Gun lock

Reducing Access to Lethal Means

LCA News and Information

By Kelly Brevig

When a child first learns to walk, their whole world becomes dangerous. Unsteady legs develop as babies pull themselves up and grasp furniture for support. As a child gains a new visual perspective, shiny and breakable objects are tucked away safely, hidden from sticky little fingers that are wanting to explore. It doesn’t take long for a first-time parent to “childproof” their home by locking cabinets, putting up harmful chemicals and plugging electrical outlets with safety devices. The goal is to keep the child as safe as possible. While little brains develop, the whole world is opened up to them and parents quickly learn how to protect them the best they can. Bath time becomes a ritual that is closely monitored, tiny objects that can fit into tiny mouths are picked up, and seat belts are used to keep babes tethered securely in swings and highchairs. We do everything in our power to keep them safe.

child with bike helmet
As children grow, dangers morph from choking hazards to external injuries and accidents.

          Babies are not able to rationalize and understand the danger. As they develop, the meaning of “no”, “hot”, “icky”, is gained through experiences. The human brain develops at a heightened pace and much is absorbed through play, safety, and storytime. As children grow, dangers morph from choking hazards to external injuries and accidents. The world around us evolves to present a new set of risks. Bike helmets, rules, expectations, and curfews are enforced to guide us and help us further develop our frontal lobe- the part of the brain that makes decisions, solves problems, provides flexibility, and sustains memory.

          After successfully navigating childhood into adulthood, it can be incomprehensible to believe that one of the biggest dangers a person can face, is themselves. When a person is experiencing depression, however, the pre-frontal cortex that so readily helped us solve problems, make decisions, and rationalize the world, can go dormant, while other brain systems like our amygdala, (the emotion sensor of the brain) take over. Our amygdala is important to us, as it senses danger, heightens our awareness, releases adrenaline and cortisol and helps us to fight, flee or freeze. It can also be hijacked by depression and provide emotional responses that are overwhelming and override brain function.

What can we do?

          Depression and anxiety are chemical changes in the brain. Someone who is experiencing depression loses the ability to rationalize the world around them and can have daily battles with their amygdala to just get out of bed. Because these chemical changes do not present themselves as clearly as a broken leg, they are often misunderstood and not talked about. It is in this state that suicidal thoughts enter and a person becomes a danger to themselves. Just as an infant learning to walk needs someone to navigate the world around them to keep them safe, so does a person experiencing depression. One of the best ways to do this is to reduce access to things that could cause irreversible harm. Just as kitchen cleaners are put away for child safety, so are guns and medications locked up and out of reach for someone experiencing depression. When we make it harder for someone to access ways of ending their life, we give them more time for their pre-frontal cortex to fight for control and provide the ability to stop themselves.

Gun lock
Just as kitchen cleaners are put away for child safety, guns and medications should be locked up and out of reach for someone experiencing depression.

          Because it is difficult to imagine a loved one being so distraught that they are filled with thoughts of death, it can be hard to put up a “safety gate” or barrier to what we think is improbable. It is more comfortable for us to believe that suicide strikes “other people” and not our own. What we know about suicide, however, is that it is an impulsive act with little to no reasoning. Simple safety measures like extra gun locks, removal of ammunition, disposing of unused medication and locking up all others can be lifesaving. The goal on this end of the spectrum is to keep people safe from themselves by providing as much time as we can for the brain to jockey for control. Safety in our world is talked about every day. When we begin to marry “safety” with “depression”, we can save lives. Help us make reducing access to lethal means a common practice when dealing with depression.       

Kelly Brevig is the Suicide Services Coordinator for Evergreen Youth and Family Services in Bemidji, MN.

Time to Slow Down

LCA News and Information

By Kelly Brevig

Greek philosopher, Socrates forewarned us when he said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Yet today, everywhere we go it seems that people are bustling around in a race against time. We live in a society where we glorify business and identify ourselves by our to-do list. “Hi, how have you been?” we ask, and the reply, “Oh, I’ve just been so busy lately.” While self-satisfaction can come with accomplishment, we recognize the need to slow down and take a break, thus inserting vacations and mental health days into our world.  However, the real question is, “how do we create a world from which we don’t need to escape?”

busy female professional

Some people believe the Mandarin character for “busy” is made up of two words, “heart” and “death.” While the translation can be argued, this interpretation could mean that having our time consumed can be physically stressful to our bodies, or separate us from our loved ones, it can also mean that business helps us to shut off our emotions. While being too busy can lead to unnecessary stress, it can also have some positive results. Sometimes, keeping busy can be an escape from intrusive thoughts. Doing mindless tasks or tasks requiring concentration can be a great tool for self-care. What happens though when we create calendars that fill up faster than we plan for and we forget to process the “stuff” inside our heads?

Being “swamped” or “up to our ears in paperwork”, having our “plate full” for long periods of time can lead to high cortisol levels. While there is a tendency to “dig deep and keep going”, doing so can also bring extreme exhaustion when it is repetitive without a break. Too much cortisol in our body leads to anxiety, depression digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and memory/concentration issues. Sound familiar?  On the flip side, when people take their “work break” that is required by MN state statute, it helps the pre-frontal cortex (the part of our brain that helps us concentrate and make decisions) recharge so it can carry on and complete a task. We need to take a break. We are designed to work in moderation. We are more productive and effective when we give our bodies a chance to slow down.

Looking at the Finnish culture for a different perspective, we can find that coffee breaks are part of the natural order of things and the law. Breaks are not spent on smartphones, running errands, or conversing about work, they are mostly spent in silence drinking coffee. Finns appreciate a true body and mind break that allows for thinking and processing. Chatter during this time is considered “noise.” Fins also have more sauna’s (pronounced sow-na) than cars, exemplifying the importance of self-care.  While it is true that people in Finland are said to be better listeners than talkers, it can be argued that silence too, should be taken in moderation. Talking about one’s thoughts and emotions has been proven to be a healthy outlet and a necessary part of dealing with grief and depression.

relaxing in a boat

So the question remains, how do we create a world in which we don’t need to escape? Planning coffee breaks (or just a chance to go outside and breath the fresh October air) is a great way to start. Many people have said to me, “Where did the summer go?” My goal for the fall is to enjoy each moment, being present to enjoy the crunch of leaves, the autumn colors, the laughter of my family and the love from my dog. Taking meaningful time outs in our daily lives bring moments we can look back on and remember. Someday, most of us will have the chance to sit and reflect on the years behind us. Will we say that we were busy, or that we found meaning in every day? It is never too late to slow down. Our families and work both need us. It is when we truly slowdown that our best and most productive selves emerge. Use those built-up vacations days; your future self will thank you.

Kelly Brevig is the Suicide Services Coordinator for Evergreen Youth and Family Services in Bemidji, MN.

Suicide Prevention: Learn When It’s Time to Seek Help

LCA News and Information

by Melissa Howard

picture of depressed person

Suicide is a travesty that affects millions of people all over the world. When a person decides to take his or her own life, they leave behind a slew of impossible questions and difficult emotions for their loved ones: What do we do now? Why did this happen? Is there anything anyone could have done to prevent this from happening?

Warning Signs of Suicide

There is no one reason why a person decides to end their life. People have their own experiences and troubles that influence them along with mental health struggles. Typically, people who engage in suicidal acts don’t necessarily want to die; it’s more like they just want an escape from pain that they see as unmanageable and unbearable.

Substance abuse is another factor that increases the likelihood that a person might wish to die. Mental health issues such as anxiety, trauma and depression often co-occur with drug and alcohol addiction. Even after seeking clinical treatment, addicts often experience residual guilt, financial problems, and damaged self-esteem that can contribute to thoughts of suicide.

Signs someone may be thinking about suicide include:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Mentioning feelings of hopelessness
  • Expressing a sense that they are a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped and like life is meaningless
  • Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Online searches for ways to kill themselves
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Sleep disorder and fatigue
  • Aggression, rage, and irritability
  • Saying goodbyes and giving away items
  • A history of depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD

If you have a senior loved one in your life, you need to pay close attention to them, especially if they live alone. Loneliness, depression, and isolation are prevalent within the senior community, making older adults susceptible to suicidal thoughts. So, check in with your senior loved ones and see if they display any signs of senior isolation. If you suspect a loved one may be suffering from depression, encourage them to seek help. Fortunately, many Medicare Advantage plans, including those offered by private insurers such as UnitedHealthcare, offer a number of important wellness programs that can get them the assistance they require.

Suicide and the Blame Game

When someone takes their own life, the people they leave behind experience the whole gamut of emotions. While not everyone feels this way, some people blame themselves for not doing more to help prevent the tragedy. Others may blame the victim. The truth is that in the event of a suicide, no one is to blame. Life can be cruel and illogical. Sometimes, there are no answers to questions, and bad things happen and there’s nothing anyone could do about it. When recovering from a loved one’s suicide, try to avoid placing blame in any direction. Instead, focus on grieving and healing.

Preventing Suicide with Emotional Wellness

Those who have a history of suicidal thoughts, depression, and addiction can help improve their lives by pursuing a state of emotional wellness. While emotional wellness has a focus on nurturing our instincts and intuition, it’s important to remember that in the end, all aspects of health are connected. To support your emotional wellness and mental health, it’s just as important to take care of your body with proper diet and exercise.

It’s also important to build a supportive team of mental health experts, which may include a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication as needed; a therapist, who can lead individual or group counseling sessions; and in many cases, a social worker, especially for those who have survived substance abuse or a previous suicide attempt. These specialists help patients of all ages develop emotional wellness tools to help them cope with mental health disorders, including suicidal thoughts. Licensed social workers typically obtain a Master of Social Work program that includes several hours of field work, so they have the hands-on experience needed to help patients struggling with thoughts of suicide through both prevention and intervention.

Other ways to support one’s emotional well-being include:

  • Participating in activities that are meaningful — work, taking care of another, volunteering, etc.
  • Sticking to a routine and maintaining a busy schedule
  • Making crafts
  • Trying new activities and meeting new people
  • Traveling and visiting new places
  • Practicing gratitude throughout the day
  • Taking a day off when needed

Suicide is a serious problem that devastates the people left behind. There is no one reason for a person to take their own life and when they do it. While we can look for signs of a person thinking about suicide, if they end up taking their life, it is important not to blame anyone. We can help prevent suicide by encouraging people to promote their own emotional wellness.

Why Involve Family and Other Important People in Your Recovery?

LCA News and Information
road to recovery

Most people know someone who has struggled with mood-altering substances, alcohol and/or drugs.  Maybe it was a friend, family, neighbor or maybe it was yourself.  If someone’s substance use was causing enough commotion in their life, they may have received an assessment, either a Rule 25 or more recently, a Comprehensive Assessment.  If they were given a diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD), they may have been encouraged to attend SUD treatment, in which a treatment plan would have been created.

A treatment plan is a roadmap that lays out the small steps on the road to recovery.  In my ten plus years working as a Licensed Alcohol/Drug Counselor (LADC), I have worked with people on hundreds of treatment plans.  One of the common questions I’m asked during this process is, “Why do we have to involve my family?”. 

Why not Involve others?

There are many reasons people are reluctant to involve others.  One reason is out of fear.  They fear that they will lose relationships and benefits if their secret is exposed: their inability to control their substance use.  They also fear that they will gain something they do not want: judgement or accountability for their actions. 

If they want to continue to abuse substances or do not believe they have a drug/alcohol problem they fear the loss of benefits provided by family or important people who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, may enable their behavior.

Another reason could be that their loved one may also struggle with substance abuse and they want to avoid being embarrassed by them or having others learn of their problems.  Despite the reasons why people may not initially want to involve others in their recovery, their recovery may rely on it.

Why is it important?

Family members and loved ones want to help, though they often don’t know what to do.  By involving them and educating them about the process of recovery, we can increase the chances that they will be helpful and effective in times of need. 

Involving family in treatment planning is encouraged by the designers of treatment programs in our state.  Minnesota Statute says: “The [treatment plan] must provide for the involvement of the client’s family and people selected by the client as important to the success of treatment at the earliest opportunity”.  Not only is involving family and loved ones effective, it’s encouraged by SUD experts across the state. 

Overall, participation in a loved one’s treatment planning process increases the chances of long-term recovery.  It provides an opportunity to address many family concerns, which can include providing resources for family and friends or assisting them in coping in a healthy manner with their loved one’s Substance Use Disorder. 

How does it work?

hands heart

As long as the client signs a Release of Information for the person to participate in their treatment program, family and friends can participate.  Loved one’s participation can occur in a group setting, family session, or even individual sessions with the LADC.  It can also be done through a questionnaire or over the phone.  The important thing to remember is that Substance Use Disorders impact family, friends and other people we care about.  Bringing them into the process allows everyone to heal together.

Need more information?

Lake Country Associates (LCA) is now offering day and evening SUD groups in our Menahga office as well as individual therapy and SUD assessments.  To schedule an appointment, call 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-564-9229 (Menahga).  To download brochures and forms, go to our forms page

LCA Welcomes Kris Strate!

LCA News and Information
Kris Strate, Mental Health Practitioner at Lake Country Associates Mental Health in Park Rapids, MN.

Lake Country Associates welcomes Kris Strate to the Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) team. Kris received her Bachelor of Science degree from Mankato State University. For the last 20 years, Kris has been supporting people with a variety of disabilities in the Park Rapids community. She has a passion for helping people improve their quality of life and become their best selves. In her free time, Kris enjoys outdoor activities, spending time with her family and dog, growing orchids and working in her garden.

Kris joined the team in April and is looking forward to helping people better manage the symptoms of their mental illness and work toward recovery. Please join us in welcoming Kris Strate to the Lake Country Associates ARMHS team.

Setting Boundaries by Saying No is Taking Care of Your Mental Health

LCA News and Information

By Diane Cerven, LPCC

Man with a full plate.
No matter what we want to do in our life, there’s only so much room on our plate.

Pretend that your life fits on a plate. There are many sections on the plate, but only so much room.  Each section fits different parts of your life, from family to friends, fun to responsibilities.  Each section varies in the amount of room it takes on that plate.  At different times different parts take more room and crowd out other things.  For the most part, we get to decide what and who gets to be on our plate. Sometimes there are accidents, illnesses, and responsibilities that we have to take care of at times that we don’t choose.  No matter what we may want in our life, we only have so much room on our plate.

Think about your plate/life for a moment. What is in your life?  What has to be there?  What is important to you and you want to make room for? What do you need to make room for (like self care)? Are there activities that are crowding out other activities? This assessment of your time and priorities is a first step to honoring your boundaries.

A boundary is a limit. Other than major life situations (sickness, accidents, downsizing, etc) we choose what goes on our plate and this choice should be a conscious decision. In our metaphor, your life and all its activities fit on a plate. The plate is your boundary. It has edges. Inside the plate there are also boundaries as each thing in our life has its space. If we add something onto the plate, other things get less room or even go away all together. That’s why it’s important to know what’s important to you and what you want on your plate. 

How Do I Set Boundaries?

We know that setting boundaries is important because we have limited room on our plate, but how are we supposed to do it? What about if there’s someone in our lives that doesn’t care about our boundaries?  What if they step over our boundaries, even if it’s done in a pleasant or friendly way?  Here’s what you can do.

  1. State your boundary:  “I need you to not take my things.”  “I can’t bake cookies for the fundraiser.”  “I need you to be home at 9 pm.” 
  2. Don’t back down:  They may get upset, they may think badly of you, they may throw a fit.  Don’t back down.  If you do, you are only contributing to your boundaries being broken. That’s right it’s not their fault, it’s yours. (If you are in a dangerous situation, this does not apply. If you are in a dangerous situation, call the police, visit a domestic violence shelter, or use other resources to get away from this person.  Safety first.  If you feel unsafe at work, contact your HR director or follow the procedures given to you in your policy and procedure manual.)
  3. Restate your boundaries: Calmly explain why you are unable to help, why bedtime is at 8 pm, or why they can’t borrow your vehicle. It’s nice to have conversations with people. “I have too much on my plate right now.” “It’s for your safety.” “I want you to ask before doing something and give me time to plan and think about it.”
  4. If they continue to press, get angry or use other means to try and sway you, then set another boundary: “I will be happy to talk about it once I feel that the conversation can be respectful. Until then, I need a time out”. Or to your child, “I understand that you are angry and want your video game, but you have played it the allowed amount of time, it’s getting turned off now”.
  5. Don’t fall into the pit of explanation: People try to get us to cross our boundaries by having us explain them until we’re sick of it and just give up. Stay calm, restate your boundary. Give empathy and restate, but keep to them. ‘Why can’t I go to the friend’s house?’ ‘I need you to stay home.’ ‘That’s not fair last week I went there.’ ‘I need you to stay home today I can’t pick you up.’ ‘This is stupid.’ ‘I know that you’re angry that you can’t go, but I need you to stay home.’  (An exception can be talking about your dreams and expectations with your partner. Doing so can improve your communications with them.  The big difference is this is a conversation about the dream within, not explaining yourself.)

Stay calm, tell them the boundary, calmly repeat the boundary as needed, walk away if needed, and the next thing you know both you and they will respect your boundaries.

Saying no

Saying No

We need to keep our priorities straight and set boundaries for ourselves.  A big way of doing this is learning to say no.  If you don’t have the time, energy, or room in your life, it’s ok to tell others no.  Even if you just don’t want to, it’s ok to say no.  You choose what is important in your life and what’s on your plate.

I know that saying no to others can be difficult because we feel bad.  However, this is a wrong way of thinking about it. We are protecting what is important and necessary in our lives so we can give them the energy they deserve.  Sure, the bake sale needs cookies, but this week there is no time.  We can say no. Our friend needs to talk, but we have other priorities and don’t have the time.  We can say no. Our family member needs our time and help but we can’t.  We can say no.

The tendency is to just do it. Push out our self-care by staying up later, decreasing the time we have for family and leaving them feeling neglected (even though we don’t intend for them to feel that way).  We lose track of the things we used to enjoy, sending a quick text instead of making a call to important people in our lives, and burn ourselves out.  “No” is such a simple word and is easy to say.  You can do it.  Your priorities are important and you’re allowed to set the priorities in your life. Remember there is only so much space, you choose what to put on your plate.

Don’t Apologize for Your Boundaries

Facebook found in a recent study that using the word “sorry” in a request did not increase the chances of the request being granted.  They concluded that the ‘sorry’ resulted in “shifting the responsibility back to the complainers.” (Trust Engineers) In other words if you say sorry when setting a boundary, the person will assume it’s you who needs to make a change, not them. Take care of yourself by practicing stating your boundaries without apology. 

Need More Help?

Maybe reading this article awakened in you a need to set boundaries, but you need more help. We’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids), 218-444-2233 (Bemidji) or 218-564-9229 (Menahga).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  For more information on all our staff please check out our staff bios here

Join me for you next post on boundaries by looking here or follow us on Facebook.

Mental Health and Healthy Eating

LCA News and Information

by Diane Cerven, LPCC

Self care is the building block of our mental and physical health. Every piece of care that we can add to our lives will only increase our mental and physical health. We’ve talked about how our physical and mental health are connected. One way that we take care of our mental health is by eating healthy.

A healthy plate of food.
Don’t let your emotions control your eating; use healthy eating to control your emotions.

Food and Our Emotions

Food is fuel and when we feed ourselves foods that are unhealthy or nutritionally lacking, we only hurt ourselves.  Sure, our bellies may feel full but our bodies are crying for what it needs to feel good, be better, and take care of ourselves.  Striving to eat the best options most of the time is realistic and doable.  Our minds will often have cravings to deal with emotions, mostly unhealthy cravings.  Satisfying our unhealthy cravings by eating unhealthy food makes our emotions worse.  The field of nutritional psychiatry shows a link between healthy eating and our emotions.  Nutritional psychiatry has also shown that having a healthy stomach environment by taking a probiotic and cutting out processed foods and artificial sugars improves our emotional health and can improve mental health symptoms.  Eating healthy helps and keeps our stomach healthy too.  Don’t we all want that?  Who knew that what we eat could play such a big role in our mental health?  You can read more about nutritional psychiatry here.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with the vitamins and minerals our bodies need.  Try eating a minimum of three servings of each a day. Eat the ones you like and try something new.  Make sure to mix it up. Different foods have different nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins that are important for us.  Eating seasonal helps you mix it up.  Try eating your foods too, not drinking them, unless you blend the whole fruit with skin. It’s important to have the fiber along with the rest. Fruit juice may taste good, but you’re not getting that healthy fiber.

Don’t Forget Protein

Protein is important too, but not too much.  Make sure to have healthy protein by watching the fat content.  You can get your protein from vegetables too, all vegetables and fruit have some protein but I’m talking about beans, soy products and lentils. There are a lot of options. Then there are starches and grains such as wheat, rice, oats, potatoes, and corn. They are also important because each have their own nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins.  As a word of caution, for those who have allergies to any of the suggestions above, be very conscious of food choices and quantity.

A healthy salad bar of vegetables.

By taking care of your body, it will take care of your mind.

Fruits, vegetables, protein, and grains are the building blocks of good nutrition.  By taking care of your body, it will take care of your mind. Since it’s all connected, food does affect our ability to control our emotions.  Nutritional psychiatry has shown improvement in depression through diet.  It is recommended to try eating clean for 2-3 three weeks and monitor how you feel.  This is important in children too, as they will get the same benefit.  Don’t let your emotions control your eating; use healthy eating to control your emotions.

Caffeine can have different effects on our mental health. Of course, many of us like to have some in the morning as an eye opener and to get the day started. However, caffeine is not friends with anxiety and anger. With anxiety and anger, our bodies are already on red alert.  We’re in the fight, flight, or freeze mode.  Our heart rate has increased and our digestion has decreased. Our bodies are ready to take on that tiger, but most of the time anxiety has nothing to do with a tiger.  When adding caffeine to this already heightened response, our heart rate can increase more, causing stress on our system.  I like to remind people that caffeine is not friends with anxiety or anger and to use in moderation if they struggle with either of these.

Need More Help

Coping and self care skills of all types are helpful ways of dealing with our emotions.  Mental illnesses like depression, generalized anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, OCD, etc. may need help from a qualified Mental Health Professional.  If you need more help, we’re here for you.  To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC

Want to read more about distraction skills and mental grounding skills?

How to Calm Yourself

Mental Grounding as a Coping Skill

Exercise and it’s Benefit for our Mental Health

LCA News and Information

By Diane Cerven, LPCC

In previous posts, we talked about calming our emotions using different coping skills such as: deep breathing, distraction skills, and grounding skills. In the last post, we talked about how taking care of ourselves and how addressing our basic needs helps our ability to handle our emotions. We all have times when we have not slept well or have not been eating right. Because we are not taking care of ourselves, we are grumpy, irritable, and just plain emotionally reactive. Unfortunately, our lack of emotional control often happens when we are with our loved ones.  It can happen anywhere and can result in our overreacting to changes, not being able to stay calm to problem solve, fighting, etc.  Everything, everyone, everywhere, becomes just too much and we can feel like we are running on empty.

The best way for long-term consistent recharging of our batteries is daily self-care.

Metaphorically, we are all batteries with only so much energy to spend before we need to recharge.  As we spend our energy throughout the day, we have less to give to tasks, family, etc.  Most of us spend a lot of energy at our work (including stay at home jobs like cleaning and taking care of things) and then we have to take care of our families, friendships, homes, projects, and still have time for community activities.  Unlike modern batteries, we can’t give 100% of the power we have until it’s gone, then recharge quickly.  If we are not taking care of ourselves and fully recharging our batteries, we start our day with much less energy and run low quickly with little opportunity to recharge.  The best way for long-term consistent recharging of our batteries is daily self-care.

Put yourself as a priority in your life so that you can tackle each day starting at 100%, then the things that once felt overwhelming can seem more manageable.  You’ll be able to handle the heavy emotional situations better; even your coping skills will work better, all because we have the mental and physical energy to deal with them.

biker on mountain road
Exercise can improve both physical and mental health.


For mental health diagnoses like depression, anxiety, trauma, and anger exercise can help. Not only can it help, it is one of the most important recommendations for self care.  For people with depression, getting exercise helps to alleviate symptoms by giving you feel good endorphins and getting your mind on something else.  For anxiety, exercise has been shown to help more than anxiety medication.  One study I heard about said that exercise is better than exercise and anxiety medications combined. I find that stunning.  Getting active helps burn off excess adrenaline and cortisol that contributes to angry feelings.  In its place, it leaves feel-good emotions and gets your mind on something positive.  Exercise keeps our bodies healthy, which in turn helps our mental health.  In all, exercise is a great way to help our emotional health.

If you’re like me when you hear the word exercise you think of endless push-ups and jumping jacks or those infomercials with the totally fit people easily working out to outrageously named programs promising quick fitness. It may also bring to mind long hours in the gym or dreaded PE class games. But to get the benefits to exercise, it only requires that you get up and move.  Do something fun, go for a walk, play an active game with your kids.  It’s important to get your heart rate up to a beneficial level, not too fast but faster than resting rate. There seems to be controversy about how long but I can say that too much exercise will have the opposite effect. No more than an hour s best.  Of course, doing something at a leisurely pace for longer could be okay.  Listen to your body.  After an hour, we are causing stress on our body and that’s not the point of this, it’s about self-care not self-torture.  That’s also why you want to pick something that you’ll enjoy. At first, anything may seem a bit like torture, especially if you’ve been very inactive, but it doesn’t take long for you to start feeling the positive benefits of exercise.

Some Ideas for Getting More Exercise:

  • Go for a walk. You can park your vehicle in a distant parking spot and walk in. Use headphones when talking on your phone and walk around during the conversation.  Hiking or walking in nature gives you the peace of the outside along with your exercise.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevators.  If you have stairs in your home take extra trips up and down them.
  • There are exercise programs on video games that are fun to do and you can do them as a family or on your own.
  • Let’s not forget YouTube.  For some fun inside winter walking try the 1 mile happy walk. You walk in place to upbeat music and an upbeat coach.  There are even dance routines you can try.  There are many types of exercises and activities available.  Find what you like and what you enjoy doing, that’s what is important.
  • Playing basketball, soccer, catch or Frisbee, golf, Frisbee golf, hockey, football, tennis, volleyball, kick ball, any other sport I’ve forgotten. Have some fun, again with your family or your friends. Make getting together and doing self care with exercise a priority.
  • Skateboarding, skating, swimming, bicycling, scooter, skiing (cross country or downhill), kayaking, canoeing or paddle board, yoga, Pilates, running, track, archery, horseback riding, and many more that I can’t think of right now.
  • How about being a kid again? Hula hoop, jump rope, playing in the sprinklers, Twister, chase, trampoline, rake up the leaves and jump in, build a snowman or a snow fort and have a snowball fight, hop scotch. Have some fun!
  • For those who are out of shape, start small but start. That’s the important part. Do different things, do things you like, do it with others, not to sound like a commercial but “just do something”.

With depression, motivation can be a big problem but if we can have in our minds that what we’re doing is going to help us, that will help.  Use positive affirmations like “I can do it”.  Other things that will help are to not listen to your emotions.  I know as a counselor I want to know people’s emotions and talking about them does help, but when our emotions get in the way, that’s the problem. That’s what I’ve been writing about, dealing with the big emotions so that they don’t overcome us.  So, don’t fight with yourself about how you do or don’t want to do something. Instead tell yourself that you’re going to do it.  No argument, it’s on your list to do.  Try minimizing if you have to.  Tell yourself that you’re going to do it for only 10 minutes or you are only going to go around the block one time (or one lap around the big box store if it’s too cold to walk outside). Chances are that once you start moving, you’ll keep moving.  If after your 10 minutes or 1 lap you are done, that’s ok too.  It’s a start, and we all start where we are.  We can choose to move from here to our next place or to stay the same. Either way it’s a choice and small changes can lead us to big changes in our physical and mental health. We just need to take that first step, however small, and then keep adding to it.

Need More Help?

Lake Country Associates Logo

Coping and self care skills are helpful ways of dealing with our emotions.  Mental illnesses like depression, generalized anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, OCD, etc. may need help from a qualified Mental Health Professional.  If you need more help, we’re here for you.  To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC


Want to read more about distraction skills and mental grounding skills?

How to Calm Yourself

Mental Grounding as a Coping Skill

The Importance of Sleep for Mental Health

LCA News and Information

By Diane Cerven, LPCC

There are many ways that we can take basic care of ourselves, each method can have a big impact on our mental health.  In the last post, I wrote about taking care of our physical health, now let’s talk about sleep.


According to here’s the breakdown on how many hours you need.

  • Preschoolers ages 3-5 years, need 10-13 hours.
  • School age ages 6-13 years, need 9-11 hours.
  • Teenagers ages 14-17 years, need 8-10 hours.
  • Adults ages 18-64 years, need 7-9 hours.
  • Older adults ages ≥65 years, need 7-8 hours.

Dog laying in bed.
Sleep is vital for self care and for our mental health.

Are you getting enough sleep right now?  Sleep is one area that suffers greatly when you have a newborn, sick children or odd hours at work.  Outside circumstances not withstanding it’s important to get enough sleep.

Some questions to ask yourself about your sleep:

  • Do you feel rested when you wake up?
  • Are you still tired or sluggish?
  • Do you need a nap?
  • Are you sleeping too much (a common symptom of depression), which can cause a sluggish feeling as well?
  • Do you wake up during the night, toss and turn, or have interrupted sleep (a common symptoms of anxiety and depression)?
  • Do you have insomnia: unable to fall asleep, sleep a little and then are up for hours before getting to sleep again, or only sleep a few hours a night? (This is also a common symptom of depression and anxiety.)

All of these questions can help you know your sleeping habits.  Once you identify whether you need more sleep, then it’s time to start working on it.  The reasons are mounting.

Stress can affect sleep.  Not only how much stress one experiences, but also how that stress is perceived.  The more tired we are, the more little things stress us out because we perceive the problems as being larger than they are.  It’s a vicious cycle because a lack of sleep increases how a person feels stress.  The good news is that when you make sleep a priority and work on some sleep skills, it will help to decrease stress.

How to Get Good Sleep

Having a consistent time for sleep is very important.  Going to sleep and waking up the same times every day conditions our brain to know when to get tired and fall asleep and when it’s time to wake up.  In our busy society, it may seem difficult or impossible but this is very important to do.

In an ideal location, as the sun rises the first of the spectrum of light seen is blue light. That blue light tells our brains that it’s morning and therefore time to wake up.  If we could live by the sun our bodies would naturally awaken.  As the sun goes down the last light seen in the spectrum of light is red, telling our brain that it’s time to sleep.  This is the circadian rhythm.  In a perfect world, at a perfect latitude, we would wake and sleep with the sun.  In the real world, especially for us in Minnesota, we would have shorter sleep in the summer and way too much sleep in the winter if we slept and woke with the sun. We also don’t get to wake with the sun many times as we set our alarm clocks to go to work, school, appointments, etc.

I mention the circadian rhythms because they are important for us to know. The lights in our house, the screens in our faces (tv, phone, tablet, computer), even the electronics and the lights they emit (alarm clock light) are sending our brain mixed signals. It’s telling our brains that the morning sun is still here, causing confusion. The reason it’s telling about morning light is that screens emit a blue light, similar to the morning sunrise. So as our brains should be drifting into sleep it gets the message to stay awake. This in turns confuses it and when we want to get to sleep, our brain is not ready.

You have a couple good options to stop sending mixed signals:

  1. About an hour before bed time, turn off all screens, get rid of the blue light. Limit light bulbs and allow yourself to naturally start to drift into sleep time.
  2. For those who just can’t give up their screens at night, another option is to have yellow tented glasses to block blue light. Lenses can be made with a yellow filter (I have some on now, it blocks the blue light from the computer and decreases eye strain), or you can even get a pair of yellow tented safety glasses for only a few bucks. This will tell your brain the hour before needing to go to bed for sleep that it’s time to get ready.

A light for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or full-spectrum light therapy box can be helpful in the morning for about an hour to wake our brains. This is especially helpful in the winter when we tend to wake up in the dark.

Create a Bedtime Ritual

Having a bedtime ritual can also help with having good sleep. Many people read before falling asleep. Writing in a journal about your thoughts on the day, writing a gratitude list, or even a list of your feelings, can all be a helpful ritual and can help your emotional health in general.  Do relaxation or meditation nightly. Turning off the lights, checking the locks, making sure things are put away, and then heading to bed can be enough of a ritual once your brain is trained. Try having a ritual for your children too.  It helps to teach them good sleep patterns and habits for a lifetime of taking care of themselves.  Make sure that  the temperature of your house is cool, the recommendation I’ve seen is around 68 degrees.  The cool temperature tells our bodies it’s night time and therefore time to sleep.

Some people have problems with sleeping, or insomnia.  If you’ve tried the above method (and given it plenty of time to train your brain) and you’ve not seen progress, there is something else you can try.  Dr. Christianson recommends “wake therapy.”  Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Add up the total hours you sleep.  If you have interrupted sleep, all the sleeping hours should be added up.  In this example, let’s say you come up with 6 total hours.
  2. Figure out when a good time to wake up is (usually determined by work and or school).  Then subtract the 6 hours from the time you need to wake up.  If you need to get up at 7 am, and typically sleep 6 hours total, then 1 am is your bed time, to start.
  3. For the first night stay awake (no naps) until 1 am (in this example), then go to sleep until your wake up time, no later.
  4. The following night, add 15 minutes to your time (in this example, go to sleep at 12:45 pm) and continue this method until you’ve reached your optimum sleep hours.  Dr.Christianson states that this is a proven method than has helped his patients reprogram their brain to sleep.

Some people will need medication to help them sleep.  Some may need to complete a sleep study to rule out medical problem like sleep apnea.  See your health care provider if you feel you need to look into these options.

Sleep is vital for self care and our mental health.  Not getting enough affects us in many ways, physically and emotionally, and that will spill over into all parts of our lives.  Make sure that you are getting enough sleep for your body and brain and you will be better able to function.

Don’t forget to make sleep a priority for your children too. Poor sleep leads to academic, behavioral, and emotional problems in children.

Try the following methods:

  • Keep set bed times
  • Have a bedtime routine
  • Limit screen time an hour before bed time.
  • Allow them to learn, by your example and expectations, that getting enough sleep is a priority.

Join us next post as we continue to share some tips for self care and its importance in mental and physical health.  Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.

Need More Help

We’re here for you.

Self care helps us with our mental health, but for some individuals more help is needed. Here at Lake Country Associates we have trained mental health counselor who can provide guidance on the best approaches for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Learn more about LCA clinical staff here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC

Missed reading about using distraction skills as a coping skill, catch up with the following posts:

How to Calm Yourself

Mental Grounding Skills

Surrounded by Turkeys!

LCA News and Information


surrounded by turkeys
Hyacinth is surrounded by turkeys in the ARMHS room. 🙂

A big thank you to the members of the Lakes Area Vinyard Church in Park Rapids for their donation of 22 boxes filled with Thanksgiving meals for families in need.  The Vinyard Church has been partnering with Lake Country Associates to distribute the boxes of meals to the people we serve for the past four years.  Each box gives a family in need the opportunity to share a special meal with their loved ones.  Connecting the people we serve with family, places of worship and community events is an important step in the path of recovery.  Thank you to the members of the Vinyard Church for their generous donation to clients in the ARMHS program.

Another opportunity for the Park Rapids community to gather for a Thanksgiving meal is the 36th Annual “Thank Meal” at the Riverside United Methodist Church North of Park Rapids on Highway 71.  The meal is served Thanksgiving Day from 11:30 – 2:00.  There is no charge for the meal.  Free will offerings are appreciated and go to offset the cost of the meal and support local charities.  For more information about the Thank Meal, call 218-237-TRKY.



How to Use Self Care to Help with Your Emotions

LCA News and Information

I find that many people do not take care of themselves.

Girl with a lighted heart shape.
Managing your emotions through self-care can have mental and physical health benefits.

They worry about others, making sure that they: children, husband, community, church, friends, work, etc., have their needs met. Not leaving time during the day to get their own needs met and not taking time for themselves. The consequences of this are that they are burning themselves out. They’re in survival mode instead of thriving. In survival mode we are more tired, hungry, irritable, and drained. We give from pure will, not from the strength we could because we’re not giving to ourselves for self care. When we’re drained and strained we can become easily more emotional. Things that wouldn’t normally be irritating are intolerable because we can’t filter well. Our brains are tired, we have too much to do, and we react. Coping skills can help at these times (start reading about coping skills here) but self care can give us the energy we need. Often times our reactions aren’t even to the people that we’re irritated with but to our families or to ourselves with negative self talk. It’s time to take care of yourself, then you’ll be able to better take care of your emotions and your tasks at hand.

Self care in its basic sense is doing something for yourself. It’s not about all consuming self attention or putting yourself above everyone else. It’s about taking time to meet your basic needs. Taking care of ourselves is invaluable to emotional regulation. I’m sure, if not right now, you can remember a time when you weren’t getting your needs met and when you were drained. Being drained, which happens in many ways, causes our rational brain to throw up its figurative hands and allows our emotional brain to go for a spin by itself and that emotional spin is worse because we’re drained. We become short with our spouse, children, co-works, etc. We want to be kind, patient and compassionate, but we don’t have the mental strength. We want to be able to wait for our kid to tie their shoes but we’re in such a rush that we just do it for them, often irritated about the time lost letting them try. We want to be able to stop and have a meaningful conversation but it seems too taxing, so we hurry off, ever busy with the next thing to take care of. Then when we can’t take it anymore we explode, we become passive aggressive, or we let others down by not taking care of our everyday tasks. We criticize the very people we’ve been running around taking care of, nagging our spouse about what they haven’t gotten done or our kids for their lack of consideration. I’m sure you can think of how you react when you’re drained and emotional.

There are periods of time when some things can’t be avoided. Do what you can, when you can to take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s not everything we should do to take care of ourselves, it’s what we can fit in, not our best but at least we’re trying something and even a little is helpful. In this and the next blog I’m going to talk about five areas of self care that you should start focusing on getting in to your day for your own mental and physical health. Our mental self is affected by our physical health. These self care topics will help you to have more energy to get the things you want, need, and have to get done, without burning yourself out. It will help you to feel more energized. I want to stress that taking care of yourself is not selfish. We all know people who are selfish and they’re not taking care of themselves, they’re just doing whatever they want over others, seeing their wants as more important than others. This is not self care. Its ok, you can take care of your needs and not be a selfish person.

Physical Illness

Taking blood pressure
Mental health can effect your physical health, just as physical health can effect your mental health.

We all know what physical illness is, having a cold or flu, strep throat, acid reflux, all the way to heart disease, diabetes, or fibromyalgia. There are so many forms of illnesses from mild to severe and they can affect our mental health. Conversely mental health can affect our physical health. The stress of anxiety, anger, and depression has on our bodies is well documented. They decrease our immune system, put strain on our hearts, our eyes, brain, appetite, etc. There are even links to increased illnesses because of unhappiness in relationships.

I don’t want to get you down about having a mental illness and it’s affects on your body. I do want to encourage you to take care of your mental health by taking care of your physical health. The link between them means that when we take care of that cold, instead of pushing through our work anyway, we are also taking care of our mental health. Our bodies have the time to combat those germs.

Working with people with mental illness, I’ve seen a clear link between when they are not feeling well and an increase in their symptoms. For instance, I’ve seen how increased stress can cause one persons to have higher blood sugar. Though it doesn’t seem like the two should be connected our minds and bodies are and can affect each other.

When you have an ongoing disease like arthritis or heart diseases, or any of the long list of possible problems, make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Know your body’s limits and stop well before reaching them. Do what you can, it’s all you can do. Then make yourself a priority and take care of yourself. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you.

Make sure you are seeing a physician as needed or directed by them. Don’t put off getting a check up when you’re not feeling well. If you continue to not feel well that will increase your mental stress which in turns contributes to less ability to cope.

Make sure your children are getting their physical health needs addressed as well. Even little things can cause large differences in their ability to cope with things. They become more angry or reactive to situations. Think of when a baby is teething, they’re fussier and less able to be soothed. At any age this is true, though the behavior has changed the cause and affect hasn’t.

You are worth spending time on, so take care of yourself. Taking care of your physical health is as important as taking care of your mental health.

Join me next time when we talk about more ways to take care of yourself. Until then start working on taking care of your physical health.

What’s the Next Step?

Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.

Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness.  If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC


Want to read past posts on distraction skills, follow them here:

How to Calm Yourself

20 Minute Distraction to Calm Yourself

How to Decrease Emotional Pain with Distraction Skills

How to Decrease Your Emotions Using Distraction

Physical Grounding Skills for Emotional Regulation

LCA News and Information

Boy walking through a field of flowers.
Physical grounding gives us time to pause and helps reduce our emotional response.

We have been talking about the use of coping skills to better regulate our emotions. When we are not overwhelmed emotionally, we are better able to handle problem solving in the moment or move forward from the difficult situations we find ourselves in. Grounding skills are a type of coping skill that allows us to focus our attention away from what is bothering us most. Last week I introduced physical grounding techniques. Physical grounding skills work by using our senses to give us time to pause that helps to reduce our emotional response. Earlier I also talked about mental grounding skills where we change our thoughts through mental exercises (read more about those here). The purpose of both is to grab our attention and give ourselves a break from the thoughts that are running through our heads.

Physical Grounding

In the last post, we began the list for physical grounding skills (If you missed the last post you can find it here).  As you read the list below, remember to think about how useful each would be for you personally and when a skill may be helpful. Some are more helpful when your emotion is anger and others might help with sadness or fear.

Walk slowly, notice the feel of each step, pay attention to the roll of your foot or how it touches what you are walking on. You can add words while you walk like “left,” “right.” You can make it more soothing by saying coping statements with each step or even breathe in and out with each footstep. Increase or decrease your pace.

Wherever you are, simply focus on your breathing, notice each inhale or exhale, or like when walking, you can focus your attention on a coping word or a phrase such as “breath in, breath out” or “I am calm”.

Clench and release your fists. Really build up the tension, putting all your focus in your grip and then release, feeling the muscles relax.

Grab tightly onto a chair, holding as hard as you can, then focus on the release of tension as you let go.

Dig your heels into the floor, pushing your weight onto the ground.

Smell something you like, something that really draws your attention. Try an aromatherapy scent. A quick search showed that lavender, lemon, jasmine, and rose can all help to reduce tension. Light a candle you can smell or think about the smell of something you enjoy, like fresh baked cookies.

Bite into something sour like a lemon or lime or a sour candy to draw your attention. Something spicy may work as well. Focus your attention on how your taste buds react to the intense flavor.

You can also savor something that you enjoy like a piece of candy, favorite food, or even take just a piece of something like a raisin and really pay attention to chewing and enjoying it.

Look at pictures of people you care about. Find a picture book of nature.

Write it Down

When we are emotionally charged it’s hard to remember new skills, so having them written down and available will help you to utilize them. Sometimes to help with an emotion like anger we need the thought, “I need to use a coping skill,” and that’s the best we can do if we can’t remember a coping skill. Modify the suggestions so that they make sense to you and find a place to record them so they would be meaningful when you need them. We’ve created a pdf, Grounding Skills, you can download and put on your fridge or somewhere convenient. Take a screenshot or come back here to remind yourself, anything that will help you to remember to utilize the different skills or techniques available. Don’t forget to add mental grounding skills to the list (find those here and here).

Use Physical Grounding Skills with Your Kids

Boy walking on a trail in the woods.
Physical grounding skills help kids remember what to do when their emotions are escalated.

Grounding skills are not just for adults. Kids can find benefit in the activity as well. Kids will learn best when they are given the activity to use while they’re in emotional distress (the same is true of adults). That will help them to remember better what to do when their emotions are escalated. Having signs posted on boards or walls, especially with pictures, is also helpful.

Along with the above grounding skills here are a few more that kids can relate to (you may even like these too).

Stomp your feet. For more sensory you can have them stomp empty cans.

Jump up and down.

Roll a fuzz ball or pipe cleaner in your fingers.

Tracing figure eights “8” or other connected symbols with your fingers. You can have them trace with a pen or pencil or other type of object.

Blow bubbles or blow up a balloon. This gives them something physical to look at while they are trying to calm or distract themselves.

Chew gum. This adds a flavor to their mouth to focus on as well as the activity of chewing.

Give your child different ones to try and have a list with pictures for them to look at and use. Have them readily available. Make sure to do the techniques with your kids, especially at first. Be helpful and reminding, that way they learn by you teaching them and can even begin to notice, for themselves, when they need to use the different skills. You should use your coping skills where your child can see and tell your children that you need to calm yourself too. This teaches them by observing you do it, which is the best way kids learn.

Need More Help

Coping skills of all types are helpful ways of dealing with our emotions. Mental illnesses like depression, generalized anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, OCD, etc, need more help from a qualified mental health professional. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC

Want to read more about distraction skills and mental grounding skills?

How to Calm Yourself

Mental Grounding as a Coping Skill

How to Use Physical Grounding as a Coping Skill

LCA News and Information

There are times when our thoughts run away with us, taking us to the past or to a possible imagined future. Typically there is a trigger, sometimes something we don’t even recognize. Maybe something that reminds us of what happened back in 2nd grade and then our minds are reminding us of all the other times we felt the same way, when we had similar negative emotions or we fear experiencing the emotion moving forward. Once this happens, Footprint in sandour minds seem to take control and the longer we allow our brains to ruminate on the thoughts that are surfacing, the longer we have to live with the emotional response that is caused by those thoughts. Our bodies react physically and our brain floods with chemicals. In some types of mental illnesses, it is the lack of certain chemicals which causes the problems and medication management is needed, but we can still utilize coping skills. I talked about PTSD (read here) a couple posts ago. PTSD symptoms are often triggered by an event or memory which creates physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that are difficult to control. PTSD is an extreme example of our minds taking us on a ride. When we have a chemical reaction, coping skills help redirect our minds to focus on something else and that in turn allows our bodies to decrease or stabilize the chemicals that were taking us on a mental trip we didn’t sign up for. Often 20 minutes of diverting our attention by using coping skills is enough time to settle our physical reactions and allows us to calm ourselves.

Coping skills are the tools to use to deal with emotions that are difficult to handle and can help us focus or divert our attention so that our emotions don’t get too big or overwhelming. When using coping skills we are able to divert our minds  from remembering the past, to help address difficult situations in the moment or stop worrying about future “what ifs” that may be keeping us from enjoying our life. There are many types of coping skills and this month I want to continue focusing on grounding. Grounding is a technique where you control your thoughts by focusing your mind on a specific train of thought (mental) or your senses on the real world (physical). When used consistently and effectively, grounding will help to change or calm your emotional state. If you’d like to read about mental grounding skills then please start by reading here but here I would like to spend time on physical grounding.

Why Use Physical Grounding Skills?

Physical grounding skills use our five senses or the world around us to focus. Since many triggers come through our senses, physical grounding helps to move our thoughts to the moment. That focus on something real allows our thoughts to dissipate and our emotions to come back down to a tolerable level or a level that doesn’t feel so all encompassing or overwhelming. We can then move on if that is appropriate or gather strength to deal with the situation at hand. The worst thing for effective problem solving is too many emotions. Remember, our emotions are important as they are telling us something about ourselves and the moment we find ourselves in but too high of an intensity of an emotion gets in the way of dealing with the message appropriately. If it is a current or an immediate situation, taking a mental break and grounding ourselves gives a bit of emotional calm which in turns allows our brains to use our problem solving skills so we can see the situation realistically.

Physical Grounding Skills

Physical grounding uses our senses and our bodies to focus our attention on our environment to help us cope. It is recommended to create a list to use in the moment when it is hard to think of all the options at your disposal. Here are some suggestions.

Let’s start our list with using our 5 senses:

  • Name 5 things that you see
  • Name 4 things you feel with your body (back of chair, warmth of a ring, fabric)
  • Name 3 things you can hear
  • Name 2 things you can smell or wish you could smell (baked goods)
  • Name 1 thing you can taste (a memory of a taste or putting something small to taste in your mouth)

Pet an animal (very soothing). Focus on the feel of their fur under your hand, between your fingers, the softness or roughness, the rate of their breathing, etc.starfish

Stretch. Fully reach, bend and move, or if limited because of where you are, stretch your arms, stretch your legs out if sitting, roll your neck.

Hold a pillow, stuffed animal, blanket, or even hug yourself. Sense the object in your arms, feel how you can squeeze it.

Run water over your hands, pay attention to how it feels flowing over you. Use hot or cool water or vice versa to heighten the awareness. You can also take a shower and focus on the water hitting you, washing over you, the warmth or coolness encompassing you.

Have an object that you can manipulate. Not long ago, river stones were very popular because of how smooth and cool they felt, but you can also have an object that you can manipulate like a paper clip or fidget. Focus on really noticing that object.

Touch various objects. Notice the smoothness and coolness of the desk, the texture of your clothing, the feel of a pen or pencil, the bumps of the phone cord, etc.

Notice your body. The weight of your body in the chair, focus on your feet how they feel, you hands, can you feel each finger?

This list is not complete and next time we will go over a few more. Practice the ones that sound interesting to you and see how they work. The important thing to do is to put your whole focus on what you’re doing. Draw your attention to it fully. Really notice the sensations while letting your other thoughts drift away. Keep your focus on the coping skill of your choice until you know you are past your emotional moment and can relax and address the issue that has triggered your emotional situation.

What’s the Next Step?

Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.

Coping skills are a tool that can help you help yourself with difficult emotions in the moment. For some individuals, more help is needed by a trained mental health counselor who can provide guidance on the best approaches for you. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Learn more about LCA clinical staff here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC


Missed reading about using distraction skills as a coping skill, catch up

How to Calm Yourself

Want to know about Mental Grounding Skills



De-Stress with More Mental Grounding Skills

LCA News and Information

We continue learning about coping skills bytree roots and waterfall learning how, when and why to using mental grounding skills. We talked last time about how mental grounding skills are helpful for people with PTSD (read here), but I recommend grounding skills to anyone who feels that their thoughts get stuck. This can include rumination or repetitious pondering of depressive thoughts or the “what if” and excessive worrying that comes with anxiety. Grounding skills can also help those with anger problems as it allows your mind to move away from the anger and onto another subject (or emotion).

Another use for the various mental grounding skills is when you need a break. Perhaps you have too much to do at home, or at work, and the pressure is overwhelming. Perhaps a relationship isn’t going well and the conversation you were trying to have has turned into an argument.   Perhaps you are in uncomfortable situations that you are not familiar with. Changing the focus of your mind onto something else can be very helpful to many people. Personally, when the roads are icy or snowy in the Minnesota winter, and there is ice that has to be traversed in order to get to and from places, I find that my stress level increases. These are all situations where it is helpful to take a mental break and do a grounding skill. In fact, at a previous high tension job I had, I would do several grounding skills throughout the day to relieve the stress. Though it may not change the situation you’re in, it helps your brain to take a break from the moment, then recover or at least de-stress a little from your problems.

Regardless whether you are having diagnosable mental health problems (ex: depression, anxiety, PTSD) and need a skill to help reduce the immediate symptoms you’re facing or if you find that you need a mental break from stress or a difficult situation, grounding skills can help. I’m focusing first on mental grounding skills, and then in a future blog, to physical grounding skills. Be sure to come back and read about those.

Practice and Make a List

Grounding skills need to be practiced and used in order to be effective. At times you may have wanted to try something quick, but it didn’t help. I would recommend that you dedicate more time to doing and focusing on the skill. Our minds like to wonder (we’ll talk about that more when I write about meditation*) and we need something that will capture our attention and direct it to the thoughts we want to cultivate. Often our thoughts will try to take us back to our problems but with practice and intention we can keep our mind where we need to be. See last post list to learn more. Skills are tools you can use when you need to divert your focus and listing the tools out for easy access is very helpful. Here is a link to a useful PDF that you can print and write down the skills that you like, Grounding Skills. When you make a list, take a screenshot, write post-it notes, write it on your mirror or door, hang it up on the fridge, return to this page, whatever it takes to have it convenient for your use. When our minds are consumed by stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, anger, an argument, etc. we often forget the skills we want to use, make sure that you keep your own list handy.

Mental Grounding

Mental Grounding is focusing on thoughts. Here are more suggestions to add to your list of skills:

Play a categories game with yourself. (Bonus if you can do this with someone else). Write example categories that you like on your list such as; types of foods you like, types of dogs or animals, pets you have had, cities (this is a favorite of mine to use in session when someone is very anxious), sport teams, cars, TV shows, songs or groups. Anything goes here, you pick the category. I worked with a young person who would name her favorite types of cookies which helped her during school to take a mental break and be less angry.

Read something, focusing on each word. You can read slowly or read the letters backwards. This is not about comprehension or getting lost in a book, it’s about a quick break. Personally I like reading each letter backwards. It takes more concentration and therefore distracts away from what’s going on outside and inside your brain.

Read something fun. Reading something fun can help move our focus away from our ruminating thoughts. Maybe this is why Facebook is so popular; we all read little snapshots or small doses of a lot of things.

Count in multiples. In anger management they recommend counting to ten, this has to be done slowly to be effective. Personally I like to count in multiples; doing 7s is a personal favorite 7-14-21-28-35-42-49 etc. Your brain has to work to access its math center. Make it easier or harder depending on your mood or your math ability.

Count what you see. Look outside and count the trees, the cars, or houses. Whatever you see out there, count.

Imagine. You can dream of being someplace. I have a friend who likes to take mental breaks by looking at real estate in Hawaii. I have a picture of the beach and ocean in my office. I take a break and dream of being there, especially in the winter.

Imagine leaving the situation. Use your imagination and see yourself closing the door to your problems or turning the light off on them. You can also imagine riding, skating, or driving away from them.

Say the alphabet slowly, very slowly.

Look at pictures or think of the people you care about.

Think of the things you’re looking forward to that are coming up, being with a friend, going out someplace, time away or time in. Anything that encourages you and gets your mind occupied. Plan an activity if you don’t have something to look forward to.

Mental grounding is something you can do anywhere, at any time. No one knows what you’re thinking about. Instead of continuing to ruminate in depressive, anxious, angry, stressful thoughts, just focus your mind on a grounding skill.

Use with Your ChildrenMother and Child

Grounding skills can be very useful with your children. When you notice that they are emotionally stressed or losing control, that’s the time to help them by bringing up a skill you can do together or you can remind them to do one on their own. I mentioned about the child that would name her favorite cookies, it didn’t take very long and she would calm down. She focused on something she liked and it gave her a mental break. Most, if not all of the above, plus the ones from the last article can help your child just as they can help you. They are going to need more help applying each skill, even as a teenager, they may need you to remind them about using a grounding skill or start the grounding skill for them, but it will soon help. Remember that when they become calm; you should try discussing with them whatever may need to be addressed or talked about. So next time they show a need, bring up a skill and you’ll soon see a change in their emotional behaviors.

What’s the Next Step?

Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.

Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness.  If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Learn more about LCA clinical staff here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC


Missed reading about using distraction skills as a coping skill, catch up

How to Calm Yourself

Read more about Mental Grounding Skills

Mental Grounding as a Coping Skill

LCA News and Information

This month we continue discussing how to use coping skills to manage our emotions when they become over whelming. Last month we focused on the use of deep breathing and distraction skills like using games, household chores, and other distraction options. I recommend you take time to read those posts because each tool can be useful in different situations. In this post, we are going to learn about grounding skills. Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present. Grounding skills are used to focus our mind. They help a person be “in the here-and-now” and in reality. This focus can be on different thoughts or on physical sensations. In fact, you probably do grounding skills but don’t even know it. Grounding skills help because they help redirect and control thoughts. This focus on changing our thought process in turn helps to decrease the emotional response that we’re having and we gain some control or center on something else rather than on our negative emotion.


One of the main mental health disorders that grounding skills can be used for is post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Post traumatic stress disorder is an emotional disorder that occurs after a traumatic event or multiple traumatic events. A person can get PTSD by direct exposure as well as indirect exposure to a traumatic event or by witnessing or learning about an event done to a loved one or close friend. PTSD has many symptoms, which I will not be able to address in this blog post, but the main categories of symptoms include intrusive and distressing memories or thoughts, avoidance of things related to the trauma, thoughts and feelings that worsen after the event and increased anger or hyper vigilance. One of the predominant symptoms of PTSD is remembering emotional or physical feelings that remind us of the event(s). These emotional reminders or triggers take hold of a person’s brain, releasing chemicals and the negative thoughts follow.

Persons who have PTSD can try to avoid anything that will remind them of the event and therefore try to avoid the symptoms, but it’s not possible. There is no way to avoid everything. Plus, our mind has the event(s) in our head so it can bring them up in our thoughts and even at night in our dreams. PTSD is a complex psychological disorder and I recommend counseling with a trained therapist to address the trauma and symptoms and to help solve the many challenges of PTSD.

What Works for PTSD?

Working with your therapist is the best way of dealing with PTSD, but there are things you can do in your day to day life to help with the symptoms. Anytime the emotional brain is taking over with thoughts of anger, anxiety, sadness or even depressive thoughts, grounding skills can help so that you can get control of your emotions. It takes awareness that your emotional mind is taking over and that your emotions are increasing. It takes work but redirecting your thoughts can make a difference. If you’ve read the other blog posts you’ll know that redirecting your thoughts doesn’t have to take a lot of time, only 20 minutes to decrease our heart rate and get our emotional brain chemicals back to a normal level.

Of course, PTSD isn’t the only mental health diagnosis that grounding can help with. I remember helping a client who was very anxious, their thoughts were all over the place and we worked on using mental grounding skills. It didn’t take long before I could physically see they were less anxious.

Helpful Grounding Skills

Grounding skills are not one size fits all. Luckily there are a lot of different ones to choose from. There are two categories of grounding skills, mental and physical. Mental is working with our thoughts ansign that says you are hered feelings. Physical is working with and using our physical environment through our senses.  Some of course use both. This month I’m going to focus on mental grounding skills. I’m going to suggest some techniques now so you have a couple weeks to try them and then provide additional approaches in the next blog. Find the ones you like and make sure to have several options available when you’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry, or even when having PTSD symptoms. Write them down or have them on your phone for easy access.  So lets’ get started.

Mental Grounding

Mental grounding is focusing on thoughts so let’s practice.

When you are having PTSD symptoms or not feeling safe, even though you are, then try saying a Statement of Safety to yourself. Remind yourself of your name, where you are located and that you are safe, the date and time, how old you are, and that you’re in the present not the past. And yes you can say this out loud if that helps.

Repeat a mantra to yourself. “This too shall pass”. “All is well”. “I can handle this”. “I can stay calm and relaxed”. You can even combine a coping statement with deep breathing like “breathe in peace, breathe out anger”. (To learn more about deep breathing read here.)

Use humor. Remember funny times you’ve had, watch a funny video or movie, think of a joke that makes you smile. There are a ton of videos of every type on YouTube, watch one of those or remember ones you’ve watched before.

Describe your environment in great detail. The more details the better. If there are sounds or smells then mention those too (this also adds some physical grounding) For instance: I have 4 beige walls, one brown wooden door, a brown desk with one drawer, a two door black filing cabinet, there are 7 books on the top shelf, one turquois tote, one grey lidded box, one grey marker holder and lots of colored markers, lots of colored construction paper, one window with two panes, one green plant with two white flowers, one dark brown couch with two pillows, one circular medium brown chair, I hear the white noise maker….etc.

A variation on the above is to spot and name categories of things you see, 5 circles/diamonds/squares/triangles or make patterns in your mind, name 5 blue/red/yellow things that you can see or look for rarer colors like orange and note to yourself how many things you see with that.

Describe an every day activity in great detail. For example describe your morning routine, “I wake up and get out of bed, I put my slippers on, I use the bathroom, then brush my teeth, then take a shower, etc. Or use preparing a meal, “In a large bowl I combine lemon juice, salt, oregano, cumin, garlic, chili, and paprika; add the chicken and marinade in the refrigerator…”.

Try the above list out and see what works for you over the next few weeks. Then tune back in for more examples to try. Make sure you keep these suggestions in a place you can find them; of course, coming back to our website is always an option. You can also put them on sticky notes, on the fridge or door, or any place you’ll see them and be reminded to use them.

What’s the Next Step?

Follow us on Facebook to see when the next blog is posted, or check back here.

Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness.  If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC


Want to read past posts on distraction skills, follow them here:

How to Calm Yourself

20 Minute Distraction to Calm Yourself

How to Decrease Emotional Pain with Distraction Skills

How to Decrease Your Emotions Using Distraction

Cottage Update – Picnics, Pergolas and Pianos

LCA News and Information

The Piano

Lake Country Cottage Members would like to thank Lake Country Cottage PianoDave and Sandy Munson of Walker for their generous donation of a beautiful piano.  Now housed in it’s new home in the Cottage living room, the piano will not only bring enjoyment to those practicing, learning and relearning to play, but will deliver a sense of festivity and community to all who hear it.  Thank you!

The Garage Sale

Dog at Garage Sale
Nala, Supervisor, made a new friend at the Sale.

The second annual Member garage sale was a huge success!  Members of the Lake Country Cottage had a great time sorting, pricing and laughing together…and it paid off.  In two days, they raised over $750 for outings and group activities that promote good mental health!  Members decide how to spend the 100% of the funds.  Last year’s proceeds went to fund many activities, such as Friday barbeques (affectionately known as “Grill Baby Grill!”), trips to Itasca State Park, and an occasional pizza party.  To read or download a monthly events calendar for the Cottage, visit our Forms Page.


The Pergola

We’re continuing Drop-in Center Pergolato look for ideas for the floor of the Pergola.  We’ve been doing some head scratching and concluded that we’ll likely install some flagstone pavers.  In the meantime, it’s a nice comfortable space tucked into the trees.  Ideas on flooring are welcome.  We’re also working on transplanting grape vines, that we hope will eventually cover the upper portion and bring even more shade and comfort to the environment.

The Picnic

All Cottage Members and ARMHS recipients are invited to the 8th Annual Lake Country Associates Community Programs’ Picnic.  The picnic will be from 11-1 on Wednesday, August 29th at Heartland Park in Park Rapids.  For more information about the picnic, call Lake Country Associates at 218-366-9229.


To learn more about the Cottage, go to the Lake Country Cottage page or select the locations tab at

Using Distraction: How to Make a Personal Plan

LCA News and Information

In the previous three posts, we talked about how our emotions can become too “big”, even overwhelming, especially when we focus on the negative ones.  To help ourselves we can use distraction as a coping skill.  Distraction is something we are all familiar with in some form or another.  Please read the previous posts discussing distraction strategies by clicking here: 1st post, 2nd post, and 3rd post. This will be the last week that we discuss distraction as a strategy.  As you read, I hope you recognize or understand the importance of using positive coping skills for your mental health.

busy street pictureWhen using distraction as a coping skill, the goal is not to be distracted from your life. That is not what I am recommending for you.  There are so many things that we want to be actively aware of in life and they are important. However, we all need mental breaks. We all have times when something happens and our life feels hectic and our emotions flare. Sometimes it is words someone has said, see week one for an example of feeling anxious because of responding emotionally to a perceived verbal threat. Sometimes something happens physically, like almost getting hit by a car, and our emotions understandably escalate. Sometimes it’s something that reminds us of a negative event or a traumatic occurrence that happened in the past. In each of these situations we can and should use distraction to remove ourselves from the stress and drama of the moment but we also need to move forward.

Moving forward doesn’t mean that we drop the problems and it doesn’t mean we avoid or ignore what is happening with our emotions. We want to deal with our problems, but not emotionally. If we’re too angry, anxious, depressed, disrespected, guilty, shamed, giddy, tired, rejected, humiliated, abandoned, grieving…the list goes on, we need to deal with those feelings so we can communicate to others in a way that they will listen where we can be heard and we can hear them. We will all have big emotions at times, let’s deal with them so we can then solve the problem if there is one and get back into our lives.

We need to be aware of those times where we are stuck. When we get an emotional response that is not in our best interest, it is our responsibility to calm ourselves back down to a level where we can carry on. The importance of self soothing is huge. Distraction is an important tool but only for a limited amount of time. Remember the “20 minute” rule where it only takes 20 minutes for your brain to de-escalate.journaling picture

Make a List

There are so many activities that can draw our attention away from our negative emotional state. What are some that you use personally to help you to focus? Write down ones from the list below that you want to try, ones you already know, and any you find along the way. Listed are the distraction skills that come to mind but perhaps the list can spark some additional ideas for you or get you thinking about what you like to do. Have the list handy to look at when your emotions have escalated. Then you can help yourself by picking something from the list. Part of the problem with big emotions is they can cloud our mind and we forget the things we want to do. Writing it down and having it someplace where we can easily get to is a perfect way of solving this problem. You can write the list down on note cards, post it notes, use a dry erase marker on your mirror, in your phone, or use the this printable Distraction Skills Worksheet.

  • Read a book
  • Read a magazine
  • Go to the library
  • Watch a show or movie
  • Go shopping (even window shopping)
  • Eat something sour or hot – something that will get your attention
  • Read old letters or cards that have positive sentiments
  • Hug a stuffed animal
  • Organize your calendar
  • Make a shopping list
  • Make a favorite meal (careful you don’t choose to use food to cope, stress eating can cause a real problem)
  • Copy recipes onto cards (last week we talked about going through old magazines, you can copy the recipes you wanted and get rid of it)
  • Research something you’re interested in
  • Read inspirational quotes – online or from a book
  • Journal
  • Start a new hobby (coloring books for older people are popular now)
  • Take a walk

Don’t forget about your children. Distraction is one of the best ways to help your children when they become too emotional. You can help them by distracting their mind toward something else. At different ages this will mean different things. For the younger kids, give them a toy or have them pick out a book to help them de-escalate. As they get older you can have them play a game (remember the time limit), have them do a favorite activity or watch a tv show. I’ve mentioned this before if you’ve been reading weekly, but all you need to do to decrease your emotions is to distract for 20 minutes. After that 20 minutes, it’s time to help your child understand their emotions, which should include labeling the emotion for your child and discussing the incident, plus letting them know that distraction is what helped them. Distraction skills are not a get out of trouble free card, but they are a way to make progress with learning about their emotions and about what they did instead of just punishing the emotional response.

What’s the Next Step?

Next month we will offer two posts about coping skills. Follow us on Facebook to see when they are posted, or check back here.  I’m looking forward to moving onto a new category of coping skills to share with you.

Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness.  If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let reception staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC


Want to read past posts on distraction skills, follow them here:

How to Calm Yourself

20 Minute Distraction to Calm Yourself

How to Decrease Emotional Pain with Distraction Skills

Cottage Update – Household Items Needed

LCA News and Information

Time for a Cottage Update!  Members of the Lake Country Cottage are holding their second annual Garage Sale on August 9th and 10th and need your donation of household goods.  All proceeds of the sale go to funding activities for members of the Cottage.  Last year, the sale was a huge success.  Proceeds support activities and events, such as; Friday grill-outs for Members, an outing to Itasca State Park, pottery classes, a bowling outing and other activities in our community.  Cottage Members have also chosen to donate a portion of last years garage sale proceeds to the construction of a backyard pergola.

Pergola Progress

Spike Wellman at Lake Country Cottage Pergola
Spike Wellman, ARMHS Treatment Director and Pergola Contractor/Enthusiast

The pergola project continues to make progress in the back yard of the Cottage.  Most of the framing is up and stained.  We’re looking for a good deal on some flagstone for the floor and path leading up to it (call Shawn or Spike at LCA if you have any ideas – 218-366-9229).  Once the flooring is installed, we will transplant some grape vines from the yard to the base of it.  Our hope is that the grape vines will completely cover the roof and add to the backyard charm.  Once finished, the pergola will be a peaceful place for Members to meet and retreat.   If you drop off items for the sale, take a peek into the back yard to check out the progress.

How Can I Help?

Members are asking for donations to this years garage sale.  Household goods, tools, small appliances, dishes, shop toys, etc. are always a hit.  They ask that you not donate clothing or other fabric items, such as beds or stuffed furniture (wood or plastic furniture sells very well and is greatly appreciated!).  Please drop off your donations at the Lake Country Cottage during drop-in hours (see hours below).  Members also hope that you’re ableLake Country Cottage Drop-in Center to make it to the sale to pick up some great deals.  The Lake Country Cottage is located at 516 West First Street in Park Rapids – immediately West of Casey’s Convenience Store on Hwy 34.

Drop-in Hours

Mondays     9AM – 1PM
Tuesdays   12PM – 4PM
Thursdays 12PM – 4PM
Fridays 9AM – 1PM

Feel free to check out our Facebook page or share this post with those you think may be interested in it.  Learn more about the Lake Country Cottage.


How to Decrease Emotional Pain with Distraction Skills

LCA News and Information

by Diane Cerven, MA, LPCC

In the last couple posts, we have been talking about distraction skills to help us with our emotions when they become too big or overwhelm us. In the first post, I talked about using deep breathing (which is also a relaxation skill. View here), and in the second post I talked about playing a 20 minute game to focus our mind on something else (view here). Distraction skills can be anything that will put our mind on to something other than the emotions we are struggling with, but why is that important?

Our Emotions Can Get in the Way

We talked in our first post about having large emotions and how those can get us into trouble (from constantly snipping all the way to yelling at someone, being rude or saying something in a way that others become defensive). Last time, we looked into the depressive thoughts our emotional brain can have. Our emotional brain is important, it is always telling us something. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s telling us that what’s going on is that it remembers a traumatic past or a stressful event. During these self-talk thoughts, we learned how to cope or survive the thoughts. The more these thoughts occur the more engrained our ways of coping become. That’s positive if it’s a good coping skill.  When we just listen to our emotions then usually it’s not all that helpful. Some ways we cope or protect ourselves is with anger such as yelling at the person or sometimes we are just flooded and as a defense we shut down. Sometimes we isolate ourselves.  Isolation is depressions best friend. If we want our depression to be worse, isolation is a good way to increase the depression.

Emotions are not always good at telling us how to cope. Instead of coming up with positive ways to cope or manage our thoughts, our emotions may have a negative dialogue with us. These thoughts then run through our heads, over and over again. For example, many of us have anxiety. Anxiety when facing a bear is very helpful. It shuts down unnecessary systems, doesn’t take superfluous information, it is working on how to stay alive. This is a good thing. However, when we have that level of anxiety about shopping, leaving our house, driving, talking to people, or taking a test, then our brains are working against us. The thoughts in our head that are making the anxiety worse and are trying to keep us alive are not helpful because the situation is not life or death. These are the times when we need to focus our brain on something else. This is where coping skills are helpful.  There are many coping skills we can use, keep reading our posts to find out more.

Distract with Household Chores

Today, we will continue with distraction skills. messy houseAs you monitor your thoughts or notice your emotions growing or beginning to overwhelm you, then it’s time to work on something else. You can try doing household chores. Let’s face it we all need to straighten or clean something in our homes. This is a perfect way for us to get our mind busy (bonus: some chores give us exercise too).

My first advice is to look around and find something to work on. Make it something doable. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to clean the entire kitchen. That’s a large chore. Instead, focus on something in the kitchen that needs to be cleaned or straightened, like that stack of papers in the corner or those dishes in the sink. We are trying to reach 20 minutes of distraction to decrease our emotions, with the bonus of getting something at least partly done, again, yay!

If your brain is concentrating too much on your emotional thoughts, make a list, and then pick something off it. Here’s my helpful list to trigger some cleaning ideas for you:

o    Sweeping

o    Vacuumingcleaning house

o    Mopping

o    Dusting

o    Straightening things on a table

o    Doing laundry (clothing, bedding, rugs, couch blanket)

o    Washing dishes

o    Cleaning out the junk drawer (the one with the old toaster’s manual and dead batteries)

o    Cleaning the bathroom

o    Getting rid of cob webs

o    Watering plants (come to my house and do those too, lol)

o    Taking out the trash

o    Bathing pets (your pet snake really needs it, ok… maybe not)

o    Cleaning floorboards

o    Cleaning the refrigerator and freezer (what was that thing)

o    Cleaning blinds and windows

o    Vacuuming or laundering curtains

o    Planting seedlings

o    Going through old magazines (the ones you saved for the recipes but never used)

o    Sorting through that stack of paper and junk mail (it’ll feel so good for that to be gone)

o    Sorting through books and donating the ones you don’t want anymore, same with movies and music

o    Putting those old photographs into a photo album (awww look at great-grandma)

o    Pruning trees or shrubs

o    Weeding

o    Washing the car

Ok the list is endless; there are so many projects inside cleaning house pictureand out to work on that it can become overwhelming. Let’s not add to our emotional stress by focusing on an overwhelming amount of things to accomplish but do something small and short-term to distract ourselves and bring our emotions back down.  The goal is at least 20 minutes. When our system is flooded with emotions, it takes about 20 minutes to come back down, so let’s take that 20 minutes and distract ourselves. Set the timer on our phone or stove and work for that amount of time. Along with picking places to clean to make the work more doable, we can also break it down into smaller more manageable tasks. Instead of cleaning out the closet, sort one box. Go through one stack of papers or magazines. Clean part of something or set a time limit. That’s all we need and any progress made is still progress, even if it didn’t get completely done.

Remember that we can use these coping skills with children who are overwhelmed emotionally as well. We can use distraction by redirecting their attention to something they can do. Personally, I would try doing a game first (remember it doesn’t have to be electronic and should last for only 20 minutes), or something physically active or calming, like deep breathing, and then suggest something in the cleaning/straightening realm. It will just go better, depending on your child. Now with children who are overly emotional, telling them to go clean something isn’t going to go well. For those of you who end up yelling at your children to clean up, that causes an emotional reaction in them. Sometimes children are already in the habit to overreact (aka emotionally react) just by asking them to do some household task. They are reacting as if trying to stay alive and you’re the bear. With their brain only responding with how they’ve learned to survive you (the bear), you’re getting resistance, not compliance. Make sure you’re calm, using your distraction skills (or other coping skills), and in calmness help your child to find their calm. If you catch their emotional reactions when they are still minimal, or find something they like, this can help them to redirect their thoughts and energy. When kids see you handling your emotions by distraction, such as with cleaning, they will learn that as well. Showing them how to manage emotions is the best way to teach them.

What’s the Next step to Distracting Myself?

Join us next time when we go over the final distraction skill before we head into new types of coping skills. Coping skills can help, but they cannot take the place of counseling and cannot solve many of the challenges associated with mental illness. If you need more help we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji).

Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC

Next Article

20 Minute Distraction for Emotional Health

LCA News and Information

By Diane Cerven, MA, LPCC

Last week, I talked about our emotions escalating and needing a simple skill to use toSymptom Distraction reduce our emotions, deep breathing.  Look for the deep breathing guide here. Let’s continue on the topic of distractions and learn new skills. Week 1 focused more on annoyance, which is part of the anger category. This week, let’s talk about how distractions can help with depression and sadness.

Depression and Sadness

Let’s first define them. Depression is chronic, at least 2 weeks, when one feels sad, or loss of interest or pleasure. Eating, sleeping, and energy can all change. We can be more fidgety or even have a marked slowing of our speech and movement. Thoughts of worthlessness and guilt can take over, and we can have concentration problems or decision problems. Finally thoughts of death, or wanting to die, all the way to trying to kill ourselves, can be present as well. If you feel like killing yourself please seek help and see this article: Resources for Suicide Prevention. These symptoms affect our functioning; we just don’t want to work, be social, or participate in general with life. If you have 5 or more of these symptoms I encourage you to get a diagnostic assessment and help from a trained and licensed mental health counselor. We can all relate to times when we at least felt sad, maybe having some of these symptoms but not 5 or more, or not lasting as long, and this is what I define as sadness. Even in the throes of depression we can get a mental break from our depressive brain and focus on something else.

Let’s bring up a time when we felt sad or depressed. Our depressed brain was dwelling on the negative.

“There’s no point.”

“No one cares.”

“Why try.”

“Nothing goes right.”

“I could just kill myself.”

I could go on with depressive thinking, we all get the idea. At these times, our depressive brain is taking over (by the way, this could be any emotion our brain is stuck on). Our brain is running, ruminating really, it’s controlling our thought process. Our emotion gets worse. Many times depressive people will try to make it through the day with a heavy weight on them or they sit around, even just going back to bed, to get their thoughts to stop.

I want to encourage you when you’re sad, depressed, or any other emotion, and your brain is stuck in the thinking that comes with the emotion, to step out in a new way by using a coping skill. Coping skills are used to get our minds on something else, to fill our thoughts with something that is helpful. We’re starting with distraction skills, to distract us. There are so many ways we can distract ourselves. Like I mentioned last week, every coping skill is technically a distraction because it gets our mind on something else.

Games – A Great Distraction Skill

This week I want to focus on something that you may be doing in your free time but never thought of using to cope with difficult or large emotions. There is research being done and there is anecdotal (people have told me) evidence that this has helped them with their emotional regulation. Before we get there, I do want to caution to make sure that you don’t get lost from life in distraction skills. If your distraction is keeping you from living life, from paying attention to your family, friends, or anything else you need to be doing, then your distraction skill is not a skill, it’s a detriment. So let’s be mindful that we’re using this in moderation.

This week let’s talk about games as a distraction. I know this is one of my favorite ways to get my mind on something else for a little while.  As my attention is focused on a game, my emotions have a chance to decrease. Another caution, there are games that increase anxiety or anger, or any emotion really depending on what they are. I was working on a cooking game, you have to get the orders done in a certain amount of time, and as it became more difficult, I became more irritable because of the anxiety that was caused by trying to remember how to do the recipes. That’s not good. Just give yourself a limited amount of time. When someone is flooded, it takes on average 20 minutes to decrease their emotions. Not several hours. 🙂

So what kinds of games am I talking about? Games that allow our thoughts to focus, so games that take some thought.

Solo Games

There are solo games we can play by ourselves.  Try Sudoku, Mahjong, crossword puzzles, word finds, brain games, Solitaire, or puzzles.

We can also play individual games on our phone (don’t forget to set a time limit).  For example: Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Candy Crush, Tetris or Solitaire.  I like the detective kind of games. Really it’s endless. Just monitor how you feel playing. If it’s causing anxiety (like the game I was playing) or you get sucked in for too long then find another one. I’m also certain that the solo games from above can be found on your phone.

Games with Others

There are some great games that can be played with others.  Try playing chess, checkers, Scrabble, card games, puzzles or Apples to Apples (a favorite with a big crowd).  It’s endless here too. Any game you play with someone is going to distract you. Pick one that you find fun, or one that causes you to think.

We can’t forget playing with others online or phone.  Try Words with Friends (they’ll even match you with friends if you don’t have family or friends who play) or try Facebook games, many you don’t directly play with others, but you can send and receive items with friends.  Try Googling multi-player games.  The possibilities are endless, limited only by your search.

When your emotional mind is taking over, decrease the thoughts and feelings by distracting yourself with a game. Over this next week, practice using a distraction skill by playing a game when your feelings are escalating. Then make a list (in case your brain is too overwhelmed to let you remember) of the ones that help.

Need More Personal Help?

Again, coping skills are tools. For more serious mental health concerns, please click here to contact us through our website and we’ll call you back.  Feel free to call our Park Rapids office at 218-366-9229 or our Bemidji office at 218-444-2233. Please check out our staff bios.  You can view mine by clicking on my name below. We are here to help.


Diane Cerven, LPCC

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