Freshman year of college, I was living in the dorms of a community college. Just like most first-year students, I was hungry one evening. I dug through my personal “pantry” in my room until I found something I was interested in – some chicken and rice soup. I couldn’t wait to dig in! However, I was ill-equipped – I couldn’t find a can opener anywhere! No big deal. I have always been resourceful. Not wanting to bother anyone for a real can opener, I grabbed my set of dorm keys. My room key was thick and sturdy, and I just knew that the can of Campbell’s didn’t stand a chance against my key. So, I began attacking the lid to that soup can with fervor. I got a hole poked through, and I began sawing with the jagged edges of my key. However, that didn’t last long. After a minute, as I was hacking at the lid, my invincible room key felt weird in my hand for a second, then *bam*! My key broke in half, with the long-end of the key falling into the abyss known as chicken and rice. Frustrated and hangry, I went to the dorm office, and asked if I could borrow a can opener AND get a new copy of my key. Not the way I intended to spend my evening that dark and hungry night. (I did eventually get to eat my soup, though, so that’s a good thing).
When it comes to our mental health, we are not “plug and play.” We don’t come out of the womb, EQUIPPED to handle crises, trauma, stress, and negative emotions. Many of us learn maladaptive behavior, ways to ease the effects of stress that are not quite healthy. I have several “keys,” or staples that I use in my practice as a social worker.
That’s why the role I play in social work as EQUIPPER is essential to the success of my students and clients. Once we have developed a rapport, and through the backdrop of ENCOURAGEMENT, I am able to build a trusting therapeutic relationship, then we can do the work together of adding tools to the mental health toolbox. This is one reason why mindfulness and breathwork is such an important foundation to going from emotionally dysregulated to emotionally regulated. Mindfulness trains our minds to become aware of what’s going on in our minds and our bodies, but without us getting carried away by it. It allows us to see, focus on, and enjoy the present moment as opposed to being stressed out about the future or perseverating about the past. Engaging in breath work is paramount to becoming able to shift gears from negative emotions.
Another key to becoming EQUIPPED (see what I did there?) is to live a life of gentle reflection. I have kept a journal for nearly a quarter of a century, and it has been the most effective tool in helping me grow in self-awareness. What does self-awareness do for us? It helps us to know our emotional triggers. It gives us the ability to look objectively at ourselves and to learn what our own strengths and weaknesses are. In later posts I will share with you the power that comes from living a reflective life. Additionally, putting into place your Living Mirrors is vital to becoming self-aware. This tool is so important – having a small circle of trusted friends who have permission to share with you what they see in you. My first experience of this was incredibly life-giving! That group of 4 friends saved my life, and deeply enriched it! We met weekly over coffee (at the coolest coffee shop in Colorado Springs). We would talk about philosophy, theology, mental health, and just life. We were open and transparent with one another, and we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company during my few years in southern Colorado.
Now, once I have sufficiently connected with my students and clients through ENCOURAGEMENT, I don’t grab my “handy-dandy algorithm for mental health success.” I tailor my course of treatment based on my client’s needs, personality, and ability to engage. But two staples in my treatment are breathwork and gentle reflection. These will look different for each person.