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  • Writer's pictureAimee Innes, MA, LMHC

Your ideal emotional habitat

Do you know what YOU need in order to thrive, mind and body?

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We spend more time researching what our pets need in order to be healthy and thriving than we do on ourselves. What do YOU need to feel "at home" and healthy?

Self-care is a valuable component of living a happy, healthy life. Health and wellness reach beyond the medical office. It's important to keep up with your physical health but emotional health is vitally important as well.

Let's take a look at 3 (of many) key elements of emotional health...

1. Prioritizing yourself

How do you prioritize your time? Is it hard to get out from under the shoulds of being a "nice person." Do you ever find yourself looking forward to some alone time, only to have someone ask you to do something and you feel like you "can't say no?" I hear this a lot from people when they say "I didn't have a good enough excuse. I mean, I was just going to watch Netflix."

It's important to say no when you mean no. YOU are your "good enough" excuse. When your bandwidth is toast it's TOAST. If you feel a desire to recharge it's important to go with that. Imagine this "no" response, "Thanks for the invite but I've already got my evening mapped out. Raincheck?" Or perhaps, "Oh thanks but I'm beat and have been really looking forward to some down time. I'll catch up with you later." A lot of people think that they have to expand on why they can't do XYZ. It seems wrong to just say "no thanks" and be done with it. If you struggle with this or find it too difficult to put yourself first, consider talking with a counselor or therapist to see if you can "crack the code" on where that belief came from and how to take better care of yourself when your answer is "no." You can even learn what to do next when someone presses you for why you aren't available.

2. What do you practice?

It's important to practice gratitude and looking for joy (or at least "what's ok right now"). You get better at it with practice. What is going right? What is going ok? What are the "feel-goods" in your life right now? There is no wrong answer but this must be practiced. Practice means letting yourself not be perfect at it (or even very good at it) and keep trying. I talk more about this in my post on "letting it be weird"

I'll give you an example. Imagine you have always been someone who will enter a room full of people and automatically feel that you don't fit in. To that end, you would typically seek out all of the evidence to prove you don't fit in. It's really compelling. "These people all have better careers than me," or "everyone here has already chosen their major and I'm still undecided, " or "everyone here is really fit and I am overweight."

Practice starts with noticing those thoughts. "Hmmmm..." you might think, "I just noticed the first thing I did was look for all the reasons I won't fit in here." Once you have noticed the automatic thoughts, you are ready for a second step that is really important. Have kindness for yourself about it. Recognize what your first thoughts were and be kind to yourself about having had them. After all, it's hard to say what kind of early programming/experiences in your life would lead you to do it. Also, if that is something you have practiced over and over it will be the strong muscle, always ready for action.

Once you have established kindness about what you noticed you are ready to slowly, consciously, deliberately flex a different muscle. What do you like about yourself? What is something you are glad happened in your day, your week, your life? Did you eat something for lunch that was really tasty? Did you have coffee with a friend you really like? Do you love a chair at your house because it's so comfy and you love to read in it? Once you find your thing (or things) to be grateful for or glad of, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it (flex, flex, flex). Know that you will drift back to your original negative thought and when that happens, repeat the process. Notice it, be kind to yourself about having thought it, and look for the things you like about yourself and your life again.

I don't want to oversell this as something that is easy. Instructions have this way of making it sound simple. We are complex critters. It is hard to change an emotional habit. I work with a lot of people to help them start and continue this practice. If you find yourself having trouble with it, consider working on it in counseling. With the help of a counselor you can look a little deeper at what factors in your lifespan may have contributed to your automatic thinking and add that knowledge to your kindness language when you practice. For example, "it's no wonder I worry that I've not gotten enough done all the time. I could never get it right with so-and-so growing up."

3. Trusting your gut

Self-doubt is learned. Early on in life we are all chasing after what feels good... until we are told not to. Sometimes we are punished for our desires or choices in such a way that we are made to feel like we are bad or that we can't be trusted to do what's right. Over time this has the power to generalize to "I can't trust myself to know/do what's right."

While it is important to find balance so we can "share our toys" so to speak (alas... it's true, we can't always have it our way), it is also important to listen to ourselves and trust our intuition about what is right for us, even when others disagree. I'll give you a silly example. I don't like goat cheese. I am the ONLY person I know who does not like goat cheese. But I promise you, no matter what anyone says to me about it, I still DO NOT LIKE GOAT CHEESE. I know it. It runs deep. Believe me, a lot of people try to convince me otherwise but it's an indisputable fact. If you have a second, pick something you KNOW about yourself? What is an example in your own life of an indisputable fact? How do you feel in the face of your own, indisputable facts?

What you want for yourself is NOT unreasonable, but that doesn't mean others MUST like it for that to be true. You like facial piercings but none of your friends do? Great! Enjoy. Thinking about going back to school but your friends are worried you're spending money you don't have on something that may not bring you what you seek? That's on THEM. It's scary to walk into an unknown circumstance because you feel it's right for you. And hey, it may not work out. But it's even harder when others doubt. We are social animals and we are always referencing others to help us determine what is "safe." When someone doubts your decision, they may be feeling the fear of the unknown too and their wanting to discourage you is more about their own need to not feel fear for themselves.

You have neurons in your gut. Your gut produces Serotonin. Your gut is a second brain. It works in cooperation with the brain in your head. For whatever reason, our culture has evolved to a point where we are trained to override our gut intelligence (often to our own detriment). There are a number of ways to retrain yourself to trust your gut intelligence. I help people do it all the time. You can absolutely have more trust in yourself!

Examining your ideal emotional habitat with a counselor or therapist can be an intensely rewarding process. It provides an opportunity to look more deeply at each of these elements, and many more. Imagine feeling more comfortable, confident, and solid in your own life. Not perfect, not infallible, not psychic.... Just prepared and sublimely ok. Aaaahhhhh.....

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