justin

Bring BRAVING to Your Relationships

One of the biggest struggles in navigating through relationships is building and sustaining trust.  Being able to fully trust another person involves vulnerability and accountability – two components that can elicit feelings of fear and dread in even the strongest of people.  I was recently re-introduced to one of Brené Brown’s concepts called BRAVING and responded to it as if it were the first time that I’d been exposed to her teachings. I recognized that I had feelings of fear, disappointment, regret, and anxiety in hearing this concept again.  Not that these feelings were rooted in concern that I had done anything wrong or that anyone else had done me wrong, rather I allowed myself to hear her reinforce the importance of trust within a relationship. I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to allow myself to wear the ‘victim hat’ and focus on how someone else has broken my trust.  If I haven’t clearly established my ‘BRAVING’ components though, how can I hold anyone else accountable for theirs? The answer is that I can’t; I can only hold myself accountable for something that I didn’t take the time to establish at the beginning of the relationship, and take steps to embrace BRAVING in the present.

Brené breaks down BRAVING as such:

BBoundaries - establishing clear boundaries for yourself and for your relationship.  Are your limits respected within the relationship? Are you respecting the other person’s limits?

RReliability - is the other person there for you you when they said they would be?  Are you there for others when you said you would be?

AAccountability - are others accountable for their mistakes and misgivings?  Do you hold yourself accountable for yours?

VVault - are others able to hold things that you’ve shared with them in complete confidence?  Are you able to do the same?

IIntegrity - do the actions of others match their words?  What about for yourself?

NNon-Judgement - is there an air of compassion and non-judgment when engaging with others?  Are you able to listen to others without quickly jumping to judgement?

GGenerosity - does the other person assume the best about your words, actions, and feelings? Are you able to do the same for the other person?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above, grab a hold of that person tightly and don’t let that relationship go!!  All joking aside, if you genuinely can answer yes to all of those components, the trust between you and the other person is steadfast.  If, though, like most of us, you struggled in saying yes or found yourself confidently saying no, there is a path forward and this is where the work begins. As with any human connection, there is always hope for change. The first step in creating any sort of change is in identifying the problem, so congratulations! You’re halfway there!

Re-read through the BRAVING components (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgement, and Generosity) and parse out the pieces that don’t feel strong.  Ask yourself what may be going on that’s causing some shakiness for you.  Are there ‘yucky’ things from the past that are coming up within your current relationship or is the ‘yuck’ being born out of the relationship itself?  Stop and ask yourself - “what is it that I need?” Your answer will be the doorway into your repair.

Pause, Breathe, Be

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In this fast-paced world, with all the expectations, deadlines, and responsibilities, how can we possibly find a spare second to stop and take a breath?  Between cramming for mid-terms, preparing our taxes for that dreaded date of April 15th, and making sure that all of our daily duties are complete - it can be rough trying to actually thrive, rather than merely survive.  How many of our daily interactions are missed because we become so focused on our to-do lists and “what if’s”? Ask yourself, when was the last time that you actually stopped to notice that little gecko scurrying across the sidewalk or that peach tree flowering it’s first bloom of the season?  I know someone out there is thinking, “give me 10 more hours in my day, then I could potentially think about paying attention to those little things.” In reality, though, would those 10 extra hours really give you the time to take in these things, or would you just find other tasks, worries, and duties to fill you time with?

Believe me, I get it!  Life is demanding and there are always things that need to get done – but at what sacrifice?  We run and run and run, hoping that all of our hard work pays off in the end yet we continue to struggle in even seeing a glimpse of that so-called “pay off.”  In turn, we develop resentment – resentment against ourselves, others, our jobs, our pets, our kids, our bills, and anything else that we can point a finger to.  All the while, we’re allowing ourselves to fall deeper and deeper into our own pit of yuck. I don’t know about you, but this is definitely a cycle that I don’t enjoy.

Even though we can’t always change our responsibilities or tasks, we can certainly alter they way in which we respond to them.  One question that I’ve found to be helpful is, “will the world stop spinning if I don’t get this done right now?” Unless the task at hand is cutting the wire on the nuclear explosive device, the answer is usually no.  There is always time for us to stop and take a breath. Breathe, re-center, and refocus our energies onto the here and now. Those 10 seconds could mean the difference between a good decision and a bad one, a healthy response and a malicious one, or a smile and a frown.    

Allowing yourself to pull away from the ‘yuck’ of yesterday and the angst of tomorrow will afford you the opportunity to see and experience that which is right in front of you.  Challenge yourself to stop and breathe; take in the beauty that is surrounding you right here and right now. In not taking advantage of the present, the gifts that are right in front of us will soon become the disappointment of yesterday.  Just breathe...


It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

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Life can be hard, stressful, painful, and just downright unfair sometimes.  We all have so many pressures and expectations placed upon us as well as our own hopes and desires to be happy.  As we’ve all experienced, our day to day routines don’t always end in happiness and sometimes we just hurt.  Somehow, though, we’ve learned that we can’t show these signs of sadness and pain for fear of being seen as weak or dramatic.  So we add to our armor and spruce up our mask – getting our battle shields ready to protect us from further hurt while continuing to bury down our ‘yuck’ feelings. Why? Well because this is what we’ve learned, and this is what has been taught to us. I’d like to tell you all a different story and one that you may think odd coming from a therapist - sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.

Why do we work so darn hard to make sure that no one else knows that we’re hurting? What is it that we’re so afraid of? Vulnerability – the one magical word that can strike fear into the strongest of people.  When we take down our veil, we open our hearts to potential disapproval, dismissal, and invalidation. For some, it only takes one experience of this for them to tell themselves that vulnerability is unsafe and therefore, guards must always be up to protect them from the pain and ‘yuck.’  Others learn from society – men who show emotion are weak and women who cry are hysterical (not the funny kind). So the shields go up and the masks become fixed to our faces. We brace ourselves for the day and begin our inner monologue: “no one’s going to see how I’m feeling today so I’m safe.”  All the while, our hidden feelings and emotions pile up inside, eating away at our happiness and sense of self-appreciation. The days become weeks which turn into months which turn into years, all the while we sing the same song to ourselves - “Put On a Happy Face.” Of course the gray skies are gonna clear up, but they don’t stay clear forever.  

Boy that’s a downer, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, my purpose in writing this isn’t to put you all in a funk and pour salt into your wounds. I’m trying to highlight something that we all do and the cycle that we all get ourselves into. We wake up, start our day, put on our mask, and hope that nothing bad happens. When that something bad does happen we either react to it or we bury it down deep, adding it to the already immense pile of ‘yuck.’ Rarely, though, do we allow ourselves to embrace those icky feelings and authentically share with others that we’re not okay. What would it be like for you if you were to share those feelings and tell someone, “hey, that really hurt my feelings”? Pretty terrifying, huh? Do you think that this might change your cycle? Perhaps that one act of vulnerability could decrease the amount of armor that you put on and release some of that ‘yuck’ that is stored up inside.

Maybe sharing your feelings with others seems too scary right now.  I can appreciate that. What would it be like if you shared your feelings with someone who is less scary? What about that person that stares back at you in the bathroom mirror? I’ve written in previous blogs about my love of journaling. Now when I talk about writing in a journal, I’m not referring to that fluffy pink journal with the gold lock in which we write about our latest crush or the hottest song that’s on the radio. I’m talking about an outlet in which you write down whatever is on your mind – your innermost thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sources of anxiety/depression. This is a place where you can ‘dump your yuck’.  A place to get those feelings down on the page and remove them from your body.

One of the beautiful things about therapy is that we have an opportunity to ‘dump’ all of this hard stuff in the therapy office so that we can feel lighter and release the heaviness of our yuck. Journaling provides the same opportunity. Although a journal isn’t able to provide verbal feedback or validation of your feelings, it is able to capture the weight of your thoughts and trap them within the pages of your journal. This type of journaling isn’t meant to serve as a historical record in which you go back after a few months and re-read what you’ve written to reminisce about the memories captured. It’s a place to release the heaviness in your head and your heart. Once inside, the thoughts, feelings, and experiences are to be closed in and barricaded by the covers of the journal. It’s not necessary to go back and re-read previous passages, because you might run the risk of re-injecting this yuck into your head and heart. Write and close the book.

We all experience those heavy and painful emotions, and we all know what it’s like to be weighed down by the ‘yuck.’ By embracing those feelings for what they truly are, we take the first step in lightening their heavy load. Acknowledging and accepting the ‘yuck’ doesn’t make us weak. Much to the contrary, it’s empowering and tremendously strong to speak of and/or write about that heaviness. Removing our masks, barriers, and armor allows us to truly hear ourselves say, “sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.”

When Therapists Stumble - Finding the Opportunity in Disconnection

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How many of us have been in the middle of a session with a client when, all of the sudden, the air in the room changes and we realize that things have taken an unexpected turn? Perhaps we’ve tried to guide the conversation in a direction that the client did not want to go or maybe that uncomfortable counter-transference has crept into the room. Our palms are sweaty, the blood is rushing to our faces, and we can feel our voice start to shake a bit. Regardless of what prompted it, the reality is that a rift occurred within the therapeutic relationship, and now you’re feeling the ‘yuck’. What do we do when this inevitable phenomenon happens?

Whew, just in writing that I can feel my anxiety increasing as I don’t know that there are many things more uncomfortable that can occur during a session; I’m confident, though, that I’m not the only therapist that has experienced this. For me, it’s helpful to ground myself first and foremost – I grab my little fidget spinner, take a quick look out the window, or do a few strokes on my beard to get myself back into the room. The first few times that I experienced this, I would immediately think that I had done or said something that caused the flow of the conversation to change. Perhaps I did; maybe I did push things in the wrong direction or it’s possible that I had verbally or non-verbally responded to the client’s last statement that was perceived as invalidating. I’ve learned, though, that making the situation about me plays in opposition to the point of each and every session. Therapy sessions are not about me, they’re about the client and the relationship that forms between myself and the client. Part of my job as a clinician is to model healthy relationships and healthy communication. With this in mind, the rift that occurred didn’t involve just me; it involved the both of us.

Now comes the hard part – bringing this ‘yuck’ out into the open. Of course, every situation is different so, naturally, every response will be different. Regardless of this context of the situation, I always try to remain authentic and honest. I may say something along the lines of, “well that flopped”, “something shifted; did you notice that too?”, “I think I need a minute to get my thoughts together”, or “I think we’re both having some feelings about this right now, would it be okay if we talk about that?” If I had done something that caused the rift, I’ll own it, and if the shift occurred on the client’s side, I’ll provide them with an opportunity to talk about it. I’ve learned that there is no rule book for navigating through these situations. Experience seems to be the only thing that fosters more comfort in sitting with the uncomfortable. I can’t help but think back to my grad school days and hear my first field instructor saying, “We’ve got to find comfort in sitting with the discomfort.”

If any of you have been following my previous blogs, you’ve likely picked up on the fact that authentic and genuine communication is one of my core values and key pillars in therapy. In bringing this ‘rift’ out into the open and providing a safe space to discuss this relational break, I try to model effective communication to the client. Not only is it helpful for the two of us to find a resolve to the situation, my hope is that the client will be able to utilize and take that experience outside of my office walls and apply it to personal relationships. There’s also tremendous value in utilizing the uncomfortable situation in a positive manner for the both of us. The modeling of conflict resolution is tremendously important for a client: by demonstrating my ability to appropriately and effectively talk through the ‘yuck,’ I am able to teach my client healthy ways of resolving relational rifts.

Breakdowns within relationships are a normal and expected thing to happen; therapeutic relationships are not immune to this. We, as therapists, have the ability and obligation to use these uncomfortable experiences as teachable moments. Moments to show our clients that we care enough about them that we will hold their discomfort while we talk through and resolve the uncomfortable, yet expected, ‘yuck.’

 

How To Let Go of Your Own Stuff and Parent Your LGBTQ+ Kid With Unconditional Love

The emotional support and unconditional acceptance from the caregiver/parent of a youth is imperative in promoting a positive and successful life for the youth. Each and every one of us have navigated through our own identity formation stage in life. Through this stage, we recognized and eventually embraced all of the pieces of ourselves that create our own identity. For some, that period included the construct of heterosexuality and for others that stage included: homosexuality, bisexuality, sexual fluidity, or any other construct that is not within the parameters and confines of heterosexuality. Our gender identification also occurs during this period. Whether it be the two binary gender concepts of male and female or gender concepts that fall outside of the binary constructs such as: non-binary, gender fluid, agender, or transgender. Regardless, though, of what is learned and embraced, each and every one of us were provided with an opportunity to learn and appreciate who we are as individuals. Kiddos need that same opportunity as well as the unconditional love and support from their parents/caregivers.

I could sure get academic and rattle off the various studies that have been conducted to assess the emotional well-being of youth who consistently received that support from parents compared to youth who did not receive that love and support, but I’d rather talk to you as a person and not a research study. Yes, each study identifies grave disparities between the two groups and the well-being of those where the love and support was withheld resulted in poor mental health, school performance, struggles in maintaining healthy relationships, and substance use issues. More important, though, individuals who don’t receive that unconditional love and support from their parents are often left floundering and feeling abandoned by their foundation – their parents &/or caregivers.

Within my practice, I often hear parents say, “I just want to love my kid but now that they’ve told me (I’m gay, I’m non-binary, I’m transgender, etc.) I feel like I just don’t know how to show him that I love him anymore.” I’ll often respond with a question of how the parent showed love to her child prior to the ‘announcement’ and how is it that the love of yesterday can’t be displayed today? What often is discovered is that the parent &/or caregiver has gotten caught up in her own struggles with the youth’s identity which has caused a rift in the relationship between parent and child. Through positive support, education, and processing, parents are able to work through their own biases and return to a place where their love is no longer hindered by their fears.

Parents – love your kiddos. Whether they’re 2, 15, or 46 years old, they need to know that you love and support them. When you see your child struggling, talk to them. Don’t talk down to them, just talk to them. Educate yourself, reach out to someone to talk to, join a parent support group, or set up an appointment to meet with a therapist. Do something so that you are best equipped to be that core source of support and love for your child. Don’t allow your biases or struggles become your child’s torment. Rather, relish in the thought that your child loves and trusts you enough to show you his true and authentic self for it is within this authenticity that genuine love thrives.

As many of you know, working with LBGTQIA++ youth is a passion of mine. Once the holiday’s pass and things begin to calm down a bit, I will finally be starting up a processing/support group for high school-aged individuals who identify as LGBTQIA++. I’ve attached our groups flyer with additional information. Contact us by clicking the button below to start the enrollment process!

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ProTip: Being a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field

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My February 2018 blog, “Should I Work with a Male Therapist?”, seemed to spawn a lot of conversation and provoke a great deal of interest from other therapists. The biggest question that I’ve been asked is - “How do you do it... How do you convince parents/females/other therapists that it is beneficial to work with a male therapist?” I could sure reach back to my grad school days and fill this blog with stats, quotes, and empirical evidence outlining the benefits of working with a male therapist, but I’ll save you all the doldrums of reading a research paper. Today, I’m just going to be me and share my story and experience as a male therapist working in a female-dominated field.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the concept of convincing others to work with you.  As therapists, we all ‘sell ourselves’ to a certain extent regardless of the age/identified gender/or presenting problem. How do I do this? Well, plain and simple, I remain myself – not someone that I think the client/parent wants to see, but just me.  I meet clients where they are and model authenticity and honesty. After all, isn’t this one of the core tenets of what we’re supporting our clients to do? Rather than trying to convince clients of working with me, I assist them in recognizing the potential benefits of working with a male therapist. In remaining objective with the client &/or parent, I’m able to remove my blinders and biases so to genuinely hear any possible concerns or trepidation. I’ve found that I’m able to have genuine and rich conversations surrounding the individual’s/parent’s initial thoughts on working with a guy. I refrain from attempting to convince of anything, rather I present the facts as well as my professional experiences and successes as a male therapist.

Much of my work with clients, regardless of their ages, focuses on authenticity – letting your real and true-self shine through.  I embrace this same mentality for myself. I’m just me and I’ve come to embrace that my authentic-self is my best-self. This is the individual that I bring into each and every session and I like to believe that it is through this display of authenticity that I’m able to connect with all individuals regardless of age or gender identity.  As therapists, we all navigate through our journey in becoming licensed professionals by launching into our own world of self-reflection. With this, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy looking back at my own reflection and learning to appreciate and love the person that was staring back at me. Sure, the journey wasn’t always glamorous and I had some pretty significant “yuck” that I had to work through on my own, but I made it through.  This, I believe above all else, is what has made me the professional that I am today and who individuals trust to support them as they work through their own life struggles.

Now, let’s get to the million-dollar question “how do you convince others that it’s okay to work with a male therapist?”  Before I launch into that, let’s take a step back and look at our own beliefs and biases. What are your own thoughts/beliefs in working with or referring a client to a male therapist?  Do your beliefs change at all depending on the identified gender of the client? How about the age of the client? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, there’s some internal belief exploration to do.  Yes, I possessed my own thoughts and biases regarding male therapists and internalized my own anxieties in working with adult and adolescent female identifying clients. The identification of these anxieties was paramount for me in finding success as a male therapist.  I began asking myself questions: “What is it about working with a 13-year old girl that provokes stress for me when I’m at complete ease in working with a 13-year old boy? Why am I feeling trepidation when speaking to a parent of a high school daughter but feel utter confidence in speaking about their son?”  I could dedicate an entire post just to these emotional disconnects, but for the sake of today’s post, I want to draw back to the concept of authenticity. As long as I’m remaining true to my authentic-self, my support and compassion does not waiver depending upon the identified gender or age of the individual that is sitting on my couch.

As I highlighted in my initial post, there are numerous benefits in working with a male therapist.  Here are a few of the take-aways from that post – male therapists can:

  • provide individuals with a safe man to speak with

  • model healthy boundaries and dynamics with a guy

  • display that males do have the capacity and ability to appropriately and effectively show emotion express feelings

  • dispel concepts of hegemonic/toxic masculinity

This all begins, though, with the therapist’s self-reflection and self-awareness.  Just as I’ve come to embrace my authenticity, I encourage each of you to embrace yours.  We ask our clients to bring their true-selves into each session therefore it’s only expected that we bring ours.

Today’s post is focused on my experience as a male therapist and how I’ve navigated through any hurdles or potential obstacles that I’ve encountered.  Branching out to a broader level, I’ve also had to be mindful of the systems surrounding me and how these structures impact my success. I’ve purposefully left this area out of today’s blog as I feel that it warrants its own post so be on the look out for a future edition of this topic and my adventures.  The new year just may bring about some new trainings/workshops/webinars on Succeeding as a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field.

LoveTip: The Relationship Tango

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

No matter how you look at them, relationships can be tough.  Bringing two or more people together into an emotional dance can cause confusion, insecurity, and feelings of instability.  It is within these feelings of "yuck" that resentment can set in and defenses begin to build.


The million-dollar question that I'm often asked is, "should I really stay in this relationship?"  As easy as it may be to give a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, the solution is rarely that cut and dried.  At the risk of sounding too therapist-like, I'll state that the answer is not always as important as the journey to find that answer.  This is your chance to start looking within and exploring what's working well and what's not working so well.

Check out my latest blog post and read more about turning that disjointed square dance back into a graceful tango.

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: Containing Your “Yuck”

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Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

We’ve all heard the phrase, “sometimes you need to experience the bad in order to appreciate the good."  However, that doesn’t mean we need to carry around this negativity with us every day. Wouldn’t it be nice to put these bad feelings and unsettling experiences aside so that we’re not weighed down by their presence? Believe it or not, we're able to create our own containment devices to hold these feelings; a place where we can store away these negative experiences into our own container for safe keeping, until we’re ready to effectively deal with them. Let’s go on a little journey together.

Sit back and think for a moment, what would your container look like? Is it an old, antique treasure chest with strong leather straps holding down the lid? Perhaps it’s a sleek steel trunk with bright silver hinges and a state-of-the-art security system that holds in your worries and fears. Maybe it’s a simple wooden box with rusty clasps and chipped teal paint. Whatever it may look like, just picture your container and imagine how it feels, the weight of the lid, and the sound that it makes as that lid closes. Do you have that picture in your mind?

Now think about all of those troubles, fears, concerns, and worries that you carry around with you each and every day. Feel the weight that those issues place on your shoulders and the negative feelings that these memories elicit. Envision all of your problems morphing together into a ball that fits neatly into the palm of your hand. Can you see this ball? How does it feel? Is it pulsating with color and light? Does it radiate heat or is it ice-cold? Take note of how you’re feeling – your heart rate, your breathing, your sense of anxiety. I’ll assume that you’re feeling a bit amped up at this point. Let’s release those negative feelings.

Bring back that picture of your container into your mind. Grasp the lid and open it up. Visualize yourself placing that blob of negative feelings into the container and, with a hand on each side of the lid, see yourself closing it and listen for that latch to click shut. Say to yourself, “My worries, fears, concerns, and stressors are safe in this box. I’m not burying them away, I’m simply putting them away for now in a safe place. When I’m ready, I can pull one out to deal with and release. For now, though, my "yuck" is locked away and off of my shoulders.” Take notice of your feelings and your body. Has that sense of anxiety and intensity diminished? Is there a sense of relief knowing that you’re no longer obligated to lug around those negative feelings and experiences any longer? Congratulations. You’ve just freed yourself of these heavy burdens and have given yourself permission to put your “yuck” feelings up on the shelf until you’re ready to effectively process through them.

When we experience negative feelings, our mind instinctively tries to protect us. Rather than repress these feelings by attempting to bury them down deep with the hopes of never seeing them again, place those unresolved emotions into your container. Slide that container under your bed or up in your closet knowing that they’re safe and that you’re able to access them when you’re ready. Also relish in the fact that these bad feelings are no longer weighing you down. You’re no longer carrying them around with you, as they’ve now found a new home – safe and secure in your own container.

LifeTip: Is It Time to Hit the Panic Button?

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Sometimes we feel like we’re about to burst. Between the pressures of work, home, school, friends, significant other, and bills, we can sometimes feel like we just can’t take it anymore. Then we get hit with an unexpected passing of a loved one, coming down with the flu, or finding out that our dog has chewed up our favorite pair of shoes. Soon we find ourselves reaching for that panic button, because we know the top is about to blow off this pressure cooker.

For those of you who have followed my blogs, you’re probably expecting me to say “take a minute and just breathe” right about now. Yes, breathing is of course essential, but when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of a full-blown melt down, we need a little more than some deep breathing exercises. We need to release that pressure valve and release it fast.

Let’s get a little nerdy and talk about what’s happening in the brain when we find ourselves in these panicked moments. When we’re calm, cool, and collected, we’re living in the “front room” of our brain; we’re able to think and act logically and make rational decisions. The more our anxiety and frustration increases, the further back in the house we go, until we land in the “back room” of our brain where we can only employ our fight, flight, freeze, or appease reactions. When we get locked into this back room, it’s almost impossible for us to think clearly, make rational decisions, and respond logically. I bring this up because the time to decide what to do when we’re in panic-mode is not when we’re locked in that back room. Rather, we need to develop our game plan when we’re calmly relaxing in our front room.

So what are you going to do? What's brought you back to center in the past? What’s helped you to walk away from that panic button? Now is the time to think through your plan. If you’ve gotten into a fight with your significant other or a friend, walk away. Remember, you’re amped up so you’re bound to say things that you don’t really mean. If you’re becoming overwhelmed with bills, set them down and go for a stroll around the block. You’re logical brain is not working well at this point; the last thing you want to do is make a mistake and end up sending two payments instead of one. You walk in the door after a long day at work and you find that Fido has destroyed your living room blinds. Let him outside to run and release some energy, then go shut yourself in your bathroom and get lost in YouTube-land; don’t take your frustrations out on Fido.  

While you’re doing your action planning, take the time to look up different de-stressing techniques. Deep breathing, grounding, yoga, and meditation are all activities that you can do by yourself. If those don’t resonate with you, think about who you’re going to reach out to in those times of stress. Who can you call and talk to when you’re feeling like your head is about to burst? Regardless of your identified action plan, do something that feels right and will work for you.

Stress and anxiety, as awful as they feel, don’t need to hold us captive. We are all capable of casting these feelings aside and deflating their power. Although, we must plan ahead and develop these strategies when we’re in a good head space. Ever hear the phrase, “the best defense is a strong offense”? Well, here is a good way to put that phrase into action. The more you plan, practice, and implement your de-stressing strategies, the less often you’ll find yourself looking for that panic button.