Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Facing Adversity

I recently attended a workshop where the guest speaker was lecturing about the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace. One of her slides touched briefly on facing adversity and I jotted them down and thought I would expand on them here. It was noted that the sourced website was:

When facing adversity, challenges or circumstances beyond our control we can ask ourselves three questions:

  1. Is this permanent?  Very often what feels permanent, is in fact temporary. Sometimes we can have an experience that does come with finality (loss of job, break up), however we can be assured that with time and process, our feelings surrounding that experience will lesson with intensity.
  2. Is this pervasive? How much of this adversity is consuming our life? Are we able to function within it? There are times when the challenge will be all consuming; it is then that we must lean into “one day at a time” thinking as a way to focus on staying the course until things feel balanced again.
  3. Is it taking too much power? And there are times when the power the challenge holds is unbalanced. Very often, it is our all consuming emotions about the adversity that help to contribute to that feeling . Re-shifting our focus can often help in reestablishing the power differential. Making decisions, creating a plan or moving in a new direction can create the same shift.

Very often, our challenges have the ability to overwhelm us. They begin to feel all consuming as the mix of heightened emotions will move us out of our comfort system. Asking ourselves these three questions can help in processing our feelings; allowing us to take the wheel – despite the veer off course.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

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How to Deal with Difficult Emotions: Post 2

Building from yesterday’s post in which we looked at some key steps to managing difficult emotions, today we look at the “0 to 60” response. Very often, people will remark that they can’t control their emotions- that when they feel something, their need to act on it is immediate. That might be anger by means of a quick or short temper, fear – which can produce a panic attack or immediate tears when triggered to something sad or overwhelming. As we touched on yesterday, every feeling that we have is meant to be there. Feelings produce action urges, and it is often the follow through on those action urges that can get us into trouble. In order to temper the “0 to 60” response, we can begin by:

  1. Understanding that it doesn’t have to be that way. Question why you have that type of response. What are your triggers? Is this a learned behaviour? Was it something that you used in childhood that protected you but now doesn’t work for you as well? It is important to begin to understand that just because something has been one way for a long time, doesn’t mean it can’t change.
  2. Take a deep breath. Or maybe two, or three. We know that shallow breathing quickens the response part of our body to react. We also know that a deep breath resets that….taking that moment will remind us “Hey, it’s okay to slow this down. It’s okay to think about how I want to react.” Deep breathing inhibits anxiety, anger and impulsiveness.
  3. Sleep on it. Hard to imagine not reacting? Just try it the next time you are feeling especially overwhelmed by your emotions. Give yourself permission to slow it down long enough to say “How do I want to react to this? Do I need to act right away?” Sometimes giving ourselves time allows our rational brain to contribute it’s two cents worth, tempering the emotion and need to act.

It is not always easy to manage difficult emotions but it is possible. It will take some practice and patience – be compassionate with yourself for your efforts. 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash

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How To Deal with Difficult Emotions: Post 1

We all have them – difficult emotions. Sometimes the struggle is with anger, sometimes it is with fear, or shame, or deep sadness. The difficulty is often in what feels uncontrollable; a reaction that feels out of our grasp and all-consuming. But we can learn to help control and contain difficult emotions.

  1. The first step is to simply begin to be aware of your emotions. It is to understand that it is not the feeling that gets you into trouble. Every feeling that you have is meant to be there. It is either instinctual, you learned it, or through experience, associations to feelings were formed. And so, the first step is simply to begin to notice how we are feeling. Simply observe and describe – no judgement. “Hearing that makes me feel sad.” “I am so angry right now.” “Everything feels tight.” “I can feel the calmness inside.”
  2. Understand that feelings are impermanent. They come and go. They have the ability to pass. When we focus on simply observing our emotions (without having to act on them right away), we begin to understand the impermanence of emotion.
  3. Move towards acceptance. The feelings that you have are meant to be there. This doesn’t give us permission to give in to the action urge of the feeling, but it does give us the important understanding that our feelings do actually work for us.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the “0 to 60” reaction that often accompanies difficult emotions and the steps we can take to slow that down.

Photo credit:http://Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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Off to College and Coping with Empty Nest

If we have children, we will inevitably reach the day when they are heading off to college. The transition will most likely bring a mix of emotions, as the adolescent is stepping closer to independence and adulthood. Coming into that move-in weekend can bring some anticipatory anxiety, and as parents, our attention is often focused on the child’s emotions and getting them geared up and calmed down. We load up the mini-van, pack the Kraft Dinner and get pulled into the busy couple of days of getting them settled in.

And then we come home. Although Empty-Nest Syndrome is not a clinical disorder, it can be a very real experience for many parents. Characterized by feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness, loss and a re-ordering of one’s purpose, we can often struggle with the transition ourselves.  Here are some tips for dealing with our empty nest:

  • Mitigate the feelings through having regular contact with your child. Although we want to be able to shelter them from our own feelings (this is their time), it will help to be able to text, begin Face-timing, and have an overall sense that you are touching base.
  • Reach out to others for support. Talk to other friends who have been there, lean on your trusted co-workers, make sure to plan coffee dates if you are feeling the blues.
  • Self-care, self-care, self-care. Make sure that you are checking in with yourself and putting an effort into daily anchors.
  • Shift your focus. It is okay to begin to see your life in a different way. Be curious as to how you want to spend some of your opened-up schedule; with your partner, things that interest you, exercise, and so forth.
  • Seek professional advice. Talk to a therapist if you feel the struggle is reaching an overwhelming place.

Our children heading to college; an exciting time but also an emotional one. A time of important growth – both for them and for us. 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash

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Letting Go of Love

I was recently asked this question “How do I let go of someone that I still love? How can I get used to the idea of him with someone else?” This was in response to someone who’s recent break up was difficult, yet necessary.

We spoke of two things:

  • Healthy detachment. It is a process we all have to go through in break -up. It begins when we start to acknowledge that the relationship is not working or this person is not right for us (this process can begin while in the relationship.) Once the break up occurs, it becomes important to remind ourselves that “it is time to let go.” Sometimes this will have to happen many times a day; we can use it as a positive affirmation that the decision was the right one, regardless of how painful it is.
  • Do the work in exploring what you want in a future relationship. When you’re ready, begin by exploring both the good and the not-so-good aspects of the relationship. Figure out what qualities you want from an ideal partner. By doing some of your own exploration for the future, it begins to allow you to picture yourself with someone else which can help temper the natural, yet territorial emotions that crop up when thinking about your ex with a new partner. Shift your focus to you and what you need to move past those thoughts (perhaps using your positive affirmation will help.)

Break ups are never easy. They are part of our learning curve as to who we are. Being open to the process of self-reflection during a break up helps us to uncover patterns; leading us to a path where healthier relationships live.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

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A Place to Stand

In an article entitled “Find Your Ground” by Dr. Rick Hanson, he writes about finding a place to stand when you’ve been shaken. Here are some key pieces of advice he gives on how to find your ground:

  • “Start with you body and the feeling of being here.” Deep breathing helps 🙂
  • “Establish as best you can the relevant facts.” This is important as it allows our rational brain to weigh in to the emotion of what is happening.
  • “Sort out the impact of the event on you and those around you.” This is where we can begin to explore possible direction.

Dr. Hanson goes on to highlight some of the way that we can establish the practice of being grounded. Two that I especially resonate with are:

  • Stand in what feeds you. Like petting your cat, making soup, meditating, loving others, or giving thanks. Guard your attention; disengage from news, websites, or interactions that add little value and mainly just upset you.”
  • Protect your own interests – Focus on what’s in your control.  Make a list and work through it. Personally, I find that action eases anxiety.”

Sometimes we get shaken. We can find our ground 🙂

To read the full article (worth the read!):

Photo credit: http://Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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There is Comfort in Grief

As anyone who follows my blog regularly, you know that I lost my mom last November. Although I rely on the knowledge that grief has its own timeline, I also know inherently, that I will forever miss her. She played an integral role in my life, was a strong member of my support circle, and I consider her to be one of my kindred spirits. And although I still have times of deep, grief filled moments, I also have happy moments, peaceful moments, joyful moments.

The other day on my way to work I stopped at my parents house to pick up some pieces of foam that we are going to use for camping. I jammed them into my car, drove to work and quite contentedly put my day in; I saw 5 clients, and spent time outside reading at lunch. At the end of my day, I was heading to the car thinking about who knows what, when as soon as I opened the car door, what instantly greeted me was the smell of my parents home. I felt immediate comfort. (Then proceeded to smile and take in the biggest of deep breaths!)

From a logical perspective, I know it was the foam, retaining the smell of their home. From an emotional perspective, for just an instant, all was well with the world,  for I felt them with me. There is comfort in grief.

Photo credit: Me! This is a childhood picture visiting Montmerency Falls near Quebec City.

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Victim or Survivor; the preferential difference

I sat with a client recently who told me that she didn’t like the word survivor. Having suffered through sexual abuse by an uncle for almost four years of her childhood, she noted that the word felt wrong to her. She also didn’t particularly like the word victim; she felt that both defined her in a way that didn’t fit her experience.

From a therapist’s perspective, when someone is victimized, they experience an event to which they had no control over. The traumatic experience happens to them and their power in those moments are taken away from them. When we talk about being a survivor, it is in the context of having lived through the experience, of having endured the trauma. As a therapist, I often use those two words interchangeably in order to try and validate a person’s experience with trauma. But I couldn’t with her.

And so we stayed there. We worked through both words, we explored why she felt they didn’t fit her. We spent time on how the experience of being sexually abused  and the consequential division of the family left its mark on her, the ways that she has healed and the path that is still in front of her.

And then we looked at new words; ones that she felt better defined her. And she said “I was brave. I continue to need courage. I am a champion.”

Sounds good to me 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash

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Pain is in the Driver’s Seat

For anyone living with chronic pain, they are forever challenged by the fact that try as they might – taking medications on time, getting the right amount of sleep and exercise, eating healthy – if pain decides to take over on any given day, they get bumped out of the driver’s seat. The dissonance that gets created as a result, lies not in the fact that you are having a pain day, but rather that you had expectations for the day. If we can’t get done what we had planned, or get less done than we usually would have, we can be quite hard on ourselves; resulting in feelings of discouragement, and we open the door for the blues to set in.

We are much better served to understand that “when I am having a pain day, my tank is full.” Waking up uncomfortable and sore lets you know that your body and mind are allowed to focus on what needs to happen in order to best alleviate the pain. That might include cancelling plans, doing less than you would normally do, going about tasks at a slower pace, taking more breaks. It is acknowledging that you have woken up with a full tank, and its not going to take much to spark a tipping point. If we can give pain its space, we can begin to celebrate  the fact that “anything I get done today is a bonus.”

When we can begin to be kind to ourselves where our expectations are concerned, we begin to feel that we have some control in our pain day. We may have had to let pain take the driver’s seat, but we can darn sure still give it directions! 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Ezra Comeau-Jeffrey on Unsplash

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Isolation versus Loneliness; Is there a Difference?

In a recent article I read entitled “Isolation and Loneliness: What’s the Difference?” featured on GoodTherapy, they explore these two concepts in a way to get to understand their differences.

“Isolation occurs when a person has little or no contact with other people. It can occur over long or short periods of time and is a distinctly physical state. Isolation may be characterized by staying home most of the time, refusing interpersonal interaction and avoiding social situations…….Loneliness, on the other hand, is an emotional state. It’s defined as feeling alone or separate from others, or as feeling empty. Loneliness may accompany social isolation but can be caused by other things, such as breakups, moving to a new location, or the death of a close friend or loved one.”

Although a person can experience both isolation and loneliness and they most often feed off of each other; it would seem that isolation is perhaps more centered around behaviour whereas loneliness focuses more on feeling. Exploring the differences may be a first step in moving towards alleviating the feelings of emptiness that tend to be created from either state.

Regardless of what is causing either our inclination to isolate ourselves or our feelings of loneliness, we are a relationship species and need connection in order to feel well rounded and whole. Challenging ourselves to “make our world a bit bigger” might be an important step in trying to manage either isolation or loneliness.

To read the full article which includes symptoms and causes:

Photo credit: http://Photo by George Bonev on Unsplash

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