Give Yourself a Gift for Mental Health Awareness Month

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Many headlines talk about mental health awareness month with tips, tricks, gimmicks, and celebrations of recovery. These are all wonderful, but I invite you to consider giving yourself the gift of acceptance.

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Problems consume

Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative, which translates into undue attention paid to whatever problem we encounter. This problem could be health, life, or mental health related, the brain is not picky, but the problem tends to become the focus of our thoughts and feelings until it feels like our whole world experience centers on the issue. People who struggle with trichotillomania tend to focus on the problem of hair pulling, and when they are not focused on the problem, they are focused on hiding the problem or fearing that others will notice the problem causing more difficulties of embarrassment and shame for them. The problem then consumes the person’s life, and all one can see is the problem which often leads to the problem becoming central to one’s identity. You feel most that which becomes your point of focus.

As a therapist, I used to demonstrate this concept using something I learned from someone else during my training. On any given day, your skin experiences a zillion sensations per day, yet your brain does not register half of them. Granted, there are some people with remarkable minds that are the exception to this. For example, choose a spot on your hand and look at it. As you look at it, what sensations do you feel? As you look at it longer, does the sensation change? What if you select one of the very tiny hairs in your skin and touch it gently? Most people will say they feel the sensation of that hair moving, yet before touching it, they do not feel that sensation. What this little exercise tells us is that your body will register physical sensation more acutely if the brain is tuned into it. Another example is radio waves. They are around us all the time, continually bouncing their way happily around the world in their perfect, consistent waves, yet we cannot perceive them without a receiver, and even then, the receiver needs to tune to the exact wavelength of the wave we want to hear.

Even if the world judges, but you don’t have to.

The world is a harsh place, full of judgment, stigma, and discrimination. It is not my intent to be flippant, but who cares what the world thinks? Are they qualified to pass judgment on you in any way? I dare say no. As evidenced by news headlines and trending topics on social media, people will judge whether you want them to or not, and you cannot help what they do. You can, however, help what you think. You can choose to discard internal stigma, that phenomenon of judging yourself, and focus on those parts of you that make you unique and special. You do not need to judge yourself.

Acceptance and self-compassion start with you.

  1. Start by separating your identity from the problem. In other words, if you struggle with trich, define yourself as someone who has an issue with hair-pulling. The severity of the issue is not relevant to this exercise. The point is you may struggle with a problem, but that does not mean you are the problem.

  2. Next, make a list of what makes you an individual who is unique and special. Write it down. If you need help, enlist friends and family to share with you what they see in you.

  3. Identify your strengths. This process is a little different from the previous. Instead of focusing on what you are good at doing, consider your strengths of character. The VIA character survey is a great free online tool to help you discover your strengths.

  4. Compare your list of what makes you unique with your strengths and create some goals to help you focus on those instead of your problem. For example, if your character strength is compassion and your open-mindedness is something unique about you, come up with something you can do to change your focus such as mentoring, tutoring, volunteering, or community service.

  5. Remind yourself frequently who you are by referring back to your list in steps 1 and 2. For example, create art, music, video, writing, something you can see often.

  6. Celebrate your successes, whatever they may be. Big ones, little ones, and every positive step in between. Give yourself the credit you deserve in any way you can think of whether it is a physical reward or a little extra self-care.

As troubling as trich can be, there are many roads to recovery. Regardless of the road chosen, you can choose where you place your focus to make each day a little more about you and less about the problem.


Steps to Acceptance and Self-Compassion

You are not defined by your “problem.”

You are unique and special.

You have the strength of character.

Focus your attention on the positive.

Remind yourself who you are.

Celebrate success.

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