Cutting Some Slack

‘What a waste! She can’t even do this properly!’

The child got up and dusted herself off. ‘Fine, I won’t do it at all!’

This rebellious response to a situation where someone is being a bully appears to be justified. After all, there is no need to prove ourselves to a random person. However, if this wasn’t an external voice, but an internal one, would we still walk away that easily?

With every mistake we make, we bully ourselves over having overlooked the obvious. We hit ourselves even when we are down, in the hope that we can shame ourselves into doing better. Spoiler alert: Revenge rarely motivates us to make productive change the way it drives characters in the media.

‘Life has no do-overs’ is an anxiety-provoking statement in itself. To deal with that absolute reality, we try to create as many do-overs for ourselves as we can. Think of the times we reached the point of no return in a relationship, at a job, or a personal project. Once a certain mental threshold had been crossed, we decided that we couldn’t continue after having blotted our copybooks, and would prefer to start on a clean slate elsewhere. This all-or-nothing response is driven by a “Do it well or don’t do it at all” adage that voices the bully.

This drastic response occurs because when we feel stuck at a point of no return, we are confronted with vulnerability while everyone else seems to have it all together. We interpret that vulnerability as a poor reflection of our identity and abilities. Rather than seeing it as a temporary block in the course of the flow, we see it as the end of this journey. Being faced with that uncertainty sparks fear within us, so we are quick to jump ship while we still can and distance ourselves from that vulnerability and existential doubt of who we are if not what we thought we were.

The flaw in humans is that we expect a steady pour of productivity and creativity to produce at will, like turning on a tap, for it will mean that we “have it all together”. However, our brain is more like a flowing stream. It bends and curves but the water flows naturally. At various parts, the flow is blocked or interrupted due to the growth of nature. Nonetheless, the water trickles there but gushes elsewhere. When we encounter a block in an actual stream, we walk ahead to find where it has an abundance of water. Similarly, when we have a block in productivity, we need to give ourselves time so that we can gush later on.

Practising self-compassion requires us to adjust our mental threshold to that of everyone else’s. It requires us to allow ourselves to make mistakes and be human. In adapting to this situation, we can take a break from the task and ask ourselves what within us feels threatened for us to be unable to work on this task. It calls for a reminder that we are not defined by this task or all the work that we are meant to do. We are human, and by that virtue, we are worthy of faith, hope, compassion, and pixie dust. Remember: Just because you trip on a step doesn’t mean you throw yourself down the whole flight of stairs. You get up, dust off, and continue on your journey!

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Kintsugi – Healing Our Shame

Our society functions on standards and checklists. Once enough items are ticked off the checklist, we qualify for a label. Passed 7 papers out of 9? Congratulations! You can move on to the next semester. 4 symptoms met out of 7? You have an illness. After being accustomed to a world where every event needs to be quantified in order to mark a socially recognized milestone, is it any surprise that the vast majority of society is having an existential crisis due to uncertainty regarding what they want?

Irrespective of what our circumstances may be, anyone can feel like they aren’t enough – even if they seem to have it all. A life of happiness, health and success is the dream that we are all heading towards, but our paths diverge. Regardless of whether we take a shortcut there or a detour, what matters socially is how soon we achieve it, and how long we retain it. In creating a prototype of perfection, we are doing an injustice to all the variations, the quirks and the roadblocks that come in everyone’s paths.

The Japanese concept of Kintsugi or Kintsukuroi is a practice of repairing broken objects in gold. This way, even the cracks are a part of your history, and you’re not broken anymore. As lovely as it sounds, this practice might no longer fit in the culture we live in. We are the generation that goes back and deletes our teenage years from social media. Every action of ours is documented and scrutinized repeatedly for how well it holds up in the present time. When something breaks, we throw away the pieces. One mistake, and we start over – to ensure that the final product is perfect and untouched by flaws. In doing this, we are rejecting each attempt we make to repair something.

We do the same with ourselves. Regardless of what one has undergone – be it trauma, addiction, body image struggles due to acne/braces or anything else – it may seem appealing to pretend that it never happened so as to ‘move on’. In doing so, we are associating that event with shame. This rejection hurts us instead of healing us because we are erasing a part of ourselves. It is difficult to move on from something we haven’t tended to. What we need to remember is that sometimes, the onus of fixing everything with a brave face needs to be shared with someone else. This is where seeking therapy helps.

Therapy functions on the principle of Kintsugi. All the different pieces of the client’s life are gathered and put together – perhaps differently from how they were earlier – but just the way the client accepts and wants. The gold is symbolic of the powerful healing nature of a strong therapeutic alliance, which is the relationship between a client and the therapist. In therapy, the lens from which one views their life is altered. Thus, they go from being a victim of their circumstances to see how the impact of their past fits into the context of where they are headed. This takes a collaborative effort – where the therapist helps the client to examine the different pieces of their past and the meaning attached to them, in the context of their identity, emotional well-being and relationships.

The ultimate goal of therapy is to take ownership for one’s actions and to be accountable for them. When the cracks have been filled with gold, the object and person can now withstand more than they could earlier because of the added strength of the gold. The person emerges stronger and better than before, and THAT is the power of healing.

(Not) a laughing matter!

The end of the month is near, which is the time we tend to be a little low on cash, plus have deadlines looming over us. During this time, with stress being higher than usual, we are prone to overlook details or make mistakes.

Whenever I say something silly, or I’m the butt of someone else’s joke, I feel horribly embarrassed. Even if the joke is really funny – or if I would have laughed had it been about anyone else. I feel like I’d rather be swallowed by the ground. But more than that, I feel like I need to compensate for that by being more ‘mature’ or un-laughable in order to redeem myself.

Here, it is not the topic that matters. Maybe it was something personal, maybe it was situational. Maybe we even joke about it with others. What is embarrassing is that ‘I was not in control of giving that information’ or ‘I was not prepared for it’. When I’m making the same joke about myself, I control what I say and how I say it – and I’m mentally prepared to be laughed at. This also applies to goof-ups made during presentations, group discussions or at a casual gathering.

After it has happened, we stew over ‘But now, they’ll forever see me that way’ or ‘Now everyone will tease me about it’. Maybe they will. What can we do to come to terms with it?

For starters, we can recognise that we are taking ourselves far too seriously. What bothers us is the lack of control over that information rather than the content itself. The moment we accept that ‘Hey, someone else shared it’, we can choose to reclaim ownership over that by laughing at ourselves. (Extremely difficult? I empathise). Sure, maybe you’ll laugh about it a week later, or a year later. (Just not yet). The moment people get that you’re okay with embracing vulnerability, it makes you more likeable and pretty gutsy – that you can laugh at yourself.

Rather than saying: ‘life is too short to take yourself so seriously’, I prefer to remind myself that: ‘I’m more than this, but this tiny aspect is also me’. Once I accept that, I can choose to work to change it or embrace it. After all, even if nothing else changes, it is a story worth telling someday!

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Keeping the blinkers on

It is believed that when one has a near-death experience, their life flashes before their eyes. This prompts people to question: ‘Will I be satisfied with what I see then?’ Most often, the fear is that we won’t, and we’ll regret it when it’s too late.

Today, we have apps that do this for us. They show us our year in review, the keywords we typed, the colours we used, the memories we shared and so on. Logically, since most people post their achievements on social media, these are meant to make us feel better, right? Unsurprisingly, people feel like they didn’t do enough, succeed enough, feel enough or live enough. While we view another person’s video, we’re seeing their successes, but when we watch our own, we’re seeing our missed opportunities or what ‘could’ or ‘should’ have been. Thus, we feel like we did not make the most of this year, feel bad about it, and thereby decide that next year, we’ve to compensate for the lost chances from this year. Cue the resolutions (I will exercise more/eat healthy this year) and goals (I will lose 5 kgs by June) for the new year. Miss one day, and we lose motivation and bully ourselves for having missed it (Now I’ve to work harder to catch up). Essentially, we have set ourselves up for failure – we are trying to go up a slippery slope and wondering why we haven’t reached the top yet, and why everyone always seems to be ahead of us.

Sometimes, seeing the bigger picture helps us keep track of where we are headed. However, the end of the year is an arbitrary time to take stock of where we are, and set unrealistic goals to reach an ideal version of ourselves. New year resolutions don’t (usually) work because we are forcing a change overnight – and a conditional time-bound one along with that (I start a new lifestyle/new me tomorrow – and if I blow it even once, there’s no hope for me anymore this year).

This year, let’s replace the pressure of total transformation with gratitude. Think of achievements or things in your life that you’re grateful for. Acknowledging those successes is crucial in moving forward to setting new goals.

Similarly, for each goal you make, think of ways to emotionally reward yourself regardless of whether or not you work towards that goal. (I have not exercised today, and I will have a chocolate chip cookie anyway – because I feel like it. It is unrelated to me making ‘good enough’ progress towards my goal). The lesser the conditionality in our behaviour, the better we feel about the goal.

The end of the year or the start of another year can seem intimidating when it looms closer. Let’s recognize that we can choose to start over any day, not just in the New year. If you’re feeling good about where you are, there is no need to tweak anything about it for the sake of making a change. If it helps, you can make a small change today, or tomorrow, or any other day that isn’t 1st Jan, and it will still be every bit as powerful and effective – without the added pressure.

Here’s to taking one step at a time!

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Managing Work

The world of work involves so much more than what our position specifies. We spend most of our day thinking about our work (or how to avoid it) and gravely underestimate the impact that it has on our mental well-being. Here are 5 tips to deal with pesky issues that bother us about our work.

 

Tip 1: Giving & Receiving Feedback

Receiving feedback can be scary and demotivating at times. When on the receiving end of any feedback, keep yourself separate from your work. Ask for a constructive point on what to do next. The motive isn’t to embarrass/insult you. When giving feedback, hold off on unflattering comparisons and focus entirely on the work in front of you.

 

Tip 2: Work-life balance

We all know that it is important to leave work at work, but it isn’t all that easy. If getting into the flow takes a while, getting out of it will too! We can’t always be switched on and off when at work and stepping out of it. Rather than switching off when we walk out of office, it might be easier to unwind during the commute (like a regulator) and use that time to turn down the dial, one notch at a time.

Tip 3: Prioritising tasks   

Sometimes, work piles up so much that we become overwhelmed and decide to do nothing at all. During those times, it helps to do one simple task first – such as organising your desk, or making a to-do list. Doing one task makes us feel more productive, because we just accomplished something. It renews our self-confidence in tackling all our work one by one. Prioritising our tasks based on their importance and urgency can help us to tackle that pile and get things done.

 

Tip 4: Feeling stuck

As children, we dreamt of a perfect job where we did what loved and saved the world while doing it. If you’re feeling stuck in your current job because it is a far cry from what you had in mind for your dream job (even if not the childhood version of it), pause and take stock of whether this job is truly serving any purpose in the larger picture. What do you want from your dream job (that you aren’t getting at your present one)? What is stopping you from moving towards it? How can you overcome these obstacles?

The feeling of stuck-ness can give us clarity, should we choose to explore it. Let it guide your way to a better future for yourself!

 

Tip 5: Handling burnout

Sometimes, it seems as though everything has come together – work, responsibilities, unexpected stressors – and we simply cannot cope with them all. During these times, we have to recognise that we definitely need a break to clear our heads and get ourselves back together. The work will wait – but our mind and body need us more. Take a break free of guilt!

 

 

Work comes with its own demands and deadlines, but we need to recognize when we have had enough for a time. Talk to your superior about managing stress, improving communication and fostering a positive work environment. If you feel that your stress is too entwined with your workplace, then get a transfer or another job. You matter more than your ability to work. Never forget!

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Staying With The Feeling

When was the last time you had a bad feeling – something like a lump in your throat, or a headache, or a sinking feeling in your chest? It comes out of the blue and catches us off guard. When something unexpected happens, we get thrown off and get carried away by ‘feeling bad’ as we put it. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to have – so we bottle it up, suppress it, forget all about it and move on until another event triggers all of this back – stronger than ever.

Why does it come back with a vengeance? It’s because, underneath the ‘feeling bad’, there’s actually a horde of emotions, ranging for anger to sadness, fear to anxiety. When something doesn’t go right for a group of us, each person feels bad, but that bad feeling means something different for each person. Unless we process that, it stays unresolved and lurks out of sight (but not out of mind).

When something causes us to feel bad, we need to take a moment right then to identify what that bad feeling is. Stay with the feeling instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist. Since it is hard to think of a specific word that matches our feeling, there’s a trick that we can use. Open your phone and pick specific Whatsapp emojis that best match the emotion you feel. That helps put a label on the feeling, at least temporarily.

Secondly, ask yourself the following:

  1. Is my feeling a reflection of me, or of the situation?
  2. Can I do something about it?

Now, think of an emoji that you would like to be at. Evidently, it is hard to go from 🤬to 😒, but it is easier to go from 🤬to 😠 , and then from  😠 to 😒 . So, choose an emoji state you’d like to be at in the next 10 minutes.

Next, think of an activity that you can do that can get you there. It can be deep breathing, it can be treating yourself at that moment with a chocolate (for those with a sweet tooth) or a coffee (for caffeine lovers), or promising yourself a dinner out after work (for those who get hangry). Sometimes, thinking about delayed gratification is as effective as instant pleasure.

Contrary to popular practice, negative emotions are not taboo. They exist to tip us off that something isn’t quite right – but it is up to us to get to the bottom of that feeling. We are allowed to have and feel them. Rather than clumping them up together, let us divide and conquer!

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

How’s Your Meme-tal Health?

Gone are the days when we used to log in to Facebook at the end of the day to catch up on what has been going on while we were getting through the day. Today, all of us use social media on a regular basis – be it just scrolling through Facebook during a break, or feeling a rebellious streak when stalking someone on Instagram while sitting in a meeting. Sometimes, we even do it without being conscious of doing it – possibly when multitasking with another activity – be it watching TV (which itself has declined) or hanging out with a group of friends. Nevertheless, it is now an inseparable part of our lives.

When on social media, we see loads of memes on mental health. They can be about self-care, breaking down, hiding our problems and so on. These might be harmless ones that we feel we can relate with, at least on the surface.

They are not meant to educate, only to make you feel that you’re not alone, and to possibly find yourself laughing at the absurdity of the situation. The more memes we see and relate to, we also diagnose ourselves as having multiple mental health issues.

Since we are scrolling almost mindlessly, we might not pay attention to what the memes are indicating. Yet, they get registered in our subconscious and shape the way we think and feel about those topics.

So, if someone was to ask you how you’re holding up after a hectic week at work, you’d probably say ‘I’m THIS close to a breakdown’ and laugh it off – without being fully sure as to how much you mean it. Yes, it has been a lot of work, and yes, you need help coping with it. Rather than asking for help, joking about it might seem like a better option, because everyone does that, right?

Here’s a reality check: We are all likely to feel overworked and overwhelmed from time to time. The best thing that we can do for ourselves is to acknowledge it and ask for help from friends, colleagues and speak to a counsellor when we can.

Feeling that ‘But this happens to everyone, I just have to get through it’ is noble, but it doesn’t mean you’ve to get through it alone. Let’s recognise when we need help and not let fear of judgement come in the way of asking for help!

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Not Spinning Anymore

When we were kids, we would spin around in circles really fast and not stop even if we were dizzy. Why would we do that? Because as long as we were spinning, we were moving with the force. If we stopped, there’d be one moment of blissful stillness, and then a wave of dizziness would hit us and make us sit down until it passed, and we regained our orientation.

Today, we live in very stressful conditions that we have adapted to. At any given time, there is a multitude of worries, responsibilities and preoccupations going on in our minds. Yet, we are so used to having all that churning in our minds that it is background noise. Add one more worry or one more responsibility and it won’t make much of a difference. When do we become aware of the stress? When one thing gets out of hand – even if we have been managing fine with it all this time – THAT is when we make a change.

When people end a relationship that has been suffering for a while – usually because they don’t have time for each other – it isn’t a sudden decision. They’ve been spinning around in that relationship for a long time – letting the dizziness grow. Finally, when they cannot ignore the problem anymore, they decide to stop trying hard at the relationship – to stop spinning any further. When that happens, they experience that moment of bliss: ‘Yes, I stopped that unhealthy pattern in my life!’ What happens next? Loneliness and self-doubt crash into them, and makes them wonder – ‘Should I have ended things? Whom will I turn to now?’ Even if the person hadn’t been there for a long time, they at least knew that they could ask when in a relationship. Whom can they turn to now? Everything else that had been hanging suspended in mid-air comes crashing down – and that is when they seek help.

People usually come for therapy when they’ve hit a crisis – not when they’re fine and can figure out ways to avert a problem or cope with it. Why? Because when the crisis happens, we are given a glimpse of our fallibility. We realize that we have been affected by the relationship, and just ending things will not change how we have been affected by it. We get that one moment of clarity before reality catches up to us, and we have to sit down until we feel better again. When self-doubt hits us, we can feel anxious, depressed or hopeless, and that is when we NEED to seek help.

Some people come to therapy believing that they will find the answers to all their problems. That isn’t true. Sometimes, people need to recognise that they are vulnerable in order to benefit from therapy. When someone has been spinning around in circles for a very long time, dizziness is the only reality that they know. Stopping gives that one moment of clarity before reality catches up, and that’s when they have to sit down (i.e. seek help) until they feel better again. This is why insight cannot be forced, and nothing – not even therapy – can get you there unless you’re ready for it. Therapy is different for everyone – it is a unique journey that is shaped by who you are and what you want. What helps to remember is that we are all a work in progress, and coming to therapy can help us get back on track to where we want to be.

Here’s to working towards the best version of who we want to be!

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Battling Dementors – Conquering Self-Doubt

The middle of the week often gets me down in the dumps – where the weekend is too far away, and all I can see is a mountain of work looming in front of me. During such times, I doubt my ability to complete my work or meet deadlines. This is the time of the week when I’m most vulnerable to Dementor attacks.

The arrival of Dementors (dark creatures that feed on your worst fears) is foreshadowed with a chill down your spine. You dread thinking about anything positive, and when the Dementors do reach you, you feel like you will never be happy again.

By midget525 on DeviantArt

This slippery slope that lands us in complete self-doubt renders us hopeless and helpless. We have Dementors in our lives too – they exist in the deepest crevices of our minds and make us doubt our capabilities, our self-worth, maybe even question our right to have the blessings we have. This is what a Dementor does – it sucks out our self-confidence and creates a frame of mind of misery and despair.

What do we do then? In the face of what seems impossible to overcome, how do we battle our personal Dementors? Today, we will learn the Patronus charm.

The Patronus charm is Expecto Patronum, and it requires us to think of a powerful happy memory. We shall come up with more than one memory since sometimes, our chosen memory isn’t powerful enough for the charm to work effectively.

If your personal Dementor is the feeling of worthlessness, then think of your accomplishments (huge ones – like the job you have, or tiny ones, like the child who smiled at you after a long time of building rapport). If the Dementor is the feeling of extreme sadness, then think of your happiest moments (your favourite holiday, time spent with loved ones). Remember, the key to destroying a Dementor is not just the memory of past accomplishments or happy moments, but the conviction that ‘I will be happy/successful again in the future’.

After you have battled the Dementor(s), have some chocolate (Remus Lupin got that right) and congratulate yourself for having faced them. Talk to a friend, and walk around to get a change in scenery. Indulge yourself by getting your favourite food or going to a movie – because you deserve it, regardless of whether you got that job; are in a healthy relationship; scored great marks. Indulge yourself because acceptance of self is unconditional. It doesn’t come with an “if…then”. There are no asterisks and “conditions apply”.

Dementors exist within all of us and rear their ugly heads from time to time. We have the power to keep them at bay. Let’s identify our personal Dementors and build our Patronus kits!

Here’s how you build the kit:

When overcome by despair, summon your happiest memory, remind yourself that you deserve to feel happy, and believe with all your heart that you are going to be extremely happy once you overcome this hurdle.

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.

Self-Care for a Caregiver

I recently watched Christopher Robin (as I’m a sucker for animated movies). As others in its genre, its message was about how it’s not our work life that we’ll remember when old, but the moments we had fun. But, it was more than that. People watch the movie, decide in that moment that ‘Okay, I’ll make a change’, do it once or twice, and forget about it. Why though? Self-care is a regular practice, not an item to tick off the bucket list (unlike bungee jumping or parasailing).

As a caregiver, be it a personal role or a professional one, we are impeccable about making sure that our patient or loved one is well-provided for and comfortable. We often put our own needs on hold to care for them. However, unless we take care of our needs, we cannot fulfil the needs of another – just like we can’t pour from an empty pot. Extending the same emotional investment to ourselves will enable us to feel better, function at work better, and give more, right?

Sometimes, we need a reminder to be aware of our emotional needs and being understanding towards them. When we are overwhelmed, we need a moment to step away, process, and get back to work. It can be a day off, or a minute to change the environment we are in. Very often, our productivity improves after we get back from a break.

While watching Christopher Robin, I felt a profound sense of gratitude that as professional caregivers, we are understanding and encouraging about taking time off to focus on our mental health. I have these attachments as my desktop background to remind myself to take a break. The attachments include a wheel of self-care with plenty of options.

 

Let’s chart out our own self-care rituals for some me-time each day. It can be 15 minutes or an hour – with as many variations in activities as we need. Gotta do what makes us feel relaxed and happy when doing the activities of our choice!  Let’s refill our teapots every day, and serve our best tea to all 🙂

 

This article has been written by Ms Nandita Seshadri, a therapist, and integral part of Adveka Foundation.