emotion regulation

LifeTip: Today’s Story - Releasing Negative Emotions

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We’ve all had bad things happen to us. People have done hurtful things to us, and we’ve done hurtful things to other people. These feelings of yuck that linger on cling to us like barnacles on the bottom of a moored ship, making it more and more difficult to sail smoothly. In my office, I often hear, “I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over it." For some, these negative feelings have held on for decades, impeding the person from ever truly moving forward in finding authentic happiness. These barnacles don’t need to stay attached; you can release them. You just need to find your new narrative. What story are you telling yourself today?

First and foremost, forget the idea of ‘getting over it.' All of the experiences that we have in life become part of our historical fabric. Think of it as Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” with each swatch being a different memory. If we just ‘got over’ some of the bad memories and cut them out, our coat would be filled with holes. Instead, acknowledge your memories and experiences; both the good and the bad make up your coat. Rather than putting energy into undoing the stitching from some of the pieces, recognize and embrace the ones that elicit negative feelings for you. Reclaim your power over these feelings by releasing (not ‘getting over’) the negativity that surrounds these feelings.

Every swatch within our coat has a story attached to it. Some are amazingly wonderful stories and some are downright horror stories. Although we cannot change the historical story (the events that actually transpired during that particular memory), what we can change are the feelings that we have about that story today. Own the pain, hurt, sadness, and frustration from that experience. Embrace that emotion from your history; put a name to that feeling you experience. Then flip the script. Tell yourself that these uncomfortable feelings are ones that negatively affected the you from yesterday, but they do not have the power to drag you down today.

For those of you who have read my previous posts, you know that I speak incessantly about the concept of power. Here is another example of how we all can reclaim our power. Pain, sadness, hurt, frustration, and anger are not deserving of our power, yet we all have had experiences where we pass our power stick over to these emotions. We tell ourselves that we’re powerless because of these negative feelings, which leaves us feeling helpless to change.

If there’s one thing that I want you to take away from this writing, it is that you can begin that transformation today. Change your narrative; alter your feelings about the events from the past and reclaim that power over those negative emotions. Don’t just try to “get over it,” but rather try to embrace the yuck and then release it. You have the power to change your feelings and responses to the historical swatches in your coat. Your first step in finding that relief is in asking yourself, “what story am I telling myself today?”

LifeTip: Words Hurt

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”.  Is this right, though?  Do words truly never hurt us?  Well of course they do and they can cut deep.  Sometimes it would be easier to deal with a broken bone or a scraped knee than to try and mend the emotional wounds inflicted by words.

Invalidation is what prompts our feelings of hurt for we begin to feel that the other person’s thoughts/feelings/values are not in line with our own.  This invalidation quickly lands us in the seat of the emotional rollercoaster where we grab onto any and everything that we can to shield us from the pain.  These things that we grasp for are defense mechanisms – ways in which we can minimize or hide away from the yuck.  The most common defense mechanisms are:

  • Avoidance: steering clear of anything that will cause any potential pain or discomfort

  • Denial: trying to believe that nothing is wrong and that nothing has happened

  • Repression: pushing those negative feelings deep down inside in hopes that they’ll never rear their head again

  • Displacement: taking all of our hurt feelings and lashing out at or dumping them on someone else

  • Rationalization: convincing yourself that the words behind that invalidation are actually true

We can reduce these yucky feelings and increase our ability to fight off the hurt by having the right tools at hand.  In developing a greater understanding of what is really going on with our authentic self when we encounter these harmful words, we can minimize the sadness/anxiety/and/or anger that is often prompted by invalidating words.

Check out my latest blog to read more about the power of words and how they impact us all.

 

LifeTip: Can Taking the Time to Be Mindful Actually Free Up Time?

Photo by  Harry Sandhu  on  Unsplash

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Mindfulness is the intentional and active state of being aware and present – basically it’s getting out of your head and into the moment.  It’s about connecting to yourself, others, and the world around you. At heart it’s about cultivating consciousness through the use of the very thing that keeps us alive, the breath. I avoided it for years, thinking I had to be Buddha like to succeed! The very notion of mindfulness sounded not only impossible but also grueling and certainly I didn’t have the time for it. What I discovered, though, is that mindfulness can be done anywhere, in your car, on the bus, on your daily run or walk, even while eating or talking with a friend. And, it can look however you want it to look, eyes open or closed, standing, moving, or sitting in lotus position cross-legged on a mat . . . your choice. The idea is to begin in a way that is comfortable for you, just not so comfortable that you fall asleep!  

While the formal practice of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation with eyes closed in lotus position, is considered the optimal posture it can be excruciating and intolerable for some, so much so that one might quit before ever really starting. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — it’s about being where you are and knowing it.” So why not set yourself up for success and do what works for you by starting right where you are.  It does take practice and time but let’s look at that a little more closely.  You might just find that it’s worth your time.

So, what’s the big deal? Why practice mindfulness, you may ask? You may resist, like I did. But here’s the bottom line - it’s a paradox - taking time to be mindful can actually free up time. Absurd, right? How can adding something to your already overscheduled day create that illusive thing we all yearn for, more time?  It makes sense, though, when you consider what neuroscience tells us about mindfulness and the brain. What studies show is that mindfulness literally rewires the brain. And, it rewires it in a way that improves focus, memory, clarity of thinking, and the ability to manage emotions. It has the capacity to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. Even more compelling is that findings show mindfulness can enhance happiness and overall well-being, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

So, imagine just for a moment how much time you might free up if you were less stressed, anxious, and/or engulfed by the blues.  Imagine, too, how your use of time might look were you focused and better able to regulate the ups and downs of life. Study after study shows that the health benefits gained from mindfulness abound. Perhaps more time, not to mention quality time, is yet another reward?

Curious to know more? Check out these videos. Be ‘mindful’ of the fact that there really is no one definition or one way to cultivate mindfulness.  See what resonates with you in this very moment!

The powerful secret of your breath -- Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD

Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain's Default Mode with Meditation

Meditation 101: A Beginner's Guide Animation

Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

Andy Puddicombe, All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

For practical steps check out Mayo Clinic’s guide to simple meditation here.

 

TeenTip: The List

Photo by  Amy Treasure  on  Unsplash

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Oh, coping skills. The two words that you hear over and over again from your therapist, your teacher, your mom and dad, social media, self-help books… You get told to make lists of things to do when you get unhelpful urges, make a list of things to do when you feel angry, when you feel sad. If you are like me, these lists quickly get discarded or put in the bottom of your nightstand drawer, as another list of things that DON’T WORK.

Why?

Why do we have such difficulty finding coping skills that actually work for really intense urges or behaviors? My theory (and it’s a working one, only, I’m open to suggestions!) is that when we feel really sad, or mad, or feel like using an unhelpful behavior, our nervous system is on high alert. Meaning, we go “off-line” and super-quick. We get into our deep down protective states, and the only thing we can do is run, or hide, or cry, or yell, or use the behavior. That’s the fight or flight or freeze instinct that you might have heard about, and it happens when our nervous systems get overloaded by a trigger. That overload happens and the list of coping skills gets thrown out, because who has time to take a bubble bath, or play with putty when you just want to scream or punch a wall?

Your therapist is hoping to guide you to use a coping skill so as to help you get you back “on-line.” The goal with the skill is to help you gain 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute- that gain may help get your brain back into a space where you can make a more helpful decision.

The trick is that the coping skill has to match the intensity of the urge, or the intensity of the feeling.

The best coping skills are ones that involve a mix of intensities, that can flood your nervous system, but in a more positive/helpful way. Here’s my running list:

  • listen to any music that feels right, VERY LOUD and in your ears with headphones if possible (I love Eminem/the National/Brandi Carlile/Kesha for nervous system off-line moments)
  • go outside and run hard to the end of the block (with your parents permission if possible)
  • draw 10 flowers on your body. Draw 10 more.
  • take a warm shower (sometimes heat can be too much for your nervous system, so try warm at first)
  • lay under a tree and take 10 deep breaths
  • quickly look at pictures of the ocean, of trees, of mountains
  • watch a funny tv show. Wait 30 minutes before you take any action (tell yourself you have the option of doing the action, just wait 30 minutes at the end of the show and check back in with yourself). I like Parks and Rec, The Office and Seinfeld for this.
  • write in your journal (a tried and true method for many clients, this just seems to work for so many people!)
  • text a friend before you take action, and tell them that you want them to tell you it’s going to be ok
  • tell your parents you need help and a hug. Have them hug you hard. Let them stay with you.

There is freedom in knowing you have a choice. You have a choice of whether to act on unhelpful behaviors or not.

You have a choice of whether to use coping skills or not. You can try them a little bit, or a lot. Even trying them one time (even if the next time, you decide not to try it) is a success. You have to take small steps to get started in this life.

xo~Jules   

 

ParentTip: Flipping Your Lid!

Most parents are all too familiar with the phrase “flipping your lid”... you know the feeling; that blood boiling, steam-coming-out-of-your-ears sensation right before you completely lose your cool.  But guess what? You’re not alone! We all experience this, and believe it or not, the concept is rooted in interpersonal neurobiology. Today’s video gives you a quick explanation (that you can also share with your kids, yay!) on what’s actually happening in the brain right before you ‘flip your lid.’

Many people experience times in their lives when they feel overwhelmed and need clarity. Our mission is to provide the highest quality psychological care by honoring the integrity of individuals and families who seek our services. We strive to communicate understanding, instill hope and provide direction for change and wellness.

Self-Regulation

We are adding a new Middle School group in our Northwest location on the specific topic of self-regulation and emotional coping skills. Self-regulation has an important impact on so much of life - academics, peer relationships and overall well-being. When you have good self control and the ability to tolerate and cope with a variety of situations, you have a greater chance of success later in life. Early childhood self-regulation starts with the ability to inhibit one's self and delay gratification. Of course, this also continues all the way into adolescence and adult life.

Ever heard of the marshmallow experiment? This experiment was conducted in the late 60s and early 70s by Walter Mischel. In follow up studies, it produced correlations that indicated those children who were able to delay gratification and not eat the marshmallow immediately were later described by their parents to be more competent. Here's a modern-day version of the experiment.

Much of the distress of adolescence comes from a lack of self-control and difficulty with self-regulation. Emotions can feel intense and difficult to manage because the executive functioning part of the brain is underdeveloped. ParentMap shares an informative write-up about self-control/self-regulation and what you can do as a parent to help your tween/teen. Of course, parents can work and work on this with their children and still find days that things don't seem to "click." Try not to get discouraged, as this is all developmentally appropriate. One idea is to provide an alternative learning environment for your child to work on these skills with peers. If this seems like a good idea for your teen, contact us to find out more information about our new Middle School therapy group!

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