Back to Basics

Whenever I feel overwhelmed or one of my clients comes to a session feeling overwhelmed I revert to the basics. It’s the boring stuff that not much focus or value is placed on but when we are feeling overwhelmed its often the only thing we actually have control over. If we can look after our mind by looking after our bodies then we will be less vulnerable to intense emotions that hang around for longer. There are two purposes to this post. First is to return to basics and look after yourself, the second is an awareness to being out of ‘whack’ and then adopting a more compassionate position towards yourself i.e. ‘gosh no wonder I feel overwhelmed I have been working a mixture of shifts and haven’t slept properly for weeks’.

In DBT we call this the PLEASE skill but I have added two additional components to this – hormones and socialisation.

PL: Treat physical illness

  • If you are physically unwell making decisions and feeling able to regulate emotions is much more difficult. This would include taking medication as prescribed, taking paracetamol for that headache, take a day off from the gym if you have sore muscles, ibuprofen for period pain, going to the GP to investigate other issues.

E: Balanced eating

  • Eat a varied diet with all food groups and avoid ultra processed foods (UPF) (anything that is not in its original form.- a good indicator is if the packet has more than 5 ingredients on it then its UPF). If you are short on time then I would suggest food prepping e.g. mid week I work at the hospital I tend to roast veg on a Monday and throw it into a soup maker this gives me a warm hearty meal for lunch that I have with some bread often for two or three days.

A: Avoid mind-altering substances:

  • Avoid but also be aware of the impact they have on your body. The most obvious is alcohol and drugs, but its also nicotine and caffeine. Caffeine in particular makes it harder to regulate mood because of the peak and drop effect – it also increases dehydration

S: Sleep:

  • 7-9hrs a night – no sleeping tablets or aids these don’t work and force ‘sleep’ but your brain isn’t actually benefitting. Think about this – when did anyone wake up from a general anaesthetic and feel refreshed? They didn’t, but they were asleep technically. If you get to sleep naturally your brain can reset and carry out vital processes to ensure general wellbeing. If you struggle to sleep because of racing thoughts (super common) try journalling before bed – get the thoughts out. I’ll do a post soon on sleep. Go to bed the same time and get up at the same time – including weekends!

E: Exercise:

  • 30 minutes at least once a day at 70% of your max heart rate (as a guide – your max heart rate is 220 minus your age)

H: Hormones:

  • Where are you in your cycle?
    • Being on your period means you are experiencing the lowest levels of estrogen and progesterone which will lead to irritability, mood swings, mood fluctuations, tiredness (even if you are sleeping well – the quality of sleep is poorer)
    • If you are in the follicular phase there is a surge in estrogen so likely to feel an increase in mood, sex drive, energies, focus etc
    • Luteal phase is the days leading up to your period starting and people experience the typical PMS systems such as breast pain, bloating, food cravings, trouble sleeping, weight gain, headaches.
    • Estrogen and progesterone have anti-depressive effects – if they are very low then your mood will suffer.
    • 40+ are you likely to be heading towards peri-menopause and having estrogen levels beginning to dip

S: Socialisation:

  • Staying connected with people and being around others increases our mood, the urge might be to withdraw and hide but this keeps you stuck in the feeling you already had.
  • Socialisation also means being around colleagues at work, going to group gym sessions, talking to family or friends, speak to neighbours