yuck

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

Photo by  Aliyah Jamous  on  Unsplash

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.”

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”

Photo by  MILKOVÍ  on  Unsplash

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: Where Is My Happiness?

Photo by  Evan Kirby  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Isn’t the ultimate goal for us to be happy?  It’s something that each and every one of us truly wants but we can easily get caught out in the weeds during our search for it.  Whether we’ve fallen off the path or in a new search of it, happiness is something that each of us deserves to experience. So why is this so hard for some of us to find when we all want it so badly?  Perhaps a good place to start would be in taking a look at what happiness really is.

Many clinically-based definitions focus on the consistent state of experiencing positive emotions along with the strong ability to mitigate the damaging effects of negative emotions.  What?? For the rest of us, I like to think of happiness as that emotion that brings about feelings of: pride, excitement, enjoyment, “warm fuzzies”, contentment, and joy. As that first definition suggests, being happy doesn’t mean that you’re immune to sadness, disappointment, frustration, or the “blahs”.  Contrary to popular belief or desire, it’s okay for different emotions to cohabitate (remember the ending of “Inside Out” when the memory balls were multicolored?). An authentically happy person is able to consistently experience that true joy and zest for life and, in turn, successfully work through those “yucky” times with greater ease than unhappy people.

I can almost hear some of you saying, “yea, but what is it?  What will make me happy?” Not that I necessarily want to play that ‘counselor card’, but you already have that answer inside of you.  No one can tell you what makes you happy; only you can identify things that make you happy. So, think on it for a minute. What things truly light up that fire inside of you and leave you feeling like you’re wrapped in a soft, cozy blanket?  For some, happiness is just that – wrapped up tightly in a fleece blanket, snuggled up on the couch watching a movie. For others, it’s out hiking in the greenbelt on a warm sunny day. Others experience happiness in being surrounded by close friends or family members.  The point is, happiness looks different for each and every one of us and it’s our job to figure out what those things are that bring us happiness; we can’t rely on someone else to do that for us.

Still having a hard time pinning down things that make you happy?  Here are a few things that you can do to help:

Practice gratitude:  be thankful for the things that you have and for the people that are around you.  By counting your blessings and reframing your thoughts to ones of giving thanks, you’ll find that you experience more optimism and gratefulness throughout the day.

Cultivate relationships:  we all have an inherent need for human contact and it’s through this contact, that we’re able to create a foundation of security and peace.  Whether it be an intimate relationship or a social relationship, it’s important that we all have a network of people that we can share our happiness with and who can support us when the happiness fades a bit.

Get off your rear:  stop creating a permanent divot in your couch and get out and enjoy the outdoors.  Many studies have shown that sunlight and nature have a tremendous benefit on our mental health and our happiness.  Go explore a new biking trail, join a Meet-Up group, take in some live music, or enjoy a nice café latte at your favorite coffee house.  Regardless of what you chose, get up and do it!

Be kind:  doing nice things for others makes us feel good about ourselves.  More importantly though, being kind to yourself. Treat yourself with the same amount of love, appreciation, and forgiveness that you want others to give you.  To me, loving yourself is the key to true happiness.

This list could go on and on for happiness is found through a multitude of ways.  The bottom line, though, is that you need to take action and hunt down your own happiness.  You will soon find that your true happiness is often right in front of you. Pick it up and embrace it!  Every single one of us deserves to feel that highly sought after joy, excitement, and peace.

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.