Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat all provide an opportunity to present a curated version of oneself to the world. There is a great deal of stress in attempting to be “on” for the world, day in and day out.
“One of the key things that I’ve learned and endeavor to teach to my clients is the ability to be comfortable in one’s own skin – the feeling of belonging and relaxation that comes with acknowledging and being proud of who you are, while understanding that to some degree every human being is a work in progress.”
To become the best version of one’s self, there are plenty of methods, therapies and numerous guidance for treatment. From western medicine, to traditional therapies, to holistic approaches, there isn’t a one size fits all approach for any condition.
For me, there are several things that should underpin any effective approach.
A strength-based approach is key.
“Research supports building on strengths as a means to become the best version of YOU. This means celebrating and building on the positives of a person rather than addressing them as a problem that needs to be ‘fixed’.”
There are several articles that support this, but I recently came across this one that does a good job of doing a 40,000 foot overview of strength-based approaches. There are a couple of key take-aways from a strength-based approach.
First, understand that the little things matter. Language, word choice, tone, and cadence are all important in both self-messaging and in working with a client, as perception can become reality. Validating what one of my clients calls, “thought-feelings” is huge in terms of understanding strengths and building upon them.
Secondly, being honest about any speedbumps (real or imaged) such as time, cultural mores, personality etc. that might impede progress is an important part of this process.
Finally, respecting and validating individual expertise on their own strengths while providing scaffolded guidance in the decision-making process is a good recipe for meaningful personal growth.
Being comfortable is more than body-image, or self-esteem, but these can certainly come in to play. It is the ability to engage with others in a way that is authentic and socially normative. Getting there can be a journey of small steps and a meaningful support network providing reinforcement.
“I’ve found that during difficult times in my life, and we’ve all had them, that finding positive things to reflect upon daily is a way to build resilience.”
I’ve found that during difficult times in my life, and we’ve all had them, that finding positive things to reflect upon daily is a way to build resilience. As a personal example, at a time when I was dealing with the emotional aftermath of a cheating significant other, I had a friend dealing with the suicide of his father and another friend who was going through cancer treatment.
Each day, we held each other accountable to find (and share) a list of 10 things that were positive in our respective lives. Some days were tougher than others and I can recall items from those lists that included wry attempts at humor (the sun didn’t explode today and destroy all life on the planet) to more thoughtful positives (I made it through the day without crying) or (I was able to go through some of my dad’s things and recalled a good memory of a fishing trip as a kid).
Ultimately, the specific content of the top 10 list of positive things for the day was less important than the act of making the list and reflecting upon the fact that there were others who were holding us (both individually and collectively) accountable to see something good in ourselves and the world around us.
One of the lists included being thankful for an old backpacking water bottle that served as a reminder of happier times. Little did we know at the time of future research that would connect happiness with proper hydration.
The need for these lists and accountability partners have waxed and waned throughout my personal life, but the strategies of positive accountability and of drinking plenty of water are ones that are reproducible and have had many positive benefits with my clients at Camp Sequoia as well.
In over two decades of working with exceptional populations, I’ve had the opportunity to work with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, and homeopaths alongside parents who have explored traditional and adjunctive therapies. Delving into the specifics of supplements and dietary adjustments is the topic for another blog, but it is worth mentioning that there are some key guidelines that bear keeping in mind.
It is important to communicate with and listen to key stakeholders. Most individuals are able, as are their loved ones, able to identify when a specific medication regimen makes them not feel right. Certainly, there is no desire to medicate away a unique and wonderful personality.
There are several of my clients who self-report feeling off after meals heavy in refined sugar or carbs and others who eschew red dye #5. A holistic approach that looks at multiple facets has been the most effective in the population that I serve.
Personally, I know that I need to ask when I go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant because I don’t do well with the added MSG (monosodium glutamate) sometimes used in this type of cooking.
While keeping track of these dietary things can be a logistical challenge, the upside benefits can be transformative. When one feels good, it is easier to focus on other things. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reinforces this idea well.
Finally, it is important to have folks who have similar needs be in a space where they can communicate and share experiences so that each individual and family isn’t reinventing the wheel for themselves. The internet has made this easier and spaces (such as Planet Neurodivergent) are a good place for individuals to come together for a mindful community.
Beyond medication and diet, there are a range of strategies to get to the point where you can celebrate YOU.
One of my closest college friends has turned to exercise and animal therapy as a means to cope with obsessive compulsive (OCD) tendencies. He’s also recognized that for him geography matters for him and a recent move (following the science) to a waterfront location has provided him with the ability to navigate the rigors of a highly demanding job in quality control for a pharmaceutical company. He recognized in his early twenties that he needed something in his life that was structured and predictable that would enhance both his physical and mental health. Just this understanding that physical and mental health are linked is a huge realization. The research has been around for quite a while, but it is often overlooked as we try to solve problems in disparate silos.
Now, he is a tri-athlete; doing well in his competitions for a 40 something. He has made a priority to carve out a work-life balance to include exercise and development to be able to compete regionally in his age bracket. This type of coping mechanism helps to provide both a physical sense of self-worth, through the release of endorphins as part of exercise, but also the sense of emotional well-being that comes from setting and achieving appropriate goals.
Additionally, he has recognized the benefit of having a furry friend around the house. A rescue dog provides another layer of structure and accountability for him. While a substantive conversation can be had on whether dogs or cats should be the pet of choice, being responsible for another life on a daily basis can have a myriad of benefits. When I see him interact with his dog, especially after a tough day at the office, you can almost see the mantle of stress lifted from his shoulders. Exercise and his dog have allowed him to become the best version of himself and more importantly feel comfortable in his own skin.
Part of being comfortable in your own skin is the ability to take time to do what Stephen Covey would call sharpening the saw as one of his 7 habits of Highly Effective People. When I taught a Master Naturalist Course at a local university, I enjoyed providing students with the opportunity to connect to the natural world and reap the benefits of being out in nature as one strategy for recharging their batteries in the company of like-minded individuals.
Being comfortable with who you are is not a one and done transaction, but an intentional process of building upon strengths over the course of a productive lifetime. There are many strategies along the way, but understanding of the science that supports each of many approaches can help individuals make informed decisions that are best for them.
Brian Lux, MAT
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