In last week’s blog, we looked at the following vignette:

Katie wakes up from another night of not nearly enough hours of sleep. Her life always seemed to have such a crazy pace that she felt the need to stay up late to catch up on things she wasn’t able to get to during “normal” working hours. She decides to forsake the gym this morning in exchange for an extra 30 minutes in bed. She grabs a latte and a chocolate pastry from a local coffee shop on her way to work. On her way, she checks Facebook while waiting on the bus. “Wow! I haven’t seen any of these people in forever!” she thinks to herself. In fact, she hadn’t really seen anyone lately. Her life was consumed by work and she had no energy to pursue friendships or relationships when she got home (usually later than she would have hoped.) Work wasn’t even that great. Mundane. Boring. Filled with miniscule tasks that kept her incredibly busy, but not engaged. She heads to her weekly therapy appointment right after work. One of the only things outside of work she is able to maintain. Lately though, she hasn’t really been seeing much benefit. She wonders why. She feels stressed out and stuck.

Katie is someone that most of us can relate to in at least one aspect of our lives. We have all had times where healthy habits and self-care have fallen by the wayside. Last month, we looked at the Big 6 of self-care, called Therapeutic Life Changes (TLCs).

  1. Exercise
  2. Nutrition
  3. Social relationships
  4. Cognitive challenge
  5. Sleep
  6. Meditation

These Big 6 mediate the response someone has to therapy and play a big role in a healthy, authentic sense of self. Last week, we looked at exercise, nutrition, and social relationships. This month we will take a look at the final three.

Cognitive Challenge

No one likes being bored or stuck. Change is hard, but it is also exciting, challenging, and creates positive effects in the brain, “jiggling the synapses” created while young. You don’t have to jump out of an airplane or move to a hut in the jungle to create meaningful cognitive challenge. Sometimes challenging held assumptions and beliefs is enough. Convinced you aren’t musically inclined? Take a music class. Feel like you could never speak in front of people? Take an improv class. Learn a new skill or read a challenging book. Take up a new hobby. Challenge yourself in some way and help your brain develop new neural pathways.


While the exact amount of sleep that everyone needs is different, most scientists recommend around 7-8 hours a night. This number sounds preposterous to many of people who struggle to get even 6 hours a night. Even if we get in bed on time, our brains refuse to shut off and let us get some sleep.

Some helpful tips to help our brains and body relax at the end of the day include creating a bedtime routine, turning off the TV and grabbing a book, meditation/guided relaxations, and limiting caffeine after a certain time.


A daily meditation practice (even just 10-20 minutes a day) has been shown to positively effect gray matter in the brain, lead to greater emotional regulation, and increased mindfulness. In today’s world of tablets and smartphones, there are many apps that can help even the most meditation-inept among us to develop positive mindfulness and meditation practices.

Enacting these Big 6 will create positive change in your life, change that enhances the efficacy of counseling and can lead you further create a healthy and authentic sense of self.

Rena McDaniel, MEd is the Director of Outreach and Operations and a Staff Therapist for IntraSpectrum Counseling, a group private practice in Chicago that specializes in the LGBTQI community. Follow IntraSpectrum Counseling on Twitter and Facebook.