients and provides education through writing and public speaking on this topic. Zach believes deeply in the power of interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship work in the therapeutic process, and offers a holistic and integrative approach that honors the mind, body, and spirit. In his spare time, Zach enjoys reading the memoirs of comedians who also happen to be women, experimenting with new bread recipes, and exploring Denver’s latest hot spots with a friend or two. 

 

Is “Fitspiration” Worthy of Aspiration?

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Are you constantly looking in the mirror to see if you have lost that five pounds yet? Or always thinking about your next meal and whether it will fit in your diet regimen? Do you feel anxious if you haven’t completed your exercise routine? You are certainly not alone. Many women everyday wrestle with body image and obsessive patterns concerning food and exercise. Disordered eating is a very common issue for women.

There is a new trend on social media called “Fitspiration.” Many women will tag themselves after their workout or eating a healthy meal and tag #fitspiration on sites like Instagram and Facebook. Studies have shown that there are over 5.2 million pictures on Instagram with this hashtag (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017). This hashtag highlights women with a certain body type, which is unattainable for lots of women. It also does not highlight the health benefits of diet and exercise, but rather obtaining a certain appearance. This can lead to discouragement for women who don’t feel like they match these women's images and it can send them spiraling into unhealthy eating behaviors.

One study compared a group of women who posted photos of fitspiration with a group of women who posted pictures of travel who were both tested for behaviors of disordered eating and compulsive exercise. Even though the women who posted fitness pictures appeared healthier, they scored higher for patterns of disordered eating (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017). The women posting fitspiration photos also scored higher for compulsive exercise, which is associated with more extreme levels of exercise that can lead to fatigue, injury proneness and social withdrawal (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017). It appears that the women posting about fitness are motivated more by perfectionism (Goodwin, Haycraft, Willis, & Meyer, 2011) and the drive to obtain the ‘socially acceptable’ body image  rather for the benefits of health (Holland & Tiggemann, 2017).

Images like these and many other factors in life can encourage unhealthy behaviors of eating and working out. Changing these behaviors is not as simple as finding the will power. There are multiple levels of thought, will, and heart all at play. It takes time to determine where the depths of insecurity have originated and how to work through it. Please check in again as we continue to unpack this complex topic of disordered eating and ways that lead towards true healing and freedom.

 

continuing the conversation

 

There is a much needed conversation around women and disordered eating, where the questions of “how do I know when I am falling into patterns of disordered eating?” or “what drives me to habits of disorder eating?

If you or someone you know would like more help to navigate through your relationship with food, I would encourage you to check out our group called “Navigating Your Relationship with Food: From Disordered Eating Towards Recovery.” There will also be a part two of this blog that will delve deeper into the underlying dynamics behind eating disorders.

About The Author:

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Amy McCann, RP, Apprentice, is earning her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Denver Seminary. She is open to seeing many types of clients of all age ranges. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and desires to help couples strengthen their relationship. Amy earned her Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Vermont, and desires to help her clients in a holistic way. She is passionate about people finding true freedom and healing in every area of life. Amy also has rich cultural experiences with living overseas and enjoys cross-cultural work with clients. Amy is originally from Boston, but loves living in Colorado with her husband. They enjoy hiking, fly fishing, playing games with friends, and eating ice cream.