Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Walking Towards Your Values

I’m now over halfway through the third month of participating in The Mighty’s Monthly challenges for 2017.

Me and my oldest.  About to go for one of our walks.
The Mighty declared March to host the Self Confidence challenge, and the first task in week one was to identify your character strengths by taking the VIA (Values in Action) Survey of Character Strengths. The second part of this challenged was to write examples of those traits, which I did in this postThis week is the third part of the Self Confidence challenge and that is to write a list of activities to do that support these character strengths. For me, this has been a lot harder than the first two parts of the exercise.

First, putting expectations on myself is something I’ve overdone in the past and has led to tremendous anxiety. So, for me, I need to set realistic expectations, or this whole exercise won’t be an act of self-care but an act of self-destruction. Second, when I looked at my list of character strengths, I felt like I needed to figure out which of my personal values these strengths were connected to….and that the activity I chose for each strength needed to be in line with one of those values.

Why are values so important? For me, self-confidence and mental health have always been connected to the idea of walking through my life in the direction of my personal values; if I have the focus in mind that whatever I’m doing, I’m doing because it matters to me, deep in my heart, then there is peace and contentment in what I’m doing.

Long ago, when I began to really work on dealing with my Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I used a workbook called Get out of Your Mind and into Your Life. The basic premise of the book was that if you figured out what you cared about in your life, what you valued and how you wanted your life to be, then your anxiety would eventually decrease because you would be doing behaviors that supported those values. Most of us who have suffered from anxiety and depression develop avoidance behaviors to help us cope with the overwhelming physical sensations that come with our illnesses, so we tend to miss out on a lot of things we value. That’s where the concept of walking towards your values comes into play.

This premise of walking towards your values really connected with me during my recovery because it helped me tolerate my anxiety symptoms. I understood, for example, that, though I felt very anxious driving my car while having a racing heart or depersonalization or scary thoughts, the value I had for getting to the place I needed to be helped me to tolerate the discomfort. At one point in my recovery, driving to therapy was anxiety-producing, but the value I had for both the therapy itself and my therapist’s time, made me continue on, even while my anxiety increased. It helped me with avoidance behaviors, like social isolation, because, for example, I disliked crowded rooms, but I valued my children, so I had to show up to their dance recital or student of the month assembly and tolerate the crowd. The bonus was that once I arrived at therapy or was engrossed in my children’s performances, I became lost in those moments and my anxiety went away.
Date night with my hubby.

           Getting our steps in. Me and my youngest. 
     

With the idea in mind of knowing my values from all the work I’ve done in recovery, knowing my strengths because of the recent survey, and knowing my ability to over-do in my expectations, I came up with the following list of activities that are designed to boost my confidence through boosting my values:

According to the VIA (Values in Action) Survey of Character Strengths, these are my strengths: “zest, enthusiasm, energy; curiosity and interest in the world; self-control and self-regulation; industry, diligence, and perseverance. See my chart below for how I put various values and activities that go with those strengths:

Strength
Value
Activity
Zest, enthusiasm, energy
Writing and community
Support another writer through social media shares every day.
Curiosity and interest in the world/ Social intelligence
Being social/having fun
Go out with another couple for a double-date night.
Self-control and self-regulation
exercise
Hit 10,000 steps a day and exercise daily.

Industry, diligence, and perseverance
writing
Write a blog post about my experience with this exercise



So far, I’ve been pretty successful in these endeavors, and I know it’s because I set realistic standards for myself AND because I’m playing on my strengths. Together, that has boosted my confidence.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Tooting Your Own Horn (I just did. Now it's your turn.)

In my previous post, I shared that I was participating in The Mighty’s Monthly challenges for 2017, as they have declared this to be the year of Self-Care. Honestly, who doesn’t agree that 2017 has been mentally draining so far? And, it’s only March.

March is the Self Confidence challenge, and the first task is to identify your character strengths by taking the VIA (Values in Action) Survey of Character Strengths. The results of this test will inform you of what you may or may not already know about yourself. The second challenge is, once you obtain the results of the test, you will identify your top 5 strengths and then write examples of those traits.

This challenge is especially important for me, personally. Not too long ago I went through a bit of a stuck point with my own anxiety and depression. For a period of time, I had to slow down and really examine what I wanted my life to look like, and in so doing, examining my core values was essential; once I figured them out, I knew what direction I wanted my life to go in, which made making the necessary changes relatively easy. I wanted more time with my family, so, I adjusted my work schedule so that I was home more frequently after school with my children. That may sound like a small thing, but that little change had a profound effect on my mental well-being; when you walk toward your values, your struggles with anxiety and depression automatically lessen; because chances are the thing you are depressed or anxious about involves those core values.

Typically, discovering your core values is a process that occurs over time, and even once you identify them, it becomes another process of figuring out if you are living your life in a way that supports them. This is where a whole bunch of good exploring needs to happen in your journal or in your therapist’s office. As a professional in the field and as a client myself of therapy, this survey is the perfect place to begin.


Below are the results of my values survey—my top 5 strengths:
Zest, enthusiasm, and energy -
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.
I think my whole life childhood through to now, in my 40s, I’ve received feedback that I am enthusiastic. Sometimes people have sounded annoyed and other times inspired. To me when my enthusiasm wans…I’m probably depressed. It’s kind of my default.
Curiosity and interest in the world -
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
This is another default-mode for me, and one that I think has carried me throughout my life. People’s stories have always held my curiosity. When I was a child, we would take the train to visit my grandmother in PA, and I would spend the whole time traipsing up and down the aisles, stopping to talk to anyone who appeared interesting (and who had yummy snacks). Later, as a college student, I studied journalism and was a terrible hard news reporter, but when it came to feature writing, I shined. From writing about the self-segregation in our college’s dining hall to interviewing the campus’s self-proclaimed next Rush Limbaugh, my curiosity led me all over the place and helped me discover more about the wider world. Now, as a counselor and therapist, my curiosity is probably what helps me ask those pointed questions that can help a client learn more about themselves.
Self-control and self-regulation -
You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.
As a little kid and later as a teen, I definitely had some impulse control problems in a few different areas. The first part of high school I got fat through binge eating, and by the time I was a junior, that, coupled with my terrible grades, I pretty much hit bottom. I had to get a serious grip or my future was very uncertain. Being a self-help book junky, I knew that change had to come from within—nothing outside of me could make my life different. So, I got a grip and lost the weight and pulled my grades up. Once I tapped into this ability to be disciplined, I formed better habits like exercising every day and completing assignments early and being able to eat one piece of chocolate instead of a box. I definitely have self-control worked out, but it isn’t in a depriving way; it actually eases my anxiety to have the control. I also think that as we age, we get better at delayed gratification and patience…two things I really lacked as a younger person.
Industry, diligence, and perseverance -
You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you "get it out the door" in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.
This is also a default button. When it comes to completing degrees or working on projects or cleaning my house, I definitely feel good when I stick things out until the very end, until completion. The times where that has gotten me in trouble is when something simply doesn’t work out, no matter how hard I try or how long I stick it out. This isn’t a problem in relationships—I seem to know when something is over—but when it comes to pursuing my career as an author, up until recently, I don’t think I knew how to stop and continuing to persevere was hurting me. Knowing when to stop has been equally as important as knowing how to persevere.
Social intelligence -
You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.
From childhood to adulthood, I’ve never felt like I couldn’t find my place. I moved around as a little kid and never had trouble making friends. As a teenager, despite my own self-loathing and insecurities, I managed to easily move from one social group to another. Even now, as an adult, I go to my local coffee shop, and talk with everyone, even if I don’t know who they are. I think it’s because I can sense when someone is at ease or when they are uncomfortable and either way, I feel compelled to connect and I can adjust my engagement accordingly. It is certainly useful as a counselor and can help me when I’m not sure what to do—just meet the person where they are and everything else falls into place.    


Though I’m very uncomfortable sharing positive traits about myself and worry it may come across as total bullsh%t, at the same time, it’s good to really look at what I have to offer the world and that this offering is kind of effortless, which is really quite a relief!