5 Practices To Better Support A Highly Sensitive Child

In this post, learn about how difficult childhood is when you don’t know you’re highly sensitive and are taught to suppress your highly sensitive person (HSP) identity. Then discover how to identify high sensitivity in children and practices to become a better support system.

Before I Begin…

The HSP trait is still a relatively new concept for me.

It is a personality trait I learned about for the first time roughly four months ago.

I am disclosing that this is a new term for me as a reminder that I am not an expert in this field–although I am an authority having lived as an HSP.

And not being an expert was also what kept me from sharing this post last week.

Because I am new to this particular topic, I was really suffering from imposter syndrome and felt I didn’t have a right to write about it.

But being an expert and providing academic-based articles is not the purpose of this blog.

In this blog, I share the things I am learning that allow me to reflect on my lived experiences.

And it’s very important to me to show my process of discovering, learning, reflecting and accepting new traits and insights into what makes me–me. My goal for sharing this process is that it may help and encourage others to attempt the same.

So, again, this post is being written by someone who has just recently learned they are highly sensitive, are understanding how it has impacted their past and sharing their general observations and opinions.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

5 Practices to Support A Highly Sensitive Child. The image shows two parents on the floor with their child, they are all smiling while resting on their elbows and have their hands joined in a stack together in front of them

Discovering The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Label

I first discovered the label on Instagram. Since my general interests include personality and mental health, my social media accounts recommend many fascinating pages and articles in both fields. I like it because even though not everything I discover will reflect me, it does help me to understand and be more considerate of others.

And, as I always do when I see a new term, I started researching it.

As I went down the Google rabbit hole, I was completely captivated.

Reading about the characteristics of an HSP, including their strengths and struggles, checked all the boxes for personality traits that I couldn’t categorize as being specific to my introversion or anxiety.

It also allowed me to start reconciling events from my past. Specifically, I started reflecting on the moments I was told I was too sensitive and the missteps I took while trying to deny that part of me.

What Is A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

Before I continue, let’s get a general idea of an HSP.

Both introverts and extroverts may identify as HSP. This is because HSP goes beyond a specific personality trait and is believed to be rooted in biology and genetics.

Researchers believe that being highly sensitive is linked to an increased sensitivity in our central nervous system. And this increased sensitivity leaves an HSP more open to physical, emotional and social stimuli.

However, the level of sensitivity that an HSP experiences may also tie into their environment.

For example, an HSP child who is encouraged to express their sensitivity may develop differently than one who is discouraged from the same.

And let me make it clear that discouraging displays of sensitivity in a child only makes it more difficult for them to connect and communicate their thoughts and emotions constructively. It does not make them less sensitive.

General Characteristics of an HSP

HSP is a personality trait that you can identify with based on generalized characteristics.

Some of these characteristics include:

  • Emotional to the degree that people may describe you as “too sensitive.”
  • Empathic with the ability to sense others’ emotions and adopt them as your own.
  • Intuitive as having the ability to immediately sense the overall “feel” of a room.
  • Sensitive to external stimuli, whether the stimulus is sound, emotions, light, energy or something physical.
  • Quick to feel tired or overwhelmed during social situations.

There are many more characteristics, so I have provided a few links below to help you find more detailed information.

Remember that when we discuss generalizations, not all the characteristics will fit every HSP to a T. But if you can identify with the overall description, then there is a good chance that you are an HSP.

Is HSP a Mental Illness?

HSP is not a diagnosable condition and is therefore not a mental illness.

Read More | Glossary Of Terms To Support Your Mental Health Journey

Nor should it be considered a sign of poor mental health.

Yes, it comes with some struggles that, in my opinion, are primarily tied to our society discouraging strong displays of emotion.

But it is not an overtly negative trait to have.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Very Well Mind – What Is A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

Healthline – Being a Highly Sensitive Person Is a Scientific Personality Trait

Highly Sensitive Refuge – 21 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

7 signs of a highly sensitive child. The image shows a boy sitting with his head resting on his knees and his arms wrapped around his legs while he stares at the floor.

My Experience Being An HSP In Childhood

I would prefer to share specific examples of when I encountered and struggled with specific HSP characteristics, but I feel that will require longer and deeper consideration. So instead, I am opting to be very broad while sharing my experience as a highly sensitive child.

As with anyone, much of what I experienced in my childhood impacted who I am today.

When I reflect on my elementary school days, specifically, I mainly remember instances of being told I was too sensitive or having an overall feeling of being different, broken and better off alone.

I received criticisms from other students and teachers for my inability to regulate my emotions. This is understandable since I didn’t know how to express my emotions other than through crying.  

To adapt to overstimulation, I often retreated from others and preferred quiet places alone.

I also began to teach myself to hide my feelings, or more specifically, to suppress them.

In my mind, this is the greatest mistake I have made for my overall mental health and happiness.

This is because my unchecked overthinking and overwhelm resulted in panic attacks. They were so common I had even visited the hospital and was tasked with wearing a heart monitor at one point. And though it was determined nothing was physically wrong with me, I assumed I was dying.

I wonder how different it may have been had people accepted that children might have panic attacks.

Thankfully, we know better now.

7 Signs Of A Highly Sensitive Child

I have created this list after reflecting on my experience in hopes that it may help parents and teachers to identify high sensitivity in children.

And to that end, I have endeavoured to explain how each sign may present.

However, keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive as it sticks specifically to my experience.

If you believe your child could be highly sensitive, it may be best to seek a second opinion from a professional trained in supporting highly sensitive children.

Again, HSP is not a diagnosable condition.

However, a psychologist or therapist may be able to offer advice and resources.

  • Constant crying.
    • Yes, all children cry and throw tantrums from time to time. But a highly sensitive child may be seen to cry more often than most and with very little cause.
  • Highly empathetic.
    • Tapping into their intuitive skills, they may sense the feelings of others and be seen to comfort those around them.
  • Adopting the emotions of others.
    • A highly sensitive child may be impacted by the emotions of those around them, often changing their mood accordingly. This change is done completely subconsciously and can be very overwhelming.
  • Feeling uncomfortable in clothes.
    • Again, an HSP is more sensitive to physical stimuli. Whether the discomfort is from the fabric, the fitting or an itchy clothing tag, the child may be difficult to dress or remain clothed.
  • Being very cautious and careful.
    • The highly sensitive may be less likely than other children to charge into a new environment, opting instead to observe first before acting.
  • Seeking solitude and quiet time.
    • A highly sensitive child may often opt for quiet time away from large groups and noisy environments. Solitude removes them from the overwhelming stimuli.
  • Susceptible to panic attacks.
    • Many people assume children do not have the awareness to succumb to panic attacks. But panic attacks do not require much life experience.
    • Many children can experience panic attacks due to overwhelming situations or the inability to share or release their emotions productively.
    • Symptoms of panic attacks include hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, chills, chest pain, nausea and dizziness.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Jenna Fleming Counseling – Traits of a Highly Sensitive Child

Today’s Parent – 9 Signs You Have A Highly Sensitive Kid

What To Expect – Highly Sensitive Child (Toddler)

Free feelings wheels for adults and children  to support highly sensitive people and improve emotional intelligence. The image includes examples of three feelings wheels that I have also provided links to further in the post.

How To Support A Highly Sensitive Child

I grew up in the 90s—when mental health and high sensitivity were not well-discussed or understood. There was a lot less information and research available. And significantly less awareness and widespread professional resources to be found.

That being said, I was supported while growing up as best as possible with the limited information available at the time.

Unfortunately, that support often presented as pushing me to be less shy and less emotional so that I would fit in better.

And this taught me to recognize a significant portion of who I am as a negative thing. Mainly, I was encouraged to suppress rather than utilize my highly sensitive skills.

I earnestly believe that had I learned how to use my skills, I may not have struggled as much with anxiety and would have a better understanding of myself and my emotions.

Thankfully, today there is a wealth of research and information available online to better understand high sensitivity and how we can support an HSP.

5 Practices to Support A Highly Sensitive Person

Using some of the research and resources I have found, I have chosen five practices that I believe would have benefited me as a child.

I have also adopted some of these strategies as an adult to support my own journey.

These practices seek to help an HSP accept themselves, understand their feelings, express their feelings and find healthy, productive ways to handle their high sensitivity.

As always, when we use the term “practice,” we must remember that these things take time, patience, effort and repetition to be effective. It is not a quick, one-and-done solution.

1. Do not encourage children to be less sensitive.

As I stated earlier, discouraging sensitivity does not make anyone less sensitive. Instead, it promotes harmful habits.

I believe much of my anxiety is tied to suppressing my highly sensitive traits.

Humans are emotional creatures, so boys and girls should be encouraged to express their emotions—regardless of whether they are highly sensitive.

2. Encourage children to share when they are struggling with overstimulation, overthinking or feeling overwhelmed.

As a child, these were very heavy feelings for me.

And I still sometimes feel a need to hold them inside, so I don’t burden anyone else.

Like the first practice I mentioned, consistently checking in with the child will encourage them to accept you as a safe person and confirm they are in a safe place for these discussions.

Checking in involves reinforcing that you want to understand by validating their emotions (good and bad) as a positive thing.

If you believe you may not be available to the degree the child may require, there are many outlets that a child can use, such as journaling, exercising, creating art or speaking with a psychologist.

Sharing heavy emotions is a practice that can benefit everyone.

Read More | 5 Steps To Create A Safe Space To Discuss Mental Health

Read More | Why You Should Start Journaling

The next three practices will make use of a feelings or emotions wheel. And I would recommend starting slowly and introducing one practice at a time. You may find free feelings wheels below–I decided to find multiple options so you may choose the wheel that is best for you and the child. If these versions do not speak to you, try searching “Feelings Wheel” or “Emotions Wheel” online. There are also paid versions available on Etsy.

I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey:

Ages 1-4: iMom – The Feel Wheel

Ages 5-12: iMom – Printable Feelings Wheel for Kids and Adults

Ages teen-adult (with additional worksheets): Avan Muijen – The Emotion Wheel

Healthline – How to Use an Emotion Wheel to Get in Touch with All Your Feels

A picture that combine samples of 3 feelings or emotions wheels to provide an example of the free wheels I have provided a link to
Three examples of feelings wheels. The first two are courtesy of imom.com and the third is courtesy of avanmuijen.com. Links to download these wheels for free are provided above.

3. Teach children to name their emotions.

Being able to name an emotion is incredibly empowering.

The vocabulary of emotions is extensive to cover everything we may feel.

However, most people (adults and children alike) limit their wordlist to either feeling happy, sad, angry or fine.

So it is helpful to develop this vocabulary.

Using a feelings wheel, start in the middle and work your way out.

This practice will help a child to narrow down their big feelings.

And once a child understands what they are feeling, they can better communicate their needs.

Practice using the wheel when the child is both calm and upset so they can understand their range of emotions altogether.

4. Connect the emotion to a physical reaction.

At times, our emotions can feel like a puzzle, but our bodies can help us to decode them.

Therefore, it may help a child to learn to connect their physical reactions to their emotions.

Using the feelings wheel, ask the child to point to the wheel and their body.

For example, I know that I feel anger in my chest, sadness in my shoulders, anxiety in my back and nervousness in my legs.

You may also choose to describe to the child where you feel each emotion in your body.

A perk to demonstrating you are also doing this work is that it will help confirm to the child that they are in a safe space to share their experience.

5. Demonstrate positive expressions of emotions.

As I explained earlier, I did not know how to express my emotions as a child apart from crying. I knew since I was a baby that crying gives attention. So whether I was hurt, frustrated, excited or genuinely sad, I would always cry. I simply did not know a better way. And it did not help any caregiver to understand my needs in that moment.

So for this practice, remember that children learn by mirroring and positive reinforcement.

Practicing expressing emotions may provide a resource for the child when they experience that emotion.

To that end, point to the feelings wheel, state your current emotions and demonstrate how you express them through body language.

This practice can include allowing the child to see you cry so that they understand it is okay and genuinely good to cry sometimes.

It can also be useful to show healthy expressions of anger—which do not include shouting or directing anger at the child.

Some healthy expressions of anger are screaming into a pillow, walking away, or opening a conversation in which you explain that you are angry and why.

Use an internet search to find more ideas for expressing different emotions.

These steps will allow the child to identify what they’re feeling. And once the feeling is identified you can consider the cause and find a solution together.

Again, it is helpful to start by introducing the wheel before identifying the physical reaction and adding the element of expressing emotions last.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful). This list is in no particular order:

The Gottman Institute – An Age-By-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions

Very Well Family – 8 Discipline Strategies for Parenting a Sensitive Child

The Highly Sensitive Child – 10 Things A Highly Sensitive Child Needs To Be Happy

Raising Children – Understanding And Managing Emotions: Children And Teenagers

Beyond Blue – Managing Emotions

Parents – 4 Big Emotions To Talk About With Little Kids

The Pragmatic Parent – 7 Ways to Help Kids Identify Feelings & Control Emotions

Hi Mama – Teaching Emotions To Young Children: Tips And Tricks

Proud To Be Primary – Emotions for Kids

The Perks Of High Sensitivity

Having taken time to reflect on my past and learning strategies to use my high sensitivity effectively, I have decided that there are more positive than negative aspects to an HSP personality.

For example:

  • I have the ability to make connections with others very quickly.
  • I can be a source of sympathy for people.
  • I value emotions and can assist others in understanding theirs.
  • I also have a way with relaxing others emotions (though I’m still trying to figure out how this works).
  • And as a teacher, I can connect with my English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students beyond words.

Sensitivity and intuition kind of feel like superpowers!

I still have a lot to learn and hope to share more as I do.

The struggles of growing up as a highly sensitive person. The image includes a solo woman resting against a wall and looking off to the left

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If you are a highly sensitive person, what struggles did you face growing up? And what helped you to accept and grow your high sensitivity skills?

Let me know in the comments below!

Glossary of Terms to Support Your Mental Health Journey

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

A mental health journey comes with a complete vocabulary of terms. And a clear understanding of these terms will assist you with the process.

Many glossaries for mental health provide definitions of disorders and conditions. So I want to focus this list on terms you will encounter during the self-work aspect of your journey.

This is not a comprehensive list. It is designed to provide a brief overview of these terms. I have also attempted to paraphrase the definitions/meanings so they may be more easily understood.

I plan to continue to add to the list over the next few months, so please feel free to offer suggestions in the comments below.

What are boundaries? Growth? Self-work?

Affirmations

Affirmations are short, positive statements we use to help retrain our brains to think positively. For affirmations to be effective, we need to say them aloud daily until we believe them to be true.

Read More| Generate Positivity with Affirmations

Boundaries

Boundaries are guidelines used to communicate what we need to feel safe, comfortable, supported and respected. Boundaries help us navigate our relationships by giving us the knowledge and ability to say yes and no to protect our well-being. There are seven types of boundaries: physical, emotional/mental, spiritual, financial, sexual, time and non-negotiables. Boundaries can change as relationships evolve.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Psych Central – 7 Types of Boundaries You May Need

Calm

Calm is a generally positive term meaning a state when we are not experiencing strong, negative feelings. This could mean we are free of anger, sadness, anxiety or agitation. Most coping strategies aim to “re-establish calm” or release negative thoughts and emotions.

Comfort Zone

A comfort zone is a physical or mental space in which we feel safe, secure, content and comfortable. A mental comfort zone will dissuade us from partaking in activities that may be mentally or emotionally harmful. A portion of our growth journey may involve expanding our comfort zones. This work will allow us to practice “scary” activities in small doses to redefine what our comfort zones look like.

Read More| 10 Ways to Expand Your Comfort Zone

Comforting Activities

Comforting activities are any enjoyable activity that brings us focus, calm, relaxation and comfort. Many disorders will wear on the mind and body, leaving us exhausted. Comforting activities distract our minds in order to provide much-needed relief. A comforting activity may be sleeping, watching a movie, pursuing a hobby, taking a walk, etc.

Cope/Coping

Courtesy of Oxford Languages: coping means to “deal effectively with something difficult.” The key to coping is finding an effective strategy to manage our symptoms, provide comfort and work on healing. A worthy goal of our journey may be finding coping strategies to control and heal effectively.

Read More| 7 Strategies for Coping With Morning Anxiety

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Emotional intelligence is a psychological theory focusing on skills to identify, understand, control and successfully express our emotions. Most studies and books on EQ focus on the workplace, but the skills are helpful for all interpersonal relationships. Within a mental health journey, practicing EQ skills can help us better understand ourselves and the roots of our negative feelings and mindsets.

Empowerment

Empowerment is all about having control and power over our mental health journey. This includes access to support networks and resources that will aid and encourage us to grow strength, confidence and authority over our lives.

Personal Empowerment

Personal empowerment is the ability to be our personal source of encouragement and support for our mental health journey. It involves taking responsibility for our journey and holding ourselves accountable to do the work, make positive choices and track our progress.

(Mental) Energy

Courtesy of Healthline: mental energy is “a mood state where you feel productive, motivated, and prepared to get things done.” Low mental energy may present as boredom, inability to focus or frequently zoning out. Feeling mentally drained may or may not cause us to also feel physically exhausted. Some mental health disorders claim a lot of our mental energy, whether we are aware of it or not.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Healthline – 8 Tips to Boost Mental Energy, in the Moment and in the Future

Growth

Growth refers to gaining knowledge and abilities to support and improve our mental health.  Growth can be measured by tracking goals or keeping a journal that can show how our mindset has changed. Growth can also be detected as we start recognizing when we are better capable of handling difficult situations than we had been at the beginning of our journey.

Read More| Why You Should Start Journaling

Personal Growth

Personal growth is also referred to as personal development or self-improvement. Personal growth is about developing positive behaviours, habits, mindsets, and skills to improve our mental, physical and emotional health.

Read More| 5 Personality Quizzes for Personal Growth

Healing

Unlike physical health, mental health does not have cures. Healing involves growing by learning how to cope and live with a mental health condition. A healing process begins with the desire to improve ourselves and includes seeking help, whether it be understanding our condition or pursuing therapy.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Psych Central – Can You Cure or Heal the Mind?

Journey

Journey is another word for the process of learning about and taking care of our mental health. We can consider it a journey as there will be a start but no definite ending. There will also be many ups and downs, comprising bright days and challenging experiences. The journey is a worthwhile endeavour to benefit our overall happiness and well-being.

Limiting Beliefs

A limiting belief is a belief or state of mind that limits or prevents us from pursuing and achieving our goals. Limiting beliefs often present themselves as fears or in I can’t/I don’t have/I’m not statements. Affirmations help identify and minimize our limiting beliefs.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Happier Human – 15 Limiting Beliefs Examples That Hold You Back in Life

Mental Focus

Mental focus involves making a conscious effort to concentrate on and work towards achieving our goals. Developing and improving mental focus takes time and practice. It will require us to limit distractions, create time for ourselves, take breaks for comforting activities and to practice mindfulness.

Mental Health

Mental health refers to the health of our thoughts, behaviours and emotions. We can have good mental health or poor mental health. Our mental well-being can influence our relationships, decision-making skills and how we experience the world. It can also simultaneously impact our physical health for better or worse. Poor mental health is not the same as mental illness.

Mental Health Glossary. Learn the terms you will encounter on your mental health journey.

Mental Health Awareness

Mental health awareness aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. It provides a greater understanding of mental health to reduce misconceptions and increase acceptance. Awareness and acceptance offer greater access to information, diagnoses, treatments and support.

Read More| 5 Steps to Create A Safe Space to Discuss Mental Health

Mental Health Strategies

Mental health strategies are actions used to achieve our mental health goals. These strategies may include long-term and short-term plans or practical coping activities. Practicing mental health strategies is helpful for everyone to support good mental health or treat a mental illness.

Mental Illness

Mental illness is a mental health condition that negatively disrupts or changes our thoughts, behaviours and feelings. It can make functioning in daily activities and maintaining relationships difficult. It is an umbrella term to refer to all diagnosable mental disorders. Mental illness is treatable.

Read more (I have no affiliation with these websites):

American Psychiatric Association – What is Mental Illness?

Health Direct – Types of Mental Illness

Mindfulness

Courtesy of Greater Good Magazine: “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.” It is about focusing our attention on acknowledging and accepting our present thoughts and emotions without judgement. Mindfulness provides an opportunity to understand ourselves and our needs better.

Mindset

Mindset is our mental attitude that determines our ideas, beliefs, values, philosophy and worldview. Our mindset is typically established through our social and cultural settings. In some cases, our communities may lead our mindset to perceive mental health practices in a negative light.

Shifting Mindset

A mindset shift is a shift or change of our minds. It allows us to be more critical of our current beliefs and accept different philosophies to support, manage and heal our mental health. A shift in mindset is required for mental health awareness.

Read More| 5 Steps to Create A Safe Space to Discuss Mental Health

Motivation

Motivation is the driving force behind setting goals and persevering through the necessary work to achieve them. Beyond having a major end goal, motivation can be maintained by setting and achieving small goals along our journey. Being able to track improvements and using personal rewards are effective motivators.

Process

The process is a sequence of steps and stages we follow to achieve our goal of overall improved mental health. Some steps of the process will be difficult (mentally, emotionally and possibly physically). And some stages will feel frustratingly stagnant as if we are not improving or healing. Trust the process, as every bit of work we put into our journey will pay off at some point.

Safe Space

A safe space is an area (whether a physical or social environment) in which a person feels free to be themselves. This means the space is welcoming, accepting, and free from bias, criticisms and risks of physical or emotional harm. And can include acceptance of different values, sexualities, mental health, etc. 

Read More| 5 Steps to Create a Safe Space to Discuss Mental Health

Self-Care

Self-care is literally caring for the self. It is a combination of activities we follow to support our good physical, mental (or psychological), emotional and spiritual (religious or not) health. Self-care requires positive daily habits to establish a healthy environment and lifestyle. And includes activities to help us handle stressors.

Self-Discovery

Self-discovery allows us to learn about who we are, separate from the opinions and values of our family, peer groups and culture, in order to follow our own path. The process will allow us to understand our personal feelings, thoughts, needs and priorities to become who we want to be. Self-discovery can include learning about our personality, identifying our strengths and weaknesses, unlearning limiting beliefs and behaviours, and growing self-confidence.

Read More| 5 Personality Quizzes for Personal Growth

Self-Love

Courtesy of Brain & Behavior: “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth.” At its core, self-love means showing kindness to ourselves. It encourages us to prioritize our happiness and well-being rather than be lost in the needs and expectations of others. Self-love involves using positive inner thoughts, setting boundaries, treating ourselves respectfully, and nurturing our growth. It is neither selfish nor vain as prioritizing ourselves leaves us with a better capacity to support others.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Brain & Behavior – Self-Love and What It Means

Self-Work

Self-work is the work and effort we dedicate to improving ourselves. From setting goals to developing mental health strategies to seeking professional assistance, we must hold ourselves accountable to do the work before receiving the reward.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Hello Giggles – Here’s How You Can Start Your Self-Work Journey

Soothing

Soothing relieves pain or discomfort to create a feeling of calm. Different soothing methods may be used to target physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain. Effective soothing techniques will differ from person to person, so it may be helpful to test multiple options and suggestions.

Read More| How to Self-Soothe During A Panic Attack

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Positive Psychology – 24 Best Self-Soothing Techniques and Strategies for Adults

Stigma

Courtesy of Better Health: “stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of your mental illness.” Stigma involves prejudice and discrimination that is often the result of misinformation, disinformation and deception. It may prevent people from seeking help, which will, in turn, cause mental illness to worsen. Always remember that mental illness is only one aspect of our identity, and everyone has a right to strive for good mental health.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Better Health – Stigma, discrimination and mental illness

Therapy

Therapy or counselling is the process of meeting with a trained and licensed mental health provider in a series of sessions. Sessions may be completed privately, as a couple or in a group as needed. The term “therapy” is surrounded by stigma. However, therapy is a very healthy activity for our mental well-being and is similar to seeking physical healthcare. Therapy benefits everyone, whether seeking treatment for a mental illness or looking to improve their overall mental health.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is therapy more specifically aimed at treating mental illness. A trained mental health professional may assist us in learning the cause of our condition and how to cope effectively. Psychotherapy is a clinical term we may choose to use while searching for an appropriate therapist. However, it is acceptable to refer to any form of therapy as therapy.

Glossary for Mental Health

Trauma

Courtesy of American Psychology Association: “trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.” Physical or psychological symptoms may present immediately after the event or arise years later. Sometimes the traumatic response will be to forget specific details of the event, but our mind will still remember the danger. Psychotherapy can help unearth the details of the traumatic event to provide treatment.

Trigger

Courtesy of Healthline: “triggers are anything that might cause a person to recall a traumatic experience they’ve had.” Anything may trigger a memory of the event, including images, scents, sounds or someone discussing a similar experience. The trigger may cause minor to dangerous emotional or psychological pain. A minor reaction may be soothed with self-care and mental health strategies. However, a strong reaction may be dangerous to our safety and require help from a professional mental healthcare provider.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):

Healthline – What It Really Means to Be Triggered

Trigger Warning (TW)

A trigger warning is often used on social media to indicate the content may be triggering. TW will be included at the top of the post and should be followed by the topic (i.e. TW: violence). The increasing use of trigger warnings is an example of the benefits of mental health awareness.

What other words should I add? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Steps to Create a Safe Space to Discuss Mental Health

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

As someone who has created a blog to share my mental health journey, I am grateful that people are becoming more receptive to mental health discussions.

Read More | 7 Strategies for Coping With Morning Anxiety

However, I recognize mental health awareness and acceptance are still relatively new. And I have noticed that many people lack the skills or understanding of how to engage in these conversations.

But I don’t want to use that as a criticism.

Man and woman in their safe space overlooking a forested mountain side

I was born in the 80s and raised believing that mental health conversations are taboo. We shouldn’t talk about it, we shouldn’t ask about it, and we should pretend it doesn’t exist.

It’s a difficult mindset to break, even more so without tools or guidance.

This difficulty is felt by those working on their mental health and those who want to support them.

In this post, I want to outline the skills necessary for discussing mental health and how to use them to create a safe space.

3 Key Skills for Discussing Mental Health

The main skills you need for discussing and understanding mental health are:

  1. Empathy: the ability to emotionally understand an experience from another’s viewpoint.
  2. Openness: the ability to be unbiased, honest and receptive to another’s experience.
  3. Consideration: the ability to think of and care for the feelings and needs of others.

These skills are required for both processing and supporting mental health. This means that both participants must practice these skills to have an effective conversation.

You will need to break your current mindset before you can develop these skills.

How Not To Discuss Mental Health

A common mistake I have experienced is people assuming that being open to mental health discussions warrants immediate permission.

Permission to do what?

Well, first, permission to ask questions.

This is a double-edged sword. Asking questions is acceptable because it shows your willingness to learn more about someone. But it’s very easy for questions to slip into inappropriate territory.

Second, permission to know sensitive details.

A relationship should not hinge on how deeply a person shares their history. There is no requirement for someone to share their trauma. And no time limit that earns the right to further details.

Third, permission to share.

In this case, I am referring to instances when a third party expects information that was shared in confidence. For example, the third party could express their desire for information in statements like “I just want to know more about them” or “what are they dealing with?”

I want to be very explicit and say that you do not have the right to know, and I do not have the right to tell you about someone else’s mental health diagnosis or history.

Before reading further, try to release these assumptions from your mind.

How to Practice Empathy, Openness and Consideration When Discussing Mental Health

A.      Remember that mental health is one aspect of who we are.

Though it can be a significant part and hold a lot of sway over our lives, we are not our diagnosis.

B.      Understand that discussing mental health is not easy.

It’s legitimately scary.

When someone reveals their trauma or vulnerabilities, they are leaving themselves exposed.

And no one wants to be left vulnerable or open to further harm.

C.      Appreciate that being an ally for mental health requires work, trust and protection.

You can’t back out if you opt to be there for someone. They will rely on you.

At the same time, you cannot expect them to trust or open up to you quickly.

You must demonstrate again and again that you can be trusted.

D.     Accept that this is a give-and-take relationship.

Both parties must willingly participate and make an effort.

If your effort is not being reciprocated, then end the discussion.

And understand that just because you want to share your history does not mean the other person must do so.

E.      Recognize that all mental health discussions must take place in a safe space.

A safe space is crucial for offering a sense of protection.

It will also give both parties a clear understanding of how to participate in these difficult discussions.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Mental Health America – Time To Talk: Tips For Talking About Your Mental Health

CAMH – Addressing Stigma

McLean Hospital – Let’s Face It, No One Wants To Talk About Mental Health

What Is a Safe Space?

A safe space is an area (whether a physical or social environment) in which a person feels free to be themselves. This means the space is welcoming, accepting, and free from bias, criticisms and risks of physical or emotional harm. And can include acceptance of different values, sexuality, mental health, etc. 

For this post, I will focus on the social environment in a safe space and how to create it for mental health discussions.

If you are interested in reading more about physical safe spaces, check out these posts from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Very Well Mind – How To Create Your Own ‘Safe Space’

Thrive – How to Create Your Own Safe Space at Home

My Peer Toolkit – Creating a safe space (This information is focused on young people)

A socially safe space is a comfortable environment for open discussions.

It is also an environment where a person feels safe to decline or selectively participate in certain topics.

Essentially, we want to create an environment where a person knows that we are here when they want to talk and will respect them when they don’t.

A safe space is something we build together.

It requires both parties to offer security, trust and openness.

And it takes time, effort and vulnerability to maintain.

An X symbol to denote what a safe space is not.

It is not something you are entitled to because of your relationship or because you are a nice person.

It is also not a tit-for-tat exchange. You cannot expect someone to share their deepest secret because you felt comfortable sharing yours.

Understand and accept that everyone will share what they can when they can. And remember to appreciate the trust they have in you.

Tips to Create a Safe Environment to Discuss Mental Health

“We don’t create a safe space for someone. Instead, we create a safe space with someone.”

– Ryan Tan, Samaritans of Singapore

1.      Verbally State Your Intentions

Have a conversation to establish that you want to create a safe space with the person you are talking to.

And I recognize this can be easier said than done, so try planning for this conversation.

First, think of why you have chosen this person:

  • What is your current relationship?
  • What do you want your relationship to be?
  • Why do you feel safe with them? (Think of specific examples.)
  • What do you want to share with them (i.e., your experience or support)?

Read More | Why You Should Start Journaling

You don’t have to tell the person why you chose them, but you need to understand why you did.

Why you chose them will determine how you broach the topic and how hard you are willing to work on creating this safe space.

Second, choose and rehearse the words you want to use.

This is a meaningful discussion. You don’t need a prepared speech. But you will want to organize your thoughts so they don’t come out as confusing word vomit.

  • How will you start the conversation? Will you be direct and to the point or feel things out first?
  • How could you transition a conversation into this discussion?
  • Why do you want to build a safe space with them?
  • Might this conversation make them uncomfortable? How can you make it easier?
  • How can you clarify that you are open to discussing mental health without suggesting criticism?

One thing I will caution is not to approach someone and say that you want to discuss their mental health.

Focus on the prize of building a safe space together to serve both your journeys. And yes, being a support system is its own journey.

An infographic for the 5 steps to create a safe environment to discuss mental health: 1. Verbally State Your Intentions. 2. Establish Boundaries. 3. Do Not Disclose Too Much Too Fast 4. Build Trust 5. Reinforce Your Safe Space

2.      Establish Boundaries

Once you have opened the discussion to create a safe space, it’s time for the work to begin.

Boundaries are the main area where your empathy, openness and consideration skills will converge.

Remember that a safe space offers security, inclusion and respect.

And boundaries are the guidelines we share to protect ourselves and respect others. We may also consider them as a means of relaying our needs.

Some examples of boundaries that may create a safe space are:

  • Do not lie to me.
  • Do not share my story with others.
  • Tell me when you are uncomfortable sharing.
  • Understand that when I cannot share, it is not because I don’t trust you.

Again, these are just examples.

Your boundaries will be specific to your needs. They can be based on your personal history and current relationship with the person and be subject to change.

Four factors to establishing boundaries in a safe space:

  1. Consider what you need in a safe space and set it as a boundary.
  2. Verbally state your boundaries to ensure your needs are clear.
  3. Be open to accepting the boundaries set by the other person.
  4. Discuss and negotiate if your boundaries clash (i.e., you have opposing needs that may leave one or both of you uncomfortable).

When negotiating boundaries, keep in mind you are creating a safe space for each other.

Negotiating boundaries can take a lot of work and compromise.

Just remember why you wanted this safe space and give it the effort it deserves.

And know it may not be easy, but this conversation is crucial.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Psych Central – 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries

Real Simple – This Is What It Looks Like to Set Personal and Emotional Boundaries

3.      Do Not Disclose Too Much Too Fast

You’ve discussed your desire to create a safe space and have established boundaries. So it may feel like it’s time to tell your life story. Not so fast!

It can feel exciting to have someone you can share with. But being too open comes with many downsides.

First, you don’t want to trauma dump on others.

And this could be done by either party. Sometimes an ally will dump their whole history to encourage the other person to share theirs. But while you may feel a sense of relief, you have now burdened or possibly hurt the other person.

Instead, start learning how to discuss trauma constructively. This includes finding a balance between under-sharing and oversharing. And allow room for the other person to assert their boundaries and protect their well-being.

Second, oversharing very quickly does not demonstrate trust.

Instead, it can be perceived as attention-seeking behaviour.

Consider a safe space like it’s an unknown body of water. You don’t know how deep it is. And if you dive right in, you may end up hurt or appear untrustworthy for being reckless.

Treat this space with care.

Third, you never want to give the impression that you would share this personal information with just anyone.

On the contrary, demonstrate that this information is something that you keep close and only share with select people.

Build trust slowly by sharing information in small doses over a few conversations.

This will also go a long way in creating a trusted, safe space.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Psych Central – Trauma Dumping: Why Considering the Impact of Oversharing Matters

Very Well Mind – When Oversharing Turns into Trauma Dumping, and How to Stop

Forbes – There Is A Clear Line Between Oversharing And Being Authentic — Here’s How To Avoid Crossing It

4.      Build Trust

You want to demonstrate both your trust and trustworthiness.

Showing trust does not only mean being vulnerable. Vulnerability is actually something you work towards. And you cannot be genuinely vulnerable before building a foundation of trust.

How do you build trust?

  • Be honest and reliable.
  • Be open with what you are comfortable sharing.
  • Demonstrate you feel secure with stopping a conversation if you are uncomfortable.
  • Verbally assert your current boundaries and open a discussion when you want to change them.
  • Listen and show understanding.
  • Let the other person know you appreciate their trust and confidence.
  • Ensure your actions align with your words.
  • Do not offer solutions, criticize or dismiss an experience.

Once you gain trust, never discussing what you have been told in confidence with or around a third party is crucial. This includes alluding to or hinting at having private information.

I’m not sure why some people do this. Perhaps they are bragging about having a close relationship. Or maybe they wrongly assume this shows they won’t tell anyone specific details. I honestly don’t know.

But it’s best to keep the fact that you are a trusted confidant a secret.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Talk Space – How to Make Every Space a Safe Space

Positive Psychology – 10 Ways To Build Trust in a Relationship

5.      Reinforce Your Safe Space

Remember that the safe space is for both of you. You will want to share your feelings and follow up with the other person.

Check in to ensure the space still feels safe and comfortable to all parties involved.

  • If any boundaries need to be changed, adjust them.
  • If the discussions have been too difficult, ask to take a step back.
  • If trust has been bent or broken, discuss it.

How often you check in depends on your relationship and how frequently you discuss difficult topics.

It’s also important to check in on the other person whenever you feel unsure about something.

For example, I’ve experienced moments when I was unsure if I had pushed against a boundary. Once I realized I may have made a mistake, I would state, “Please let me know if I’m being too much or if you feel uncomfortable.”

Again, maintaining a safe space requires constant work. But keeping communication focused on consideration for each other will make the work easier.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Ourselves Black – Breaking The Stigma: 4 Ways To Start The Mental Health Conversation

Think Mental Health – How to start the conversation

Sage Thinking – Creating Safe Spaces for Courageous Conversations

The Ladders – How to make every space a safe space

How Boundaries May Change in A Safe Space

You may be wondering why I keep mentioning adjusting or changing boundaries.

The ability to change boundaries is what makes a space safe.

Your comfort with and trust in the other person will be ever-evolving.

I will outline three possible stages in maintaining a safe space from the perspective of someone sharing their trauma. This will give you an idea of what it could look like.

However, everyone’s journey is different, so please do not judge your safe space against these examples.

In stage one, you may feel very guarded and unsure if this person is safe. You know that you want to tryto create a close relationship, but you also want to protect yourself.

You will likely have rigid boundaries using “do not” or “cannot” wording. This is because telling others what is not acceptable to you provides protection.

In stage two, the other person has demonstrated they are trustworthy. You may begin to feel secure but not yet ready to open up fully.

This is a good time to re-assess and discuss your boundaries.

Perhaps you will change your boundaries from “do not” rules into “if I’m feeling [emotion], I will/won’t [action]” statements. This tells the other person that you feel more comfortable exploring difficult topics and secure with showing some vulnerability.

In stage three, you may feel confident that you are in a truly safe space. This doesn’t mean that you will be an open book. Instead, it means that you will clearly understand what you can and want to share.

You will still have boundaries. And some may still use “do not” wording, and others may still include if/then statements. But maybe you will create a new personal boundary for yourself to follow.

It is also possible that someone may downgrade from stage 2 to stage 1. This could result from a problem in the safe space or an external factor.

It’s important to understand that a safe space will always require boundaries. And that’s a good thing.

Try to remain empathetic, open and considerate.

How to discuss mental health. 5 tips to create a safe environment.

Summary

If you are new to discussing mental health, I hope you will find this information useful. Just having an interest in starting these conversations is an excellent first step. Remember that being a support system requires a lot of discussions, effort and patience with minimal reward. You will make mistakes. And you may never understand how someone feels or the full details of their journey. But it means a lot to anyone working on their mental health to know that someone is there or wants to be there.

Takeaways

  • Try to release negative and harmful assumptions about mental health from your mind.
  • Focus on creating a safe space and understand what that looks like.
  • Start working on your empathy, openness and consideration skills.
  • Use empathy to understand that sharing information can be difficult and takes time.
  • Also, respect that you may never get full details and that’s okay.
  • Use openness to talk to your person and let them tell you what they need from you.
  • Never assume you know what is best.
  • Use consideration to create and respect boundaries.
  • And understand that it is not disrespectful when a person does not open up to you.
  • Keep trying not by asking or demanding more answers, but rather by asserting I am here if you need to talk.

Did I miss any negative assumptions about mental health? Also, as a safe space will look different for everyone, please share your opinion in the comments on how to create a safe space.

7 Strategies for Coping with Morning Anxiety

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

When does your anxiety usually hit?

I’m hardest hit in the morning—right when I wake up.

Anxious thoughts always seem to float through my final REM cycle of the night.

It is the worst alarm clock ever.

Pinterest Image: Seven self-care strategies to cope with morning anxiety

My mind is constantly working.

As an office worker and again as a teacher, I would constantly be thinking about what I needed to do at work and the best way to accomplish it. And now, with my blog, I’m always thinking of new content and how to present it.

No matter what kind of job I have, I lose sleep thinking about it.

And then there are all the other things that I worry about: a bill that needs to be paid, heavy rainfall, questioning if I turned off the stove or a what-if scenario that I’m running late.

Any of these things will force me to sit bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat, heart hammering away as if the world is ending.

Anxiety is a terrible way to start the day.

But I have learned how to manage my anxious mornings with time-intensive strategies; and none of them are ignoring it until it goes away

We can fake confidence, but we can’t deceive our mental health.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Healthline – Why Do I Have Anxiety in the Morning?

Well and Good – How to Prevent Morning Anxiety From Totally Ruining Your Day

Anxiety Specialists of Atlanta – Waking up Exhausted and Anxious?

1. Take a Day

Some people offer this as a last resort, but having a day for yourself is vital.

I think everyone should take a day more often. But I realize that this is not always an option for everyone based on your job or economic necessity.

If your job offers mental health days or sick days, take them.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent, ask your partner or a family member to take over for a few hours.

Calling work may add a little more nervousness to your morning. And I have always needed to convince myself to do it, but I have never regretted making the call.

Dedicate the entire day to yourself if you can.

Catch up on the sleep that was attacked.

Do your comforting activities.

Ignore social media for the whole day (I’ll explain why later).

And just relax. And I mean, really relax.

If part of your anxiety revolves around unfinished household chores, set a one-hour timer to get some (not all) done. Then save the remainder of the day for yourself.

My typical mental health day is filled with the comforting and stress-relieving activities I enjoy:

  • Sleeping for as long as possible with Do Not Disturb in full effect.
  • A shower to relax tense muscles and keep my skin healthy.
  • Wearing daytime pyjamas.
  • Drinking a warm beverage, but I try to avoid caffeine as it won’t soothe an anxious body.
  • And listening to an audiobook while working on a puzzle to focus my mind.

Again, these are the activities that I enjoy and I find calming.

When you take a day for yourself, fill it with the activities that comfort you. You can exercise, do crafts, bake, or do anything that feels calming to you.

It’s your day.

The main point is to rest your body and your mind.

2. Make a To-Do List

Anxiety sometimes leaves me feeling as if I am lazy, inept, and unproductive.

When an anxiety attack hits first thing in the morning, the idea of getting through the day can be daunting.

It’s already hard to get out of bed and only gets worse as the day’s tasks continue to build up.

Write a list on paper or your phone to get those tasks out of your mind.

When you accomplish a task, you can check it off.

It’s hard to explain but seeing all the check marks on a completed list is uplifting.

Even if I have completed a task before making a list, I will write it down for the simple joy of checking it off.

A to-do list helps me to focus. I know what I need to do, and I can track my progress for the day.

I can also limit my list based on what my current energy can accomplish.

If I have ten tasks but only the energy for four, I list the four most important things I need to do today. The act of finishing those four tasks may give me the energy to complete another two, three or four. And if I can’t do all ten, I reassure myself by looking at what I have achieved today.

My list will prove to my mind that I am competent and productive.

3. Feel for 15

This suggestion will take time and practice to master, but it’s entirely worth the effort.

Emotional intelligence is all about being aware of, understanding and managing our emotions.

No one likes to feel angry, sad, or anxious. These are heavy emotions that wear on our bodies. 

But we need to experience all emotions in their turn.

When anxiety hits, give yourself a set amount of time to feel through it.

You will dictate the amount of time you are prepared to give to your anxious thoughts.

This can be done in bed, in the shower or on the bus ride to work.

When my chest is bursting, I allow my mind 15 minutes to be anxious.

I will start by asking myself aloud, 

Okay, what are we freaking out about? 

Then my mind will flow through every negative and positive thought for 15 minutes.

That time allows me to be introspective about the issue(s) that triggered my anxiety and possible solutions.

I also use my physical coping mechanisms to calm my body during this time.

| Read more: How to Self-Soothe During a Panic Attack

The anxious thought may return later.

However, I can self-soothe with the reassurance that I already gave it time:

“No. I’ve already worried about that. Let it go.”

Through practice, I have found that 15 minutes works best for me.

If you need more or less time, take it.

Try not to suppress your anxiety, anger or sadness. I am happier for feeling all of my emotions.

4. Journal

The old faithful.

The basics of journaling are getting your feelings out of your mind.

Use it to understand and work through your thoughts and experiences. 

It doesn’t matter how you write; just write:

  • Freewrite
  • Jot notes
  • Poems
  • Lyrics
  • Comics

When I am anxious, I freewrite in my journal and let my mind go on its journey. 

Sometimes it just relieves me from the weight of overwhelming thoughts. 

And sometimes, it helps me find solutions.

Writing is a comforting activity for me. Just the feeling of writing with a pen on paper is calming. 

Please never feel embarrassed about starting a journal. It’s personal, and it’s helpful.

5. Use Affirmations

An affirmation is a positive statement we can use to recondition our minds.

It is a mindful activity that we need to prepare and practice during calm moments. Consider it like preparing your arsenal for when anxiety attacks.

You can find an overwhelming number of affirmations through Google. But I would suggest using those as examples only.

I find affirmations are more successful when meaningful and personal.

| Read more: Generate Positivity With Affirmations

You can also choose the number of affirmations that you need. Rely on one or choose from a collection to suit your present circumstances.

Should an anxiety attack hit me, I choose one of my affirmations and repeat it in my mind or out loud while looking into a mirror.

And I don’t just use affirmations when I am feeling anxious. I have five daily affirmations that I say to myself in the morning and night.

I find they don’t just protect me; they can also set my mood.

6. Do Not Use Social Media

I know that scrolling through Instagram or Facebook can feel relieving; we can see cute animals or funny videos.

But we have zero control over what we will see on social media.

Your friends and family can share personal updates or news stories that you are not prepared for.

Or you may start watching a cute animal video just to find out it’s an in memoriam—this happened to me recently.

If you’re already feeling anxious, stay offline.

Similarly, be deliberate about when you check the news. It’s important to stay informed. But a majority of the stories are negative.

I don’t need to compound an anxious day with further doom and gloom.

Choose a comforting activity that you can control.

7. Do Not Use Negative Self-Talk

Anxiety will try to convince you that you suck.

But your mind is lying to you.

You are worth so much more than every negative thought.

And you owe it to yourself to be encouraging and optimistic.

I would never speak to the people I love how my mind speaks to me.

I consciously reassure myself that I am safe and loved and better than my mind wants me to believe.

Pinterest image: Transform your mind. How to overcome morning anxiety. Anxiety is a terrible way to start the day. 
Learn how to manage anxious mornings with 
time-intensive strategies.

I hope that you have noticed the common theme among my coping strategies is self-care: giving time to the care of my mind, body and emotions.

For an anxious person, it can feel like the best solution to our struggle is to become numb and just follow through the motions of the day.

But we are not robots.

I want to live a fulfilling life, not just survive the day.

Blocking out feelings to avoid the bad ones also blocks out everything positive, happy and exciting.

Pushing through to endure beyond enduring draws a heavy cost on our health.

And not giving time to our difficult emotions does not control them. It actually takes all control from us.

Knowing the best strategies to serve your anxiety will first depend on what your anxiety triggers are.

| Read more: 100 Anxiety Triggers

Try to keep in mind that most mental health remedies, strategies and skills take practice, time and effort.

There is no quick or easy solution so give yourself time to find the perfect strategies to serve you.

When does your anxiety usually hit? And what is your most successful coping strategy? Share it in the comments below!

Generate Positivity With Affirmations

What’s the state of your internal monologue? Are you encouraging? Or do you ridicule yourself?

Most of us use negative statements regularly:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I can’t do it.
  • I suck.

Whether we say them out loud or in our heads, they do nothing but convince us that we are not worthy of our goals.

But we don’t deserve this negative narrative.

Start speaking to yourself with the same kindness you would offer to the people you cherish.

Affirming your positive life: The benefits of creating your own affirmations and the easy 4-step process to write positivity into your life

The Stigma of Affirmations

I didn’t use to believe in affirmations.

I was deterred by the stigma surrounding people who use words to bolster self-confidence.

Affirmations were often demonstrated by seemingly neurotic, low self-esteem people in movies and TV shows. It gave the impression that affirmations are silly. “A reasonable person would never look in a mirror and tell themselves how great they are”—wrong.

Such negative representations of effective mental health practices keep many people from seeking the help they need. And the support they deserve.

It coincides with the misconceptions that self-care is selfish and that we shouldn’t discuss mental health.

Affirmations are effective, and we should not be afraid to try them.

What is An Affirmation?

Affirmations are positive statements that we use to refresh our minds.

And just as negative talk can erode our self-image, the opposite is true.

  • I am good enough.
  • I can do it.
  • I’m great.

Affirmations can be used to target any part of your life or mentality that you want to change. Make a positive impact on your self-care, self-esteem, career, relationships, or mental health.

Benefits of Creating Your Affirmations

The process has its own benefits.

The internet has many examples of affirmations.  And they’re helpful if you connect with the statements.

However, I believe that the most effective affirmations are those you create for yourself.

Why is that?

Well, let me tell you.

The process has its own benefits.

First, creating affirmations requires self-reflection. Because as we start identifying what we want to change, we discover the root of the negativity.

Second, once we know the root, the positive statements can target those specific negative thoughts.

Last, what we target becomes our goal. Goals provide a means to judge our growth. And seeing our growth encourages us to continue on our journey.

Features of An Effective Affirmation

1.      Positive vibes only.

An affirmation should be positive.

Try not to include any statements that allude to the negative thoughts. This will only draw focus to the negative.

Try not to include words like don’t, won’t and can’t.

Examples of weak affirmations:

  • I don’t suck.
  • I won’t tell myself I can’t do it.
  • I can’t say I’m not worthy.

We want to rephrase the complete sentence into something positive.

2.      Be realistic.

Ensure your goal is believable and achievable. You may be discouraged if it is too far out of your grasp.

Don’t be afraid to set smaller goals while you progress to the big ones.

Say your goal is to get a promotion. That big goal is your endgame.

Set small goals to help get you there:

  • Grow your confidence.
  • Start telling yourself how well you do your job.
  • Start growing your leadership skills.
  • Identify your weaknesses and consider how you can turn them into strengths.

Create affirmations to support each of these goals.

You can also use affirmations to prepare for this journey. For example, use phrases like “I am open to…” and “I am in the process of…” to help you negotiate with your negative mind.

Use your affirmations to inspire: you may not be there yet, but you’re working on it.

3.      Stay in the present.

It is best to write in the present tense using I and my phrases like “I am…” or “I can…” or “My strengths….”

You want to influence your mind’s acceptance that you already possess these positive features.

4.      Focus on the self.

Use affirmations to positively change the things you can control.

Instead of affirming, “My co-workers will like me,” try, “I can accept if they don’t.”

You cannot control what other people think or do. But you can control your reaction.

This journey is about you. Accept yourself, love yourself and grow.

And understand that you may outgrow the negative influencers in your life.

5.      No deadlines.

A sure-fire way to disappoint yourself is to set a progress deadline.

Sometimes the negative thoughts have deep roots. They’ve had years to grow.

And while we can encourage change, we cannot force it. The change will come as you practice your affirmations and work towards your goals.

So try to keep your affirmations free from time expressions like “this time next year,” “by the end of the month,” or “in 30 days.”

6.      Short and sweet.

Keep the affirmation short and to the point. It should be memorable.

You will be repeating your affirmations multiple times a day. And you don’t want to get caught up in trying to remember the wording.

As you begin practicing your affirmations, you may decide to edit the phrasing. That’s great!

Adjust the statements to suit your needs.

Create An Affirmation in Four Steps

Creating an affirmation only takes a few steps.

1.      Set up your page.

(a)      Add a title.

The title is entirely optional but can help keep you organized. The title may be especially beneficial as your journey begins branching into different areas.

For example:

  • Affirmations for self-care
  • Affirmations for my career
  • Affirmations for emotional intelligence

(b)      Divide the page into two columns.

Either fold a page in half or draw a line down the center.

2.      List your negative qualities.

In the left column, write your negatives.

Try to be as specific as possible.

To help you create this list, you could refer to your journal entries, take time to self-reflect, or consider feedback from others.

I will use the example of “I feel uncomfortable standing in front of a class.” (I think first-time teachers and anyone who has hosted a meeting will understand.)

But this is very broad. Yes, I wish I was more comfortable, but what qualities hold me back?

I want to focus on what makes me feel uncomfortable by asking myself questions:

  • What is the cause?
  • Am I afraid?
  • What specifically am I afraid of?
  • Am I nervous about my skills as a teacher?
  • Am I nervous about how my students will behave?
  • Do I feel under-prepared?

Through this process, I may realize the problem stems from an old memory of tripping in class. (I move a lot while teaching, and I’ve bumped into everything!)

In my list, I will write: “I am afraid of making mistakes.”

3.      Write your affirmations.

In the right column, rephrase the negatives into positives.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the positive aspects of these qualities?
  • How might the “weaknesses” be useful?
  • How would you encourage your friends if they said these things about themselves?

Try to use strong words. A thesaurus helps change your wording from good to great.

Remember: you can edit the affirmation at any time.

Let’s write an affirmation for my “I am afraid of making mistakes” example.

Now, let’s figure out the perfect phrase:

  • Every mistake is a chance to learn.
    • Too many words.
  • My mistakes are learning opportunities.
    • I can get better wording.
  • My mistakes influence progress.
    • Perfect! (I used a thesaurus.)

This affirmation is positive, realistic, about me, has no deadlines and, most importantly, is short.

It also encourages my mind to forgive and view mistakes positively.

4.      Stay to the right.

After you write your affirmation, scratch out the negative thought.

It’s finished. Take it off your list and out of your mind.

And highlight the affirmation in a bright colour.

Practice Makes Impact

You want to remember to practice your affirmations daily.

Display the affirmation.

Don’t share it online. But put the affirmation somewhere you will see it.

I like to keep my affirmations on sticky notes, posted next to a mirror or on my closet door.

I use bright colours to connect my mind to the affirmation. For example, I may highlight my affirmation in orange. Then if I use my orange highlighter at work, I will say the affirmation. 

Say the affirmation.

Self-improvement is all about practice. And we practice positive thinking by affirming positive thoughts.

Speak the affirmation out loud for five minutes, three times a day. You can set the schedule, but the standard practice is morning, afternoon and evening.

Try saying the affirmations while looking in the mirror. Make eye contact with yourself. Don’t rush it. Let the phrases sink in.

Try to include your breathing exercise:

Deep breath in → Hold → Exhale slowly → Speak your affirmation

But what if you’re at work or out with friends? Try to write your affirmation multiple times in a notebook. You may also use the Notes app on your phone. This exercise reminds you to think of your affirmations.

Share the affirmation.

If you have a safe person supporting your journey, share your affirmations with them.

For one, they can provide feedback to make the affirmation stronger.

And for another, they can repeat your affirmation to you.

The purpose of an affirmation is to change your self-image. And some of the negative images we have about ourselves come from external factors. So having another person re-affirm that you have these positive qualities is invaluable.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Cleveland Clinic – Do Positive Affirmations Work? What Experts Say

Mind Tools – Using Affirmations

Psychology Today – Affirmations: The Why, What, How, and What If?

My First Affirmations

Most people who provide how-to lists don’t offer examples like this. Perhaps it’s because it’s terrifying to show our vulnerabilities. But this is the purpose of this blog. I hope you will find it helpful.

These were the first affirmations I ever wrote for myself. They took all night as I kept narrowing down the negative side. I really wanted a clear base to build from.

An example of my first affirmations, shown exactly as I described the 4 steps to create affirmations

Looking at these examples now, I think they could use some improvement. However, at the time, they felt right, and they supported me.

After writing these affirmations, I wrote them on a post-it and hung them next to my bedroom mirror.

I felt ridiculous when I started using them, as I still felt the stigma. But I wanted to make positive changes, and I trusted the judgement of my friends who used affirmations.

I started saying them when I was getting dressed, during my lunch break and through my nightly shower.

I did find six affirmations challenging to manage at first.

It was challenging to remember all six and their exact wording. Plus some of them are just too long.

I would start by creating only one or two at a time and slowly adding more.

And edit them as you need to.

Have you ever created an affirmation? What advice would you share?

How to Self-Soothe During a Panic Attack

Even before the diagnosis, I’ve always had coping mechanisms for my anxiety.

Yes, anxiety and panic attacks are not the same thing. However, one may spark the other.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.

Some self-soothing techniques came about somewhat subconsciously. Others were deliberately applied. The more deliberate actions were found when I seriously researched my anxiety disorder.

I have tried a long, varied list of activities and methods.

Eventually, I adopted the techniques I found that successfully calm my mind and body.

I prefer practicing multiple self-soothing techniques. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. There’s no cure-all.
  2. It’s best to use different coping mechanisms for different situations.
  3. We should remain open to trying new methods.

In this post, I will give you a few physical and mental coping mechanisms to try.

Physical Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety

The following methods involve external stimulation to calm anxiety.

1.      Holding Thumb to Palm

This is one technique I found by chance.

When I am in a social situation, I become very aware of my hands. To alleviate the awareness, I hold them together.

One day I realized how relieving it is to hold my thumb in my palm.

How to do it:

I am right-handed, so I will hold my right thumb in my left palm. I put my right hand over my left. My right thumb rests flat against my left palm. And my left thumb rests over my right hand.

If you are left-handed, using the opposite hands will be as effective.

A demonstration of how to hold your thumb to the palm of your opposite hand

Notes:

You may need to apply light pressure through your thumb. But it should not feel as though you are gripping your hands.

It is best to hold skin-to-skin. Do not dig your nails into your palm.

Benefits:

I honestly don’t know how it works. But it is very calming.

Perhaps it is slightly grounding. The physical sensation distracts from the mental distress.

Why I like it:

Although it’s physical, others won’t notice when you use this technique. I have done this while teaching or standing in a meeting.

2.      Breathing

The perk of this technique is that it has benefits for both your body and your mind.

How to do it:

Take a deep breath through your nose for at least 4 seconds. Hold it for at least 7 seconds. And slowly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat three times. Adjust the time to suit your body.

Notes:

During this practice, try not to inhale through your mouth.

Our nose is designed for breathing. That’s its primary purpose, and, for most of us, it’s great at it.

You may find that you are out of breath after breathing through your mouth. This is because our mouth doesn’t fill our lungs quite as well as our nose does. So our mouth can take a big breath, but it won’t reach as deep into the lungs.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Verywell Mind – 8 Deep Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

Right As Rain – This Is Why Deep Breathing Makes You Feel so Chill

Healthline – What Is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique?

Benefits:

Deep breathing opens the lungs and sends more oxygen to your body. Greater oxygen circulation improves your lungs, muscles and brain.

Also, focusing on your breathing will pull focus away from your anxious thoughts.

During the exercise, the mind concentrates on the air moving through the nose sitting in the lungs and pushing out through the mouth.

Why I like it:

Breathing exercises are lovely. As your body begins to feel better, so will your mind.

3.      Holding a cold water bottle

This is a new technique I’ve been practicing, thanks to a recommendation from a friend.

How to do it:

Grab a water bottle and cup it between your hands. The bottle does not need to be ice cold—that is much too uncomfortable for my sensitive hands. But it should be cooler than your hands.

Hold the bottle for as long as you need to.

Notes:

If you are near a body of water, you may also find just placing your palm over the water’s surface to be calming. Feeling the water lightly lap against the palm is peaceful.

And please know that I am jealous if you are near a lake. I wish I were near a lake.

You can also try holding ice, which I only just found out is currently a trend—I must be getting old for being so far out of the loop.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Medical News Today – Anxiety and hot flashes: What is the link?

Parade – TikTokkers Are Using Ice Cubes to Stop Panic Attacks—But Does This Trick Work?

Stylist – How to Calm Anxiety At Night

Benefits:

Hot flashes are one symptom of anxiety/panic attacks. In response to stress, our body releases hormones and our blood circulation increases.

Think of how relieved and refreshed you feel standing near an air conditioner. Holding the bottle provides a similar cooling effect.

The bottle also applies pressure to the palms, which provides some grounding.

Why I like it:

It’s very handy (pun intended) as I always have my support water bottle nearby. I’ve both slept and taught while holding my water bottle.

Mental Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety

These methods involve internal calming practices or talking ourselves through a panic attack.

1.      Say your reassurances and affirmations

I decided to group both reassurances and affirmations because they are similar practices. But they are not the same thing.

A reassurance is a statement (and/or action) to relieve fears and doubts.

An affirmation is a positive statement to combat negative thoughts.

Again, very similar but slightly different.

You can also think of a reassurance as supporting your reality while an affirmation supports your mentality.

Note: Try combining these phrases with the breathing exercise.

A.      Reassurances

When an external force is triggering my anxiety, I choose to fight back with a reassurance. I know how I would speak to my friends, so I have chosen to be similarly kind to myself.

How to do it:

Assess the situation to find what triggered the attack. Tell yourself that you are safe. And be specific. What are you safe from and why?

For example, let’s say you are panicking because you’re in the middle of a crowd.

“It’s okay. I’m okay. It’s normal to be scared in a crowd. I’m safe. No one here wants to hurt me.”

Repeat these sentences as often as you need. Say them aloud or in your head.

Notes:

I intentionally use multiple sentences when I reassure myself.

I like to start with a short sentence to grab my mind’s attention. I also repeat it with the change from it (the situation) to I (myself) to draw focus to me.

The rest of the statements are about my feelings, safety, and a clear reason why I am safe.

Benefits:

Learning to reassure yourself will give you a lot of power.

You will begin to understand the basis of your fear. Then once you identify it, you are better positioned to manage it.

Using the same example: I am still uncomfortable in a crowd, but I won’t avoid them. And solo adventures have become possible.

Why I like it:

Reassurances can be created on the spot.

B.       Affirmations

My affirmations flip the script when my mind forces my anxiety to panic.

How to do it:

Refer to your cache of affirmations. Choose one or two affirmations that fit the situation. Slowly speak the affirmation to yourself—aloud or in your head. Repeat it until you feel calm.

The best affirmation will depend on what triggered the attack.

Notes:

Affirmations require pre-planning and practice.

Read more: How to Create Unique Affirmations

Benefits:

Affirmations will help you to reprogram your mind.

You may begin to see yourself in a different light. And you will grow confidence in your ability to live with your anxiety and panic attacks.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Mind Tools – Using Affirmations

Happier Human – 45 Positive Affirmations for Anxiety Relief and Stress Reduction

Chopra – 7 Benefits of a Daily Affirmation Plan

Why I like it:

The more often that I use affirmations, the more I trust myself.

2.      Lists

This technique may or may not have been inspired by Dame Julie Andrews.

How to do it:

When the panic attack begins, start listing things in your mind or on paper.

Your list could be things you find comforting, the people you trust, or your tasks for the day.


“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens / Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens / Brown paper packages tied up with strings / These are a few of my favourite things”

Rodgers and Hammerstein, “The Sound of Music” (1959)

Notes:

You may speak through your list or repeat it over in your head.

If you choose to list your tasks for the day, write them down. Keep the number of tasks limited to the few most important things that must be done today. As you complete the tasks, you will get the bonus of being able to check them off.

Benefits:

Lists provide focus.

Your panic attack may want you to hyper-focus on something your mind has determined to be going wrong. By making a list, you adjust that focus. And you will take back power from your hectic mind.

Why I like it:

Lists are easy to create, and I get so much enjoyment from checkmarks.  

3.      Journaling

A lot of relief can come from unleashing your feelings and fears on the page.

How to do it:

Write in your journal or make notes on a mobile app.

You can give details about what is causing the panic attack. Or you can track your feelings and symptoms.

Benefits:

Journaling gives you the ability to release what is attacking your mind. Getting the thoughts and fears out of your head is a big relief.

It will also give you notes about what you were feeling and why. Then you can reflect on the situation at a later time.

Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):

Very Well Mind – Journal Writing as a Tool for Coping With Panic and Anxiety

Don’t Panic, Do This – THE Best Panic Attack Diary Template (Anxiety Journaling 101)

Bustle – 7 Types Of Journaling That Can Help You Manage Anxiety

Why I like it:

Putting pen to paper has always been calming to me. I feel better after I write.

How to self-soothe during a panic attack

And there you have it, seven methods to self-soothe during a panic attack.

I hope you will find a few of these suggestions helpful.

Again, some of the techniques I listed may not work for you. But I hope you will continue researching more coping strategies—even the seemingly strange ones.

Try to have a balance of mental and physical techniques.

You want to treat your symptoms, ground yourself in reality and calm your mind.

If you have any strategies to share, please leave them in the comments.