You generally come to therapy wanting to make a change, to feel and function better in your life. Many times you have activities you've experienced as helpful in the past that you want to start again or do more often. In session I make additional suggestions and we complete a daily activity plan; identifying specific ideas and behaviors to do at home to help move you toward your goals. Repeatedly practicing the desired ways of thinking and behaving is critical because that is what makes change truly integrate. The adage "what fires together, wires together" reminds us that repetition actually changes the circuitry of the brain over time.
A Daily Activity Record is one way to keep track of these focused mini-goals. (Download one using the link at the bottom of the page.) This is a simple form where you can write out your specific tasks and keep track of what you do. At the beginning, it isn't how much time you spend doing something on your list but just the starting of it that counts. So if exercise is something you want to be integrating into your week and you get on the treadmill for one minute, then check that box. The goal is to establish habits by building on success. If you find yourself not doing a particular task drop it and replace it with something else. In no particular order, here are some of the more common DAR activities.
Exercise- Helpful in several ways, strengthening our muscles helps us feel stronger emotionally as well as physically. A cardio workout lifts mood by releasing endorphins, and a stretching practice can help us feel not just more flexible physically but mentally as well. There is an intimate correlation between body and spirit and moving our body can sometimes be an easier 'feel better' strategy than trying to shift our mood or our thinking.
Music- Listening to music or playing an instrument can be a great way to change your state of mind. Singing, chanting, or vocalizing (humming counts!) can help settle the nervous system and tends to lift mood.
Meditation- Don't psych yourself out by expecting to dive into a 20 minute/day meditation practice. There are many kinds of meditation and taking one minute to notice your breath and tune into your body is a great place to start. See my links below to my "Intro to Meditation" handout, instructions from the Alzeimer's Association on the popular Kirtan Kriya meditation, and my YouTube video highlighting a Loving-Kindness meditation.
Laughter- Laughing is so good for us (again, both body and soul) and it's often as close as our smartphone. There's a lot of great comedy out there (Brian Reagan, Demetri Martin, and Jim Gaffigan are a few of my favorites but let me know who you like and I'll check them out) and a few minutes can be enough to get us chuckling. I also like YouTube for adorable videos of babies and animals and Imgur for memes.
Reading- Reading quickly gets me out of my head. Whether books, magazines, poetry or inspirational quotes, find something that you enjoy and it can be a very effective state-changer. Though to clarify, reading the news doesn't generally provide the uplift I'm going for and I advise against it as a strategy to perk up your mood. Social media is also mixed and can actually be lowering to the mood so be careful how that is used. The goal is to raise your energy and you'll know if what you're reading is doing this or bringing you down.
Time with Animals or in Nature- Pets or other animals are almost always a source of comfort and enjoyment. Being in nature is an excellent way to ground oneself and to connect fully with the senses.
"Nudging" into a Better Feeling Thought- So this is a big one, and goes along with Watering Your Flowers. If you become aware of not feeling good try shifting your focus just a smidge at a time. You're not going to be able to jump from "I hate this job, I'll never be able to complete this project." to "I love my job, I'm rocking this!" But nudging is starting where you are and reaching for the next best feeling that is still totally believable. So in this example you might nudge to "Alright, I'm not enjoying my job today. I'm going to have to break this project up into much smaller pieces to get it done." Sense how different that shift feels. And possibly you can go from there to "There are some things I like about this job. I like my colleagues." There are times when it feels impossible to find a better feeling thought about something and then it's time to shift gears altogether and find a better feeling thought about any subject. Recall a happy memory or think about something you're looking forward to. If you're feeling in that moment that you can't access any happy memories and have nothing you're looking forward to, you can aim for neutral and think about something with no personal associations, like penguins. If you can't do that then you need to turn to a body intervention such as breathwork and step away from cognition altogether.
Breathwork- One type of breathwork I often recommend is box breathing; inhale for the count of four (or up to the count of seven), hold for the count of four, exhale to the count of four, and hold for the count of four. The following instructions for breathwork are taken directly from CRM. The creator of CRM, Lisa Schwarz, describes them this way:
Ocean: inhale through the nose to the count of five and exhale out the mouth to the count of five without pauses.
Earth: pull air and energy into the bottom of one foot and swirl it up that leg, hold it at the base of the spine to the count of five, and swirl it down the other leg and discharge it into the earth.
Heart: breathe in from earth and sky to the heart, fill all four chambers fully and hold to five, exhale out the front and back of the heart sending that energy back into the self or to anyone else
Fire: inhale normally and exhale as tho you’re fogging a mirror, breathing from the back of the throat.
Change of Scenery- Sometimes a simple change of scenery can help change our state. Especially helpful is getting outside or going somewhere with a temperature change or that smells different (opening a window or using essential oils can work even when you're in the same location to shake things up).
Gratitude Journal- Again this relates to watering your flowers. Having the goal of noticing things that you feel appreciation for helps focus the brain on the positive and sets us up to find more of them. The adage "what we look for is what we find" comes to mind. And aside from that, feeling gratitude is an excellent way to shift our perspective on something for the better. Another bonus is the fact that it shifts our brain from the anxiety of scarcity to the peace of abundance. The glass half-full feels better than the glass half-empty.
'Kitchen Table Meeting'- This can be a very helpful task when working on the Self's relationship to one's parts. If a client is working on their anger, for example, I might suggest they regularly invite that part to the 'kitchen table' for a cup of tea and a talk. Willingly and open-heartedly listening to our feelings and beliefs can be extremely soothing and we can learn a great deal about ourselves. If a challenging emotion is arising frequently and intensely during the day it can be tremendously helpful to establish a regular check-in kitchen table date when you will turn toward the emotion and give it voice in writing. If you're consistent in showing up for it when you say you will each day you'll often find it will become much more manageable. When it surges up at an inopportune time you can take a breath, tune inward, and reassure the distressed part that you will hear it out at the set time. Of course, it is critical that you keep that commitment to build mutual internal trust and cooperation. (This way of working with yourself is based on the Internal Family Systems model.)
Setting or Revisiting the Day's Intention- Intentions are extremely important ways for us to focus on what we want to be experiencing and keeping those goals forefront. Often when working on a project, my intention is to experience "ease, enjoyment and success". So the intention isn't a concrete end goal ("I will drive to work.") but the way you want to be feeling ("I will have a relaxed and peaceful commute and arrive at work eager and ready to start my day.") I like the way Esther/Abraham Hicks discusses intention. She/they suggest "segment intending" where you have short-term intentions for specific parts of your day. This is useful so you don't get lost in too vague an intention ("I'm going to have a good day.") and so you keep refocusing on what you want to be intending now. I often use reminders such as post-its or jot my intention on my palm. I know it looks a bit silly but each time I wash my hands I ask myself how I'm doing or whether the intention has changed and needs to be updated.
Heart Focus- Turning your attention to the heart is always a wise and helpful activity. Bring up warm memories of loved ones (pets count) and as vividly as you can connect with your feelings of love and caring. It can be helpful to place your hand on your heart and feel into that contact.
Prayer- If you believe in something larger than yourself (the Universe, Source, Angels, God, Nature, etc) it can be helpful to quiet your mind and turn toward that support in difficult times. Two common prayers are expressing gratitude and asking for help, both of which can be therapeutic. As discussed above, focusing on what you're thankful for shifts your mind from scarcity/fear to abundance/contentment. Asking for help can reduce feelings of isolation, boost a sense of connection and protection, and offer comfort. Many people find believing in something larger than themselves reassuring and calming.
Loving-Kindness Meditation- The Buddhist writer and teacher Sharon Salzberg has a lovely version of this ancient Buddhist meditation:
May I be filled with loving-kindness,
May I be well,
May I be peaceful and at ease,
May I be happy.
Loving-Kindness meditations, or "Metta", are typically said through four times through with four subjects. Start with yourself as the subject (as above), then do a round using the name of someone you love, then repeat with the name of someone you know but are not close to, and finally recite the phrases using the name of someone with whom you are in conflict or don't care for. See the link below to a video of me discussing this meditation further.
Checking in with your Nervous System- Steven Porges wrote a highly influential book called The Polyvagal Theory, exploring trauma and the impact on the nervous system. Deb Dana has taken his work and made it accessible, even creating worksheets you can complete that help you gain increased conscious awareness (perception) of the body's reactions/state (neuroception). Check out her website: https://www.rhythmofregulation.com/