Metaphors provide a rich landscape of words and images to describe things. When you use metaphors to describe yourself, you are looking at who you are through a different lens. It's a creative way to expand on your knowledge and understanding of who you are as a person and how you see yourself. When I work with clients who love to journal or write I often encourage this writing prompt. It's a wonderful practice in creative expression and self awareness.
If you’ve never done this type of writing exercise, no worries— I will walk you through it.
1. Look at the following categories. Write down any that spark your interest or curiosity.
types of tea
the four elements
types of trees
elements on the periodic table
cards in a deck
rooms in a house
bodies of water
types of candy
types of cereal
If you think of other categories, add them to your list.
2. Next, go through the categories and reflect on what you would be if you were in that category.
If you were a type of weather phenomena what would you be?
a sunny day? a rainy day? a tornado? a rainbow? a sundog? an ice storm? a cloud? etc…
If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Think about whether you’d be an animal that spends most of its time on land, water, or in the air. Is it living in the wild or in captivity? Is the animal considered to have certain characteristics that you can relate to such as being proud, courageous, silly, mischievous, or unpredictable?
How do people tend to respond to this animal?
What are the animal’s survival skills, i.e. does it burrow underground? Is it a skilled fighter? Can it hide itself with camouflage? Is it part of a protective pack?
Allow your imagination to play around with different metaphors. If you get stuck, move on to another category.
See if you can come up with at least 5 metaphors.
When you get to the end of Step 2 your list might look something like this:
Toy: Yo Yo
Weather phenomena: Sandstorm
Card in a deck: The Hermit (from a tarot deck)
Body of Water: A puddle
3. Expand on your answers as much as you can. Dive into each metaphor and see what you discover about yourself as this person, place, or thing you’ve chosen. Some of these might be concise and other might be more detailed. Either way is fine.
I am a tangled string on a yo yo.
I am an inchworm, slowly (but surely) reaching a destination.
I am a sandstorm, blinding everyone in my path.
I am The Hermit, upside down, seated next to the Queen of Swords.
I am a mud puddle — I appear from a deluge of rain and then I disappear.
Last, go through your answers and see what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of. Maybe 3 of your chosen metaphors actually fit the best. Maybe you've come up with 10. It’s all good.
You can leave them as a list of metaphors or you can incorporate them into a different writing piece altogether.
***Note: This is the first writing prompt that will be used in Stories, Words, and Alchemy: A Weekly Group for Writers Exploring Life’s Stories (February 2017) at Indigo North Counseling, LLC in Biddeford, ME. ***
Indigo North Counseling,LLC
Comfort Zones are those places, physical and metaphorical, that provide respite. They can be places of residence, i.e. your own home or a loved ones home. They can be natural spaces such as the mountains, a forest, or the beach. They can be places of sanctuary, prayer, and meditation. And comfort zones can also be needs or wants that regulate your level of comfort-- i.e. if someone asks you to do something that doesn't feel right, or feel good, you might find yourself saying, "No--that's out of my comfort zone".
Comfort zones provide the space for us to reflect on our experiences. People are not well equipped to process a lot of information (external and internal) when under stress, so finding and utilizing time to retreat to a safe and comfortable space allows us to truly think about, and feel, what is going on around us and within us.
But what happens when our comfort zones fracture? For example, what if the friend we always turn to for support is not available? What if a location where we typically find comfort is currently off limits?
Comfort zones will fracture and evolve from time to time which is why I often suggest making sure you have a selection of comfort zones to begin with. Diversifying is key. Here are various examples to consider:
If you expand on the meaning and breadth of "comfort zones" you will be better prepared if one (or more) of your zones "fracture". For example, if you move to a new place you might suddenly find yourself feeling out of sorts, whether you have moved across town or out of the country. While you adjust to the new feeling of "home" and orient yourself to new surroundings, you can still connect with close friends, keep familar routines, wear a favorite piece of clothing, or immerse yourself in a favorite activity. Before you know it, you will have created new comfort zones and/or your fractured zones will be accessible once again.
An Overview of My Latest Book-- More Creative Coping Skills for Children: Activities, Games, Stories, and Handouts to Help Children Self Regulate
I have authored 4 books with Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and like many authors, I claim my most recent book as my favorite. This is what it looks like:
More Creative Coping Skills for Children: Activities, Games, Stories, and Handouts to Help Children Self-regulate is written for parents as well as professionals who work with children (i.e. counselors, social workers, teachers, day care providers, youth group leaders, recreational therapists, camp staff, etc.).
Each chapter in the book focuses on common challenges that children might struggle with. Chapters include:
Building Interpersonal and Social Skills
Creating Healthy Boundaries
Reducing Oppositional Behavior
Increasing Focus and Reducing Impulsivity
Taming Anxiety, Stuck Thoughts, and Stuck Behaviors
Social Anxiety and Selective Mutism
Sadness and Depression
Increasing Self Confidence and Self Esteem
Loss and Grief
Traumatic Events and Illnesses
Each chapter provides general support around approaching these challenges using games, helpful handouts, rating scales, activities, stories, and more to encourage skill building in each area. Here are some examples:
Apologizing and owning our behaviors is an important social skill. Apology notes are included in the book to encourage and assist children to say they are sorry if/when needed.
Sample incentive charts are provided for parents to use. Incentive charts can be helpful in reducing oppositional and resistant behaviors.
There are a few mandalas for coloring, because coloring is calming for the brain and body. These are in the chapter Taming Anxiety and Stuck Thoughts and Stuck Behaviors.
I included scripts for guided imagery as well as progressive muscle relaxation-- these are key skills in calming and self regulation.
Scales can be helpful for youth to define and communicate how they are experiencing moods, feelings, and behaviors. The scales can also be used to keep track of patterns of progress and regression of symptoms (i.e. in winter months, a child reports more 4s and 5s...whereas in summer the child reports more 1s to 3s-- this is good information!). An anxiety scale is also included in the book.
I used to have a poster on my counseling door like this when I worked in a school. Kids can tear off the section that they want to focus on for the day. This is one of many ways kids can practice building self confidence and self esteem.
From the chapter on Grief and Loss-- losing a pet is challenging for many children, understandably so. I've worked with many children who have wanted to lovingly say goodbye to their pets after they died, but didn't know how. These scripts are provided to aid in the conversation parents and providers can have with children as well as provide some suggestions around what can be said to honor the pet at a funeral or remembrance ceremony.
The chapter on Family Challenges addresses tight budgets and poverty, building relationships, managing separations within the family (i.e. if a parent is in the military or incarcerated), changes in the family (i.e. divorce), and mental illness and substance abuse.
At the end of each chapter there's an accompanying story. Stories can help kids understand a situation through a different lens, as well as provide suggestions or solutions for challenges the kids might be facing.
Kid-friendly games, puppets, coloring sheets, and craft activities are also included throughout the book.
If you'd like to see even more, go to this link at Amazon and use the "look inside" feature.
Thanks so much for taking the time to learn more about my latest book!
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling, LLC
As you might already know, I'm an advocate for nature-based activities. Nature gives our bodies many things we are lacking in our usual day-to-day routines-- vitamin D, fresh air, immune-building microbes from the soil, exercise, relaxation, a sensory rich environment, places to explore, and so much more. I am so passionate about the benefits of nature that I even wrote a book about nature based activities for youth. You can see the book here.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year to get outdoors and enjoy the unique opportunities that the season offers. It's also the perfect time to gather natural materials for crafts and projects you might need or want year round. Sticks, acorns, acorn caps, seed pods, flowers for pressing and drying, pine cones, and more are abundant this time of year.
Here are some of my favorite autumn activities:
1. Head out to the back deck, the front lawn, or even the front steps for a breakfast picnic. If you're feeling more adventurous and/or your family will cooperate, then venture out to the woods or a favorite trail for your breakfast picnic. Bring autumn-themed breakfast treats such as apple cider donuts, cider, trail mix, cranberry scones, or hot chocolate. Enjoy the chill in the air and enjoy a yummy breakfast with loved ones.
2. Go on a foliage drive-- make sure to stop along the way to explore. You can always do an online search before you go to see if there are any of these creative activities to do along the way such as letter boxing, geocaching, local labyrinths to walk, or apple orchards and/or pumpkin farms to visit.
3. Create some "land art"-- this time of year is great for land art because there are so many natural materials around to create with. In addition, at least here in the Northeast, the mosquitos and black flies have significantly reduced -- still use protection against ticks, though!
4. Gather acorns for your local wildlife rehabilitation center or collect them for future craft projects.
5. Rake those leaves and jump in them.
6. Go on a mushroom hunt. The woods are full of gorgeous and unique fungi that are usually hidden under leaves or peaking out from rotting logs. A mushroom hunt is a "look don't touch" activity for kids, but they might still find appeal in the "scavenger hunt" feel of this activity. You can challenge kids to find a certain number of different colored mushrooms; find mushrooms in each color of the rainbow, or as close as possible; or to photograph them if they have iPhones or are old enough to use yours or a camera. Bring a mushroom guide, if desired, for identifying the mushrooms you find.
7. Pick apples at an organic orchard and then make your favorite apple recipe with them. Orchards are great places for kids to explore different varieties of apples, especially if heirloom apples are present. Picking apples is a joy in an of itself, but many orchards also offer additional activities at their farms. Research your local orchards to see what is available to you.
8. Track down some snapdragon seed pods. Did you grow snapdragons in your garden this year? If you did, you will find these odd looking seed pods left behind that look like skulls or witches heads. If you did not grow snapdragons this year, ask around and see if you have any friends that did. If they have not pulled out their gardens yet, these Halloween-ish pods will still be there just waiting for someone to collect them.
9. Pick pumpkins-- there are so many fun projects to do with pumpkins, from roasting the seeds and making pies, to carving them into jack-o-lanterns, coaches, fairy houses, and more. Remember, if you ever feel at a loss of ideas, the internet is your friend.
10. Collect acorn caps for making these sweet little nature dolls. Buy the wooden figurines from your craft store, color them with colored pencils, glue a cap on, and then seal the doll with varnish.
11. Go mining! Research places to explore in your local area where you and the kids can go mining. I love this activity in the fall because its much cooler (in temperature), the foliage is gorgeous to view along the way, and mosquitos and black flies are at a minimum. My favorite spot for mining in Maine is Mount Apatite in Auburn because there is no cost and no tour--you can go on your own time and collect some beautiful gems. Bring a bag or a bucket, a hammer, and goggles for each person. Smashing rocks is both exciting and therapeutic for kids (and adults, too)-- the thrill of finding a gemstone is priceless, and you get out tons of energy doing so. Of course, experienced miners will not recommend "smashing" rocks as some gemstones are more fragile than others. So, if you are interested in mining you will want to research where you can do so in your area, what the rules are of the place you are visiting, as well as any tips for appropriately "smashing"/mining your finds.
12. Leave positive words and "secret messages" along any trails or places outdoors you explore. This is another variation of land art, and it's an easy one for kids to do. Gather some natural materials and put them together to spell a word or message of encouragement for others to find.
13. Host a picnic for your backyard animals. Set up a tray, table, or blanket in your yard; add a tea set, cups, and/or bowls; then fill them with seeds, nuts, or other foods appropriate for an animal's diet. This is pre-hibernation time for many of our backyard friends so this is a wonderful time to help them stock up on extra food. Taking and sharing photos of them enjoying their treats is my favorite part of this activity.
14. If you happen to live near an apple tree, or visit a place that has one, there are usually tons of apples on the ground. Gather a bunch of them, wash them, and then have the kids bite silly faces into the apples. Prop them up in the tree branches for a tree filled with silly faces.
15. Use acorn caps as hats for finger puppets.
16. Grab some chalk and head out to the nearest blacktop to create patterns, pictures, and other creative creations. Again, the weather is perfect this time of year for any sort of outdoor play (expect maybe swimming...).
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling, LLC
Many people who have experienced a traumatic event know that the annual anniversary of that event, and each year thereafter, can be emotionally challenging. There are always exceptions, of course-- some people can experience the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a harrowing event and not notice any change in affect or physical symptoms on the anniversary. For many people, however, the anniversary can create a sense of angst and side effects: a feeling of unease, disrupted sleep, a feeling of dread regarding the anniversary, anxiety and restlessness, depression, grief and sadness, lack of focus and decreased attention, irritability, and more.
However, there are ways to care for your mind, body, and spirit prior to the anniversary, and throughout, to get through it (and even feel stronger to deal with it).
There are more ways to get through a trauma anniversary--if you need or want more ideas you can research the topic of “trauma anniversaries” online, seek professional support, or reach out to loved ones for additional ideas.
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling, LLC
Change comes in many forms. The small changes in life are typically the more manageable ones, such as learning to ride a bike or making a new friend. But there are changes-- life altering changes-- that require a whole different set of resources (internal and external) to manage. Life altering changes include the death of a loved one, leaving a long term relationship, transitioning to a new identity, “coming out”, bringing a new child or sibling into the family, a traumatic event, leaving home for the first time, etc.
As many of you know already, change is messy and exhausting-- sometimes even the “happy” changes can be messy and exhausting too. Change also requires patience even when each and every cell in your body is screaming that it wants things to feel comfortable and okay and familiar RIGHT NOW.
In an ideal world, at least in my ideal world, each of us would be compassionate and open minded to other people’s experiences, especially during these life changing ones. In addition, we would also be more gentle with ourselves.
That being said, here are reminders and tips for getting through those life altering changes, as well how to help others going through the same.
Self Care during difficult changes:
How to be supportive to loved ones facing life-altering changes:
There are so many more ways to be gentle and real with yourself --and others --during a life altering change but I hope these lists serve as a good starting place.
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling
Like many adults, I am constantly navigating the world of coping strategies to see which ones help me feel and function better. One of my favorite strategies is Finding Hearts. It's not a commonly listed strategy in self help books (in fact, I may have made this one up). However, when I am feeling uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or having a particularly rough moment, I look for hearts.
Looking for hearts does a few things for my state of mind and well being:
1. It's a practice in grounding. Grounding is a technique used to decrease emotional distress that accommodates anxiety attacks, dissociation, PTSD and other intense emotional states. Grounding means bringing yourself to the present moment by checking in with your senses (what do you smell, hear, taste, feel, or see around you at the moment); checking in with your surroundings (look around you, identify where you are or what is in your view); and also checking in with yourself (say your name to yourself, state the date and time of day). Grounding basically means you pull yourself to the present moment. Finding hearts is one way to bring yourself to the present moment: scan your immediate surroundings; see if you can find any hearts hidden in the clouds, in the ceiling tiles, in the food you are eating, on your clothing, in the trees, etc...
2. Its a practice in focus. My ADD can take on a life of it's own and there are times when simply looking around for hearts helps my brain and body slow down enough so I can pay better attention to other details.
3. It's a practice in mindfulness. Mindfulness is observing the details of your surroundings (even your "inner surroundings"-- your feelings and state of mind) and being fully present in the moment.
4. The creative part of me simply loves this activity-- for me it feels like a mini-recess for my brain. It's playful, it's creative, and it's a nice break from the routine of the day that can be done in seconds or minutes.
5. The metaphysical/spiritual/curious part of me can't help but love the fact that we are surrounded by hidden hearts everywhere.
6. Photographing the hearts you find and sharing them (i.e. on social media) is a simple and fun way to connect with others. Once you start sharing them, you may find that your friends and loved ones start sending them to you as well.
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling
When I need to find my balance or quiet my heart and soul, I create art. Art is my favorite form of therapy and self expression. One of my most treasured art projects is making these Spirit Stones.
While walking various trails or beaches I collect rocks that are flat. Scanning the earth for rocks is calming and centering in and of itself. I keep the rocks in a jar until I have one of those days where my head is running full speed ahead and just needs
Then I paint a bunch of these stones all at once. I use various pens-- from oil based ink, to chalk pens, to permanent markers. Some of my favorite patterns and images include feathers, arrows, a compass rose, spirals, geometric shapes, words of inspiration, eyes, and mandalas. Try making your own and see if it calms and centers you also! The rocks can be placed around your home or office to remind you to relax, to inspire you, or to bring some creative energy to your space.
I keep supplies on hand at Indigo North Counseling, LLC to make these stones with clients of all ages-- sometimes we make them as Spirit Stones, other times we add them to other projects or create them for "worry stones".
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling
A new school year is about to begin. For those of you who send your kids to private or public schools, this means your child has a multitude of changes to adjust to in the coming weeks. Some children and teens do well with changes and even look forward to them. For some, however, each and every change can trigger a sense of unease and even anxiety. Let’s look at some strategies to reduce the stressors that can come with adjusting to change (even the happy changes).
New sleep/wake schedule:
If your child is the type that stays up later in the evening and/or sleeps later in the morning during summer, then you may want to plan ahead (about 2-3 weeks before school starts) by sending them to bed a little bit earlier each night and also waking them slightly earlier each morning.
Why? By preparing your child to go to bed and wake earlier for school, before the school year starts, you are reducing the fatigue that happens when sleep routines are adjusted and altered too quickly. Fatigue adds to stress levels, and a tired brain and body is less able to take in all the instruction and complexities of paying attention. On the contrary, when your child has a good sleep routine and is better rested, she’s better able to keep up with the demands of the school day.
Transportation to and from school:
If you drive your child to school every day, and the route has not changed, then your child is likely well prepared for the drive to school. However, if you have not driven that route in a while, it might help to do so before the first day of school just to be prepared for any detours or changes ahead of time. If you have an anxiety-prone child the "practice drive" does 2 things: 1) re-familiarizes the child with the drive to and from school--this creates a sense of normalcy and routine 2) on the off chance that something drastic changed along that route, you will have time to discuss it and/or address any challenges ahead of time.
If your child has a new bus route:
Other helpful suggestions:
New school, classroom, and/or teacher:
In general, a regular routine during the school year can help reduce anxiety for kids overall. A regular routine means a routine that is predictable for your child, i.e. the child knows dinner is at 6pm each night and bedtime is at 8pm. If you’re the type of person who hates routine (I’m one of them) this can feel challenging and even counter-intuitive. However, for kids who are susceptible to anxiety, the routine is a predictable backbone of their day. The routine becomes structure that helps them manage the rest of the day’s craziness. Everything else may feel chaotic to them but they know, if nothing else, dinner is at 6pm and bedtime is at 8pm.
Last, your child is heading back to school with kids they haven't seen in a while, or haven't met before. Remind your child that sometimes kids return to school with a different appearance and/or new life experiences under their belt-- this can be anything from noticeable changes ( i.e. a radically different hairstyle) to ones the child cannot necessarily "see" (i.e. the child has experienced a tragic loss over the summer). Encourage your child to treat him or herself with kindness and to extend that kindness to others as well for a smoother start the school year.
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling