Physical Health tied to Mental Wellness: 5 Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Day-to-Day Life

I recently experienced what so many of my clients come into session concerned about…physical aches and pains.

I woke up one morning with an aching pain in my jaw. It was like having a migraine in my mouth all day long. I tried to think back over the last few days…what had I been doing differently that could have caused this? After some self reflection and figuring out what the pain exactly was, I realized stress was the culprit. I had gotten to a place of extreme stress from working two jobs, being a mom, and managing all the calendars my household had to keep track of. I had begun clenching my teeth while I slept, which caused me to wake up in pain.

The solution to this pain? Physical therapy, mouth guards at night, and pain medication. Um…I don’t know about you, but none of that sounded like a solution or appealing in any way. They sounded more like management, than a cure.

So many of my clients come into session expressing symptoms of depression or anxiety or general stress, then will make a passing comment about chronic back pain, or chest tightness, or other physical ailments that they have been getting evaluated at a physician. They never tie the experience of physical health to their mental health however.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and you should always seek out medical professionals to have any physical health symptoms evaluated. This is in no way a replacement for medical assistance/ advice.

Minority women especially, are more likely to experience mental health concerns as physical symptoms in the body. These aches and pains are almost always directly related to your level of stress. In my personal experience, consciously working on reducing my stress enabled me to reduce my jaw pain to zero.

Now this does not mean medical intervention isn’t helpful, but it can work hand in hand with mental health interventions. Utilizing various coping strategies to reduce stress can assist in a speedy recovery.

Here are my top 5 coping strategies for managing stress:

  • 1. Mindfulness Breathing

  • Mindfulness breathing is a tool that can be utilized at any moment in your day and requires nothing more than the ability to breathe. Pausing in a moment of stress to take a deep inhale and slow exhale allows for your body to experience a sense of calm. It slows down your heart rate and reduces the idea that your body needs to go into “fight or flight” mode. If you want some assistance in practicing this technique try searching for “Guided Mindfulness Breathing” on YouTube, or download the “Calm” app on your mobile device.
  • 2. Journaling

    Journaling can be a great way to get thoughts out of your head and practice letting go of stress. Writing about your emotions whether it be grief, anger, joy, or a plethora of other emotions allows you to release these thoughts and reflect on how they are affecting you. An important aspect of journaling however is practicing to write about gratitude. Expressing gratitude for various aspects of your life provides balance to the challenges and emotions that occur on a daily basis. Nobody wants a book of sorrow, so incorporate both the good and bad.

    3. Skincare Routine

    This may seem frivalous, but hear me out. A regular skincare routine not only benefits your skin, but it gives you time to yourself. Depending on the type of skincare routine you implement (it could be as simple as rubbing some lotion on or as complex as a multi-step regimen) you can give yourself 2-30 minutes of “me time”. Being intentional about this time each day guarantees that you take a break and attend to your own needs even if only for a few minutes.

    4. Low-Impact Exercises

    Depending on your physical symptoms and with approval from your physician, try low- impact exercises such as walking or yoga. Walking is such an underrated exercise regimen. Taking time on your lunch break or before/after work to take a walk outside allows for more time in the sun, increased blood flow, and an overall mood boost. This physical activity kills two birds with one stone as it benefits your physical and mental health at the same time.

    5. Sleep Hygiene

    Last, but certainly not least, ensure you are getting enough sleep. How you feel when you wake up determines how well you’ll manage your stress throughout your day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take a look at your daily schedule. Where is time wasted? And what could be moved around to create room for a decent bedtime? Also, take a look into what you are sleeping on. Maybe that futon from college isn’t cutting it anymore, or your mattress could use a new topper for support. Nobody has ever applauded themselves for having a late night and waking up groggy in the morning. Elevate this basic need to ensure a brighter day ahead.

    All these coping strategies can be used on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stress that is likely contributing to those physical ailments. Incorporating and practicing these stress-reducing skills will allow you to live a happier and healthier life. And if these things aren’t enough, try attending therapy!

    Cheaters: Why They Do It & How to Prevent It

    So you are in a “committed” relationship (or so you thought), but you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Something is wrong. You start to dig for clues as to what is possibly going on, and slowly (but surely) drive yourself crazy wondering, “are they cheating??” Well I bet there is another question you haven’t asked yourself…”have I been meeting my partner’s needs?” Yep. I bet you haven’t taken a second to think “why would my partner cheat?”

    I wonder why you haven’t asked this question because there is only one reason why people cheat. Yes, one. Here’s the big, top secret reason…their needs are not being met.

    man and woman wearing brown leather jackets

    That’s it. Every person needs certain things to be fulfilled. These things could be love, sex, passion, compassion, security, generosity, time, affection, and an assortment of other things. More often than not people wind up in a relationship where their partner cannot satisfy ALL of their needs. Now this is the point where you are probably thinking, “well if your needs aren’t being met, just break up with the person!” Relationships aren’t that simple. Imagine this…

    If our emotional needs looked more like our physical needs such as food, water, & shelter, how would things pan out? Imagine you were in a relationship where your partner is providing 2 out of 3 (water & shelter), but they were starving you. No food. You have dropped hints that you are hungry, maybe even straight up asked for food, but were denied 90% of the time. Then you come across someone who is offering up a feast on a silver platter. What are you going to do?

    A. Go home to your water & shelter and continue starving?

    B. Leave your whole life behind with only a guarantee of food (none of the water or shelter)?

    C. Or are you going to try and sneak enough food to meet your needs, then go home to a reliable source of water and shelter?

    Let’s be honest with ourselves, the last choice makes the most sense. Now putting this back into the emotional sense…when you partner with someone because they meet most of your needs, there is a risk that the needs that aren’t being met will be met somewhere else. The other option is to learn to live without that additional need, but that is often easier said than done.

    Now, you may be wondering “how do I prevent cheating from happening in my relationship?” Great question. Before I answer, I must remind you that relationships are SELFLESS acts. That means at any given point in a relationship you should be trying to meet the needs of your partner, while effectively communicating your needs as well.

    woman sitting in front of body of water

    The best way to prevent cheating is by utilizing the time you spend as a single person figuring out how you can meet your own needs. This allows you the time and energy when you enter a relationship to focus on how you can meet your partners needs. Because again, relationships are not about you! They are about having a mutual understanding that you will support one another. If you can figure out your own needs, then you will want to be with someone who has done the same, and neither of you will be looking for a partner to complete them. Because you are a WHOLE person. No one can “complete” you.

    pexels-photo-2169425.jpeg

    Here’s the trickier part. If you are already in a relationship and feel your needs aren’t being met, then you have to learn what it is you need, and teach yourself/partner how to meet that need. You cannot just say “I need your attention more.” You have to educate your partner on how they can give you more attention. Give them the who/what/when/where/why/how you learned in grade school. For example, if your need is sexual intimacy:

    Who needs to be meeting this need? Obviously it takes two to tango, so your partner needs to be involved in meeting this need.

    What is the need EXACTLY? Be clear. Is this need about actual sex, or is this need about general physical touch? Does foreplay meet this need? Would you like to kiss & hug more often? This is not just a single sentence answer. Go into detail.

    When is the appropriate time to meet this need? Everyone has a preference, but also when is it feasible to meet this need? Maybe kids are in the house so babysitters have to be arranged. Or maybe this is a need that needs to be met more than just once a month. When would you ideally like to meet this need? Be open to some compromise in the process.

    Where is the appropriate place to meet this need? The bedroom, a hotel, the shower? Hey, whatever floats your boat.

    Why is this need important to you? This may be the most important question. This is where you help your partner and teach your partner the reason behind the need. Maybe you feel like there is a general lack of intimacy, or maybe you feel insecure about how you look and want to feel desired by your partner. Again, not a place for a one sentence answer. Be descriptive.

    How can your partner support this need? Explain what role you would like them to play in supporting this need. If they can initiate sex more often or if they can provide compliments that make you feel sexy. Whatever it is, help your partner figure out how they can be supportive.

    No matter what your need is, utilize these questions to effectively communicate to your partner how you two can work as a team to meet each others’ needs. A relationship is about support and giving. Taking preventative steps to care for your partner can help reduce the likelihood of having to take drastic measures to put a relationship back together. And at the end of the day if you are finding it difficult to have these conversations, make a therapy appointment! Therapy is a great place to learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently.

    sign off

    Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!: Intimacy During Pregnancy & Postpartum

    Remember when you were having fun trying to get pregnant? I’m feeling sexy, let’s have sex!  I’m ovulating, let’s have sex! I’m bored, let’s have sex! Any reason was a good reason to do the deed. Then you actually got pregnant, and let’s just say you weren’t as eager any more. Then! You had the baby and thought you’d be eager to get back to having some fun, but that didn’t happen right away. Well that’s because pregnancies and children change your romantic relationship. The question is do you let it change for the better or for the worst?

    bed bedroom blanket clean
    Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

    One of the most common statements in couples therapy is, “We never have sex.” Surprising? Maybe not, because of course lack of sex is often a result of lack of intimacy, respect, understanding, and many other things already missing from a relationship. These same things can get lost in the changes that occur during and after a pregnancy. Let’s talk about some of the ways sex changes when a baby is on the way.

    1st Trimester

    You may still look like yourself for the most part, but you probably don’t feel like yourself. Between morning sickness, severe fatigue, and just the stress of understanding that you are actually growing a human inside of you…sex is probably the last thing on your mind (I mean that’s what got you in this situation in the first place! #TurnOff). Your partner may still be very much into you though…no pun intended.

    As you go through these unrecognizable changes your partner may still be ready to jump in the hay and may not understand why someone who was all about the sexy time a month or two ago is suddenly completely over the idea. This is the best time to talk to your partner about what’s going on for you and try to get them on the same page. As things start growing and feeling more and more uncomfortable, it will get harder to have a rational conversation about your partner’s needs as well as what you need.

    Try practicing other forms of intimacy. Whether that be cuddling, kissing, hugging, eye contact or (let’s stay scientifically correct) fellatio or cunnilingus. If you don’t know what those last two are, Google it…actually on second thought. Don’t Google it. I’m talking about a good old fashioned BJ and well in the words of Cardi B let him “swim with his face”. Anyway…moving on.

    2nd Trimester

    The first 3 months can be rough, but with the 2nd trimester some changes may occur. The path of pregnancy is a continuously evolving one and you may notice changes in mood, changes in your body, and changes in your sex drive. Some women even experience an increase in their libido during this time! The tricky part about the 2nd trimester is getting back into the swing of things. If you got your partner on the same page during the 1st trimester it is easier to divulge to them that your desire is back and your ready to see what that body pillow was really meant to do.

    Now, with a growing bump your partner may have some fears about what is and isn’t okay when it comes to sex at this stage. Always check in with your doctor to make sure they don’t have any concerns about you doing the deed (and trust that asking about sex is definitely not going to make your doctor uncomfortable…they stare at lady parts all day, they don’t have an uncomfortable bone in their bodies). Take the time to educate yourselves on what sex could look like at this stage, and possibly take a birthing class to help build trust and intimacy in this time of delicate emotions. Going to therapy during this time (individual or couples) can also be beneficial for exploring how you are really feeling about this pending new life.

    pregnant woman in white dress shirt
    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

    3rd Trimester

    Things are getting a little lot more crowded and uncomfortable. You may have to get creative with your positioning in this stage, but the deed can be done (again, double check with your physician). Use this as an excuse to practice your listening skills and communicate what works and what doesn’t work for either of you. This is technically the last time you will be able to get it done for a few months.

    Also, carve out time in your schedule to discuss how you are both feeling about this new life growing and how things might change after their arrival. Set expectations for how you would like to stay connected once sex is something that inevitably becomes less frequent (at least in the short term).

    Postpartum

    The baby is out! Woohoo! Time for sex, right? Wrong. You have another 2 months (at least) before any doctor will give you the okay for sex. Let’s be honest those first 2 months you’re probably not going to have the time or energy for sex anyway (a newborn can really suck the life out of you). Use these two months to practice less physical intimacy (refer to 1st Trimester) and start discussing your birth control options with your ob/gyn as these will need to be started ASAP if you don’t want to be doing this all over again in 9 months. Note: you CAN get pregnant while breastfeeding, so do not use that as a form of birth control.

    This is a time of transition for any couple, so recognizing that things will not be exactly the same, and putting in place some ways to create small, intimate moments that now work with your new life will be critical. If you are struggling in this time to communicate with one another your needs, utilize your village and have someone babysit for an hour or two (take up friends/family on their offers for help). You both deserve a break. Take some time to go on a date or go to therapy together. Giving yourself some grace allows you to be a better partner and parent.

    Why I have a Waiting List: What To Do in the Meantime

    I know. You came here to schedule an appointment, but you saw I had a waiting list. You got yourself pumped up for starting therapy and were disappointed. I sincerely apologize. I created a waiting list so I know who to reach out to when an appointment opens up. I do not encourage rushing people through their therapeutic process, so as I help my current clients, I will try to leave you with some ideas on how to utilize your time and start the therapy process before your first appointment!

    adult backpack blur business
    Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Pexels.com

    Start Journaling

    One way to document your emotions, events in your life, or just ideas and to-do lists is by keeping a daily or weekly journal. The first question I ask all my clients is, “what brings you into therapy?” If you keep a record of how you have been feeling, you will have collected all the data necessary to answer this question. The therapeutic process would have started before you even walk in the door, and you’ll feel prepared for the work that happens in the therapy room.

    Do some Self Care

    If you are willing to dedicate an hour a week to therapy that means you have an hour in your schedule already to do some self care. Take that time now to schedule something just for you. Self care can look like taking a walk around the park, lake, or by the beach. It could be spending some time doing something creative like painting, coloring, or knitting. It could mean practicing mindfulness or meditation in a peaceful setting you create just for yourself (candles, mood lights, and white noise machines welcome!). Self care could also look like setting up a coffee date with some of your favorite people every week. Whatever you choose to do with your time make it all about self love!

    shallow focus photography of a woman in green top wearing white coat
    Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

    Talk to your Support Network

    Maybe you can’t grab coffee every week, but maybe you can incorporate some other form of communication. Write a letter to an old friend or to someone you never got to say how you really feel too. Call up a sibling and laugh about old shenanigans or vent about your crazy parents. Join a book club or support group that helps you learn how to open up about your thoughts. Or just carve out time for you and your partner to connect every week. Who ever you give that time to, make sure it is spent with those that will add to your life instead of take away from it.

    Try Something New

    You thought therapy would be a new adventure for you to take. Why not try something else new and different from your normal routine? Being uncomfortable is a skill you will definitely utilize in therapy, so might as well practice now. Whether that is a new restaurant in town or a new hobby, get outside of your comfort zone and try something that the new you could really dive into!

    Reach out to one of the Referrals Provided

    If waiting isn’t something you are open to, please utilize one of the referrals emailed to you after adding your name to the waiting list. You could also call the following numbers to get resources more quickly!

    Mental Health Resources: 2-1-1

    Access & Crisis Line (San Diego): 1-888-724-7240

    Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

     

    I hope to see you soon along your path to wellness!

    You’ve Decided to Go to Therapy: 3 Questions to Ask BEFORE Scheduling Your First Appointment

    So you are thinking about going to therapy. You may have just decided this moment it is something you need in your life, or maybe you have been craving some professional guidance on your mental health for years. Either way, I ‘m happy you are at a place in life where therapy has become a more reachable resource!

    Scheduling that first appointment can be daunting, nerve-racking, and anxiety provoking…but it could also be the move that gets your life back on track! Before you “request an appointment” however, it is important to do some self reflection about what role you want your therapist to play in your life. That’s why I give you 3 questions to ask yourself BEFORE scheduling your first appointment.

    Disclosure: Your therapist will NOT be a friend, advice giver, enabler, or a passive listener. So if that is what you are looking for…don’t seek it in a therapist. 

    pexels-photo-1282315.jpeg
    Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

    Are you ready to put in the work?

    Therapy is not just a place to vent for an hour each week. Therapy is a place for growth and reflection and CHANGE. Let me repeat that…CHANGE. Change can be scary for a lot of people, and if you are not ready to get comfortable with change, you probably aren’t ready for therapy. That’s not to say that therapy can’t help you get comfortable with change. If you know things need to be different in your life and you are willing to discover what has gone wrong and what could go better…therapy may just be your jumpstart to a new life.

    Therapy involves working on yourself consistently from week to week. Unlike an annual doctor’s visit, where your physician may prescribe 30 minutes of exercise a day and drinking more water, then not see you again for a year just to find out you haven’t exercised or drank more water… Therapy is nearly weekly…if you haven’t worked on the things you said you wanted to your therapist is going to call you out on it…every week…until you start to make the changes. A therapist can be a very good accountability person, and can be exceptional at helping you problem solve what is getting in the way of you accomplishing the small day to day battles.

    If you believe that you are ready for a fresh outlook on your own life…scheduling that appointment might just be a good idea.

    pexels-photo-279470-e1546472110924.jpeg
    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

    Do you know how you want your therapist to help you?

    You believe you are ready for change, but do you know what you want to change? Going into therapy with the thought, “My life isn’t working for me right now. I need something different.” is a good start, but a GREAT start would be thinking (for example), “My life isn’t working for me right now because my relationship/career/family/etc. are not fulfilling me the way I need. I need to work on finding balance/something new/peace/etc.”

    Ask yourself what you need your potential therapist to help you with. What have you done so far to try and help yourself? And how will therapy emphasize or add too this effort? Do you need to discover certain communication skills or better boundary setting skills or discover yourself or something else? Think of questions to ask this potential therapist so you know they are a good fit for you and your areas of growth.

    Example Questions:

    • Do you specialize in working with certain populations?
    • Do you diagnose your clients?
    • What is your theoretical approach? And how will that influence our work together?
    • Do you recommend individual, couples, or family therapy for ________ issues?
    pexels-photo-707582.jpeg
    Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

    How present do you want therapy to be in your life?

    After checking in with yourself about how much work you are willing to put in and how involved you want your therapist to be in your growth…it is only right to ask how those two things may interact throughout this journey. Maybe you know yourself well enough to say you need that weekly appointment to hold you accountable, or maybe you know you just need a monthly check in to keep you on track. Maybe what you really need is a support network that could be established through group therapy or maybe your relationship is really what could benefit from therapeutic intervention.

    Whatever combination you need, there is a therapist out there that can meet your expectations.

    Always consider your financial health in this process as well, seek out community mental health clinics or associate therapists for reduced cost services. You can find licensed and/or registered therapists in your city at psychologytoday.com or therapyforblackgirls.com

    image