Chronic Illness and Mental Health Part 2: Chronicity

Chronic Illness and Mental Health Part 2: Chronicity

Listen to this article on YouTube or Soundcloud. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 45% of Americans live with a chronic illness. That means almost half of us are living with daily symptoms and do not experience complete wellness! Given this number, chances are that you or someone you love suffers from the grips of a prolonged illness.

Whether the symptoms are severe or just plain annoying, chronic illness can take a heavy toll on a person’s mental health, be physically draining, and affect day-to-day life. Know this: There is help for those living with chronic illness and improving quality of life is within reach.

In part 1 of my Chronic Illness and Mental Health series, I discussed the Unpredictability (link) of Chronic Illness and ways to cope. In this installment, my focus will be on Chronicity and how to face the truth in the service of self-care.

CHRONICITY

The chronic nature of certain illnesses makes coping challenging. Everyone has gone through having a cold or flu, and it is miserable! One consoling thought is that you know it will pass, and you will feel better again; you do not always have that comfort with a chronic illness. In addition to the unpredictability of symptoms, you may not know when or if you will fully recover. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and sometimes those months can turn into years of feeling ill, and it can take its toll. Sometimes you think you are getting better, only to find yourself struggling with symptoms once again.

 

Most of us can cope with short-term emotional and physical pain; we have been through break-ups, death and loss, the stress of losing a job or starting a new one, the pain of childbirth or even a stubbed toe. No, I am not comparing childbirth to a stubbed toe! The point is that we have all survived time-limited emotional and physical pain. When pain is short-lived, we are equipped to cope. The same is true for emotional health. If you see a spider and experience fear or feel nervous anxiety anticipating giving a speech at work, you typically feel the emotion flow through you and then feel relief and move on. An anxiety disorder develops when the feelings and behaviors associated with fear (escape, avoidance) are chronic and do not disappear when the stressful event is over.

With chronic illness, such as autoimmune disorders, diabetes, SIBO, painful arthritis, and others, the stressful event does not immediately disappear; your body is under prolonged stress, and your emotions follow. You cannot take a break from illness like taking a vacation from a stressful job. The illness lingers, like a guest overstaying their welcome, until you want to scream at the top of your lungs, “Get out!”

FACE IT 

When you are sick and suffer from a disorder everything else you learn about coping depends on your ability to face the fact that you are sick. Often, in my work with others, I hear people report about various long-term symptoms or diagnoses and then sort of brush it off and act like they do not exist. I can certainly understand why. These illnesses are not welcomed. Who wants to be sick? Who wants a diagnosis predicting long-term illness or recovery? Still, I work with my clients to face the fact that their symptoms are a reality because when we can be honest about this, we can then take the steps needed to cope and maybe even heal. 

PRIORITIZE SELF-CARE

Prioritizing self-care may seem obvious. Nevertheless, it is often overlooked.

What do you need when you are sick? I need lots of extra sleep, quiet downtime and restful activities, food prepared and ready-to-go, and a clear calendar with as few obligations as possible. Yet, people often try to power through when sick, adhering to the same schedule and ignoring that their needs are now different. When dealing with a chronic illness, coping is not as simple as “powering through” until you feel better. In fact, often, this approach can work to your disadvantage.

As mentioned, if you have a cold or flu, you know it will pass. However, when a chronic illness takes hold, it can be necessary to accept long-term limitations and changes in your functioning. This is why facing the reality of your illness symptoms is such an essential prerequisite for self-care. To prioritize self-care, you must first be honest with yourself about what your new limitations are and what you need. This means putting aside what you think you “should” be capable of, what others seem to be able to do, and how you wish you were or how you used to be. This means standing naked, and full-frontal accepting and addressing what you need given your life at this moment. And then, of course, being brave enough to give that to yourself.

Self-care when chronically ill may not feel like pampering. In fact, it can mean saying “no” to activities you enjoy, asking for help or modifications, or telling others that you do not feel well and cannot participate as you once did. Facing these truths can feel devastating. Feeling despair is often part of this process. Notice the specification that despair is part of this process, not all. When you face the ways that chronic illness has changed your life, you need to grieve what you have lost. Just as with losing someone or something you love, if you can allow yourself to grieve, you will move through it and be able to move forward. If you are in this stage and feeling emotionally overwhelmed, try listening to my Welcome Emotions Practice to help you move through this stage of loss.

Remember that grief is not forever and does not mean that you are accepting your illness, as it stands today, indefinitely. Rather, you are mourning the changes in your body that you do not want so that you can clear your path and move forward in the wisest, most empowering way. Frequently, when we accept our situation and allow ourselves to grieve, this paves the way to change. You may find a helpful treatment provider you hadn’t previously considered, adopt a new perspective you did not realize was available, or other doors may open to you that you had not noticed were there. Through allowing yourself to face the reality and trusting this process, you can find meaning, fulfillment, and joy in your life.

BE GENTLE

I know facing your illness and prioritizing the reality of self-care needed now can be difficult, so please be gentle with yourself. Chronic illness is a process. For most, it is a long and winding road. Your needs may change periodically, and your symptoms may fluctuate without notice. As a result, how to best care for yourself can take frequent re-evaluation. Practicing gentle, self-compassion may be the kindest thing you can do. Even gently placing a hand on your heart or using soft, gentle tones with yourself can help ease the difficulty. (Listen to the meditation at the end of this article for a quick and simple practice you can use anywhere.) The tasks you are faced with require fierce bravery. Envelop these courageous steps forward in gentle, loving care, and you will see yourself progress faster and with greater ease.

GENTLE TOUCH PRACTICE

(Adapted from Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and Chris Germer, Ph.D., Mindful Self-Compassion Core Skills Training manual)

Listen to this practice on Youtube or Soundcloud.

An easy way to support ourselves when we are going through a difficult time is to offer self-comforting or a soothing touch.

Start by taking 2-3 nourishing breaths.

Gently place a hand over your heart, simply feeling the gentle pressure and warmth of your hand. If you wish, place both hands over your heart.

Feel the natural rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and as you breathe out.

Linger with this feeling for as long as you like…

Some people find putting a hand over the heart comforting and this type of touch doesn’t resonate with others. Feel free to explore where on your body a gentle touch is soothing. Let’s try some other possibilities:

Cup you hand over a fist over your heart. Take 2-3 breaths and notice how this feels.

Place one hand over your heart and one on your belly. Again, breath and notice.

Now, place two hands on your belly. With each new position, continuing to breathe and notice how this feels.

Place one hand on your cheek.

Cradle your face in your hands.

Gently stroke your arms.

Cross you arms and give yourself a gentle squeeze.

Gently stroke your chest, back and forth or in small circles. See what feels best.

Allow one hand to tenderly hold the other hand.

Gently cup your hands in your lap.

Take a moment now to notice if there was any one position you liked best, or a gentle touch I didn’t mention that you would like to try. Take the opportunity now to place your hands where they feel most gentle, soothing, and compassionate. Allow your breath to nourish your body as you feel your hands comforting and soothing you.

You can practice this any time you are under stress or use this daily as a reminder to treat yourself with care.


January Newsletter

Welcome to my January Newsletter!

Although some people roll their eyes at this, I love the New Year! In fact, I love any new beginning – the start of the school year, change in seasons, my birthday – anything that symbolizes the birth of something new. I like to use these markers as opportunities for a clean slate; a bright, shiny new future full of possibilities. Can you feel the optimism? I promise, I won’t get New Year’s Resolution-y on you. What I will do is encourage you to use this change on the calendar to dream big and create even more of the life that you want.
If you or someone you love is suffering from chronic illness, this issue of my newsletter is specially designed for you. Read (or listen to) my article about the “chronic” part of chronic illness, how it takes its toll, and what to do about it. Also, I’m sharing a fabulous resource – a naturopathic doctor who specializes in chronic, hard-to-treat illnesses, and is accessible and collaborative with her patients. If you or a loved one struggles with chronic illness, you need all the encouragement and support you can get. My hope is you find that here. There is hope for fulfillment, meaning and plain ol’ fun in your future!
Welcome 2019!
Great News!
All of my blogs, articles, practices, and meditations, are now available on YouTube. You can choose one that feels relevant now, or listen on continuous play while you get in today’s cardio. Also, when you subscribe to my YouTube channel you will be notified whenever I post a new video. Click the YouTube link below and visit my channel today.

FEATURED ARTICLE…

Chronic Illness and Mental Health Part 2: CHRONICITY

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 45% of Americans live with a chronic illness. That means almost half of us are living with daily symptoms and do not experience complete wellness! Given this number, chances are that you or someone you love suffers from the grips of a prolonged illness.

Continue Reading


DID YOU KNOW?

Functional medicine is a form of “alternative” medicine rising in popularity. Different types of practitioners (MD, OD, ND, L.Ac.) follow functional medicine and use this modality to find and treat the root cause of chronic and other illnesses. Many people turn to this method when conventional medicine has failed. Take a look at my featured professional, Dr. Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz of Wild Lemon Health to learn more.
Dr. Aguilera-Ruiz started her career sharing an office with a psychiatrist and psychologist, and has become well-versed on the inextricable interplay between physical and mental health. She also loves treating “complex” cases and her ideal client comes to her after having been through many doctors either not knowing how to treat, or having treatment failed. If you are grappling with physical and emotional symptoms, and maybe aren’t even sure how or if the two are related, an appointment with Dr. Aguilera-Ruiz is a good place to start. She offers a free initial consultation and affordable on-going care with unlimited access to her. What are you waiting for?! Check out her website and contact her today!
Dr. Aguilera-Ruiz’s Anti-Cleanse
Join Dr. Aguilera-Ruiz’s January Group Program, “Wildly Nourished” to reboot the new year with healthy food, connection, and clarity.

WANT MORE?

My articles are always available for you to read and listen to at your convenience. My written articles can be found on my website, and the audio versions can be found on either my YouTube or Soundcloud pages.


PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE…

My guided meditations and practices are available in audio form – all for free! If you would like to enhance your mindfulness practice, experience this month’s or any recent offerings, click here!


LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO JUST SURVIVE.
THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you would like to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page.
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

December Newsletter

Welcome to my December Newsletter!

The end of the year is upon us! As it seems to feel every year, time has flown by in the blink of an eye. It is true that our life here is short, and I like to use this as motivation to take a big juicy bite out of everything we can! Why wait until after January 1st to take stock and make changes that you know you need to thrive? The time is NOW! As we wrap up 2018, I would like to challenge you to face the path you want to be on and take a BOLD step forward.
What does your path and bold step look like?
Do you need to stop holding back some part of your personality for fear of others’ reactions? Perhaps slowing down and extending more kindness to yourself and others is a next, big step forward? Maybe you would like to get into shape and feel healthy and alive in your physical body?
Do you need to stop holding back some part of your personality for fear of others’ reactions? Perhaps slowing down and extending more kindness to yourself and others is a next, big step forward? Maybe you would like to get into shape and feel healthy and alive in your physical body? The step you choose is unique to you. There is no wrong answer and everyone may choose something different. Mindfulness is where it all begins. Mindfulness is where it all begins; it is the foundation on which any new habit is built. That’s why I have devoted this newsletter to the topic of, you guessed it, Mindfulness!
In this month’s newsletter…
You will find the final installment of my Body Image and Weight Loss series focused on Self-Compassion. While “self-compassion” sounds straightforward, it is a skill that requires practice to build. A strong base of mindfulness helps facilitate your ability to make use of self-compassion. In this spirit, I have also included two other perspectives from individuals with unique, science-based approaches to mindfulness and mindful eating. Read on to understand the effects on your whole-body health. Since mindfulness is best practiced rather than just understood, as always, I have included a practice this month, focused on self-compassion.
I hope you find something here to brighten your life and set you on the path toward THRIVING!
Happy Holidays!

FEATURED ARTICLE…

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 4: Self-Compassion

Body Image and Weight Loss are generally not topics that people enjoy discussing, yet the conversation is taking place in front of our eyes daily. Simply go outside or turn on any electronic device and you are bombarded with ideas about how you are supposed to look, feel, and even think. It probably does not occur to you to offer self-compassion if you don’t fit the perceived societal mold. The problem is that it not only feeds into the trap of Box Thinking, it also ignores that we are all individuals, and there is no template for the way we are supposed to be.

Continue Reading


ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW…

Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac is a globally recognized leader in the fields of ancestral health, Paleo nutrition, and functional and integrative medicine. He also has a talent of dissecting research and presenting the summary in a useful and reader-friendly manner. I have included links to some of his informative articles to help you understand Mindfulness, and get started on a daily Mindfulness routine. Chris is particularly passionate about disseminating information about the gut microbiome and how this affects overall health, including mood and mood disorders, so I have also included a link to an article here. Mindfulness involves awareness of our body and health, including what we feed ourselves and how we are impacted by our nutrition.

DID YOU KNOW?

If you have been going through life thinking in terms of, “Hungry – not hungry,”  or even not knowing whether or not you feel hunger, this book is for you. Jan Chozen-Bays, the author of one of my favorite books,Mindful Eating, explains SEVEN different types of hunger!
Reasons to gift yourself with this book today:
  1. Mindful Eating is a lovely, soothing read. I think of it as the book version of a massage.
  2. With the book, you receive access to 14 guided meditations.
  3. Never does this book shame you into what you “should” do. Rather, Chozen-Bays gently guides you down a path of discovering your likes and dislikes, what fits and what doesn’t.
  4. Jump start your mindfulness practice and learn to eat for your unique body.

WANT MORE?

My articles are always available for you to read and listen to at your convenience. My written articles can be found on my website, and the audio versions can be found on either my YouTube or Soundcloud pages.


LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO JUST SURVIVE.
THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you would like to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page.
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 4: Self-Compassion

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 4: Self-Compassion

Listen to this article on Soundcloud. Body Image and Weight Loss are generally not topics that people enjoy discussing, yet the conversation is taking place in front of our eyes daily. Simply go outside or turn on any electronic device and you are bombarded with ideas about how you are supposed to look, feel, and even think. It probably does not occur to you to offer self-compassion if you don’t fit the perceived societal mold. The problem is that it not only feeds into the trap of Box Thinking, it also ignores that we are all individuals, and there is no template for the way we are supposed to be.

There are four skill sets that will help you achieve your goal of mastery and confidence over your health and body weight:

    • AWARENESS
    • NONJUDGMENT/CURIOSITY
    • REINFORCEMENT
    • SELF-COMPASSION

In part one of this series I discussed

Awareness, in the second part I reviewed Nonjudgment and Curiosity, and in part three I talked about Reinforcement. In this fourth and final installment of my Body Image and Weight Loss series, the focus is on the skill of Self-Compassion and how it can help you take steps forward.

SELF-COMPASSION

The skill of self-compassion is last, and certainly not least. Self-compassion is the final skill discussed in this series because there are some foundational tools needed to practice this profoundly life-changing way of being. Although self-compassion sounds like a straightforward attitude, it can be the most difficult skill to practice and often requires mastery over the previous three skills before you are able to use self-compassion with regularity.

My Self-Compassion Wake-Up Call

A while ago, I participated in a whole food cleanse that a nutritionist friend of mine was hosting. Her philosophy is all about filling up and treating yourself well, not deprivation. In preparation for our cleanse, an assignment was to tell ourselves three things about our body that we are grateful for before getting out of bed in the morning. I thought this would be easy. After all, I am a psychologist, I see myself as reasonably emotionally aware, and I am all for gratitude and self-compassion.

The first morning came, and I laid there, thinking. Moments passed, and I was still thinking, trying to come up with one piece of gratitude I could offer by body. This was a time in my life when I was plagued with an illness, and my body was often in pain. I had gained weight despite my healthy behaviors, and was experiencing many other unpleasant and difficult-to-diagnose symptoms. I laid there and could not come up with one single thing for which I was grateful. In fact, I started to notice angry thoughts about how my body was not functioning as I wanted. My attempted practice at gratitude shifted to a mental “F— YOU!” to my poor body.

Luckily, I had several years under my belt of practicing mindful awareness, nonjudgment, curiosity, and reinforcement. I was able to notice what was happening, and instead of being overwhelmed with shame that I could not complete the assignment, I decided I needed to practice self-compassion. (Don’t get me wrong, Shame made a strong appearance, I just decided that she was not going to make my decisions.) I made a commitment to myself to physically touch some part of my body (hands, arms, legs) every morning and say words of kind, gentle, compassion, whether or not I believed them.

Some days this felt aversive, and unpleasant, and other days it felt neutral or even somewhat soothing. This is often how the practice of self-compassion goes: it starts out awkward or even quite uncomfortable, and requires much practice to feel soothing and comfort. If you have spent years telling your body it sucks, it is going to take a while for your body to become accustomed to receiving soft, nurturing messages. Eventually, with daily practice, you gently learn to talk to yourself in a much nicer and more reinforcing way. Building this skill helps you maintain all of the behaviors you have worked so hard to change.

 

Getting started with Self-Compassion

Whether you are struggling with weight, body image, or anything associated with those concerns, you can start today by taking a step down a path towards the person that you want to be. Here are some suggestions for getting started with a self-compassion practice.

 

  • PHRASES: Find a short phrase you can repeatedly say to yourself, day after day, that shows compassion. Ideally, phrases are short, easy to memorize, and feel important and relevant to you. Some examples are:

“May I receive kindness and love.” 

“May I be happy, healthy, and at ease.”

“May I learn to accept myself as I am.”

Using “May I” ensures not only that the language is gentle, but also that you are able to receive it. For instance, if you struggle with self-acceptance and then state to yourself the affirmation, “I accept myself totally and fully, exactly as I am,” this is inviting resistance.

First of all, it isn’t true, and your body knows that. Don’t lie to yourself. It feels disingenuous, and it is going to be hard to keep up a daily practice saying something that feels inauthentic. Instead, make this an offering, not a demand. Try it both ways – a strong affirmation vs. a gentle offering – and notice how each feels to you. Typically, my clients report the gentle offering feeling softer, less intense, and easier to accept. That’s what we’re going for here.

  • TOUCH: Practice gently placing your hands on your body in a way that is soft and sweet. Some choices are: holding one hand with your other hand, gently stroking your arm, or giving your arm a soft squeeze, placing one or both hands over your heart, cupping your face with your hands, or lovingly placing your hands on your belly. Try out these suggestions and give each a few moments to see how you feel. Choose the one you feel most comforted by to incorporate into your daily practice.
  • WRITING: Write yourself a sweet, compassionate letter.

Think about a situation in which you are struggling; maybe something about yourself you don’t like and are harsh about, some way you feel as though you are failing, or a situation that has you feeling emotional pain. Write a letter to yourself as though you were writing to a dear, sweet friend who was struggling with the exact same situation. If this is difficult, write from the perspective of the loving friend writing you the letter. Offer words of support, compassion, and tenderness. After the letter is complete, read it often.

The key with all of these practices is to PRACTICE. Self-compassion is a gentle process that requires repetition over time. The practice of self-compassion is not one that you can understand intellectually or experience once or twice and expect it to make a daily impact. Rather, by practicing self-compassion, you are changing how you relate to yourself. You are learning to be tender and sweet, and this takes time.

Self-compassion is a place that is ripe for change. In other words, when you have a supportive, loving, nurturing environment, you are then free to honestly look at behaviors that are not working for you (e.g., eating, exercise, the way you are engaging in a particular relationship), and get to work changing them. Instead of having a drill sergeant yelling that you are doing things wrong, you create the feel of a loving grandparent, understanding and wise. Without the harsh judgment, you slowly (and surely) become unafraid to look inside. When we can truly look at ourselves, plainly and without judgment, then we can go about making lasting change.

 

SELF-COMPASSION PRACTICE: GENTLE BREATHING

(Modified from Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and Chris Germer, Ph.D., Mindful Self-Compassion Core Skills Training manual)

Listen to this practice on Soundcloud or Youtube.

Find a posture in which your body is comfortable and will feel supported for the length of the meditation.

Let your eyes gently close. Take a few slow, easy breaths, releasing any unnecessary tension from your body that is able to let go and be released in this moment.

If you like, place a hand over your heart or another soothing place as a reminder that you are bringing not only awareness, but affectionate awareness, to your breathing and to yourself. You can leave your hand where it is or let it rest at any time, whatever is most comfortable.

Beginning to notice your breathing in your body, feeling your body breathe in and feeling your body breathe out.

Just letting your body breathe you. There is nothing you need to do.

Perhaps noticing how your body is nourished on the in-breath and relaxes with the out-breath.

Now noticing the rhythm of your breathing, flowing in and flowing out. Taking some time to feel the natural rhythm of your breathing.

Feeling your whole body subtly moving with the breath, like the movement of the sea.

Your mind will naturally wander like a curious child or a little puppy. When that happens, gently return to the rhythm of your breathing.

Allowing your whole body to be gently rocked and caressed – internally caressed – by your breathing.

If you like, even giving yourself over to your breathing, letting your breathing be all there is. Becoming the breath.

Just breathing. Being breathing.

And now, gently release your attention to the breath, sitting quietly in your own experience, and allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling, and to be just as you are.

Slowly, at your own pace and in no rush, gently open your eyes.

 


November Newsletter

Welcome to my November Newsletter!

Happy Thanksgiving! What an exhausting time of year this can be! Even if you love the holidays and enjoy robust health, the drop in temperature, colds and flus, and general busy-ness of the season can make it difficult to motivate. If you suffer from chronic illness, this time of year can also feel depleting. Please don’t despair! In this month’s newsletter, you will find…
  • The first installment in my series on Chronic Illness. Chronic, debilitating, and auto-immune disorders seem to be the norm for many nowadays. Even if you do not suffer, you may have a loved one struggling with illness, and my article can help give you some insight and understanding into their experience. Don’t worry – it is not all doom and gloom! Yes, I want to explain and understand hardships, AND I also want to give you a path forward, so read ahead for coping strategies.
  • Also an antidote to illness and stress, you might enjoy knowing more about the Psychology of Laughter. Not only is laughter powerful medicine, it also burns calories, relaxes the body, boosts your immune system, and promotes heart health! In this spirit, I’ve attached some comedy clips for you to enjoy, and I encourage you to watch some of your favorite comedians.
  • Yet another impactful way to support your body is through Mindful Exercise. Meet Owen Dockham, founder and owner of Live Oak Strength. His unique, science-backed approach to exercise and aging well, supports people at all fitness levels, from yoked-out gym rat to Sedentary Sally.
As always, I hope you find something here to brighten your days. After all, life is too short just to survive, that’s why I help people THRIVE!

FEATURED ARTICLE…

Chronic Illness and Mental Health Part 1: The Unpredictability of Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. You may deal with varying degrees of disability; from brain fog that affects your ability to concentrate and remember, to intense pain that affects your joints and ability to move freely in your body. You may even have “wandering” symptoms, which means that you experience different symptoms from day-to-day or week-to-week, and are never sure what to expect from your body. Sometimes symptoms might even be vague and hard to describe; even though you know something is off in your body, you are not experiencing the vitality you once did.

Continue Reading


ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW…

My friend and colleague, Owen Dockham is a certified personal trainer, the founder of Live Oak Strength in the East Bay, California, and co-founder of EverStrongSF in San Francisco in the Lower Haight. (A possible sister location may be opening up in your area of California soon. Stay tuned!) I first attended a fitness class run by Owen in 2011 and have followed him as he expanded to open his own studio offering a super-safe, amazingly effective way to build muscle, strengthen joints, and improve bone density. I started this “Super-Slow” weight lifting workout in October 2016 when I was in a lot of joint and muscle pain and my body was not cooperating with other types of exercise. I have been at it once a week ever since. Did I mention this workout is only once, or maximum twice a week for 20 minutes?! Yep, that’s it! A major component of this exercise is that the muscles need to rest so that they can properly repair and strengthen. I believe in this workout so strongly as I have seen it help already buff people get more muscle tone and definition and senior citizens able to use this method to stay mobile, healthy, and minimize body pain. I continue to learn so much from Owen and his workout protocol. Another selling point for me is that this method is science-backed and based in research. (You can read more about it in the book Body by Science, if you’re interested). To learn more about Owen or high-intensity resistance training, check out his websites.

DID YOU KNOW…

You have certainly heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine!” and research shows us this is true. From lowering stress hormones to momentarily distracting you from painful experiences, laughter provides many health and quality-of-life benefits. You don’t have to take my word for it: check out these articles on the medicine of laughter and learn for yourself how powerful this tool can be. And the next time you need a boost, find a way to evoke a big belly laugh! Remember, it’s great for your health.
SPEAKING OF THE MEDICINE OF LAUGHTER…
Speaking of the medicine of laughter, I am a huge comedy fan. My husband and I love seeing comedians perform live and attend comedy shows whenever we can. I encourage you to brainstorm a few ways you can bring more laughter into your life. For inspiration, check out these brief comedy clips and see what tickles you. (Brian Regan is a personal, long-time favorite of mine. I laugh until I cry – the fun kind.) Enjoy!

JOIN ME ON INSTAGRAM…


Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram. I post a few times a week, so follow @drbando for tips, encouragement, and suggestions to help you thrive.


WANT MORE?

My recent articles, guided meditations, and practices are always available with an audio option – all for free! If you would like to enhance your mindfulness practice, experience this month’s or any recent offerings, please visit either my YouTube or Soundcloud pages.


LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO JUST SURVIVE.
THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you would like to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page.
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Chronic Illness and Mental Health Part 1: The Unpredictability of Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness and Mental Health Part 1: The Unpredictability of Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic illness can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. You may deal with varying degrees of disability; from brain fog that affects your ability to concentrate and remember, to intense pain that affects your joints and ability to move freely in your body. You may even have “wandering” symptoms, which means that you experience different symptoms from day-to-day or week-to-week, and are never sure what to expect from your body. Sometimes symptoms might even be vague and hard to describe; even though you know something is off in your body, you are not experiencing the vitality you once did.

Listen to the audio version of this article on Soundcloud or YouTube.

When your body is in pain or compromised in some way, it can be physically draining. Your immune system may be working hard to try to keep up, and physical exhaustion, or just plain feeling sluggish, is a common experience. After a while, this tends to take an emotional toll.

I don’t know about you, but after a few days of having a bad cold or the flu, I feel emotionally vulnerable and start to wonder if I’m feeling depressed. This is because when we are sick, our bodies adopt the posture and functioning of someone whose mental health is compromised. You may hunch over, need to rest in bed often, find daily tasks more difficult, or find yourself zoning out and unable to focus. When these types of sickness symptoms happen, our brain, which picks up a lot of information from our body, thinks we are depressed, anxious, or in some way emotionally unhappy. It can become a struggle to maintain a balanced mood when your body is working against it.

If this is you, don’t despair; there is help for those living with chronic illness, and improving your quality of life is within reach. First, we will look at reasons chronic illness is difficult to cope with – the more you understand, the better equipped you are to handle the problem. Then, we will jump into coping strategies to increase your sense of well-being and quality of life.

UNPREDICTABILITY

If you suffer from an illness that causes your symptoms to change and rotate, you are no stranger to unpredictability. There is nothing more frustrating than not knowing how you will physically feel when you wake up in the morning: not knowing how this will affect your ability to engage during the day ahead.

For example, some people experience joint or muscle pain that comes and goes in varying intensities. On some days, they are able to walk and hike, but on others, walking from the parking lot to a restaurant is painful, and this affects their ability to make plans with friends and loved ones. Imagine hearing of a concert you would love to attend, and then not knowing whether you will be able to walk to your seat or stand and enjoy the music.

The unpredictability of symptoms makes it nearly impossible to plan ahead. Your social life may suffer, and relationships can take a toll if you repeatedly cancel plans at the last minute because of unforeseen physical symptoms. Even clothing can be a problem for some. Clothes can fit one week, and then become tight and pinching the next, due to swelling and bloating, or they can become loose and hanging because of unwanted weight loss.

You may have to continually ask yourself questions that healthy people do not give a second thought:

  • Will walking or standing be so painful that you must think ahead to make sure you can park close enough wherever you travel?
  • Are you able to fit into and wear comfortable clothes, or will finding something that fits be an added task and stressor?
  • Will you be able to focus at work and engage in a meeting, or forget what you wanted to contribute and not be able to participate articulately?
  • Are you tired and counting the hours until you can rest again?

Being unable to predict how your body will feel or function from day-to-day adds the unwanted burden of thinking through everything you do. When you feel well, you take for granted all the tasks and situations that are automated. It’s like moving to a strange home and having to learn where everything is. Instead of getting up and starting your day, you must think about where the toothbrush and toothpaste are, where you put your morning coffee mug, where to sit and settle in for breakfast instead of already having a favorite seat, etc. Every decision requires thought, and although each decision is not taxing on its own, when you put them all together, it is exhausting! This is similar to what unpredictability of symptoms from a chronic illness can feel like, day after day.

HOW TO COPE

 

SELF-COMPASSION

When loved ones you care about are in pain, your natural desire is to soften. You talk in soothing tones, try to be helpful, maybe put a gentle hand on their shoulder, or offer a hug. You instinctively understand that being caring is what is needed when someone is struggling. However, most of us often don’t apply this same understanding to ourselves.

When you are having a tough time, do you respond by telling yourself to “buck up” and “push through”, not wanting to ask for help, while berating yourself for having a challenging time in the first place? If so, you are not alone. Self-criticism is rampant in our world, and this is unfortunate because not only does this make pain more difficult to tolerate, it also often slows our progress and prevents clear problem solving.

If you’d like to understand this better, try this little exercise: Take out a pen and paper and write down some of the things that you say to yourself when you are not being kind.

My favorites: “You are so stupid!” “Geez, you can’t do anything. What a failure.” “You are so ugly; you should be ashamed. Just look at you.”

Without censoring, write down those phrases you use to tell yourself you are unworthy and undeserving of love and respect.

Now, close your eyes and imagine a chair in front of you. Imagine someone you love dearly just came and sat down in this chair. Try to picture this person vividly, and feel the sense of love and gratitude you have for this person well up inside of you. Now, tell the person the phrases you use to berate yourself but direct the words toward your loved one. If you tell yourself you are a failure, say to your loved one that he or she is a failure. Use the tone and emphasis you use toward yourself and don’t hold back. Imagine your loved one receiving your words and watch their reaction. What happens? How do they feel? How do you feel?

I tried this exercise in a workshop once, and I couldn’t get past the first few words. In my imagination, my loved one started crying, hunched over and horrified by the hurtful words I hurled toward him. I couldn’t even go on. Now, imagine, this is what you have been doing to yourself.

When illness happens, you are compromised. You cannot function at 100% and perform as you do when you are feeling healthy. When you are in this state, you need compassion more than ever: It does not make sense to kick yourself when you are down. That only puts you in more pain, and you feel greater defeat and inability to cope.

Replacing self-criticism with a compassionate gesture or words can soften the blow, allow you to release the pressure valve, and help you gain the strength and confidence to cope.

Imagine not being able to concentrate or perform as well as you would like and rather than saying the words you identified above, instead, you place a soft hand over your heart, or gently hold your other hand, and say something sweet, such as, “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry you’re suffering in this moment.” Sound awkward? That’s a sign you need some practice!

Dr. Kristen Neff developed Mindful Self Compassion, a set of skills to practice changing your harsh self-stance to one of love, gentleness, understanding, and of course, compassion. On her website, she generously provides guided meditations and suggested practices. If you would like to learn more, check out her offerings and start gently practicing. https://self-compassion.org/ Also, listen to my guided meditation on feeling supported and connected at the end of this article.

CLEAR, UNAPOLOGETIC COMMUNICATION

When you are compromised by illness, it is a common experience to feel shame. Embarrassment that you are not functioning as you previously did, or as you or others expect, can get in the way of asking for help or being clear about your abilities and limits.

I have a friend who, unbeknownst to me, was suffering from a severe autoimmune disorder. For a while, I experienced her as rigid, demanding, and defensive, and did not want to spend much time around her as a result. When she finally (and tearfully) told me she was sick and suffering and was acting differently because she was embarrassed and did not want to ask for help, all of my irritation and intolerance melted and I was filled with compassion for her. Instead of wanting to check out of the relationship, her communication made me want to know more, be more understanding, and offer any help I could.

When my friend clearly and directly communicated with me what was going on with her health, how it was affecting her, and what she needed, I was no longer in the dark. I was now provided with context if she canceled plans last minute or needed to rest instead of going on a hike.

Being candid about what you want and need, without apologizing for yourself, and simply stating how things are, can be empowering. If you can put aside the judgments of how you think you “should” feel or what you “should” be doing, and instead respond to the facts of the situation and what you need and want, everybody is happier, including you.

If you are embarrassed or feel shame because you are sick and you respond by hiding (the action urge for shame and embarrassment), you are reinforcing the message that you should be ashamed of yourself. When you are sick, and you feel embarrassed, but then you ask for help anyway, set limits, or let people know what you are struggling with, you give yourself the message that you deserve to be cared for, acknowledged, and that this sickness is not your fault.

When you are coping with chronic illness, communication can prove difficult, especially if symptoms wax and wane in an unpredictable fashion. Because of this, you may not know how to describe how you feel, what to ask for, or what limits to set. In this case, just stating that you are unsure what is going on with you or what to ask for can be clarifying to your loved ones and validating to yourself. The clearer you can be about your current experience, without judgment, the better able you will be to set appropriate limits and gain support, connection, and understanding.

 

Guided Mindfulness Practice for Finding Connection and Support

Listen to the audio version of this practice on Soundcloud or YouTube.

(Modified from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan.)

An effective way to participate in this meditation is not to get too caught up in thinking about the words. Rather, settle into your breath, your body, and let the words gently float through you, allowing yourself to be just as you are in this moment.

Start by noticing your breath in your body. You do not have to alter or change your breathing. Your breath is perfect as it is. Just notice the feeling of your inhalation and exhalation and how your whole body is involved in this movement of breath.

Focus your attention on your feet touching the ground. Consider the kindness of the ground holding you up, providing a path for you to get to other things, not letting you fall away from everything else.

Focus your attention on your body touching the chair you sit in. Consider how the chair accepts you totally, holds you up, supports your back, and keeps you from falling onto the floor.

Focus your attention on the clothes on your body. Consider the touch of your clothes holding you, surrounding and keeping you warm and comfortable.

If you are indoors, consider the walls in the room. They keep out the wind and the cold and the rain. Think of how the walls are connected to you through the floor and the air in the room. Experience your connection to the walls that provide you with a secure place to do things.

Now, focus your attention on where your body touches an object: floor or ground, air molecules, a chair or armrest, your clothes, you choose. Try to see all the ways you are connected to and accepted by that object. Consider the function of that object in relation to you. That is, consider what the object does for you. Consider its kindness in doing that. Experience the sensation of touching the object, and focus your entire attention on that kindness and notice if you begin to feel a sense of being connected, loved, or cared for arising in your heart.

Continue to notice objects you are connected to and supported by throughout your day. Whenever you are needing a bit more support and comfort, see if you can identify ways that objects around you are kindly providing their support. Breathe this support in and feel connected to the world around you.


October Newsletter

Welcome to my October Newsletter!

As we approach the end of October, we are now deep into Autumn; falling leaves, hot drinks, and sweaters abound. With the change in environment, and more darkness than light each 24 hours, we can experience fatigue and a sense of turning inwards. At the same time, all of our responsibilities remain, and energy is required to keep up with the typical pace of life, all while being aware that the planning of holiday festivities is just around the corner. While many of us enjoy the Fall, we may also find ourselves depleted, and motivation to maintain healthy behaviors may wane. If you are feeling a dip in your get-up-and-go, don’t despair. Take a breath (or three), let go of self-judgment, and read on for some helpful skills and strategies to keep you moving in a forward direction, even if it is at a slower, more gentle pace than the previous months. Remember, the turtle won the race.

In this issue, you will find a link to follow me on Instagram. “Dr. Bando” is new to Instagram and I am having so much fun posting up encouragement and useful links. You will also find an article related to body image and weight loss plus how to reinforce yourself in a way that supports lasting change. While you’re here, meet my colleague, Jennifer Joffe, health coach extraordinaire. Her story is inspiring and her work may help change your life for the better (think big!). Lastly, if you are interested in nutrition, lifestyle, and aging well and you’ve not yet heard of Dr. Rhonda Patrick, do yourself a favor and check out her summary of the research on sugar. You’re welcome.

Thank you so much for reading. I put out this monthly newsletter for no charge and develop all of the pieces on my own time. I do this with loving care because my hope is that something here nourishes you and adds joy, hope, and vibrancy to your life. Happy exploring!


FEATURED ARTICLE…

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 3: Reinforcement

It is nearly impossible to turn on your TV, go online, or even go out in public without being bombarded by society’s idea of the ideal body. It is not only frustrating, but it can also be extremely discouraging. Experiencing this way of thinking on a regular basis can reinforce a “box thinking” mindset, that there is a particular way that each of us is supposed to look. This also makes it harder to take those steps towards change. Luckily, there is a way to overcome the feelings of stagnation and defeat with reinforcement.

Continue Reading


ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW…

Jennifer Joffe is an Integrative Health Coach who focuses on self-love and compassion to help you realize the weight and lifestyle that best feeds you. She, herself, has lost over 100 pounds and coaches others to achieve a healthy self-image and develop a body in which you can move and feel free. Her style is no-nonsense, down-to-earth and compassionate. She is in the trenches with you. Jennifer has been there and done that and receives her clients’ stories and struggles with nonjudgment, fierce encouragement, and accountability. You can read about Jennifer’s inspiring story here, find out more about her health coaching program, Project Healthy Body here, and if you do some Google searching, can probably find a video of her Today Show appearance. Yep, she is that fierce and inspiring. Of my clients who have opted into her program over the years, they have all reported significant health benefits, more insight into what drives them and who they want to be, and overall feel empowered, healthy and able to enjoy life.

DID YOU KNOW…

If you ask functional medicine doctors and most holistic health practitioners, they will tell you it is no coincidence that flu and cold season exists from October through February. The reason? SUGAR! We end October with Halloween candy and roll right into overstuffed Thanksgiving followed by cookie season, and then ride out the hangover through Valentine’s Day when chocolate is the traditional gift. If you L-O-V-E sugar on the holidays, you have no judgment coming from me. Our environment is not set up for us to sidestep sugar. It takes tons of resolve, pre-planning and careful self-guided reinforcement to avoid this tempting and very addictive trap. Maybe you are toying with the idea of cutting back on sugar and could use a little push? Perhaps you haven’t been thinking about it but would like to know more? Check out this informative video from Dr. Rhonda Patrick, who has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science and is a passionate educator teaching people how to live and age well. I have also provided a link to her website where she lists two pages of articles you can click and read about the effects of sugar on the body. Once you know, you know


JOIN ME ON INSTAGRAM…


I recently started posting to Instagram and I’d love your comments! Follow me here and comment away: What do you like or not like? Do certain images or messages resonate? Do you find there is a piece missing or have a question and would like to know more? Your comments and interests drive my posts and writing. The more I hear from you about what works and what doesn’t, the better able I am to deliver high-quality, useful goodies. So, check out @drbando on Instagram and I’ll see you there!


WANT MORE?

My recent articles and guided meditations and practices are now available with an audio option – all for free! If you would like to enhance your mindfulness practice, experience this month’s or any recent offerings, please visit my Soundcloud page.


LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO JUST SURVIVE.
THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you would like to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page.
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 3: Reinforcement

Body Image and Weight Loss Part 3: Reinforcement

Listen to the audio version of this article

It is nearly impossible to turn on your TV, go online, or even go out in public without being bombarded by society’s idea of the ideal body. It is not only frustrating, but it can also be extremely discouraging. Experiencing this way of thinking on a regular basis can reinforce a “box thinking” mindset, that there is a particular way that each of us is supposed to look. This also makes it harder to take those steps towards change. Luckily, there is a way to overcome the feelings of stagnation and defeat with reinforcement.

When it comes to Body Image and Weight Loss, becoming proficient in the following four skill sets will help you achieve your goal of mastery and confidence over your health and body weight:

    • AWARENESS
    • NONJUDGMENT/CURIOSITY
    • REINFORCEMENT
    • SELF-COMPASSION

I discussed Awareness as it pertains to Body Image and Weight Loss in the first part of this series, and in the second part, I reviewed Nonjudgment and Curiosity. In this installment, we will take a look at Reinforcement and its role in keeping you on the path to positive, lasting change.

REINFORCEMENT

Years of research and over a decade of my own professional and personal practice have confirmed the time-tested wisdom: reinforcement is the most effective way to achieve lasting change. When you want to shift your behavior, defining the steps needed to move toward your goals and reinforcing those steps repeatedly, will help you achieve the results you desire.

At times, my clients will ask, “Am I supposed to ignore what is wrong and just focus on the ‘positive,’ pretending that everything is fine?” My answer is a resounding, “No!” You need to acknowledge problems as they appear in your life because awareness of what is happening and what you do and do not want is the first step to change. Once you have this nonjudgmental awareness and are clear on your goals, it can be defeating, punishing, and stall your progress to continue focusing all of your attention on what is wrong or difficult to change. Reinforcement is not about ignoring problems as they appear, it is about focusing your attention and intention toward what works to optimize your capabilities for change.

Reward, not punishment, helps produce and maintain lasting change. This means you get to be kind and encouraging toward yourself when you do what works, instead of looking for the mistakes and giving yourself an internal lashing. When you use reinforcement for what is working, as opposed to punishing yourself for slip-ups or relapses, you empower yourself to move forward, and you ignite motivation.

Another point to remember about the reinforcement-change experience is that change is not a linear process. Progress does not happen in a straight, upward moving way; in fact, you will almost certainly experience multiple ups and downs. No one can go from a lifestyle of eating nothing but processed foods to eating healthy, whole foods with no struggles or setbacks. Change does not work like that. Most of the time, you will go back to engaging in behaviors that you would like to stop. Even if you follow behavior-change protocols to a “T”, you will find yourself having urges or engaging in old, ineffective behaviors at some point. You will crave and possibly eat that food that drains your energy, blow off that walk to watch TV, and stay up later getting less rest than you know you need.

Going back to old behaviors is part of the process of change, not failure! Moving momentarily backward can be perceived as a sign that progress is happening. You are headed in the right direction and engaging in old, ineffective behaviors is part of making the changes you want. Knowing that this is how the process works will allow you to stay encouraged even when things don’t go exactly as you had hoped.

You can anticipate this process and give yourself a break when it happens. Instead of judging yourself, giving yourself a mental slap with harsh self-critical thinking, or giving up, you can reinforce yourself for noticing when you have gotten off track and decide the most effective step to take next. “Failure” is an opportunity to notice, take a small step toward the path you want to be on, and reinforce! Practice this over and over and over until the practice becomes what you automatically do.

The more you engage in this cycle, the sooner you will notice lasting change happen and stick. Remember, going back to your old ways is a part of the process of change, and does not signal failure! In the moment you notice you have relapsed, you can then make a new choice about what to do next. The more you practice becoming aware that you have reverted to old ways, reinforce your noticing (being gentle with yourself and without judgment), and get back on track, the sooner you will be on course and more quickly reach your goals.

 

REINFORCEMENT PRACTICE

For a guided practice in reinforcement, listen to this Meditation on Motivation and strengthen your reinforcement muscle.

To stay motivated and moving toward goals that you value, you must build the muscle of Reinforcement. Finding what you are already doing that is working, or taking very small steps forward, and then rewarding those actions creates sustainable motivation for change. Think of it this way: punishment extinguishes motivation and reinforcement creates, ignites, awakens and maintains motivation. Where you have reinforcement, you can create motivation.

Let’s practice building this muscle:

Start with noticing your breathing. You do not have to change or alter your breath. Simply notice that you are inhaling and exhaling. Pay attention to where in your physical body you feel your breath.

Now, for the next three to five breaths, pay attention to where you feel your breath in your physical body and when your mind wanders away or zones out, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

When you notice yourself wander and bring you attention back to your breath, you can think of this as a weight lifting rep, or an exercise to build your ability to put your attention where you want it.

Now, let’s go further. Using this idea of placing the mind where you want it to be in the moment, recall one thing you did in the past day that was effective. Unless you achieved a huge goal in the past day, this exercise requires you to let go of judgments and find where you were effective. Do not dismiss anything for not being “good” enough or “big” enough. If you were tired and you got up on time, that is an accomplishment. If you felt depressed and did not want to get out of bed but you took a shower, perhaps that was effective. It does not matter how big or small you think this action was, take a moment and pick one effective action you engaged in over the past day.

When you have that behavior in mind, reinforce it. You can reinforce this behavior a number of ways: you can reinforce with self-talk, such as, “Good job,” or “I did it,” or “Nice!” Remember, your focus is on what you did well and reinforcing it. If your mind wanders to telling you that it wasn’t good enough, your practice is to gently bring your focus back to what you did well and reinforce it. You may also reinforce your behavior through soothing touch. Maybe if feels soothing to place your hands over your heart center and notice the warmth, or one hand over the other hand, or gently cup your face with both hands. This is touch that feels loving and sweet. Again, when your mind wanders to you or your behavior not being good enough, gently bring your attention back to what you did well and reinforce it.

This is the practice of increasing your motivation in a way that is sustainable and reliable. You can practice this every day – find one thing you did well and practice turning your mind toward noticing what you accomplished and reinforcing it. When your mind goes toward judgments about you or your behavior not measuring up, this is punishment. It will extinguish your motivation and ability to move forward. It’s not wrong, this is just what minds do, they wander, and they come up with judgments. Your task is to calmly notice when this happens and bring your attention back to reinforcing your accomplishment. Practice, practice, practice this and you will notice your motivation grow and your ability to take more steps toward your goals increase.


Emotional Hygiene: Say Goodbye to Box Thinking and Emotional Buildup


Listen to the audio version of this article on Soundcloud

Listen to the audio version of this article on YouTube

Attaining emotional health is not a one-time event. Rather, emotional well-being is an ongoing, dynamic, proactive process, just like any other healthy lifestyle behavior. Emotions are a physiological experience, meaning they happen in the body. When we experience an emotion, our biology changes: heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, blood pressure, and even temperature can all shift when an emotion fires. To prevent the effects of emotional buildup (e.g., overwhelm, sleeplessness, fatigue, anxiety, depression) bodies must metabolize each emotion that occurs, and we do this by paying attention to the emotional sensations in our bodies. When we are not aware and do not know what we are feeling or where we are feeling it, emotions get stuck. We become emotionally clogged, and buildup happens. Read (or listen) on to learn how to sidestep “box thinking” and invalidation, both recipes for emotional buildup and the antidote to freedom and empowerment.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DAILY EMOTIONAL HYGIENE

With other health behaviors, such as eating, we understand the need to attend to this habit daily if we want results. For example, if after years of eating nothing but unhealthy processed junk we changed to a healthy eating lifestyle, we wouldn’t tell ourselves that after a week or even a month of healthy eating, that we are healed. Even more so, we wouldn’t go back to a diet of processed foods, head for that fast-food drive-thru, and expect to have stellar health and maintain our nutritional gains. We would understand that to continue to reap the health benefits (e.g., stabilized weight, even energy, balanced mood, trouble-free digestion), we must continue our regular practice of feeding ourselves nutritious foods.

Most of us are not taught to take time out of our day for emotional processing. Much like brushing our teeth or other personal hygiene habits, emotional health requires daily attention.

What prevents daily emotional hygiene? Box thinking and Invalidation:

 BOX THINKING

 “I’ve already dealt with that.”

Instead of viewing emotional health and processing as a daily practice, people sometimes are under the false assumption that they have “dealt with” whatever emotional experience they have endured; meaning that they have talked about it, experienced emotions, and can now put it away, never to be felt again. I have heard people use the phrase, “I’ve already dealt with that,” to describe their emotional processing of the death of a close loved one or past abuses or trauma. Other phrases under the “I’ve dealt with it” umbrella include “I’ve already talked about that in therapy,” or, “I’ve cried about that; I have no more tears to shed.” It is as though the emotional experience is a box to be opened and examined, and then taped shut and put up in the rafters, never to be seen again.

What’s the problem with box thinking?

The problem with “box thinking” is that…

Box Thinking = Emotional Buildup

I once heard a friend use the phrase, “I’ve already dealt with that,” regarding her father’s death, meaning that she was not supposed to have further emotions about it because she felt what was there and then neatly put it away. Taking my friend as an example, can you imagine her not feeling anything when her father was not able to be at her wedding, the birth of her children, holidays, other important markers in her life? Of course not! Emotions are NOT dealt with and then put away in a box and tied up with a bow.

Remember, emotions are a dynamic, flowing, ever-changing process. Emotions are not a one-time event that happens and then goes away forever, especially when the event prompting the emotion is significant to us. When we view emotions this way, we tend to deny ourselves the opportunity to feel them. For instance, if we decide that we are no longer allowed to mourn a loss in our lives (e.g., breakup, divorce, job loss, death), we learn to quickly shut it down when the feelings of sadness or grief start to appear. We lock it into that box and distract ourselves, rationalize that we don’t really feel that way, and inadvertently, create a layer of emotional buildup.

INVALIDATION

“There’s nothing wrong. Why am I crying?”

This statement often precedes a judgment such as, “This is so stupid,” or, “There is no reason to cry,” or, “I don’t understand what my problem is.” People even apologize while wiping away their tears. When we can slow things down and approach the tears or sadness or pain from a curious and nonjudgmental space, we can always validate the emotional experience.

Emotions are sufficiently explained by science. They are a physiological experience and fire when something prompts them. Feelings do not randomly fall out of the sky. If we are experiencing an emotion, by definition, that emotion makes sense. Even if you cannot see the cause in the moment, the mere fact that you are experiencing an emotion means that something prompted that emotion to fire.

When we can get curious instead of judgmental about our feelings, we can better understand where they are coming from and what we need. I have never once walked away from a therapy session or a conversation with somebody where I’m thinking “yeah, I don’t know why you’re crying either.” There is always a reason, and if we are curious and interested, we can understand.

I may ask a patient of mine a few questions about what’s been going on, or what was happening right before the person cried, and it is almost always something clearly upsetting. I might hear about a conversation where a person was informed that they did a horrible job, or they just had an experience that made them think of how much they miss their mother. Typically, something happened that understandably led to sadness, but instead, they judged themselves for feeling, and this clouded their ability to comprehend.

BENEFITS OF DAILY EMOTIONAL HYGIENE

Wouldn’t it be liberating to allow ourselves to freely experience emotions as they ebb and flow; without trying to categorize them or saying when we should be feeling them? Imagine knowing that we can handle whatever emotion comes our way, that we know how to ride the waves, and we are valid in our experience(s). Envision being able to trust our bodies to the degree that when we feel something, regardless of its content, we immediately respond, “Oh, something is happening here. It must make sense, even if I don’t know why, because I am feeling it.” All of this can happen, and I have seen it happen with so many of my clients, with a daily emotional hygiene practice as their foundation.

Emotions happen daily, just like healthy or non-healthy eating occurs every day. If we want robust emotional health and the kind of clarity and empowerment that comes from processing our emotions, we must practice. Read (or listen) to the following Daily Emotional Hygiene practice to help clear the clouds of emotional buildup, gain regular access to your wisdom, the ability to see clearly, and learn to trust in your body and yourself.


DAILY EMOTIONAL HYGIENE PRACTICE

Listen to the audio version of this practice on Soundcloud

Listen to the audio version of this practice on YouTube

Emotional health requires daily practice to clear emotional buildup. This practice will help you develop and sustain a relationship with your emotional self. The stronger that relationship is, the more internal power and wisdom you have access to. You can liken it to a relationship with another person; if it is somebody you never see, and you do not put effort into spending time with them or calling to connect, the relationship is going to dwindle: you need the quality time to bond. You certainly wouldn’t treat your children in this way saying, “Okay, I’ll talk to you in a few weeks, go to your room.” Instead, you want to be involved, and know what is going on, and the same is true for building a relationship with our emotional selves. Let’s practice.

Let’s use these next few moments as quality time to connect with your emotions and your body, and clear emotional buildup.

We’ll start with paying attention to 3 breaths. You do not have to change or alter your breath in any way, simply notice what your breath is doing in this moment, for 3 inhalations and 3 exhalations.

Now, ask yourself, “Hmm, where in my physical body is my attention drawn as I notice my breath?” Notice where in your body you pay attention as you feel your breath in this moment.

Throughout this practice, as you mind wanders, when you noticed it has wandered away, very gently, with no hint of harshness, guide your attention back to your breath, coming home to your body, each time you notice your mind has gone on a walk and wandered away.

Now, take a brief scan of your body from your feet up to your head. Make a note of any sensations that come into your awareness, no matter how big or small…Scanning your body and noticing any sensation.

Coming back now to anchor yourself in your breathing, I’m going to ask you a question. When I ask the question, you can simply focus on your breathing. There is no need to search for an answer or try to come up with anything; simply notice what information your body gives you, if anything at all. Noticing your breath flow in and out, now asking your body, “What emotion is present in this moment?” Just notice and breathe. Breathe and notice.

If you noticed an emotion name came up such as anger, sadness, joy, or even if you noticed not knowing what emotion is present, now, again, focusing on breathing in and out and ask your body, “How do you know? Where is this feeling (or lack of knowing) located in my body?” Breathe and notice what comes into your awareness.

Whether you have noticed emotional sensations or not at this point, pay attention to a few more breaths while simultaneously noticing any physical sensations that are present. It doesn’t matter if these feelings stay the same or shift and change. Your gentle task is to create a soft, welcoming environment for any sensation to arise. As you notice any sensation, take a few breaths as you pay attention to this feeling. Then, after a few breaths, ask yourself curiously, “Now, what do I notice in my body in this moment?” It doesn’t matter if you notice the same thing or something different. By paying attention to sensations in your body in this way, you are allowing emotional feelings to arise as they please, be noticed and felt, and waft away when they are ready. Anything you have felt thus far in your practice has been processed and metabolized, that layer of emotion digested and released.

If you would like, you can continue this practice of noticing sensations and breaths in your body for a little while longer, or you can conclude your practice for now. Think of this exercise like brushing your teeth, but for your emotions. If this is the first day in a long time you have brushed your teeth, you are going to have some buildup, and the first brushing may seem insignificant. However, if you keep at it, consistently, little-by-little and day-by-day, emotional buildup will release and you will be able to feel at peace and at home in your body.

Remember to pay attention to your breath and body every day, even if only for a few minutes. This is how you develop strong emotional hygiene and robust emotional health and healing. If any part of this meditation was difficult, I invite you to continue to gently practice, noticing if your experience shifts over time.

Happy practicing!


September Newsletter

Welcome to my September Newsletter!

This month, we are officially entering the Fall season! Depending on where you live, you may soon experience colder weather and some gloomy, cloudy days. With the change in seasons can come a change in how you feel. If, when the temperature drops so do your emotions, I encourage you to be proactive: Start thinking about how to buffer your resilience now!

In this installment, you can read (or listen to) my article, Daily Emotional Hygiene, and commit to a daily practice of attending to your emotions. By developing a deliberate practice and getting a jump start, you will build a robust and stable foundation for weathering painful feelings. Also in this issue, find out what your wisdom has to do with bone broth, meet a therapist who helps you face any flavor of anxiety head-on, and learn about what one company is doing to provide mental health service coverage as an alternative to insurance. I hope you enjoy this issue. Happy Fall!

Great news: You can now follow me on Instagram! Check out drbando for updates, interesting tidbits, comments on current events related to health, psychology and well-being, and spontaneous pictures and fun stuff. Hope to see you on social media!


FEATURED ARTICLE…


Attaining emotional health is not a one-time event. Rather, emotional well-being is an ongoing, dynamic, proactive process, just like any other healthy lifestyle behavior. Emotions are a physiological experience, meaning they happen in the body. When we experience an emotion, our biology changes: heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, blood pressure and even temperature can all shift when an emotion fires. To prevent the effects of emotional buildup (e.g., overwhelm, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression) bodies must metabolize each emotion that occurs and we do this by paying attention to the emotional sensations in our bodies. Continue Reading


MOTIVATION AND AN ALTERNATIVE TO INSURANCE FOR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES…

Lyra Health is a company that employers hire to provide free mental health services to their employees. Employers contract services with Lyra to offer each employee a certain number of therapy sessions per year (I have seen anywhere from 25 to 50 sessions covered yearly).  Lyra hires an extensive network of mental health professionals (myself included) to provide care. In their own words, Lyra Health “is transforming mental health care by creating a frictionless experience for members, providers, and employers. Using technology and data, we connect companies and their employees to mental health providers, therapy, and coaching programs that work.” Last month I was asked to be a contributor to their blog, and you can read my article on motivation here: lyrahealth.com

ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW…

One of the things that I love most about my profession, is learning, growing, and being inspired by other professionals. One of those people is CBT Therapist, anxiety expert, and author, Jennifer Shannon, LMFT. Jennifer has devoted her life’s work to helping people cope with, instead of run from, anxiety. She wrote the first social anxiety book for teens (nothing for teens suffering with social anxiety was previously available to the public), and is passionate in her focused and science-backed approaches to taking charge of your life instead of shirking in fear as a result of anxiety’s threats. Jennifer also practices what she preaches. She was a victim of the Sonoma County 2017 fires and lost her home, and she chronicled her journey through the devastation via her blog. Jennifer practiced the skills and coping strategies she teaches and laid it out bare and raw for you, the reader, to benefit from her surviving this extreme hardship. If that’s not fierce, I don’t know what is! For access to Jennifer’s books, blogs, videos and therapy services, check out her website: jennifershannon.com

DID YOU KNOW…


Nutrition is a key health behavior that influences not only how we feel physically, but our mood, emotions, how we make decisions, how we sleep, and our relationships? Check out my video below explaining how eating affects individuals differently and also learn to make a nutritious bone broth in your own kitchen!

DR. BANDO’S BONE BROTH RECIPE:

This recipe is extremely forgiving and can be tailored to your preferences. Feel free to eyeball the quantities and combine ingredients in amounts that look right to you.

Remember to source your ingredients well!

Ingredients:

  • Bones from one pastured chicken (included skin and any leftover meat on bones)
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ¼ – ½ onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 – 3” chopped fresh ginger (use more for spicy ginger notes and less if ginger flavor is not your favorite)
  • Carrot or celery (both, or whichever one you have on hand)
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 heaping T sea salt
  • 1 ½ t peppercorns
  • Filtered water

Instructions:

  1. Put all ingredients into a slow cooker.
  1. Pour over enough filtered water to cover the ingredients and all of the chicken bones.
  1. Turn the slow cooker on “low” and allow to simmer for 24 hours.
  1. Filter the broth and store in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for longer. (Make sure to leave a couple of inches at the top of your jars if freezing. Liquids expand when frozen and you don’t want the bummer of broken glass in your bone broth.)

Drink as often as your body wants and enjoy!

Rather than taking my word for it, if you are interested in learning more about the benefits of bone broth, please visit PubMed or Google Scholar and see the data for yourself. If you prefer a summary, I’ve provided links to a few quality blogs providing an overview of the data and important benefits of this health elixir. Happy researching!


WANT MORE?

My recent articles and guided meditations and practices are now available with an audio option – all for free! If you would like to enhance your mindfulness practice, experience this month’s or any recent offerings, please visit my Soundcloud page.


LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO JUST SURVIVE.
THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE
I hope you enjoyed this article! If you would like to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you can do so by clicking the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page.
Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

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Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando