Which words could you ban to improve mental health?

Hi everyone and welcome!!!

For me, words are my livelihood… I listen to my clients words, looking for meaning. I craft my own responses using my professional knowledge, my memories of the client and their history and my response to their particular comment/disclosure. We sometimes forget about the power of language as our selection of words can seem almost automatic.

As human beings we love to develop routines, patterns and we feel secure when we know what a response/reaction will be to any particular action. We develop lovely things called “Schemas” which are basically templates that help us quickly interpret things (ahh yes, I can see a red light coming up, red means stop). We develop these automatic thoughts and responses to things in order to create shortcuts so we don’t have to use a lot of brain power thinking about things.

But what if the words your brain “automatically” selected were undermining and disempowering you. How very rude!!! But very common. Not only do we develop schemas about things in our world, but we also develop them about ourselves. Now this isn’t the only type of negative, automatic thought pattern that people develop (stay tuned to this blog for more info) but the one we are exploring today.

So let’s get to the words I propose we could ban to improve mental health…




Were they the words you were expecting?

Ok, so let’s get to the nitty gritty… why are “should”, “must” and “ought” such terrible words? Well, thinking in such absolutes is called “demand thinking” and simply put, these words place unrealistic and inflexible expectations and demands on yourself and others. By using these words you are using a strict set of rules from which you judge events and the actions of yourself and others. They tend to coincide with schemas/rules/expectations about:

  • How I am (meaning you)

  • How you are (meaning other)

  • How the world is

So let’s give an example of how demand thinking might affect our own wellbeing.

“I must work harder”…although on the surface this seems pleasant enough and seems to be encouraging a good work ethic, it is too inflexible and judgmental. It sets you up to feel as though you know what you “must” be doing, but that you aren’t already doing this behaviour (for whatever reason)…. cue negative thoughts about yourself and a potential dip in self-esteem, confidence and self belief. Usually this negativity arises when we aren’t meeting our own schema surrounding what we expect from ourselves as a person (hard working, kind, empathic, honest etc).

If you catch yourself saying “should”, “must” or “ought” try to counterbalance with much more flexible, forgiving and optimistic words like: could, can, might, would, want, will etc.

Give it a go! Try and think of some demand thinking you are prone to and writing out some alternative thoughts instead. Anytime you catch yourself using a should, must or ought phrase try and replace it with this new, alternative message and see if you can detect the difference in your feelings about yourself, others and the world at large.

Until next time!!!


Why self-care doesn’t just mean getting a massage!


I have a couple of soap box topics… I get a little ranty, possibly forget about the usual social convention of “turn taking” in conversations and just generally get all worked up when I talk about these topics! Self care is one of them.

Although I feel positive that the culture is shifting and as a society we are talking more about the importance of self care… I think sometimes the conversations add pressure and unrealistic expectations around what self care is and how to do it. There seems to be a lot of messages equating self care to pampering (buy yourself something nice, get a massage etc) or that somehow self care means you need to spend a lot of time or money on looking after yourself. UNTRUE!!! (Sorry… but I did warn you about the ranting)

One of my favourite sayings in my professional and personal life is “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. In essence self care is anything that fills up your cup. This is deeply individual and personal… what floats your boat might not float mine. It’s really important to figure out what works for you… and having a whole range of ideas… because not all feelings or situations call for the same solution. And if you figure out what works for you (and what doesn’t) it leaves you with a sense of confidence that you can manage your own feelings… which might even help reduce the negative stuff underpinning your need to engage in self care.

So here are some of my top tips (and ones that aren’t going to cost you anything) that I share in counselling and supervision;

  • Self care isn’t always about adding in a new activity. It can also be about knowing when to decline an invitation, reducing your full schedule or just saying “no”.

  • Try and find a variety of self care strategies that take different lengths of time (i.e 5 mins, 15 mins, 30 mins, 1 hour, half a day etc). That way you can fit the self care into your schedule and not feel time pressured  (because that’s not the point of self care!)

  • Think about fulfilling your senses (taste, touch, smell, sound and sight). Make up and fill a self care box that meets all of those needs… some ideas might include; a picture of your favourite holiday (sight), a stressball (touch), a CD with your favourite music/band (sound… but on a serious note! does anyone actually use CDs anymore?), a candle (smell) and a bar of chocolate (taste). You can find stuff you already have in the house… no need to go out and spend $$$ (unless of course that is what fills your cup).

  • Move your body!!! Sometimes just physically moving can change your perspective (literally and figuratively ha!).

  • Do something repetitive… like colouring in, knitting, bouncing a ball to a rhythm, drumming etc. The repetitive nature of these tasks can be self soothing as there is a pattern or rhythm that our brains quite enjoy!

  • Mentally planning a holiday or activity… you don’t need to spend any money! Just some good old googling (research) and anticipation about an upcoming event can leave you in a positive frame of mind.

  • I love a good list and ticking stuff off it. It has the dual benefit of reducing your mental load (not having to keep all those ideas/thoughts/reminders in your head) and it can also reduce stress and reduce confidence (when you feel like you have managed a situation or completed a fast it installs you with positive feelings about your own self worth).

So there you go! A couple of ideas to think about… but be aware that they might not work for you and that’s ok. You need to figure out what you need out of self care! So go forth… get moving, planning or just saying no!