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News for the ‘Helpful Tips’ Category

Ice, Ice Baby…

81XpXBzo2cL__SL1500_Here is a coping mechanism that is sometimes taught to people who have BPD and/or other mental health diagnosis that include aggression. The technique I am talking about is cooling your extremities. This can be done in multiple ways.

The most common way is to hold an ice cube, or maybe a few of them, in your hand when you are experiencing an increased level of agitation. When ice is not available or practical, you can also let cold water run over your hands.

The reason that this works it that an increase in core body temperature increases the level of irritability in a person. When the body temperature rises, the blood vessels in our bodies open wider. When we introduce ice or another cooling agent, it lowers the temperature and causes the blood vessels to dilate.

I have experience with this technique in both a practical approach as well as an academic approach.

From a practical side I use this technique, as well as running cool/cold water over my hands, to calm myself down and  it works wonderfully for me.

I have also had some academic experience with it. Back in 2012 I attended the Yale NEA-BPD Annual Conference, the topic that year was on Impulsivity, Aggression, & Legal Involvement. One of the presenters talked about this technique.

A study was done where inmates, with violent tendencies, were taught to immerse their hands into buckets of ice when they became agitated. Inmates who used this technique showed a that their agitation level was decreased more quickly then those who did not employ the technique.

Now since most of us do not have access to buckets of ice in our day to day life, holding an ice cube, or a few, will have similar affect.

It is important to remember, not every technique works for every person, but I have found this one to be very helpful and often recommend it to others.

It appears there may be some scientific truth to the old expression, “I need to cool off”.

Edited: May 12th, 2015

“Helpful” People and Ethical Dilemmas

Sometimes people can cause problems for us by solving problems for other people. Usually this is not the person’s intent; however, by trying to help someone else their solution winds up shifting the problem to another person or creating a new problem for someone else.

This brings about its own challenges. If the person that the problem is being shifted from is someone you care about, how do you handle it? It introduces an ethical dilemma. It is right to take care of yourself and push back on the solution, but it is also right to help other people.

There is no formula that you can plug a few variables into and get an answer. You do not want always to choose yourself at the expense of others, but it is equally unhealthy to always put the other person first.

If you choose the latter and are always self-sacrificing, you will never take care of your needs and cause harm to your own health and damage or even prevent yourself from recovering. If you always choose the former at worst you risk bringing harm to others, at best you come across as not really caring about the other person and damaging your relationship. You need to evaluate each situation as they occur and try to find a middle ground when possible.

If we look at Dr. Kidder’s book, How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, he provides nine steps for dealing with ethical issues. These steps are meant as a guide to help in making ethical decisions and not necessarily a step-by-step instruction manual.

  1. Recognize that there is a moral issue.
  2. Determine the actor.
  3. Gather the relevant facts.
  4. Test for right-versus-wrong issues.
  5. Test for right-versus-right paradigms.
  6. Apply the resolution principles.
  7. Investigate the “trilemma” options.
  8. Make the decision.
  9. Revisit and reflect on the decision.

Like the skills we learn through DBT, the process of resolving ethical dilemmas require practice and commitment. The value and benefit we gain from the practice and commitment are worth it. It is worth it because the more we are able to live in moral alignment, studying true to our values, the more ethical we live the more we improve the quality of our life, the lives of those around us and reduce our stress.

Edited: February 19th, 2013

Non-Traditional Sources of Help

When we think about various sources of information that can help us and inspire us, we typically think of the more obvious sources, for example, we think about sources like therapists, psychology texts and journals, and things like faith and prayer. While those are definitely good sources, they are not the only places we can find help, inspiration and inspiration.


In this article, I will briefly talk about a few non-traditional sources. I am planning to talk about the various items in more detail over the next few months, as well as a few others not talked about in this article.

One non-traditional area is ethics.

Currently, I am re-reading a book by Dr. Rushworth Kidder, which I first read in 2008, titled How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living. As I read the book, it reminds me of how many things I found valuable for improving my mental health.

Using this book add an example, it explores the concept of how to deal with situations that are not cases of right vs. wrong, but rather cases of right vs. right. The very concept of there exist situations where both choices are ‘right’. The basic concepts within the book can be expanded, with some thought, to apply to other areas in life. Even beyond that though, the book itself does help with how to resolve ethical dilemmas. Figuring out how to resolve any kind of dilemma makes our lives easier, it removes a stress point.

I plan to write more about this book, as well as Dr. Kidder’s book Moral Courage in the coming months.

We can also find help by identifying our personal strengths and talents. When we come to understand what our strengths are, we can look for ways to use those strengths. This is very different from finding out our weaknesses are, and more uplifting. I can think of hundreds, literarily, of things, I am not good at, but that only helps a little and looking at the list can be depressing. However, if I find the things that I am the strongest in, it is by its very nature positive rather than negative. It also lets me look for things that I can excel in rather than telling me things to avoid because I might fail at them. It sets me up to succeed and thrive as opposed to preventing me from falling. There is a significant difference between succeeding and not failing.

The difference between succeeding and not failing will be a topic of a future entry as well.

One last area that I am going to touch on is learning to read body language. I know that this sounds like one that is way out there, but learning to read body language can be a very useful tool for us. A person’s body language can tell us a lot about a person’s feelings about a situation, whether they are being open and honest, closed off, angry, etc. I personally think this is a very important to learn about and master. While we may be better than the other groups at telling when a person is expressing negative emotional facial expressions, we do not do so well with identifying neutral or positive expressions. Being able to read body language, including facial expressions, can help evaluate any given situation.

Understanding body language also allows us to be aware of the image we are projecting. In either case, reading other people’s body language and being aware of what our own body language is saying, allows us to reduce confrontation with other people and lower our stress. It can help make life easier.

Below are a few books that I have found useful over the years.

  • Moral Courage –   Kidder, Rushworth
  • How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living – Kidder, Rushworth
  • Strength Finder 2.0 –  Rath, Tom
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths – Buckingham, Marcus and Clifton, Donald O.
  • The Definitive Book of Body Language – Pease, Barbara and Pease, Allan
  • Enhanced Detection of Emotional Facial Expressions in Borderline Personality Disorder – Schulze L. · Domes G. · Köppen D. · Herpertz S.C.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23006779)



Edited: February 2nd, 2013

Your Surroundings Matter – Office Edition

As I mentioned in the article, Your Surroundings Matter, one of the easiest things for us to control is our environment, which is a good thing since our environment has a big impact on our mental health. While we have more control over our environment at home then we do at the office, we still do have some degree of control at work. Unfortunately, when we are in a public environment we need to operate within constraints put in place by other people. For example, one constraint that I need to work within at the office is that we cannot have anything plugged in other than our computers and phones. This constraint prevents me from keeping an electric relaxation fountain at my desk, which is one thing that I used to use to help me deal with stress at work.

Controlling your environment at work is much the same as it is at home; however, you are limited to things that respect other people’s space, rights and privacy and do not cause any disturbance. Admittedly, working in an office at a computer all day, provides me with options not available to someone who works on the sales floor in a retail environment; however, it is still possible to control things in a retail setting. I will talk about that later in this article.

The first thing to keep in mind, is you cannot control the people around you, that part of your environment is beyond your control. So you need to focus on the things you can control.

One of the most important things I can recommend is before you do anything, make sure your office allows you to do them. Some places are more lenient than others. If you are not sure, check first.

If you are like me and spend a lot of time at your desk and on a computer, then the best place to start is with your sense of sight. There are a few very simple things I do to appeal to my sense of sight. It is important to keep objects  that are calming, soothing and that reinforce positive thoughts in your line of sight. I keep a picture of my wife and I on the wall right in front of me, there is no way I can miss it. I also have a picture of my cat as the wall paper on my computer. Typically, I keep a souvenir from my honeymoon on top of one my computers. This way when I turn to talk to someone, I can see it out of the corner of my eye and it reminds me of positive experience. This helps during stressful conversations.

A few other things you can keep at your desk, flowers (fresh or silk), any form of positive recognition, a stuffed animal that reminds you of a loved pet. Anything positive and allowed.

The other main thing I use at work, is my sense of hearing. I always carry my iPod and headphones with me. This helps during the commute as well. When I am at my desk and not involved in a conversation, I keep my headphones in and listen to music that I find relaxing and/or enjoyable.  Some of the music I listen is ‘normal’ to most people, even if they do not like it. For example, music like Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult, Bon Jovi, Bob Seger, Styx, Will Smith, and so on, no one would question as ‘normal music’; however, some of the things on my iPod would make most people shake their head. The best examples of this type of music are my Marine and Army Cadence, both running and marching, and my WWE entrance themes.

Don’t have an iPod? Not a problem, if you have a computer at work and are allowed to you can do a few different things. First you can bring in CDs and play them in the CD drive. A second option is to find an internet radio station you like and listen to that. Finally, you  can always listen to stuff on YouTube.  Make sure you know your company’s policy on computer use first though.

Finally, you can find ways to control your sense of smell. Now, you need to remember, it cannot be something overpowering that will intrude on other people’s space. The fact that you are in a shared environment makes smell a more challenging sense to deal with at work. If you are allowed, fresh flowers are always nice to have. They appeal to both your sense of sight and your sense of smell. If you work in close quarters with other people, you may want to ask them if they have any allergies to flowers before you bring some in to the office. Making others miserable will not help your environment in the long run. If you cannot have fresh flowers, and some places do not allow them, you may want to look into some potpourri for your desk.

Now, I mentioned at the beginning of this article, that I would talk about handling your environment in a retail setting. Unfortunately, you are more limited in a retail setting, but you can still do things to help yourself. When you are in a retail setting, you need to redefine your environment. You need to redefine it to you since you always have control over your own body.

Two simple things you can do in this type of setting is to wear an article of clothing that you find comforting or that makes you feel better about yourself.  The other thing you can do, and it is something I do, is wear something like a necklace or another piece of jewelry that you can touch to help ground yourself when you feel stressed or upset. I have two different necklaces that I wear regularly. If you have a locker where you work, you can put up photos just like you would at home or the office.


Edited: January 21st, 2013

Your Surroundings Matter

IMG_4228_ResizedaOne thing that we often overlook when dealing with our mental health is our environment, yet it is one thing that is the easiest for us to control on a daily basis. The things that our senses take in can have a huge impact to our state of mind. After all, our senses are how we interact with our world. It is why treatments like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teach people to use their senses to self-soothe in times of distress. This is an effective technique for many people.

Life does exist beyond times of distress, I know there are times it may seem like that is a lie, but life really does exist beyond times of distress. One of the best ways to avoid periods of distress is to find effective ways to prevent them. For me one thing that helps prevent them or at least helps cut them off when they are trying to start is by controlling my environment as much as possible. I primarily control my environment through the sense of sight, but I also make use of my senses of smell, touch and hearing, but to a  lesser extent.

To help control my environment through sight, I keep things that are visually soothing, positive and relaxing to me all over my apartment. Almost everywhere I look, there is something that has a positive impact on my mental state. On the wall behind where I sit, I have plaques with various bible verses in earth tones, on the wall above where my dining room table would be I have three plaques with the Chinese characters for Friendship, Good Luck, and Good Fortune. In my hallway I have quotes from the Dalai Lama hanging above my washer and drier and a Irish Wedding Blessing on the wall before you enter the master bedroom.

Since  I spend a lot of time on the computer, that area has more reinforcing material than just about anywhere else in my home. In front of my I have performance awards, on my left I have certificates of appreciation from the Assistant Attorney General and on my right I have my college diploma. Above my head, I keep my books on psychology, most of which focus on BPD and treatment types, my computer books, my books on leadership and ethics. All these books have a positive impact on me for one reason or another. I will talk more about that in a different article. No matter where I look, I am surrounded by things that remind me that I have accomplished things and reinforce a positive self-image. Behind me is the washer and dryer and as I said I have quotes from the Dalai Lama there. I even have a soothing image hanging in my bathroom and on the opposite wall from my bed.

On my bookcase in the living area, I have my ‘Spot Award’ for work I did in 2011 and my award for 5+ years of service with my company. There is one last way that I control my environment through sight. I do that by the television that I watch. A lot of the shows I watch are comedies, but I also watch a few dramas like N.C.I.S. and Elementary along with Supernatural. The comedies make me laugh and provide a ‘positive vibe’, the dramas keep my mind engaged and appeal to my analytical side and Supernatural appeals to the part of me that enjoys fantasy, the idea of ‘good vs. evil’ and ‘monsters’. Supernatural provides me an escape from reality. I may do a separate article just on Supernatural and its impact on my mental health.

Television also provides a great way of affecting your environment through sound. It can be the music featured in the show, the theme songs, the laughter from the audience or just the voices of the people acting. Another way I affect my environment through sound is I keep a Tibetan Singing Bowl on my bookcase which I use to soothe myself. I am still trying to learn how to use it. I can get it to sing, but I am far from an expert with it.

My sense of smell is the one that I do the least for, but even though I do not do a lot it still has a considerable impact. When it comes to smell, I burn scented candles, incense and scented oils. I do not burn them all at the same time. I choose candles and oils that have an appealing smell to me or that remind me of pleasant places. Incense has a very calming affect on me. I typically use incense from India or Tibet.

Finally, I come to touch. When it comes to my sense of touch, I have a very affectionate cat. She provides constant entertainment and loves to have someone pet her. There is something, about petting a cat that is in itself soothing and calming.

When it comes to work or commuting, I have less control over what I take in and how many things I can surround myself with at any given time. I will talk more about work and commuting environments separately.

These are some of the things that work well for me and help me. You may have very different things that work for you. It is about finding the things that work for you and surrounding yourself with them.

Edited: January 16th, 2013


“Engage!” is one of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s more well-known lines from Star Trek: The Next Generation, said over 300 times during the series run. It is also one way of dealing with difficult periods. It is also a method I use frequently.

When you use this concept you find ways to keep your mind engaged in other positive and productive tasks. It allows you to distract yourself for a period of time. Your mind becomes actively engaged in unrelated tasks so you do not dwell on what has you upset.

This gives your mind the opportunity to return to a calm state where you can then address the root problem calmly and with a wise mind instead of an emotional mind.

However, there is a second part to this, you eventually have to address the problem. You cannot just bury it. Burying problems allows them to fester and get worse.

It is OK to distract, it is not OK to bury and pretend the original problem never existed.

An example from my life happened today. There are a few things that have bothered me the last few days that I need to deal with and handle. However, I also have to work and I cannot let my problems get in my way. Since they, unfortunately, do not pay me to do psychological analysis or therapy, I have to find a way to cope with my problems without them interfering with work.

The best way for me to handle this scenario is to stay fully engaged with my work. Today, such as, I was in meetings or conversations all day. This let me focus on the tasks at work and distance myself from what has me upset.

Now, I am on my way home on the metro writing this blog entry. Here I am still engaged in other tasks, but at the same time given the nature of the task it let’s me devote some time to resolving the root issue.

Edited: December 5th, 2012

Slow Down Your Haste is Making Waste

Slow down you’re moving way too fast
(Your feet don’t ever touch the ground)
Slow down You know you’ll never last
(You’re seeking that which can’t be found)
Slow down your haste is making waste
(Your feet don’t ever touch the ground)
Slow down and join the human race
(You’re seeking that which can’t be found)

-from Slow Down by Ozzy Osbourne

It is not often that people look to Ozzy Osbourne for advice with life; however, even the least likely of sources can provide insight into life and good advice at times.

If you look at the lyrics above, Ozzy offers up some good advice, slow down. Too often in life we find ourselves running around like the proverbial chicken with its head chopped off. This is unhealthy and unproductive. Rushing around leads to a lot of extra waste in our life, wasted effort, wasted time and wasted stress.

The more we rush around, the more stress we add to our day. When we rush around, we put ourselves in a constant state of flux, trying to figure out what we need to do next, where we need to be next, etc. Each of these things stress more and more. Rushing around also leads us to make more mistakes and not just more mistakes, but bigger mistakes.

Rushing around also leads us to burn ourselves out; it causes us to wear ourselves down physically and leaves us exhausted. We can only keep up a hectic pace for so long before we run out of steam. The more physically exhausted we are, the more emotionally sensitive we are and more difficult it is to regulate our emotions.

These days, when I feel myself starting to rush or get impatient, I make a conscious decision to slow down. For example, if I am walking to the metro and get behind someone that is moving slowly, and I feel myself getting impatient and wanting to rush, I slow my pace down, at times even coming to a dead stop for a few seconds and taking a deep breath before continuing.

Slowing down has helped me deal with stress quite a bit. It has also reduced the number of mistakes I make and the severity of the ones I do make. Both of these things have reduced my stress even further.

So like Ozzy says, “Slow down and join the human race.”

Edited: November 16th, 2012

Catching Some ZZZZ

As I sit here, tired, on the train heading to the office I am reminded of how important getting enough sleep every night is to our health. I am sure we all know that if we do not get enough sleep it is harder to function the next day.

Our bodies are more sluggish, so we are not physically able to respond to things as fast as we normally can. We are also more prone to getting sick because chronic lack of sleep alters the immune system, making it less effective.

A good night’s sleep lets our body unwind and reenergize. It is why you feel less stressed when you get good night of sleep. Lack of sleep causes increased emotional reactivity, especially, to negative stimuli. The lack of sleep affects the same area of the brain that bpd affects, the amygdala. The amygdala is one of the primary centers of emotions in people.

While sleep is important for anyone, it becomes more critical for different thinkers whose processing of emotions is affected by the way they think. Failing to get enough sleep on a regular basis will only serve to make it more difficult to process our emotions in a safe and balanced way.

I know from personal experience that getting proper sleep doors have a huge impact on my ability to control my emotions the next day. For me, I need at last five hours of sleep each night to deal with an average amount of stress with relative ease. The more sleep I get, the easier it becomes to handle increased stressors. The opposite is true as well. The less sleep I get, the harder it is to deal with even small amounts of stress.





Edited: August 8th, 2012

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Today I was reminded of a technique for learning to be comfortable and happy with your body. The technique is a very simple one. You stand in front of a mirror and identify the things you like about your body. They can be small things or large things.

Once you are standing there, you can decide to remain there for a certain amount of time or until you have identified a certain number of things you like. I recommend starting out small so you do not get discouraged.

Then, write them down with a short description of why you like each thing. A sentence is enough. Then the next day, start by reading what you wrote last time. Repeat the exercise as many times as you needed to repeat it.

Writing things down gives you something to look back on any time you feel down about your looks. It helps you see the beauty you saw at a different point in time.

Edited: July 25th, 2012

Appreciate the Small Things

All to often we overlook the small things in life, but it is important to appreciate them. Taking the time to appreciate the small things can have a big impact on your emotional state. When we ignore the small things we miss the delicate beauty around us.

There are two big ways that the small things can help us emotionally. One way that they can help is by providing us with a positive sensory experience. They give us opportunities to use our senses to self soothe more often. Small things are all around us. You just need to find the things that have a positive affect on you.

For example, taking a moment to enjoy the sweet smell of a flower or the steady pitter-patter of rain on the roof can help calm your emotions and bring a smile to your face. The very act of smiling causes your body to release endorphins, one of chemicals in the brain responsible for mood. Releasing endorphins helps elevate your mood.

The other way that the small things can help us is by giving us a sense of accomplishment. Breaking things down into smaller units give you more easily attainable goals. Reaching ‘recovery’ is a goal that you cannot achieve over night. As you work toward that goal, the path can become hard and frustrating; especially, if you suffer a setback. Even when the path is not difficult it can seem like recovery is a million miles away or a fantasy; however, if you appreciate the small things, you something tangible to be proud of and celebrate.

Edited: July 6th, 2012


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