The Search for Understanding

Sometimes we can’t find an answer to our questions. It may be that they are existential in nature, or perhaps the person we need to gain understanding from is not capable or willing to answer. It is a theme that is often repeated in therapy – from a mother who wrestles with understanding the loss of her child, to a young woman who fails to comprehend how, despite her effort, her mother chooses to remain distant, to a young man who wants to understand why his girlfriend treats him with such casual indifference.

Often, in our quest to understand the Why? we default into carrying the weight of its answer. The grief feels heavier and we lean into wondering what is wrong with us to have deserved such circumstances. It is a natural response to want to own what is happening, as it allows us to temporarily believe that we have control.

And yet we don’t. At least not over the circumstances, or the behaviours or choices of others. What we do have control over is our response and our eventual decision that perhaps acceptance is the healthiest option. Acceptance doesn’t make what happened okay; we can accept and still feel the unfairness of the situation. Acceptance allows us to set aside the Why? and lean into the reality of the situation.

By moving to acceptance, we place greater emphasis on movement and process. We become compelled to strive for experiences that are meaningful and purpose driven; we lean into the grace of healing.

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Distress Tolerance Techniques; DBT- Post 2

Yesterday we focused on some distress tolerance techniques from DBT that are intended to help us center ourselves for the short term. Sometimes, however; the solution is not to be found in the immediate future. Possible examples include grieving the loss of someone, going through a break up, trying to quit a bad habit, waiting for a better job to come along.

When we are faced with a situation that tends to roller coaster our emotions, we can use some of the following techniques:

  • Being mindful to plan activities. Sometimes we can tend to isolate ourselves when our emotions feel overwhelming. We are better served to build our time; planning coffee with a friend, daily walks, scheduling a weekend away.
  • Contribute to the greater good. We often underestimate the sense of meaning we get from volunteering – sign up to help serve a meal, visit a seniors home, sing in the choir at church.
  • Use your emotions to re-focus. Feeling sad? Watch something funny. Feeling blue? Put on your favourite high school dance tunes.
  • Write by way of comparison – jot down how things were for you a year ago, how they will be a year from now. Sometimes getting ourselves out of our current train of thought helps us to see the bigger picture.
  • Do something creative. Nothing like getting lost in our imagination. ๐Ÿ™‚

These types of distraction techniques are considered part of distress tolerance as they help us to deal with long term situations, allowing us to focus on how to feed our comfort system and feel grounded despite our emotional state.

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Distress Tolerance Techniques from DBT

Sometimes we find ourselves with a problem or situation we can’t immediately solve. Perhaps our emotions are running high and we need some space to compose ourselves or perhaps it is an issue that just can’t be solved in the immediate future but still gives us an element of worry or distress. In either case, we can begin to feel consumed by our feelings. Distress tolerance techniques are a part of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and can be quite helpful when feeling upset about something. Today’s post will focus on immediate, or short term distress.

Someone upsets you at work with an insensitive comment, you get wind that a friend has gossiped about you to someone else, the school calls and your teenager has skipped class – these are all examples of situations that can create an immediate reaction in us; of anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment. Perhaps dealing with it immediately might not work – time does not allow for it or we fear that we may say or do something that isn’t measured.

One way to deal with short term or immediate distress is to use our senses to self-soothe; it can be helpful in grounding yourself. After taking a couple of deep breaths, try and use your senses to center yourself:

  • Stand by a window or go outside. Focus on the trees, water, people walking by.
  • Scroll through pictures on your phone that bring you good feelings.
  • Put on some music that is soothing or uplifting.
  • Listen to a guided meditation or podcast that you enjoy.
  • Light a candle; cook something flavourful, buy yourself a Pumpkin Spice Latte at lunch.
  • Put on a cozy sweater or wrap. Cozy up to your pet, take a shower or a bath.

These types of distraction techniques are meant not to help us avoid dealing with the situation, but rather give us the time to focus on how we want to handle the issue that has brought us emotional upset. As they are also self-soothing activities, they help to feed our comfort system, which allows our rational brain to inform us as to how we want to move forward in finding a solution.

Tomorrow we will look at the types of distraction techniques needed for long term emotional upset.

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A Year of Firsts; the gifts my mom gave me

Today marks the anniversary of my mom’s passing. One year. Sometimes it is hard to believe that I have lived a whole year without seeing her, laughing with her, being with her. Other times, it feels like a lifetime. The amount of times that I wished I could have called her, been comforted by her, sat beside her in church, hugged her, laughed in unison with her are too many too count. People tell you that the grief of losing your mom is profound, and they are right.

My year of firsts had its typical markings…there were times that I was caught totally off guard; everything from a moment of thinking “Oh I have to call Mom about that,” to walking into the Ottawa General Hospital (where I was joyfully going to meet my new step-granddaughter) and I was unexpectantly hit by a wave of emotion for all of the times I had been there with my mom. The important days of the year such as birthdays and holidays had their typical build up with anxious moments and tears that sit close to the surface – and many times spilt over. There were times that helped with closure and acceptance, and times when all you can think about is the unfairness of losing her.

This year of firsts has also deepened my belief in a soulful life; in the importance of connection and how we can feel and be strengthened by the gifts of love. And I have realized that I have seen my mom – I see her in my sister and in my girls. I see her in my friend Lisa who started coming to church with me, I see her in my friend Kim who has helped me through her own experience with profound grief, I see her in everyone who has continued to acknowledge Mom to me.

I have also felt my mom. I feel her when I look at my partner Kurt as it was so important to my mom to feel peace that I was in a happy and settled relationship. I feel her every time “Dancing Queen” by ABBA comes on the radio – a song that has a wonderful association and memory to my mom; I have heard it so many times, it is not a coincidence. I feel her in the stillness of the church and when the river is calm. My mom gave me her strength, her faith, and her belief that love will heal; I feel her when I smile, when I laugh, when I hug my loved ones.

It is this that brings me the most comfort. I know that she is still with me; not only in the energy that surrounds me, but also the energy that is within me. Thank you, Mom – I love you.

Photo: This is my mom, pictured with her great-granddaughter. Special times ๐Ÿ™‚



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? ย 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?ย 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?ย 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:ย 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Photo credit:ย http://Photo by Hello I’m Nik ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง 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.ย  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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Photo credit:ย 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:ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚
  • “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 โ€“ Focus on whatโ€™s in your control.ย  Make a list and work through it. Personally, I find that action eases anxiety.”

Sometimes we get shaken. We can find our ground ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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