Ways to Relieve Back Pain

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Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on June 07, 2020

Sleep Better

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When you have back pain, sleeping can be hard. It can be a vicious cycle because when you don’t get enough sleep, your back pain may feel worse. A poor sleep position can also aggravate back pain. Try lying on your side. Place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine in a neutral position and relieve strain on your back. If you need to sleep on your back, slide a pillow under your knees. Be sure to sleep on a comfortably firm mattress.

Good Posture

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Grandma was right! Slouching is bad for you. And poor posture can make back pain worse, especially if you sit for long periods. Don’t slump over your keyboard. Sit upright, with your shoulders relaxed and your body supported against the back of your chair. Try putting a pillow or a rolled towel between your lower back and your seat. Keep your feet flat on the floor.

Medication From the Store

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There are two kinds of over-the-counter pain relievers that frequently help with back pain: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. Both have some side effects, and some people may not be able to take them. Talk to your doctor before taking pain relievers. And don’t expect medication alone to solve your pain problem. Studies show you’ll probably need more than one type of treatment.

Prescription Pain Relievers

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Some people may need prescription-strength NSAIDs or opioid medications to help with pain. It is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medications — including over-the-counter medicines — to avoid overdosing on certain active ingredients. Your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxants to help ease painful muscle spasms.

Antidepressant Medications

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Even if you’re not depressed, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medications as part of the treatment for chronic low back pain. It’s not clear how antidepressants help relieve chronic pain. It is believed that antidepressants’ influence on chemical messengers may affect pain signals in the body.

Physical Therapy

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Physical therapists can teach you how to sit, stand, and move in a way that keeps your spine in proper alignment and alleviates strain on your back. They also can teach you specialized exercises that strengthen the core muscles that support your back. A strong core is one of the best ways to prevent more back pain in the future. Studies show that when you increase your strength, flexibility, and endurance, back pain decreases — but it takes time.

Don’t Rest an Achy Back

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Doctors used to prescribe bed rest for back pain. But now we know that lying still is one of the worst things you can do. It can make back pain worse and lead to other complications. Don’t rest for more than a day or two. It’s important to get up and slowly start moving again. Exercise has been found to be one of the most effective ways to relieve back pain quickly. Try swimming, walking, or yoga.

Ice and Heat

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Regular applications of ice to the painful areas on your back may help reduce pain and inflammation from an injury. Try this several times a day for up to 20 minutes each time. Wrap the ice pack in a thin towel to protect your skin. After a few days, switch to heat. Apply a heating pad or warm pack to help relax your muscles and increase blood flowing to the affected area. You also can try warm baths to help with relaxation. To avoid burns and tissue damage, never sleep on a heating pad.

Hands-On Therapy

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Does massage really ease back pain once you leave the table? A recent study found that one weekly massage over a 10 week period improved pain and functioning for people with chronic back pain. Benefits lasted about six months but dwindled after a year. Another hands-on approach is spinal manipulation. Performed by a licensed specialist, this treatment can help relieve structural problems of the spine and restore lost mobility.

Nerve Stimulation

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Research is being conducted on certain treatments that stimulate nerves to reduce chronic back pain. Your doctor may consider adding acupuncture to your treatment plan if you aren’t finding relief with more conservative care. Another method your doctor might suggest is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), during which mild electric pulses are delivered to the nerves to block incoming pain signals.

Talk Therapy

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It may seem strange to see a psychologist for back pain. But studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective in the short and long term at helping chronic back pain. For example, CBT may target how people with back pain think about physical activity — and why they may be avoiding it — to help change the way they respond to being active. People who do CBT have reported significant decreases in pain and disability.

Biofeedback

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Biofeedback uses a special machine that helps you train your brain to control your response to pain. You learn to moderate your breathing, heart rate, blood flow, and muscle tension. Some studies have found that it is better than medication in easing back pain, reducing pain intensity by about 30%. The best part: it has no side effects.

Spinal Injections

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A doctor may recommend a spinal injection to help reduce your back pain. There are different types of injections that doctors specializing in pain relief may use. For example, an injection of a corticosteroid can help relieve inflammation that is causing the pain. Depending on the kind of injection, your doctor may limit your number of doses per year to avoid possible side effects.

Back Surgery

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If a bulging disc is putting pressure on a nerve, your surgeon might recommend a discectomy to remove some disc material. Or a laminectomy might be recommended to decompress an area where there is pressure on the nerves or spinal cord. Spinal fusion may be done to help stabilize the spine. Like all surgeries, these carry risks and aren’t always successful. So they should be options of last resort.

How to Develop and Practice Self-Regulation

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Self-regulation is the ability to control one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. More specifically, emotional self-regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses—in other words, to think before acting.

Self-regulation also involves the ability to rebound from disappointment and to act in a way consistent with your values. It is one of the five key components of emotional intelligence.

This article discusses how self-regulation develops and the important impact it can have. It also covers some common problems you may face and what you can do to self-regulate more effectively.

How Self-Regulation Develops

Your ability to self-regulate as an adult has roots in your childhood. Learning how to self-regulate is an important skill that children learn both for emotional maturity and, later, for social connections.

In an ideal situation, a toddler who throws tantrums grows into a child who learns how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings without throwing a fit, and later into an adult who is able to control impulses to act based on uncomfortable feelings.

In essence, maturity reflects the ability to face emotional, social, and cognitive threats in the environment with patience and thoughtfulness. If this description reminds you of mindfulness, that’s no accident—mindfulness does indeed relate to the ability to self-regulate.

Why Self-Regulation Is Important

Self-regulation involves taking a pause between a feeling and an action—taking the time to think things through, make a plan, wait patiently. Children often struggle with these behaviors, and adults may as well.

It’s easy to see how a lack of self-regulation will cause problems in life. A child who yells or hits other children out of frustration will not be popular among peers and may face discipline at school.

An adult with poor self-regulation skills may lack self-confidence and self-esteem and have trouble handling stress and frustration. Often, this might result in anger or anxiety. In more severe cases, it can even lead to being diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Qualities of Self-Regulators

In general, people who are adept at self-regulating tend to be able to:

  • Act in accordance with their values
  • Calm themselves when upset
  • Cheer themselves when feeling down
  • Maintain open communication
  • Persist through difficult times
  • Put forth their best effort
  • Remain flexible and adapting to situations
  • See the good in others
  • Stay clear about their intentions
  • Take control of situations when necessary
  • View challenges as opportunities

Self-regulation allows you to act in accordance with your deeply held values or social conscience and to express yourself appropriately. If you value academic achievement, it will allow you to study instead of slack off before a test. If you value helping others, it will allow you to help a coworker with a project, even if you are on a tight deadline yourself.

In its most basic form, self-regulation allows us to be more resilient and bounce back from failure while also staying calm under pressure. Researchers have found that self-regulation skills are tied to a range of positive health outcomes. This includes better resilience to stress, increased happiness, and better overall well-being.

Recap

Self-regulation can play an important role in relationships, well-being, and overall success in life. People who can manage their emotions and control their behavior are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and achieve their goals.

Common Self-Regulation Problems

How do problems with self-regulation develop? It could start early, such as an infant being neglected. A child who does not feel safe and secure, or who is unsure whether their needs will be met, may have trouble self-soothing and self-regulating.

Later, a child, teen, or adult may struggle with self-regulation, either because this ability was not developed during childhood, or because of a lack of strategies for managing difficult feelings. When left unchecked, over time this could lead to more serious issues such as mental health disorders and risky behaviors such as substance use.

Effective Strategies for Self-Regulation

If self-regulation is so important, why were most of us never taught strategies for using this skill? Most often, parents, teachers, and other adults expect that children will “grow out of” the tantrum phase. While this is true for the most part, all children and adults can benefit from learning concrete strategies for self-regulation.

Mindfulness

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

By engaging in skills such as focused breathing and gratitude, mindfulness enables us to put some space between ourselves and our reactions, leading to better focus and feelings of calmness and relaxation.

In a 2019 review of 27 research studies, mindfulness was shown to improve attention, which in turn helped with regulating negative emotions and improving executive function.

Cognitive Reappraisal

Cognitive reappraisal, or cognitive reframing, is another strategy that can be used to improve self-regulation abilities. This strategy involves changing thought patterns. Specifically, cognitive reappraisal involves reinterpreting a situation in order to change the emotional response to it.

For example, imagine a friend did not return your calls or texts for several days. Rather than thinking that this reflected something about yourself, such as “my friend hates me,” you might instead think, “my friend must be really busy.” Research has shown that using cognitive reappraisal in everyday life is related to experiencing more positive and fewer negative emotions.

In a 2016 study examining the link between self-regulation strategies (i.e., mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and emotion suppression) and emotional well-being, researchers found cognitive reappraisal to be associated with daily positive emotions, including feelings of enthusiasm, happiness, satisfaction, and excitement.

Some other useful strategies for self-regulation include acceptance and problem-solving. In contrast, unhelpful strategies that people sometimes use include avoidance, distraction, suppression, and worrying.

Recap

You can improve your self-regulation skills by practicing mindfulness and changing how you think about the situation.

Putting Self-Regulation Into Practice

If you or your child needs help with self-regulation, there are strategies you can use to improve skills in this area.

Helping Kids With Self-Regulation

In children, parents can help develop self-regulation through routines (e.g., regular mealtimes and consistent bedtime routines). Routines help children learn what to expect, which makes it easier for them to feel comfortable.

When children act in ways that don’t demonstrate self-regulation, ignore their requests. For example, if they interrupt a conversation, don’t stop your discussion to attend to their needs. Tell that that they will need to wait.

Self-Regulation Tips for Adults

The first step to practicing self-regulation is to recognize that everyone has a choice in how to react to situations. While you may feel like life has dealt you a bad hand, it’s not the hand you are dealt, but how you react to it that matters most.

  • Recognize that in every situation you have three options: approach, avoidance, and attack. While it may feel as though your choice of behavior is out of your control, it’s not. Your feelings may sway you more toward one path, but you are more than those feelings.
  • Become aware of your emotions. Do you feel like running away from a difficult situation? Do you feel like lashing out in anger at someone who has hurt you?
  • Monitor your body to get clues about how you are feeling if it is not immediately obvious to you. For example, a rapidly increasing heart rate may be a sign that you are entering a state of rage or even experiencing a panic attack.

Start to restore balance by focusing on your deeply held values, rather than those transient emotions. Look beyond momentary discomfort to the larger picture.

Recap

Recognizing your options can help you put your self-regulation skills into practice. Focus on identifying what you are feeling, but remember that feelings are not facts. Giving yourself time to stay calm and deliberate your options can help you make better choices.

A Word From Verywell

Once you’ve learned this delicate balancing act, you will begin to self-regulate more often, and it will become a way of life for you. Developing self-regulation skills will improve your resilience and ability to face difficult circumstances in life.

However, if you find you are unable to teach yourself to self-regulate, consider consulting a mental health professional. A trained therapist can help you learn and implement strategies and skills specific to your situation. Therapy can also be a great place to practice those skills for use in your everyday life.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How can I practice self-regulation?

You can practice self-regulation staying calm and thinking carefully before you react. Engaging in relaxation tactics like deep breathing or mindfulness can help you keep your cool while deliberately considering the consequences of your actions can help you focus on the potential outcomes

What does it mean to be emotionally intelligent?

Emotional intelligence refers to a person’s ability to recognize, interpret, and regulate emotions. This ability plays an important part in self-regulation and also contributes to the development and maintenance of healthy relationships.

How can I help my child learn self-regulation?

You can help teach your child self-control by managing your own stress, remaining calm, and modeling effective self-regulation skills. You can also strengthen this ability by helping children recognize their emotions, teaching problem-solving skills, setting limits, and enforcing rules with natural consequences.

By: Arlin Cuncic

Why Self Adoration is Vital to Wellness

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By: Victoria Myers

As the e-book launches tomorrow (!!!), I want to discuss why we intentionally chose for self adoration to be the first, and largest, pillar. Because I think that honestly surprises people.

When we come to wellness, whether its to heal our bodies or just learn ways to feel our best on a daily basis, I don’t feel self adoration is discussed enough.

We can easily see how food, exercise and maybe a bit of stress and sleep discussed when it comes to healing and wellness. But as I’ve seen in my own life, and the lives of our clients at Nourishing Minds Nutrition, if we don’t come at wellness with self adoration and a partnership with our bodies, it can easily become another way to control, manipulate, obsess and try to perfect. (P.S. If you want to read more of my personal story on using self adoration and living instinctually to heal my health issues I discussed it here in the Facebook group this week).

I fear wellness has become the thing that allows us to continue disordered behaviors. Orthorexia, a true eating disorder where there is an extreme preoccupation with eating healthy so much that it impacts your life, is becoming more and more prevalent. (Note: Orthorexia is one of my specialties in our practice. If you are seeking help with this while healing health issues, I’d love to help!)

The reality is its only a psuedorecovery. The obsession and preoccupation with food still remains, just in another form. The truth is, wellness should always give you life, not take life experiences away from you. If wellness or trying to heal a health issue (like a digestion or hormonal issue) is impacting the way you live your daily life, I’d even argue that true healing will not be able to occur.

But the amazing thing is, when we partner with our bodies, when we chose to love and accept it and treat it with grace and kindness, true healing and true wellness can absolutely happen.

Without self adoration, which is unconditional self love & self acceptance, our actions are not coming from the right place. But with self adoration, our thoughts and our actions can manifest healing. They can show you what true wellness is.

Choosing to love my body, has been one of the most powerful actions I have ever made in making me feel my best and heal myself. It allowed me to discover my own version of wellness, and not try to conform to others. Now that I know that I can feel this amazing in my body, I can’t imagine living life any other way.

So if you are trying to figure out intuitive eating, or discover true wellness, or perhaps healing a health issue, I promise you self adoration needs to come first.

You are deserving and worthy of loving yourself. And if you need steps along the way to discover how to love yourself, I hope the e-book can help.

The e-book will be available starting tonight at midnight, for 14.95 for twenty four hours only, and then will increase to $24.95. If you purchase it within the first 7 days, you’ll also receive a free supplement recommendation handout. The e-book details the six pillars of wellness and how to live instinctually. Starting first (of course) with self adoration, and then stress management, sleep, movement, social connection and ends with steps to eat intuitively. I CANNOT WAIT for you to see it, I am so incredibly proud of it and I know Meg is as well. I’ll be sharing the link to purchase it in tomorrow’s blog post as well as all my social media channels.

XOXO,

Victoria

Wildlife and Climate Change

Catoctin Mountain ParkRock Creek Park

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Climate change has produced a number of threats to wildlife throughout our parks. Rising temperatures lower many species survival rates due to changes that lead to less food, less successful reproduction, and interfering with the environment for native wildlife. These detrimental changes are already apparent in our National Capital Area parks.

Rising Temperatures and Invasive Species

Rising temperatures risk destabilizing the balance between wildlife and their ecosystem. As plants adapt to changing warming patterns, usually by blooming earlier or shifting to cooler locations, the wildlife that has adapted to them will be forced to face new environments.

Some species will struggle to find nutritious enough food to fit their existing gut biomes. Pollinators, for example, must feed from flowers that are blooming earlier in the year. Other animals may find their habitats are no longer able to support their biology.

However, it is also possible that some animals will do better in a warmer climate. Those species will outcompete others, expanding their own territory and food sources. But not all wildlife belong where they flourish. When species adapted to their environments lose their natural advantages, that leaves room for invasive species to multiply in the changing environment. Emerald Ash Borers and Gypsy Moths are examples of invasive species commonly found in the National Capital Region that have devastated native communities.

Native Brook Trout at Risk

Brook trout in the Catoctin Mountain Park offer a clear example of how climate change effects interact with invasive species spread. The brook trout is a freshwater fish species native to eastern North America, and it requires cold, clear stream habitats. Competing with the brook trout are nonnative brown trout which can tolerate higher temperatures.

Increases in air temperature are warming aquatic habitats, leading to an overall decrease in brook trout and giving the survival advantage to the invasive brown trout. A 2017 study from the US Geological Survey found that brook trout are capable of adapting and foraging for food in warmer waters but not when they’re competing against brown trout.

Flooding and Loss of Habitats

Increased precipitation from climate change is contributing to more frequent and extreme weather events such as flooding. The higher frequency of flooding has detrimental effects on wildlife because they can destroy key pieces of ecosystems and habitats.

There is the obvious destructive effect that floods have on the environment—such as flooded land and burned forests—but they also have other lasting effects like severe water pollution. Speedy flood waters spend little time in a purification place (like in the ground or in a wetland) so the surface flow doesn’t lose the soil particulates pollutants it has picked up. Their speed also erodes streambanks and soil surface. New locations of standing water can drown tree roots, too.

Wood Thrush Migration

The wood thrush is the official bird of Washington, DC, and can be found in Rock Creek Park, but changes in climate may eliminate their regional population within the century. In addition to altering this songbird’s DC habitat and food sources, climate change negatively interferes with the wood thrush’s lengthy migration from Central America.

Wood thrushes fly up from the tropical forests of Central America every summer to their northern breeding grounds, anywhere from Florida to Maine. They need dependable ripe fruit and insect populations to fuel their journey, which may not be available as the climate warms. Furthermore, their usual breeding grounds are growing warmer, meaning they lose habitable areas and must fly farther north.

What Can You Do?

Though climate change has and will continue to hurt wildlife in many ways, there are multiple efforts to mitigate its effects. The National Park Service is taking steps to prepare for and reduce the detrimental effects of climate change, and everyone who visits can take meaningful steps to help.

Celebrating 300 in 365 days

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Going through my stats I realized I was about to hit a milestone without realizing it. I had the fantasy that I could bring Hps back in a crazy time in the world plus changing the format from print to website. I would be doing it solo this time.

No team of passionate people to feed or get inspired by. Nor the same people who supported my concept of spreading positive inspiring people and their actions that brings thought and smiles to others who might not have known if it wasn’t for outlets like mine. Going through my own personal up’s and downs through

covid of all things and I managed to pull off 300 post in a year. I know I’ve made post about making achievements and acknowledging them so I’m taking that advice here today. I have to admit that knowing one post received over 2 MILLION VIEWS!!!! I am still in awe over the fact, that many people watched that video and liked it. So to know that people are paying attention and know that HPS exists and I’m doing this SOLO.

I still have a lot to work on, like finding new ways to get interviews that would fit with this website. I could say something about the negative but I will say that the negativity that I’ve received has definitely inspired me because now my new goal is to raise that 300 to 365 and knowing getting it to that number in a year is something to be proud of. I did something right and again

I want to say thank you for wanting more from this site and giving me the motivation to give it to you. I’m honored and excited that HPS is slowly growing its fanbase back along with new insights. If I could personally thank each person for each like or view of my work I would but I know I can do just that by continuing to find people and topics to make you hit that like or subscribe button. You humble me and remind me that I do have a purpose in this world and my little spec of a contribution grows every day and night. HPS is my baby and she’s almost ready to stand up by herself as I look on with a tear building from being so proud of her growth.

300….yes I did that!!!

Why self-awareness is the key skill for growth, health, and happiness

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By Meredith Betz

Do you want to be happier, have more influence, be a better decision-maker, and be a more effective leader? Self-awareness, then, is the most important muscle you need to develop. It’s what will keep you on target to be the best version of yourself and the best leader you can be.

What is self-awareness?

Psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund proposed this definition:

“Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your internal standards. If you’re highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you.”

Put simply, those who are highly self-aware can interpret their actions, feelings, and thoughts objectively. 

It’s a rare skill, as many of us spiral into emotion-driven interpretations of our circumstances. Developing self-awareness is important because it allows leaders to assess their growth and effectiveness and change course when necessary.

Two states of self-awareness

There are two distinct kinds of self-awareness, public and private.

Public self-awareness: Being aware of how we can appear to others. Because of this consciousness, we are more likely to adhere to social norms and behave in ways that are socially acceptable.

While there are benefits to this type of awareness, there is also the danger of tipping into self-consciousness. Those who are especially high in this trait may spend too much time worrying about what others think of them. 

Private self-awareness: Being able to notice and reflect on one’s internal state. Those who have private self-awareness are introspective, approaching their feelings and reactions with curiosity.

For example, you may notice yourself tensing up as you are preparing for an important meeting. Noticing the physical sensations and correctly attributing them to your anxiety about the meeting would be an example of private self-awareness.

When self-awareness tips into self-consciousness, we are reluctant to share certain aspects of ourselves. We develop a persona that lacks authenticity.

Why is self-awareness important?

The Eurich group has researched the nature of self-awareness. Their research indicates that when we look inward, we can clarify our values, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses. We are able to recognize the effect that we have on others. Eurich’s research finds that people with self-awareness are happier and have better relationships. They also experience a sense of personal and social control as well as higher job satisfaction.

When we look outward, we understand how people view us. People who are aware of how people see them are more likely to be empathetic to people with different perspectives. Leaders whose self-perception matches others’ perceptions are more likely to empower, include, and recognize others.

Benefits of self-awareness:

  • It gives us the power to influence outcomes
  • It helps us to become better decision-makers It gives us more self-confidence — so, as a result, we communicate with clarity and intention
  • It allows us to understand things from multiple perspectives
  • It frees us from our assumptions and biases
  • It helps us build better relationships
  • It gives us a greater ability to regulate our emotions
  • It decreases stress
  • It makes us happier

What’s the self-awareness gap?

Self-awareness is a staple in contemporary leadership jargon. Although many leaders will brag about how self-aware they are, only 10 to 15 percent of the population fit the criteria.

Many of us grew up with the message that you should not show your emotions, so we attempt to ignore or suppress them. With negative emotions, that doesn’t go very well for us. We either internalize them (resulting in anger, resentment, depression, and resignation) or we externalize them and blame, discount, or bully others.

Lack of self-awareness can be a significant handicap in leadership. A study conducted by Adam D. Galinsky and colleagues at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that often, as executives climb the corporate ladder, they become more self-assured and confident. On the downside, they tend to become more self-absorbed and less likely to consider the perspectives of others. 

In a separate study, Canadian researchers looked at brain activity in people who are in positions of power. They found physiological evidence to conclude that as power increases, the ability to empathize with others decreases. They become less able to consider the needs and perspectives of others. Fundamentally these leaders don’t think they need to change and instead require change from everyone else.

How do I know if I’m a self-aware person?

Don’t despair if you don’t make the 10-15 percent self-awareness cut. If you want to know how self-aware you are, the iNLP Center has 12 multiple-choice questions that will tell you the level of your self-awareness and what you can do to improve it. The assessment is research-based and developed by Mike Bundrant, neuro-linguistic trainer and life coach. 

The Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) is a great tool for you to use to identify your dominant strengths and is free on the VIA website. It measures your answers across six broad categories with a total of 24 strengths. Take the assessment, and you’ll generate a report identifying your top 5 strengths and how to begin to optimize them.

How to become a more self-aware person

Envision yourself

Visualize the best version of yourself. “Ideal selves reflect our hopes, dreams, aspirations, and speak to our skills, abilities, achievements, and accomplishments that we wish to attain.” (Higgins, 1987; Markus & Nurius, 1986.) As you lean into your strengths to become the better version of yourself, you can use this idealized self to keep moving in the right direction and not be distracted by setbacks and other obstacles.

Ask the “what” questions

At the core of self-awareness is the ability to self-reflect. However, the Eurich group contends that most people are going about reflection in the wrong way. The trouble is, we ask ourselves the wrong questions. In our attempt to resolve internal conflict, we ask, “Why?” Yet there’s no way to answer that question since we don’t have access to our unconscious. Instead, we make up answers that may not be accurate.

The danger of the “why” question is that it sends us down the rabbit hole of our negative thoughts. We focus on our weaknesses and insecurities. Consider Amy, a new junior executive who has difficulty speaking up at meetings. She may explain her experience to herself by thinking, “I don’t speak up at meetings because I fall too low in the corporate food chain. No one’s going to listen to me.”

Asking the “what question” puts us into the objective and open space of considering all the factors influencing a particular outcome. For example, instead of “Why don’t I speak up at meetings?” we could ask: 

  • “What were the interpersonal dynamics in the room?” 
  • “What was I experiencing in my body at the time?” 
  • “What happened that caused me to go into my old story of not being good enough?” 
  • “What can I do to overcome my fear of speaking up?” 

This kind of introspection allows us to look at behaviors and beliefs for what they are. With self-awareness, we can examine old patterns and stories that do not serve us, and then we can move on. Asking the right questions empowers us to make different choices that bring different results.

Amy decides to make a plan because now she understands that she has a chance at overcoming her problem. 

  • She’s going to find out more about the content and goals of an upcoming meeting to become more confident in how she can contribute. 
  • Rather than being consumed by imagining what others are thinking about her, she’ll actively listen for cues to ask meaningful questions that move the conversation forward. 
  • With a heightened awareness of the cues her body is giving her signaling fear and anxiety, she’ll name the emotion at the moment and choose not to be overwhelmed by it — one giant step to self-awareness.

Use your brain

The amygdala, also called the primitive brain, was the first part of the brain to develop in humans. It functioned as a kind of radar signaling the need to run away or fight back. That part of the brain is skilled at anticipating danger and reacts before we can even name a negative emotion. Our heart races, our stomach tightens, and our neck muscles tense up. 

Your body’s reaction is a tripwire signaling the pre-frontal cortex to register or name a negative emotion. If you bring awareness to your physical state, you can, at the moment, recognize the emotion as it is happening. Becoming skillful at this rewires your brain. 

Naming your feelings is critical in decision-making. When we let our feelings overwhelm us, we can make bad decisions with unintended consequences. Naming your emotions allows us to take a “third-person” perspective to stand back and more objectively evaluate what’s going on.

Let’s bring this home with an example. You, a self-aware person, are having a conversation with someone and receiving some negative feedback. Your heart starts to race, and you’re feeling threatened. You say to yourself, “I feel like this person is attacking me.” But, before you cry or go ballistic, you stop yourself and hear the person out. You discover that this person had at least one good point and start up a different conversation, one that is mutually satisfying and productive.

Ask others about their perception of you

Now that you’ve discovered that feedback doesn’t have to be scary, ask other people how they perceive you in certain situations. Getting specific will help to give you the most concrete feedback. Get brave and ask them how they would like to see you behave.

Exercise: Pick out a scenario(s) you would like to receive feedback on and list them.

Make two columns.  

Column A: How I see myself

Column B: How others see me

In Column A make a list of words to describe your attitude and behaviors at the time.

Then, ask your feedback partner to do the same and record those responses in Column B.

Look out for discrepancies. You may have some blind spots that need attending.

Keep a journal

Journalling is a great way to pay attention to what’s going on in your private and public self. It will also help you to recognize patterns that either serve you or not. You may use these prompts:

  1. What did I do well today?
  2. What challenge did I face?
  3. What was I feeling?
  4. How did I respond? In retrospect, would I have responded differently?
  5. What strengths did I use to keep me focused on the best version of myself?
  6. What is my intention for tomorrow?

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice. It helps you be aware of what’s going on in your mind, body, and environment. Meditation is one of a few practices that you can insert into your daily life, and practicing mindfulness is a wonderful tool for developing greater self-control. 

The road to self-awareness is a journey. The most self-aware people see themselves on a quest to mastery rather than at a particular destination. As you move forward in developing your self-awareness, ask yourself regularly, “How will you move toward the best version of yourself today?”

ReShonda Tate Billingsley

ReShonda has authored over 50 books and was involved in three anthologies. She writes both adult and teen fiction, as well as nonfiction. Several of her books have been optioned for movies. Two have been made into films, including her sophomore novel, Let the Church Say Amen, which was directed by actress Regina King and aired on BET and is currently on Netflix. Her novel, “The Secret She Kept,” was made into a film that aired on TVOne. ReShonda has been nominated three times for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Fiction. Billingsley has also been a television reporter/anchor for NBC affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma City and Fox affiliate KRIV in HoustonTexas. A former reporter for The National Enquirer, she is also the co-founder of BrownGirlsBooks.com, a boutique publishing company.

A highly sought-after motivational speaker, she also appeared in the stage play Marriage Material by Je’Caryous Johnson and makes a small appearance in “Let the Church Say Amen” and “The Secret She Kept.” She is also a graduate of the University of Texas and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, incorporated and Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated.

Books

  • Miss Pearly’s Girls (Feb. 2022)
  • A Little Bit of Karma (Sept. 2020)
  • The Stolen Daughter (July 2019)
  • The Book in Room 316 (July 2018)
  • If Only For One Night (w/Victoria Christopher Murray, Jan. 2017)
  • Seeking Sarah (July 2017)
  • It Should’ve Been Me (w/Victoria Christopher Murray Dec. 2015)
  • The Perfect Mistress (July 2016)
  • Mama’s Boy (July 2015)
  • What’s Done in the Dark (July 2014)
  • The Motherhood Diaries 2 (May 2014)
  • A Family Affair (July 2013)
  • The Motherhood Diaries (May 2013)
  • The Secret She Kept (July 2012)
  • Say Amen, Again (July 2011)
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find (March 2011)
  • Drama Queens (Nov. 2010)
  • Holy Rollers (July 2010)
  • Caught up in the Drama (April 2010)
  • The Devil is a Lie (July 2009)
  • “Friends ‘Til the End” (Feb. 2009)
  • Fairweather Friends (Sept 2008)
  • Getting Even (April 2008)
  • Can I Get a Witness? (March 2008)
  • The Pastor’s Wife(Nov. 2007)
  • Everybody Say Amen (Jul. 2007)
  • With Friends Like These (Apr. 2007)
  • Blessings in Disguise (Feb. 2007)
  • Nothing But Drama (Nov. 2006)
  • I Know I’ve Been Changed (Feb. 2006)
  • Help! I’ve Turned Into My Mother (2005)
  • Let the Church Say Amen (2004)
  • My Brother’s Keeper (2001)
  • Four Degrees of Heat (anthology) Excerpt: “Rebound”
  • Have a Little Faith (anthology) Excerpt: “Faith Will Overcome”
  • Rumor Central
  • Get Ready For War

Awards

  • Smithsonian’s African American History Makers (2016)
  • African American Literary Award for Best Christian Fiction for Fortune & Fame (2014) with Victoria Christopher Murray
  • NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature 2012
  • African American Literary Award for Best Teen Fiction for Drama Queens (2011)
  • Inductee into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame (2010)
  • Rolling Out Magazine′s Top 25 Women of Houston (2009)
  • Five-time winner of the National Association of Black Journalists “Spirit in the Words”
  • Let the Church Say Amen named one of Library Journals Best Books 2004 in Christian Fiction
  • #1 Essence best-selling author
  • 2006 Texas Executive Woman on the Move
  • Black Writers Alliance Gold Pen Award for best new author (2002)
  • Mama’s Boy named one of Library Journals Best Books 2015 in African American Fiction

Personal

ReShonda Tate Billingsley grew up in Houston, Texas. With roots in Arkansas, she is married to Jeffrey Caradine and together, they have five children.

Cooking Broke

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on Pexels.com

One-Dish Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups chopped fresh kale
  • Dash crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
  • Minced fresh mint, optional

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, cook turkey, onion, shallot and garlic over medium heat until turkey is no longer pink and vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes, breaking up turkey into crumbles; drain. Add tomato paste; cook and stir 1 minute longer.
  2. Add sweet potato, broth, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until sweet potato is tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add kale and red pepper flakes; cook and stir until kale is wilted, about 2 minutes. Serve with avocado and if desired, mint.

Can you freeze One-Dish Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet?

Freeze cooled mixture in freezer containers. To use, partially thaw in refrigerator overnight. Heat through in a saucepan, stirring occasionally; add broth or water if necessary. Serve with avocado and, if desired, mint.

Nutrition Facts

1-1/3 cups: 318 calories, 14g fat (3g saturated fat), 76mg cholesterol, 628mg sodium, 24g carbohydrate (8g sugars, 5g fiber), 26g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 3 lean meat, 2 fat, 1-1/2 starch.

Lemon Mushroom Chicken

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • 1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. Flatten chicken to 1/2-in. thickness. In a large shallow dish, combine 1/4 cup flour, salt and pepper. Add chicken, 1 piece at a time; turn to coat.
  2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook chicken in butter for 5-6 minutes on each side or until no longer pink. Remove and keep warm.
  3. Add 1/3 cup broth to the pan, stirring to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil. Add mushrooms; cook and stir for 3-5 minutes or until tender.
  4. Combine the remaining flour and broth until smooth; stir into the mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened, about 2 minutes Stir in lemon juice. Serve with chicken.

Nutrition Facts

1 chicken breast half with 1/4 cup sauce: 213 calories, 9g fat (4g saturated fat), 78mg cholesterol, 368mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate (1g sugars, 1g fiber), 26g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 3 lean meat, 1-1/2 fat, 1/2 starch.

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