Calendar - February 2023
A warm welcome to one and all. Welcome to your own wellness calendar for 2023. This is designed to be used in an interactive and self-directed fashion: where you get to choose which nuggets of information are worth developing, which are worth applying to your own life, to your own unique circumstances.
There is no right or wrong way to use this calendar. Please navigate around it, pick and mixing as you see fit - in your own space, in your own time.
Here's wishing you greater resilience, fulfilment and contentment for the coming year.
January aims to lay the foundations for you to create your own wellness landscape: the knowledge, the skills, the tools, to make a start. February moves into ways for us to better cope with all the craziness that goes on around us. March is devoted to our self, while April looks at our relationships. In May we enter into the internal world of feeling and thought and bodily sensations, while June is all about being creative and expressive. July is solely about empowerment and August gives us much to think about when it comes to making changes in our lives. Helping to expand our own wellness into universal wellness for others is the theme of September. November is the month of challenging yourself to look at yourself in different ways. And finally, December is all about reflecting on the past year and seeing how all of the information you have gathered can be pieced together for the benefit of your future self, your future wellness.
Self Detective is an offshoot of Community Counselling Cooperative, a therapeutic organisation based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Our mission is to encourage people to become empowered through self-directed learning and by being wellness-focused. We believe that if people can improve the quality of their own lives they indirectly improve the lives of those around them, too.
I am the one I have been waiting for.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
One definition of coping is ‘to deal with difficulties and unpleasant situations’. Meanwhile, coping strategies are roughly defined as the efforts you make to tackle stress and distress. More importantly, how do you view it?
Some people use coping strategies as a springboard to wellness, to get themselves into a routine where they feel able to move forward. For other people, coping can be seen as an Olympic gold medal – an impressive feat of courage and endurance.
While some people only need a short intervention before they recover, others might need coping strategies all their lives. Some need new coping methods to help them overcome their old unhealthy ways of coping, while for others, coping only makes matters worse, and what they really need is time in recovery – away from their day-to-day life.
Would it be useful for you to work out where you are within the ballpark of wellness/coping/un-wellness? Would it also be useful to review how healthy and sustainable your current coping techniques are? And see if there are any alternatives you could use instead?
“I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”
Resilience: toughness, withstanding, springing back into shape.
One way of looking at resilience is imagining you have a bucket inside you. The bigger and more riddled with holes your bucket is, the better able you are to let go of stress. However, if you only have a small bucket with no holes, or only a few holes, you’re likely to be overwhelmed and constantly distressed.
How big and leaky would you say your resilience bucket is right now?
Could you look at ways to expand your bucket and add more holes through exploration and experimentation?
It’s hard to be well or to focus on wellness when you don’t have a safe and secure base upon which to build.
Thankfully, there are four areas in which you can achieve a sense of grounding and safety. Let’s look briefly at each of them in turn.
i. Your physical world. This includes anywhere you are at any moment in time: the street you walk down, the chair you sit in, the bed you lie in, a room, a home, a place you work in. Is there an environment you can go to where you don’t have to worry about where you are?
ii. Your cultural world. Is there any aspect of your cultural identity that helps you feel held, contained and connected? Such as, values and beliefs, spirituality, material possessions, symbols, icons, clothing, music, food, language – the very way you express yourself.
iii. Your interpersonal world. Is there a person or people you can be with who won’t judge or belittle you?
iv. Your intrapersonal world. This is a fancy way of describing everything that takes place inside you: your mind: your thoughts, your feelings, your actions and reactions and how these interact with each other. Is this a kindly place to inhabit, or it is troubled with, say, low self-worth and high, unobtainable standards?
Each of these spaces can, moment by moment, be either nurturing or hostile.
Your task could be to map out each of these spaces and be constantly attuned to them, so that at any moment in time you can lean towards the ones that are safe and lurch away from the ones that are unsafe.
A plan B is a back-up plan should your first scheme fail. Yet what if plan B also fizzles out – as does C, D and E? What if our wellbeing deteriorates because things keep going wrong for us and we don’t have enough resources to help us bounce back up again?
Many people can think that the world is against them when their life doesn’t go the way they want it to. They can start to spiral into a downward, depressive state, where disappointments occur with increasing frequency.
To stop this from happening, can we have a contingency plan that gives us multiple options and dimensions – more than enough for us to know that there’s always something to rely on at any moment in time?
And can we keep this list on us at all times so that we remember our options when we need them the most?
Here are some examples of the length and breadth of where this list could take us: Treats. Comforts. People. Pets. Locations. Clothes. Games. Objects. Cultural delights. Foods. Routines. Rituals. Sayings. Music. Sounds. Silence. Dance. Movement. Motion. Mental, emotional and physical exercises.
The possibilities are endless.
Here are a few definitions and terms to get us into this swing of this topic…
Regulate: control, maintain, balance, manage.
Dysregulated: an inability to control our emotions or our responses to these emotions.
Self-regulate: being in control of yourself, without anyone else needing to intervene.
Somatic: relating to the body.
Somatic therapy: helping to connect the body and the mind in order to overcome distress and trauma.
Nervous system: the part of us that sends internal messages across the body and helps to determine what course of action we take in response to stimulus.
If you sometimes feel out of control, you might benefit from learning to calm your nervous system by undertaking some basic somatic exercises.
One such intervention is simply to place the palm of your hand on one side of your face for a few seconds. Or you might want to place both palms on each side for double the effect.
Another exercise is to give yourself a hug, working out tentatively how you might do this and with how much pressure.
There’s a whole world of literature and activities that can help us to improve our self-regulation. If you want to know more, look up EFT/body tapping. Guided imagery. Havening. EMDR. Aromatherapy. NLP. Focusing. Somatic experiencing.
Knowing how important sleep is for our wellness, can you ensure that you get as much slumber as you need, rather than leaving it to chance? Alternatively, if you’re struggling to get a decent amount of sleep, can you prioritise sleep above almost anything else, and treat the pursuit of a good, regular kip as a job in its own right? This might require new tools, learning new skills, practice, trial and error, etc., etc.
Here are some adjustments that other people have made to help them get more precious snooze time: (i) Develop a pleasant and unhurried pre-sleep routine. (ii) Go through each of the senses and see if they can be cajoled into relaxing by giving them something that they might need: a certain smell, touch, taste, sight, sound, balance, motion, temperature. (iii) Work out what’s blocking you from making the transition between being awake and being sleep (iv) Work out what part of your brain needs switching off or distracting.
Unless you actively explore sleep, you may never know how many improvements you can make. Here’s a question you might want to ask yourself:
How well do I know my body’s needs around sleep?
When you go out into the world, do you take a bag with you? If you do, what’s in it? Does it contain items that you think might be useful to you – if and when you need them?
The notion of carrying a ‘recovery bag’ around with you is to help keep you safe and to help you de-stress when a situation arises, with or without warning.
What you put in this bag is entirely up to you and depends on where you’re going and what you expect to encounter.
Here’s a basic list of some of the things that other people have shared with us: Bottle of water. Phone. Mints. Ear plugs. Headphones. Worry doll. Book. Tissues. Chocolates. Audio (music, stories, podcasts, etc.). Spare clothing. Drawing pad. Pens. Pencils. Balm. Lotion.
How often do you check in with yourself to see if you’re relaxed or tensed up? How often do you check your breathing to see that it’s nice and regulated or, say, a little bit shallow? At what point do you usually spot that you’re coming down with something, and then act accordingly? Pretty early on? Or does someone have to point it out: “sounds like you’ve got a cold”?
Checking in with yourself can take mere seconds, yet you’ll be rewarded with the ability to react and respond swiftly rather than merely leaving things until they’re obvious (and maybe too late).
Some people make proactive checklists (actual or mental) to use when the need arises – to avoid drinking too much on a night out with friends, say, or planning how to manage a potentially stressful work event, or looking after their knee following an operation.
Do you or can you check in with yourself from time to time?
Can you devise your own checklist – one that’s unique to you and your own needs?
What are the signs that you aren’t coping very well?
What is likely to trigger a dip in your wellness?
If you know what your signs and triggers are, you can be more proactive than reactive. Below are some signs that other people have recognised – and then acted upon. We hope these get you thinking about your own circumstances.
A change in behaviour, routine or habits. A loss of humour, energy, enjoyment or motivation. Increased heart rate. Restlessness. Unease. Tension. Sweating. Nervousness. Disorientation. Avoidance. Distraction. Irritability. Defensiveness. Anger and aggression. A sense of dread, fear or worry. A change in eating/sleeping patterns or hygiene. Criticism of self – and others.
Grounding techniques are designed to bring you back to the present moment when you’re having a wobble or feeling out of control (be it cognitively, emotionally or somatically). Changing the focus of your mind with activities that can comfort, calm, stabilise and distract can really help. As you read through the below examples, think about which ones are realistic to have in reserve.
• Stamping your feet on the ground one at a time to make you aware of how the ground/floor beneath you is supporting you. Alternatively, stretching your body backwards and forwards by tilting your weight from your soles to the tips of your toes and back again.
• Pushing your body against a wall or something sturdy.
• Shaking both of your hands and imagining tensions slipping out of your fingertips onto the floor or into a bin.
• Tensing parts of your body up and then relaxing them, especially the shoulders. Alternatively, go through each muscle group within your body and tense them for five seconds at a time, before relaxing them and moving on to the next area.
• Focusing your attention on a part of your body that you’re comfortable with (or a part of your external environment).
• Focusing your attention on eating something very slowly, like a raisin. Could the action of chewing be of comfort?
This simple scanning/scouting manoeuvre of the head enables the eyes, ears and nose to check for any potential dangers in our environment. Once we get the all-clear, we can relax.
Orienting is a natural reactive response to a perceived threat, but we can use it pro-actively to help us unwind and calm down. All we need do is be attentive while we do it.
Where we do it depends on what spaces are available to us. We could do it at home, sitting in a chair, smelling, listening to and looking at all that’s around us. This alone may be enough, or it may be useful to make a mental note of what our eyes, ears and nose are detecting: the sound of a car outside, a colourful picture on the wall, the smell of cooking from next door.
Perhaps one of the most intense places to consciously orient (which may or may not be a good thing) is a natural habitat: in a field, in the woods or by a lake. Here there is so much stimulation for the senses that we can really engage our nervous system and help it to self-regulate.
“There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb
Numbing yourself is one way of coping, yet on the other end of the spectrum is feeling very much alive through stimulating our senses. Much of this can be done on ourselves by ourselves in our own time, space and pace.
Sometimes we neglect or lose connection with our body or different parts of our body, but by focusing and soothing any one sense at a time, we can maintain a deep awareness and, hopefully, stop ourselves from losing our way in the world. Self-soothing is the art of safely expanding our sensory experiences. One example of this would be the application of a body lotion on a part of our skin that responds well to the cooling, calming, stroking action. If this method works for us, perhaps we could start incorporating it into a routine. Further examples of self-soothing are the use of light, colour, heat, motion, art, sounds, textures, smells or tastes.
Every now and then we can get a bit tired of being ourselves (to put it mildly). Every now and then we can get a bit frustrated at being in control all the time and can long for some time out…
To turn our attention away from ourselves and towards the world.
To look at the world through a lens that’s not concerned with our own thoughts and judgements, our own needs and desires.
To treat the world as our foreground while we’re in the background.
To surrender ourselves to the beauty of the world.
Many people use alcohol and drugs as a quick route to escaping themselves, but there are plenty of alternatives, such as becoming immersed in nature, music, meditation, mantras, etc. How might you wish to un-self yourself?
Are you someone who gives yourself treats freely, or do you have to fight yourself to earn the right? Either way, in those moments when treats are a necessity, they need to happen fast to avoid an internal meltdown.
As to what treat you might need, only you can say. Here are some (healthy) treats that other people have shared with us: Dance. Paint, draw, create. Soak in a bath. Swim. Gym. Read a book, newspaper or magazine. Meet a friend/friends. Take a walk. Immerse yourself in nature. Listen to music/sounds or create your own. Watch a film or TV programme. Listen to a radio programme/podcast/audiobook. Spend time with a pet/animal. Meditate. Offload your frustrations on someone who will listen without judgement. Plan, prepare and make a special meal. Write a letter to someone (or yourself). Switch off your phone and computer for a spell. Plan something you like/enjoy, either on your own or with friends/family. Go somewhere you have never been before.
Music has the power to alter our mood, and anyone can harness it by following these five steps:
(a) Access a variety of different types of music.
(b) Identify and catalogue songs in terms of how they emotionally affect you (which ones make you happy, sad, calm, angry, restless, playful, energetic, etc.).
(c) Find and then play a piece of music that matches your current emotional state.
(d) Play a different song that’s close emotionally to the first song but is starting to take you away from where you were mood-wise and more towards where you want to be.
(e) Repeat the action of (d) with multiple songs until you eventually get to whichever mood you want to experience.
There will be plenty of trial and error to this exercise. However, once you start to attribute different songs to the length and breadth of your emotional landscape then the task will become a whole lot easier – intuitive, even.
This is a great opportunity for you to explore all types of music from around the world to find the sounds that can really move you in all directions.
For more on this subject, check out Kate Hevner’s Mood Wheel, as well as the term ‘iso-moodic principle’.
If your home is overrun because more things are coming in than are going out, you may benefit from making a pledge to yourself to readjust the balance and focus some of your energy on identifying items to bin or recycle.
Hopefully, getting rid of them will provide you with more structure, more control, more space to breathe, less chaos, less stress – and a sense of achievement.
Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!
There’s plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that performing repetitive or rhythmic actions can lower blood pressure and tension in our muscles – whether it be knitting, sewing, rocking, running, colouring in, etc.
If you’re stressed or feeling up against it, is there an easy-to-establish activity that you could try?
As a landlady in Bournemouth once said: “You’ve got to laugh, otherwise you get all confused”. But what is it about laughter that has the power to alter our mood and make our brains and bodies feel lighter?
If the act of laughing is good for you – and a lot of people think it is – could you make a conscious effort to do it more often? Could you actively find things that put you in that pleasurable state of convulsing with laughter?
It could involve setting time aside to see a funny film, or to watch a comedian, or listen to comedy on the radio. If you were more serious about laughter, it could become a matter of routine, either on your own or in a group of people.
One thing that may stop us from letting go of ourselves and giving in to laughter is self-consciousness or feeling silly for doing so. Nonetheless, if we don’t give it a try, how will we ever know its benefits?
We often tense up in stressful situations, reducing the intake of air rather than trying to breathe deeply. Breathing techniques can give us clarity, helping to relax us and release stuck emotions. Here’s a simple exercise to consider:
1. Press a finger down on each nostril by turns, so that your breath is being channelled up and down one side of your nose at a time. Focus your awareness on the inhalation and exhalation.
2. See if you can do the above exercise by concentrating on each nostril in turn without the use of a finger.
Structure: order, arrangement, plan, form, framework.
Spontaneous: on sudden impulse, unprompted, unplanned, going with the flow.
Are you a creature of habit? Do you find comfort in regularity and routine? Or do you go wherever the mood takes you?
Is it fair to say that having one without the other can lead us to some pretty dark places? Such as chaos, dullness, burnout, addictions, risky behaviour, control-freakery, irresponsibility, oppression, dysfunction.
Taking a step back for a moment, with a lens as wide open as possible, how would you respond to the following questions…
Are you okay with how your life is panning out?
Do you have the flexibility to switch parts of your persona off and on – or are you stuck in one gear, one dimension?
Is there a side of you that you repress, or haven’t explored?
If you need permission to discover more parts of you within the continuum of structure and spontaneity – you got it!
The school of philosophy that started in ancient Greece has many aspects to it. The ones that we’re most interested in are the nuggets of wisdom that can help us move on in life, instead of getting bogged down by negativity and despair. Below are some pointers showing how stoicism can help us cope better in life.
A stoic person:
is calm even under pressure
knows when to fight battles and when to walk away
deals with the world as it is, rather than what it could be
needs very little to lead a contented life
lives every day as though it’s their last, because it could be
embraces failure as a learning experience
delights in the smaller details of life: the fact that there’s a roof over their head, some food in their belly, that they have clean, dry clothes
“If you want any good, get it from within.” Epictetus
A stoic person recognises that there’s no point in getting frustrated with themselves or with the outside world, nor is there anything to gain from grumbling or complaining. They know that we’re all doing the best that we can and if our best isn’t really good enough, then so be it: let it go.
We have shortened this notion to: Don’t get mizzy, get bizzy!
If you’ve suffered pain, hurt or distress on multiple occasions and it seems as though there’s no chance of change or an end in sight: at what point do you abandon all hope and resign yourself to defeat?
Learned helplessness is about giving up, because that’s a better option than continuously trying in vain. For some people, giving up can lead to symptoms of long-term depression, while others see it as a positive that frees them to focus on other aspects of their life where there’s a realistic chance of change.
Can you think of examples in your life where you gave up or resigned yourself to defeat? What happened next?
Can you apply this notion to any aspects of your life at present?
An affirmation is a word, phrase or quote that can be used to help you through a difficult situation or to give you a boost of self-belief. Saying an affirmation for long enough can bring the ability to assimilate its meaning into your own being.
For an affirmation to work, it needs to be meaningful to the person saying it.
For example: I will not give up, as I haven’t tried all the options yet.
This affirmation could be effective if you’d benefit from a good dose of conviction in order to keep on keeping on. However, if your hopelessness is stronger than your hope, the affirmation is likely to be counter-productive.
The following affirmations are matched to a theme. If you like any of them, take them and repeat them over and over until they are well and truly inside your head. If you can make up your own affirmations, all the better.
• “I can get through this. This is not the end of the world.”
• “I always do the best for myself, no matter what.”
• “I will walk into the day and I will find something worthwhile within it.”
• “I trust myself and my abilities.”
• “I know this is a temporary state. I know there are people out there who care for me.”
Our bodies are made of matter and energy. The matter is mostly a mixture of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, calcium, nitrogen and phosphorus. The energy comes from electrical impulses and chemical reactions, which then becomes kinetic energy when we use our muscles.
According to the laws of thermodynamics, after the universe was formed there’s no more and no less energy to be had. Instead, energy continually gets transferred from one place to another and transformed from one thing to another.
As individual human beings we have a choice in how much energy we consume - through the type and amount of food - and how much we expel – through thinking, feeling and actions.
Would it be useful for our wellbeing to work out: (i) If we’re satisfied with the everyday ebb and flow of our energy levels? (ii) If we’re putting the energy that we generate to good use?
“With great power comes great responsibility” is a quote from a Stan Lee character in a Spiderman comic. Sadly, many people in positions of authority abuse their role and make other people’s lives a misery.
It may therefore serve you well to avoid drawing attention to yourself, avoid any unnecessary encounters with them and keep contact to a minimum.
Being authentically human with someone who is inauthentic and inhuman (or who can switch into inhumane mode at any moment in time) can be risky. Sometimes playing the game and biting your tongue can save you, or save you a lot of trouble further down the line.
This is not to suggest that you bend to their will or allow their abuses to go unchallenged – it’s more an observation that once you’re caught up in an authoritarian system it can be hard to get out. (As many people in psychiatric care and the criminal justice system will testify.)
As ever, Self Detective is all about throwing information up into the air and seeing where it lands. You will no doubt have your own experiences and ideas on this subject. So, what do you think?
Avoiding power-crazed authoritarians for the good of your health is one thing, but where might you go instead for some support?
While you can’t ever guarantee someone won’t harm you, there are signs you can pick up straightaway from a person as to whether or not they have your interests at heart. Below are some questions you might want to ask internally when debating a person’s trustworthiness.
Are they actively listening to what I’m saying? Are they showing signs of empathy? Are they authentic? Are they respecting your physical and psychological boundaries? Is the gaze of their eyes kindly or intrusive? Am I at ease or on edge with this person? What is my gut telling me? Is the relationship consensual? Are they showing any signs of entitlement and privilege? Do I feel I’m being judged? Oppressed? Belittled? Am I being steamrollered into making a decision, or is there a shared element of cooperation?
NB: When it comes to talking therapies, while it’s generally accepted that each modality is as good (or bad) as the other, person-centred counselling is set up to be non-authoritarian. The same cannot be said for cognitive behavioural therapy.
The expression ‘jumping ship’ means changing or abandoning something, especially when the figurative ship is sinking. If you’re having to jump ship, you’re likely to be doing it pretty late in the day – and when you jump, it’s unlikely you’ll know where to go next.
The idea of jumping rainbows, however, is different. It recognises that something in our lives has reached a peak and now it’s starting to wane, lose its effect or become dysfunctional.
When we recognise this early enough, we can give ourselves plenty of time to jump from the near-ending of one rainbow to the start of another. The rainbow itself could represent anything from work to locations, designs, friends, lovers, food, drink and clothes. Yet for now we wish to draw your attention specifically to your own coping strategies. Have any of them started to become old and worn? Problematic? Addictive? Worrisome? Is it time to replace one coping strategy with another one?
If the need to cope is an important part of your life, would it be useful, in times of stability, to plan, improve your strategies and look out for yourself in as many ways as you can? This might involve implementing new coping strategies, finding new routines, focusing on your emotional and problem-solving needs, looking at ways of managing relapses, etc.
Below are some questions to round up and end the month of February. We hope you’re continuing to get something out of this calendar. (Come March, we’ll be exploring the self – our self – in more detail, to see if we can find more gems of wellness hidden here and there.)
For the time being, we wish you well.
What are the 8 coping methods that I’m most likely to use?
What are my 3 most effective coping strategies?
What are my 3 least effective coping strategies?
What are my 3 most healthy coping strategies?
What are my 3 least healthy coping strategies?
Which people are good for me when I’m up against it?
What/who do I need to avoid when I’m up against it?
What situations, events or environments stress me out the most?
When/where/with whom/what do I most need to use a coping method for?
What adjustments could I make to my life to help me cope better?