3 Steps for Self Care during COVID-19 Isolation

We have at least 1 more month with continued social distancing, possibly even longer. Today’s article addressing 3 simple things we can do to take care of ourselves during this time.

But before I do that I’d like to mention that I have heard from more than 1 introvert that they are really enjoying this time of contraction, this time of turning inward. However, the extroverts are crawling out of their skin and trying to find ways to engage with others in new and interesting ways.

It would seem our personalities or natural inclinations for interacting with the world and others influence how social distancing impacts us.

On to 3 simple (not always easy) steps you can implement…

  • Stay Connected

Technology does make it easier than ever to continue to talk with loved one and friends.  It isn’t exactly the same and it isn’t a perfect solution but it is the best temporary solution we have available to us right now.  Imagine going through a pandemic in the  1990s?

On a grim note, suicide rates are increasing as isolation and other stressors such as unemployment and subsequent financial strain is a big predictor of suicide. Check out this link to read more.

As I mentioned above, it is very easy for natural introverts to go inward during this time.  Someone experiencing depression must be aware of how social distancing impacts their tendency to withdraw.  If you know someone who is vulnerable to suicide read this.

  • Self-Care-

No one is immune to the effects of living through a worldwide pandemic; not Mental Health Counselors or HealthCare providers.  It impacts us all. Engaging in daily self- care routines   help us all to cope with the unique stress that we are all experiencing.  Some people have been thrown into crisis-schooling while transitioning to working from home, some have lost their job and source of income completely.  We all have been cut off from our routines of gym classes, Starbucks runs, and gatherings with family.

We have all had to adjust to a new normal.  And while we may be enjoying a slower pace and not having to run our kids to dance classes or sports we need to replace what use to fill our proverbial bucket with other practices.

Creating a daily schedule to keep oneself accountable is crucial, otherwise the days tend to blur into each other.  Which days are you going to exercise, meditate, meal plan, have a group chat, clean, engage in a hobby?  It doesn’t have to be rigid or set in stone but having an idea of what you will do each day contributes to a sense of purpose.

  • Nature

Getting outside on most days, if not every day, and connecting with nature and breathing fresh air also feeds our soul.  It clears our head, it helps us to be grateful, it soothes our senses. When we are outside everything looks the same and familiar in a world that has changed so much.

The virus has taken so much from us that we can feel empowered to claim what is ours in nature. The trees, and flowers, and little critters all have no idea how the world has changed around them. Seeing nature unchanged brings a little piece of normalcy in our lives.

 

“Just being surrounded by bountiful nature, rejuvenates and inspires us.” E.O. Wilson.

 

Anxious thoughts about Coronavirus?

When someone already struggles with anxiety, a worldwide viral outbreak tends to amp anxiety up into high gear. Whether you are fretting over the Coronavirus or think society is overreacting, the reality is that we may very well be subject to local and national government restrictions in order to prevent the disease from spreading, especially to our most vulnerable populations.

Life is already changing. Schools are switching to online platforms and large crowd gatherings have been prohibited. We have been asked to socially distance ourselves. Grocery stores are contending with empty shelves and worried shoppers trying to provide for their families for at least 2 weeks. Who knows what will happen next week?

Who knows? What if? That’s the birth of anxiety.

For those suffering from specific phobias (germs or crowds) or OCD with its well-known germ obsessions and hand washing compulsions, a new virus intensifies a pre-existing anxiety.

Anxiety’s biggest purpose is to protect us. That is not always bad thing. It can motivate us into action. If we are anxious about losing a relationship, it might motivate us to make some type of change in order to preserve it.

Our minds our constantly scanning for danger to keep us safe. Sometimes it sends us alert signals even in the absence of a threat (as in an example of panic attacks). Communities are naturally and rightfully concerned about the spread of the Coronavirus. That concern propels us to be vigilant about hand washing and social distancing.

I was working with an anxious client who asked, “How do I know if I’m clean enough?” As we examined the question we determined that perhaps a more effective question to answer that worry is, “Have I done all I can to take protective measures today?”

Quite frankly, can we ever be clean enough? No. It is more of a fear based question. Whereas the later question puts us in a more objective viewpoint. It makes us run through a mental checklist. Then we can be at peace that we have done all that is within our power.

A useful technique from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is called reframing, which is basically challenging a negative belief or thought or worry by asking a series of questions. One of the most important questions is:

Is it really true?

An example of a catastrophic thought might be, “If we go into quarantine our entire infrastructure will collapse!” Is that really true? How do I know that it is true?

A reframe of that worry could be, “While it’s true that I don’t know all the specifics of how a quarantine will be implemented, many cities throughout the world have gone through this before and my community is preparing to face a challenge like this.”

Doesn’t that shift the energy away from anxiety and more toward reality? It is much more empowering. And feeling empowered in a situation where we have little control can be just what we need.

Be aware, Be alert, but don’t be alarmed!

A More Meaningful Gratitude Journal

I’m sure you have heard of the benefits of keeping a daily gratitude journal. But just in case you are unfamiliar with this practice here are some benefits:

  • Keeps our focus on the good that already surrounds us.
  • Naturally decreases complaining and grumbling.
  • Turns our seeming lack into abundance.
  • Increases positivity that infuses everyday life.
  • Improves sleep

Let me illustrate an example of how this infiltrates into everyday life. When I see that the dishwasher is full of clean dishes to unload or there is laundry to fold, I sometimes notice a grumbling sigh inside of me.  But because of my practice of gratitude I am quickly able to turn my grumbling into gratefulness. Grateful that I have a machine to clean my dishes and clothes for me! I think about women generations ago who scrubbed their clothes against the rocks in the river.  How grateful they would have been for these machines and here I am put out over the five minutes it will take me to unload the dishwasher or put my laundry away.

Sometimes writing in a journal can become stale if you repeat the same vague platitudes. “I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful I have a house to live in. I’m grateful my children are healthy.”  Of course there are many people who would love to be able to write any of these things down in a gratitude journal. People who do struggle with health or homelessness or whose children have dire health issues. These kinds of rote entries happen when we think about our life as a whole. When we’re doing a gratitude journal, were only contemplating the day that just ended.

One technique I use to make journal writing entries more meaningful is something I call “Two easy and a hard”. By this I mean, that as you ponder over your day (not just your entire life) write down two things that are fairly easy to recall that was a blessing in your day. It can be something as big as a promotion or raise, to something more practical like getting a great parking spot in the rain, or when your child tells you that they love you out of the blue.

So what is the hard one? As you reflect upon you day, think about something difficult that happened in your day, perhaps a struggle or a conflict you experienced. Then ask yourself what was the good that came out of that experience? Did that conflict deepen your relationship with that person? That is something to be grateful for. Did losing your job open up an opportunity to start your own business, even though it’s terrifying? That is definitely journal worthy.  Did you realize that by burning the candles at both ends that you were neglecting taking care of yourself? Awareness can be very powerful. It can propel us into action if that is what is needed. Be grateful for the lesson that came from something painful or frustrating during your day.

And that’s it. Start with 3 entries per day. If you have more, fantastic. Start with 2 easy and 1 hard.  You can do it in the morning but my preference is in the evening while my day if still fresh. I always tell my kids, “If you look for the good, you will find it”

It takes just a few minutes. See what you notice within a week to a month. Happy journaling!

3 Reasons Parents are Reluctant to Treat their Child’s ADHD with Medication

Your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, now what? Maybe it confirmed what you suspected for years and you have a name for your child’s atypical behavior. As easy as it is to focus on the problems, the struggles, and the battles, you might have already realized that there are many strengths that come with ADHD.

While treatment of ADHD is a multifaceted approach, the scope of this post will focus on parental reactions to the diagnosis of ADHD and how best to move their children forward to get the help they and the entire family needs.

I’m addressing parents who have actually received a formal diagnosis from a psychologist or neurologist.  I hear parents tell me that they think their child has ADHD but have not sought out an evaluation for various reasons.  Such assumptions can unjustly label children with a neurological diagnosis where none is warranted. 

 

What exactly is ADHD?  Here is an excerpt from an article in ADDitude magazine:

“ADHD is a neurologically based disorder, resulting from the deficiency of a neurotransmitter, or a group of neurotransmitters, in specific areas of the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells by bridging the synapse (or gap) between them.2The key neurotransmitter involved is norepinephrine, along with its building blocks, dopa and dopamine. In theory, the primary medications used to treat ADHD stimulate specific cells within the brain to produce more of the deficient neurotransmitter. That’s why these medications are called stimulants.”

Unless you have been living under a rock you’re probably aware that ADHD is overdiagnosed and children are overly medicated. This is a problem in our school system and pediatrician offices. Active 8 year old boys who have trouble sitting in a classroom does not warrant an ADHD diagnosis. It is so much more than that!

Diagnosing ADHD is a lengthy comprehensive evaluation that must be completed by a psychologist or neurologist. It is not a simple internet check list.

However, with that being said, most parents who question ADHD diagnosis are usually right. These are the parents who usually do some research and see that their child’s behavior is more than just struggles with inattention and impulsivity.

The classic symptoms of ADHD, inattention and hyperactivity are at the tip of the iceberg that penetrates above the water surface. 

They’re so much more below the surface. If you’re one of these parents who have read and researched I strongly suggest you seek out a diagnosis so you know exactly what type and severity of ADHD your child is struggling with.

If your child has untreated (not necessarily unmedicated) ADHD, then I can assure you they are struggling not just in school, but in life as well. They are probably struggling with social interactions as well.

As with most mental health or neurological diagnoses, a two-prong approach is necessary: counseling and medication. Moreover, ADHD is a neurological disorder. The brain is not functioning as well as it should, could, or can. 

 

Now, on to the top three reasons parents are reluctant to utilize medication to treat their child’s ADHD.

Natural Treatment

My guess is if you are reluctant to try medication with your child, you have probably tried other natural remedies and supplements (If not see sources section below). How effective have these remedies been? Did you give them a long enough chance to work (three to six months)? Are you seeing any improvement in the most problematic symptoms? 

For example, if sleep issues have slightly improved but focus is still just as problematic, then your child is still struggling at home and school. 

The road to finding natural solutions and waiting for efficacy can be a long and winding road. 

There is so much misinformation on the internet and anecdotal stories that it can be hard to know which remedies or supplements to try.

In his book Finally Focused, Dr. James Greenblatt emphasizes that the vast majority of children diagnosed with ADHD are deficient in the mineral magnesium. Once supplemented symptoms can drastically decrease, and it can mitigate side effects from ADHD medication as well.

I know a newly diagnosed family who was really struggling with ADHD symptoms during  break periods such as weekends and summertime. While the neurologist gave the green light to stop medication during those times they couldn’t imagine life continuing with such unmanaged symptoms. They were still in the process of finding a therapist and getting educated themselves about the diagnosis through books and ADHD websites that they weren’t sure what to do.

The weekends were a frequent struggle constantly managing their child’s behavior. They were baffled as to what to do which led to frustration and short-temperedness. The child was frustrated with himself, questioning why he couldn’t have more self-control, questioning what he can do with his restlessness. As much as they were hesitant to use medication during those non-school days for the sake of family unity they used it until they could learn more. Family relations improved.

Meanwhile,they supplemented their child’s diet with magnesium and within 3-4 months their child no longer took their prescription medicine during weekends or Christmas break. It wasn’t a cure-all but it definitely helped.  Medication was still needed to focus and manage impulses during school days. It made all the difference in the world. 

Before diagnosis, this same child described getting through his school day without medicine as walking through molasses or quicksand.  They harder you try the deeper you get and the more you struggle.

Without the medication, everything took so much longer, learning wasn’t taking place, and he was so frustrated and discouraged. It is estimated that a child who has untreated ADHD is only retaining about 10 to 15% of what is presented to them in school. Asking a child with ADHD to try harder and focus more, is like asking someone who is bound by a wheelchair to climb the stairs.

Rigid Beliefs

Often times I hear parents make blanket statements that they will never put their child on medication. Upon further probing, these hard-and-fast beliefs are usually rooted in the inaccurate belief that ADHD is a behavioral disorder and not a neurological one.

 They still think that if their kid tries harder and is properly motivated than they can overcome their “laziness”. Often times parents mistakenly believe that they will outgrow ADHD. Children with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD. AS an aside,adults usually have found many ways to compensate for their symptoms and their hyperactivity usually morphs into restlessness. 

There is no buy in that ADHD is usually genetic and not something the child can help. This usually stems from parents unwillingness to read and learn about what ADHD is and what it is not. They are just stuck in their unexamined beliefs.

I get it, most adults don’t want to have to take medication let alone give it to their still- developing children. A medical analogy that lends itself well to ADHD is a child diagnosed with diabetes. A diagnosis that is devastating for any parent. The pancreas is simply not working as well as it should be. A two-pronged approach must be utilized. Insulin is a necessity and a modified diet is in order. Just as the pancreas does not always work the way it was designed to, so it is with certain areas of our brain sometimes.

Side Effects

Most parents have heard that stimulant medications have undesired side effects, such as decreased appetite, headaches, or agitation. While it’s true that those are some common side effects, there are options which do not always involve taking another prescription. There are two classes of stimulants, amphetamine and methylphenidate. 

 In addition, non-stimulant medications are available when stimulants are not well tolerated (Silver, 2019). Switching medications or class of medications can help reduce or even eliminate side effects.

Supplements can also be useful in managing side effects. For instance, the vitamin riboflavin, (commonly known as B2) can be taken to prevent headaches. It is a capsule that can be swallowed or sprinkled in applesauce. 

To address the decrease in appetite, it is recommended that children eat a full breakfast then take their medication. Lunch is inevitably going to be their lightest meal of the day. Their appetite is usually restored by dinner time. It is important to allow children to have a snack after dinner because they are usually hungry and it makes up for the missed calories from earlier in the day.

Medication should not make a child into a zombie. 

If that is the case, they are on the wrong medication or the wrong dosage. They should and can still feel like themselves only much more focused and confident because they are able to do what they know needs to be done.

In children (and adults) with ADHD, the pre-frontal cortex (the area of the brain behind the forehead), is underactive and therefore underfunctioning.  Dr. Amen, author of several books on ADHD refers to the ADHD brain as a “sleepy brain”. This is why a stimulant medication is usually the first treatment protocol, because it wakes up this part of the brain so that it can function as well as it should, could, and can. It engages the brain’s ability to focus, sustain attention, increase self-control to manage impulses, and decrease restlessness.

For most children, stimulant medication is metabolized by the end of the day. Think of taking a Tylenol to alleviate headache. It is short-acting. You don’t need to take it everyday. 

With an open mind and a collaborative effort between parent, child, and prescriber side effects can be easily managed.  Often times the benefits greatly outweigh mild side effects.

 Simply put medication for ADHD works. It is quick and effective.

 

Sources

Amen, Daniel, M.D. (2013). Healing ADD. New York, NY:The Berkley Publishing Group.

Greenblatt, James, M.D. (2017).  Finally Focused. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Silver, Larry, M.D.(2019, August 30). ADHD or ADD Medications for Adults and       Children:  Stimulants, Nonstimulants & More. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-medication-for-adults-and-children/

How Christians Can Benefit from Counseling

 

  Are you a little leery to seek out counseling for problems in your life? Perhaps you are reluctant to acknowledge that even believers are not immune to anxiety and depression. Christians tend to have a faulty assumption that they shouldn’t have any mental health symptoms because they hear messages that they should be constantly filled with joy. 

I have even heard that if believers are depressed or anxious that they don’t truly love the Lord. On top of it, they are now burdened with guilt.

Worse yet, perhaps your condemnation is self-inflicted. Maybe you have diligently given your fears and anxieties over to the Lord everyday, memorized Bible verses, and still suffer. 

You feel ashamed and question if you are a “good enough” Christian. 

Or maybe you wonder if God really cares.

Well I have comforting news for you! The Bible mentions fear or anxiety 365 times.That’s one verse for every day of the year! If God didn’t know that his creation would be anxious or fearful then why would he provides so many verses to instruct us to “Fear not.”

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren talks about how God uses people in addition to prayer and bible study to bring about spiritual growth. In fact, he argues that Bible study and prayer in and of themselves will not be enough to impact some of life issues. 

“He usually prefers to work through people rather than perform miracles, so that we will depend on each other for fellowship. He wants us to grow together.” Rick Warren

A frequent saying heard at my church is, “You can’t do life alone.”  God made us to be interdependent on one another. 

From a mental health perspective that means that God will and can use Christian professional and lay counselors and psychiatrists to bring you back to wholeness. And it’s OK. It doesn’t make you weak, unfaithful, or any less of a follower of Christ. 

We weren’t meant to carry our burdens alone.

Some churches and Christians have a distrust of the counseling profession.  I suspect it is the erroneous belief that psychology is about self-love, self-fulfillment, self-serving.  While that may be how some therapists practice it is not particularly rooted in any one psychological theory.  After all the Bible commands us 8 times to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

That means not only do we need to receive that love so that we may give that love to others, but also love ourselves.  

We need to love what the Father loves.  

When we can be compassionate with ourselves we can be compassionate to others.

Our brain is an organ. Like any other organ in our body sometimes it doesn’t work to its optimum capability. There are times when it will be necessary to treat the organ with medication. We seem to accept this concept more readily in reference to the rest of our body from the ears down.   

Consider a person diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Their pancreas has ceased to produce insulin. As a result, they must take insulin to compensate for the lack of pancreatic function. However, in addition to insulin they must also make dietary changes. They cannot just take insulin and have a high sugar diet. This is the same dynamic for how counseling and medication work best together. 

Similarly, with anxiety and depression symptoms can get so severe they may require medication  to help balance and restore neurotransmitters, which in turn help to stabilize mood and improve quality of life. Now is medication in isolation the best protocol? Probably not, at least not initially. 

Counseling from a Christian perspective will integrate biblical truths to address the psychological issues that cause debilitating mental health symptoms. 

Medication can help produce the essential mood stabilizing neurotransmitters we need until our brain can do it on its own again.There is a percentage of mental illness that is genetic and organic in nature; meaning there or structural defects or physiological dysfunction of the brain”  (American Family Physician, 1992) 

The contention lies when we confuse spiritual issues with psychological issues.  

They are not one in the same, nor is there always a cause and effect relationship between the two. Sometimes there can be.  When we address our spiritual conflicts often times the subsequent psychological symptoms are alleviated.

In addition to offering support and a non judgmental space, counseling can help you make changes with ingrained patterns of thinking that affect our feelings and therefore our behavior. More to come on this in the blog section.  The apostle Paul has much to say about this!

Let’s not forget that our brains are attached to the rest of our bodies! While most people do not want to live this out, we must take care of our whole bodies in order to prepare the foundation for healing of our minds. Yes, that means eating well (not perfect), moving our bodies often, and getting optimum rest! As a natural night owl, I am speaking to myself here.

When we begin to integrate the mind and the brain into a holistic treatment approach- meaning mind, body, and spirit, then we can reach our fullest potential that God intended so that we can be his servant. Use your mess to be his message!

Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. Luke 10:27.

References

American Family Physician. 1992 Mar;45(3):1173-80

Warren, Richard. (2002) The Purpose Driven Life. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Children and medication

I don’t think most of us like the idea of having to take medication to manage our medical or emotional ailments. From my experience, we even like the idea less when it comes to treating our children with medication to treat long term conditions, especially when it comes to mental health or behavioral issues like anxiety,  autism, ADHD, depression, and even psychosis.

I recently read an article on this very topic that related an analogy that helps to put this issue of medicating our children into perspective. Suppose you took your child for their annual well-visit to their pediatrician and they failed the eye exam. What’s the next step? Typically, you would be  referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist who then runs their own comprehensive eye exams. The diagnosis is that your child is nearsighted or farsighted and the recommendation is that your child be fitted for a pair of simple eyeglasses.

Would you labor over that recommendation? Would you read up on it? Would you Google it? Would you ask your friends and relatives their opinion about giving your child eye glasses so that they can see better? Unlikely. Perhaps you wouldn’t question it at all. Maybe you just insist that your child squint to correct the problem? Now that’s just absurd!

Isn’t that what we do when it comes to treating our children for mental health illnesses? We don’t like the idea that our precious children could even struggle with anxiety, depression, or ADHD or learning disabilities.But our brain, like any other organ, doesn’t always function optimally. Mental health isn’t a linear, cause-and-effect issue.  So many factors play a part, like genetics, upbringing, socioeconomic status, cultural norms, etc.

The stigma against mental health among adults is strong, but it is even more so for children.  I have seen many parents profess that they will never medicate their child for this or that and I watch them continue to struggle along.  To what end? For what gain?

Being a Mental Health Counselor means that I only use talk therapy. That’s it. No bag of tricks to pull from.  No medical equipment or prescriptions to utilize. I am privileged to witness the power of the therapeutic process at work in transforming people’s lives.  I also have to know when counseling and medication will work best when paired together. For some diagnoses medication is the first line of treatment as in neurological disorders like ADHD, autism, Tourette’s Disorder or psychological disorders like severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or psychosis.

I encourage you to drop the stigma.  Drop worrying about what others think.  Drop your own biases against taking medication. Explore your own biases against medication and see if there are any falsehoods. Sometimes we can be our own stumbling block that gets in the way of progress.

 

“Being depressed is a lot of work!”

depressed

I was having a conversation with a friend who is successfully recovering from a debilitating episode of depression several months ago. She was floating in a sea of hopelessness. She never imagined she could feel as good as she does today.  She was listing all the strategies she continues to implement in order to maintain her progress. Things like, daily exercise, sun exposure, a depression program that includes books and audios, medication compliance, ongoing counseling and psychiatry appointments.  She candidly told me with a chuckle, “Being depressed is a lot of work!”  This was not only funny but always so true.

Unfortunately, so many people want to find relief from their symptoms without doing the work that it entails. Sometimes that involves tangible tools like programs, or journaling, or homework.  Sometimes, it involves being utterly raw and vulnerable with yourself and your therapist.  That is hard! But if you want different results you have to step out of your comfort zone and do something different.

Motivation to change will happen when the pain and fear of remaining the same outweighs the fear and pain of changing.

I suppose it is human nature, especially in this day and age, to expect instant results.  We want to put in the least amount of effort and get the most results. When has that ever worked? And yet we cling to that mentality when it comes to our physical health as well as our mental health.  We want to loose weight and get fit but we struggle to eat right and exercise long term.

Sometimes we can continue to place responsibility outside of ourselves and onto the therapist to say something magical that is finally going to fix everything once and for all, ignoring all the homework that has been assigned or putting in a half-hearted effort inside and outside of session. That approach doesn’t work in dieting and it doesn’t work in therapy.

My friend is investing in herself. Sometimes she has to challenge the thoughts that she is being selfish spending so much taking care of herself. But the truth is without her self-care she wouldn’t be able to take care of and enjoy her family, home, and business.  She sees the value in doing the work because she is motivated to stay better.  She knows how crippling depression can be and doesn’t ever want to go back to that dark place.  She is simply compliant. She does the work. She reaps the benefits.

What about you? Are you ready to reap the long-lasting benefits of counseling?  Let’s get started!

How to dramatically decrease (or eliminate) any negative feeling in 90 seconds

 

Happy woman jumping in golden wheat

 

What if you could virtually eliminate any distressing feeling you have in the span of 60-90 seconds?  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But consider what you do now when you are anxious, upset, or stressed? We all tend to avoid our negative feelings through distraction or denial.  It is our human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Freud got that much right! We want to do more of what feels good and avoid hurt and pain as much as we can.

While intellectually we might know that it is not always possible or good for us to avoid pain, instinctively it is our natural tendency.It is because of our tendency to avoid feeling upset that we suppress these feelings.  I mean, who wants to feel bad right? So we distract ourselves with our phones, food and drink, music, TV, or facebook, to push the feelings away.

Here is an example of how we do this and the outcome that it has. Imagine being in a pool with an inflatable ball. It is light and full of air while the water is heavy and dense. Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under the water?  You can do it right?  But it takes a great deal of effort and strength.

Now what happens when you release the ball?  Does it float gently to the surface?  No, it erupts through the surface of the water. This is precisely what many of us do when we are triggered by a strong emotion. We try to suppress it for as long as we can exhausting ourselves, but it never really goes away does it? Then with the slightest trigger, we spew all over those around us, those that don’t deserve it.

Our children and loved ones are on the receiving end of our emotional outburst.  We all have been there, myself included. So how can we make ourselves feel better, not just temporarily, but experience real relief from the negative feeling?

Enter in The Pure Awareness Exercise.

Here’s a little therapy secret.  A felt feeling dissipates.  A suppressed feeling will always pop up, somewhere else again. I promise.  Because it is still there.  It didn’t go away. I propose to you to invite your feelings in. To do what is counter intuitive and sit with those feelings. Experience them to their fullest.  Is this going to feel good?  No. But are you interested in feeling better in the long run? Yeah, me too! The good news is the exercise only lasts a minute or so.

How does this work exactly?

  • Get alone somewhere quiet for just a couple of minutes. Literally, like 2 minutes. That is all you need.  I know how hard that can be with little children around or noisy work cubicles. But just find a place you can be undisturbed. I have escaped to a locked bathroom on numerous occasions!
  • Begin to conjure up the feeling in your body. You do not need to relive the upsetting experience or rehash it in your mind. That becomes a mental exercise (and not a very useful one at that). Just start to get in touch with the feeling. How your felt when the triggering event happened. Experience it on the fullest level you can imagine. (Spend about 30 seconds on that)
  • Let it grow, expand, get bigger. This is where it will be at its worst. You are OK.  You are perfectly capable of handling this. (30 seconds)
  • Then notice any experiences you may be feeling in your body. Is your chest tight? Is your stomach in knots?  Are your hands tingling? Put your attention there.  Notice the sensation in your body.  It is Ok if you don’t feel anything physically.  Your not doing it wrong. (30 seconds)
  • Most importantly, just stay with it. Notice that your mind might want to distract you from it. Just bring yourself back to what you are feeling emotionally.

And that’s it. How do you feel after?  Did the feeling dramatically decrease or was it eliminated entirely?

This is not a cure for a major depression or anxiety disorder.  This exercise is for heavily charged emotional reactions that we experience as a result of a situation we deem as stressful, negative, or, upsetting. You can do it again and again…in only 90 seconds.

I can help walk you through this process. Call or Email today for a free consultation.

 609-576-2586

 

hilaryakman@onlinecounselingsolutions.com


 

Consciousness vs. Unconsciousness Series 3 of 3

So I promised that I would show you how to move through your feelings instead of being ruled by them. The pathway is through the title of this series. It is  in noticing when we are being driven by our unconscious.  For it is in that moment when you realize that you have been lost in ruminations of your thoughts and old behavior patterns that you have become conscious!

I’m going to delve right in and give you a practical exercise that you can walk yourself through whenever you find yourself experiencing an intense negative emotion. This is an exercise I use myself and often walk my clients through during sessions. Once the awareness is there, you have made a a huge leap in taking charge of the emotion. So many times, we find ourselves heading to the kitchen cabinets or reaching for the bottle or other substances when we are in the grip of strong feelings.

The beauty of this exercise is that is only takes about 60-90 seconds! So no excuses! I have done it with my kids around. You can do this in your office, with others around if you have to.  Ideally, you should be somewhere where you can be alone and without distractions.

  1. Close you eyes and begin to take slow deliberate breaths. On the inhale, expand your belly like a balloon and on the exhale push all the air out.  Continue this deep, slow, belly breathing through the entire exercise.
  2. Allow yourself to feel this feeling you are having.  Don’t think about the thoughts or situation that contributed to it.  Just focus on the feeling.  Allow yourself to feel it fully.  Ask  yourself on a scale of 1-10 how intensely am I feeling this feeling? (10 being the strongest you can imagine)  Go inside of it, explore it with an open, curious mind and with out judgement.  At this point it will intensify- it will become stronger and get bigger and more intense.  Your body is completely safe to do this.
  3. Begin to notice where you are feeling this feeling in your body.  It is motoring through your body somewhere.  Key into this and really feel where in your body you experience some sensation.  Is there a knot in your stomach? Are your shoulders tight?  Maybe your hands are tingling? Focus all your energy  into this physical manifestation of your emotions. Allow it to expand. Keep breathing into it.
  4. At this point approximately 60-90 seconds have passed.  What are you noticing? Ask yourself now how strong your feeling is? Has your feeling  lessened?  Did your number go down? It is beginning to subside isn’t it?

You have just experienced a truth- that a fully felt feeling dissipates. It is released.  Accumulated negative feelings come out somewhere.  They have to surface somewhere in the body.

We live in a society in which giving ourselves the permission to pay attention to what our feelings are telling us is discouraged by phrases such as, “get over it”

Have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water in a pool?  You can only do it for so long before it pops up to the surface.  It doesn’t just slowly rise to the surface.  It erupts!  That eruption in our lives can look like screaming at our kids, impulsively quitting a job, or road rage.

The health risks of suppressing feelings are numerous. Increased stress leads to an increase in  anxiety and depression, heart disease,  gastrointestinal problems, and sexual dysfunction to name a few.

Are you willing to start doing something different in order to get different results? I promise you if you do nothing, nothing will change.  You’ll continue in your same momentum of behavior that is not serving you well. So, I ask you, would you be willing to take 60-90 seconds to take care of yourself? You are worth that much!