Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 3 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

Part 3 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide

 

The holiday season is filled with so much extra stuff – packed schedules, gifts to buy, errands, food (more on that in Part 4), and people! You may feel over-“stuffed” yet still experience loneliness. Feeling sadness or struggling to enjoy the holiday season is a common experience. Many people find the holidays a stressful time of year. As mentioned, sometimes you may feel lonely (even in a room full of people), have a history of disappointing holiday memories, or have experienced a loss associated with the holiday season (such as the death of a loved one). It can feel like everyone around you is enjoying time with loved ones and the warmth of the season while you feel left out in the cold. If you find this a particularly difficult and lonesome time of year, take heart and read on for some ideas for finding comfort.

 

MAKE MEANING

Research shows us that even in the direst situations (being held in a concentration camp, surviving 9/11, or losing a loved one) people who are able to make meaning have a better quality of life and report more happiness overall in the years following that event. I mention these heart-wrenching examples because when you are down in the dumps and someone tells you, “everything happens for a reason” or some other encouragement geared toward making meaning, it can often feel invalidating and infuriating. The skill of making meaning or purpose in the midst of a painful experience can get you through and help you thrive. Research with survivors of tragic historic events shows us this is true.

 

Here’s what meaning-making is not: Making meaning out of pain is not forcing a smile and pretending everything is okay. It is not people-pleasing and making everyone else happy and comfortable while you suffer inside. It is not telling yourself that this situation happened for a reason or you must have deserved it.

 

What making meaning does involve, is finding a way to derive some purpose, something you can gain, out of the suffering you are in. In other words, how can you play the terrible hand of cards you have been dealt in the most beneficial way possible? Here is an example: I know a woman who has struggled with infertility and it is not possible for her to have children. This is very painful for her and every time the holidays come around, she aches to have a family. Every ornament that is hung and tradition experienced reminds her that she will not be passing any of this on to her own children. She feels pain. Although at times, she may be angry and want to scream how unfair this is, what brings her the most peace is finding meaning through her own spiritual and meditative practices, which she believes she would not do if she had not been met with so much sadness about something she cannot fix. She views her situation as driving her closer to practicing her spiritual beliefs and, as a result, extending increased compassion toward others. This does not make the state of affairs or her pain go away. What this meaning-making practice does, is help her focus on her values and find something of worth in the midst of her circumstances. When she feels lonely, sad, hopeless, she turns to her spiritual practices and finds comfort. This is making meaning.

 

Meaning making is a skill taught in the Distress Tolerance module of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Distress Tolerance skills are designed for getting you through the moment when you cannot immediately solve the problem or source of your pain. At times, the holidays can be painful and because of the circumstances, we cannot completely change this. We feel pain, sadness, and loneliness. Making meaning can help us get through until, as with everything in life, this pain too shall pass. There will come a day that you smile and laugh and find pleasure. Remind yourself of this. Don’t let holiday loneliness get to you. Here are some tips to cope with Holiday Season sadness.

 

Online therapy. Loneliness, DBT, video therapy, California psychlogist

 

ENJOY JUST A MOMENT

Another DBT skill, this time from the Emotion Regulation module, is to engage in pleasant activities. The reasoning is that if you don’t have pleasant activities in your day, you cannot have a pleasant life. Sometimes, when you are very low, as you may feel during the holiday season, it feels like nothing gives you pleasure or joy. This is where you must get creative.

 

Instead of looking for bliss, try adjusting your expectations and finding one small thing that you can somewhat enjoy for a few seconds. Some examples are your first sip of coffee, those first few moments of getting into bed after a long day, taking a moment to inhale the delicious aroma of the food you are about to eat, or stopping to notice a beautiful flower. When times are rough and we cannot feel sustained happiness, it does not eliminate our need to be nourished with joy. When we start to notice the little things, even for a few seconds, we begin to build our emotional bank account with some pleasant experiences.

 

Think about having an empty bucket of loneliness or sadness. Every time you notice something even a little bit pleasant, like the moment you take off your shoes when arriving home, you are filling the bucket with a drop of pleasure. Of course, one drop does not make a big difference in a large, empty bucket. If you keep it up, drop by drop, over time, the bucket fills. Although it can feel like a slow process, every single time you turn your attention towards something even a little bit pleasant, you are a drop closer to filling that bucket. When you have accumulated many pleasant events, you will build the ability to feel more pleasure and happiness. Don’t force it. Just keep practicing and it will happen.

 

TAKE TIME TO REMEMBER

If your holiday season is a sad time because of loss and grief, you can make remembrance and the celebration of a loved one’s life a part of your holiday tradition. My grandmother used to make pies during the holidays. She would roll out the extra pie crust, spread it with butter, sugar, and cinnamon, and make special cookies for me to nibble while the pies baked. Now, whenever I make a pie, I use my grandmother’s fabulous pie crust recipe and say a little “thank you” to her for creating this memory for me. My husband now sometimes joins in, and instead of feeling sadness and lack, it has become a bonding experience that brings up nostalgia and gratitude. Rather than trying to push your pain aside or focus only on the positive, you may find a more authentic and touching experience when you take a few moments to remember those you have lost and commemorate this, even with a little “thank you.”

 

I hope that these strategies and activities make the holiday season a lot more enjoyable. If, however, your holiday blues are more severe or do not seem to reduce even after taking steps to help, then you may want to consider visiting a therapist. Therapists trained in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be particularly helpful in dealing with the realities of the holiday season and finding effective coping strategies. Get in contact with a therapist to find out how they can provide that extra support to help you get through the holiday season, and perhaps feel even better about it.

 

Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

If you use any of the practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.

 

 

 

 


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 2 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

Part 2 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide

 

The holiday season is here, and along with this time of year comes a lot of “stuff”! Yes, “stuff” can come in the form of things, objects, presents, toys, etc., but there is also a lot of emotional “stuff” that gets stirred up this time of year. If you are feeling over-“stuffed” and want to loosen the button on your emotional pants, read on for ways to cope. Part 2 of this four-part Holiday Stress Survival Guide focuses on relationships.

 

RELATIONSHIPS DURING THE HOLIDAYS

The holidays are a time when relationships come front and center. We often spend more time than usual with family members or those who are like family. We can find ourselves in a cocktail of a lot of face-time with people with whom we have a lot of history, and high stress, all while feeling rundown during these cold months and at the height of cold-and-flu season. Maybe not a mixture we would like to order often, but during the holidays, this is what we have on our plate.

California Online Therapist, holiday stress, relationships

 

SKILLS FOR INTERPERSONAL CONFLICTS

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a well-researched therapy offering lots of skills that you can put into practice in real-time to get true results. There is a whole module in DBT focusing on Interpersonal Effectiveness. Here are some quick tips for applying some of my favorite Interpersonal DBT Skills to ward off (or decrease the likelihood of) interpersonal conflicts during the holiday season.

 

Be skillful, and ask for what you want, DEAR. DEAR is an acronym used in DBT that gives us a template for what to say when we would like to ask for something we want. It goes like this:

 

D – Describe just the facts, without judgment. This orients the person to what you would like to discuss.

Example: I’d like to talk about who is making each dish for Christmas dinner this year.

E – Express how you feel about the situation. Explicitly tell the other person how you feel. They may not know if you don’t say the words!

Example: Nobody has committed to bringing a dish yet, and since I am hosting, I’m feeling overwhelmed.

A – Assert what you want. Say precisely what you are asking. Don’t leave it up to guesswork. Be specific, direct and clear.

Example: I would love if you could tell me two dishes you will bring and let me know by this Friday.

R – Reinforce the person in advance for giving you what you want. Here, you are answering the question, “What do they get out of giving me what I am asking for?”

Example: If you tell me by Friday, you can choose whatever is your favorite to bring, and I will be much less stressed the next time we talk! (Don’t be afraid to use a little humor and an easy manner to loosen up the conversation.)

Practice writing out your DEAR ahead of time and then rehearse a few times before you deliver it. The beauty of this skill is that only four little sentences are needed to ask for what you want in a direct and assertive way. You can also use this skill to refuse a request, like a dinner invitation. Use the same steps but instead of “Asserting” a question, say “no” to the request. Try it!

 

VALIDATE (yourself and others)

Validation may be the most powerful interpersonal skill. Use it wisely! When used effectively, validation opens the doors of communication and closeness. Make sure that is what you want and you’re ready. I have seen validation break down walls that have taken years to build. It may be the most potent tool to affect change.

 

People often misinterpret what “validation” means. Validation is not a compliment, agreement, or approval. Telling someone you like something about them or think they are “right” is not validation. Validation is exhibiting that the other person (or yourself) makes sense. We display validation in many ways: paying attention, nodding, asking questions to clarify, making statements such as, “I understand why you feel that way,” or, “That makes sense.” In other words, validation is treating someone as though they make sense whether or not you agree with them or like what they are saying.

 

Validation of either ourselves or others is a mighty technique in diffusing conflicts. Once any of us feel understood and like we matter, we calm down and are less defensive. If you’re interested, check out my quick steps and worksheet for practicing self-validation. You can use the same steps on someone else.

 

Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

 

If you use any of the practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 1 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

 

The holiday season is marketed as being the “most wonderful time” of the year. For many of us, this is not always the case. Our to-do lists get longer: we have gifts to buy, trips to book, decorations to hang, cards to send, and on it goes. Many of us deal with stressful family dynamics that also like to come along for the sleigh ride.

 

All this busy-ness during the holidays can divert us from getting to the heart of what really matters. Everyone may have a slightly different idea about what they value most, but all of us typically want some sense of inner peace, satisfaction, happiness, and connection with those we love. Read on for Part 1 of my four-part Holiday Stress Survival Guide; it contains helpful tips to stop “stuff”ing yourself with all the things the holidays bring – gifts, lists, endless tasks, and yes, food – and ease through the season with a strong connection to whatever is deeply important to you.

 

Peaceful, grounded holiday season, online therapy, counseling

UNREALISTIC HOLIDAY EXPECTATIONS

Holiday movies often set the stage for unrealistic standards. With a funny or heartwarming story centered around family, they sell us the message of a season with fantastic holiday décor, impeccably wrapped gifts, chef-quality meals that magically appear, and relationship snafus ending in a hearty laugh and a hug. This all happens with full hair and makeup, flawlessly styled outfits, and no lint or wrinkles in sight. The media (and retail shops) create pressure to make the holidays shine with the perfect gifts.

 

Social media can also create pressure. Have you ever been at an event that was chaotic and not-so-fun, only to discover a friend post a picture of that same event looking charming and lovely? You wonder what happened to the screaming, running children, dog pee in the middle of the room, turkey that fell on the floor and all the grumbling guests.

 

The point here is that pictures and videos, whether they are professionally laid out ads who employ a full-time staff to capture one perfect-looking moment or a friend’s Facebook post, are typically not representative of how the in-person moment honestly feels. People are putting their best foot forward, and we don’t see the behind-the-scenes struggles. Have you heard that old saying, “Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides?” You will almost always come up short.

So, what do we do?

Take control and set your own expectations!

 

STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR OWN VALUES

As always, take a deep breath (or three), and center yourself. Acknowledge that you have access to your wisdom and call on it to come forth and take over for a moment. Now, define a couple of values that you would like to take through the holiday season and jot them down or save them somewhere. Some ideas are below. Pick a few or come up with your own. Make sure to select value-words that resonate with you right now. Do not choose any words that come with the idea that you “should” value them. Only pick the values that sing to you in this moment.

 

ACCEPTANCE — ADVENTURE — BEAUTY — CARING — COMFORT — COMPASSION — CONTRIBUTION — COOPERATION — CREATIVITY — ECOLOGY — FAITHFULNESS — FLEXIBILITY — FORGIVENESS — FUN — GENEROSITY — GENUINENESS — GROWTH — HEALTH — HUMOR — INTIMACY — LOVING — MINDFULNESS — MODERATION — OPENNESS — PASSION — PLEASURE — PURPOSE — ROMANCE — SELF-ACCEPTANCE — SELF-COMPASSION — SIMPLICITY — SPIRITUALITY — TOLERANCE — TRADITION

 

STEP 2: PRIORITIZE

If you chose a bunch of values, take a moment to pick just one or two that stand out most to you. Check in with yourself and make sure it feels right – that if this value carries you through the holiday season, you will feel pride in your actions and as though you are living in your integrity.

Make the holidays easy, telehealth online therapy California

STEP 3: MAKE IT EASY

Nobody needs extra work during the busy holiday stress season. Instead of setting hard-to-reach goals about behaving in particular ways according to your values, let up a bit and create something gentler that will permeate and be effective.

 

I suggest putting the couple words you chose in the places that you will see them often. Some ideas: post-its on your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, in the car; notes with reminder bells on your calendar; a love note to yourself with these words placed in your packed lunch or on your nightstand to read just before bed and upon waking. You get the idea – put these meaningful values places that you will see them often. When you see them, you can just walk on by, and let them sneak in through your periphery. Sometimes, when you have the minute to spare, you can use the words as a reminder to take a breath (or three) and focus on your desire to bring these qualities into your life.

 

STEP 4: DON’T FORGET SELF-COMPASSION!

Want to turn it up a notch and ensure these values powerfully appear in your life? Offer them to yourself! Try a short, little practice daily, and you may be amazed at what starts to happen. Find a ritual that you engage in every day: brushing your teeth, making coffee or tea, putting on your shoes. Tie this ritual to the value-words you have chosen and offer these values to yourself. For example, if you selected the values of “comfort” and “health,” while brushing your teeth (or whatever activity you choose) say to yourself, “May I receive comfort. May I receive health.” Repeat the statements over and over again. Do it again the next day and the next. It does not matter whether you feel their impact or reject them totally. Keep saying the statements over and over. Let the statements do the work and seep in on their own time.

 

Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

 

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

 

If you do partake in any of the holiday stress relieving practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.

 

 


4 Tips for Handling an Argument

Arguments are an inevitable part of life. If you ever have a relationship with anyone, it is very likely that at some point, you will disagree. Disputes are a normal and expected part of intimacy – whether you argue with your spouse or partner, business colleague or boss, or friend or even acquaintance, arguments are part of how humans connect, understand each other, and sometimes even bond. If, however, you find yourself getting into frequent arguments, your arguments get more intense than seems effective, or you struggle to resolve disputes, try these 4 Tips for Handling an Argument, to improve your communication and increase the probability you get the results that you want.

  1. Use “I Feel” Statements

If you are rolling your eyes because you’ve heard about “I” statements in therapy mumbo-jumbo self-help books before, please suspend your judgment and read on. “I” statements are not about being mushy-gushy, “I’m okay, you’re okay,” and only using language to appease the other person. Used correctly, “I” statements function to reduce the other person’s defensiveness and help you to get your point across clearly. Often, arguments are started or sustained by miscommunications and misinterpretations. Making statements such as, “you are a [fill in the blank with your favorite accusation]” or “you make me feel” put the other person on the defensive and make them unable to hear and understand you, let alone meet your needs. These kind of “You” statements can leave the other party feeling confused, criticized or blamed. That is a recipe for that person putting up their dukes and fighting back. Now, both of you are unhappy, and the argument is unresolved. Being mindful of your language and using “I” statements help you to communicate your experience without blaming the other person, greasing the wheels for their willingness and understanding. Start with “I feel” or “I want” or “I don’t like” and then describe the situation without judgment. (See past blogs on my website for more information about what Nonjudgment is and how to use it.)

  1. Lower The Intensity

If you have heard the phrase, “fight fire with fire” you may know it refers to the idea of responding to a fire by lighting another one.  Sometimes in an argument, we instinctively want to “fight fire with fire.”  We want to be the winner that convinces the other party to change their opinion, agree to our demand, or simply say those magic words, “You are right.”  The problem is that as you each raise your intensity to be the winner, it escalates the dispute, the argument can get out of hand, and no one wins. Next time you argue and observe yourself becoming more intense (louder voice, bigger mannerisms, harsher words), STOP. (This is a DBT Skill that encourages you to Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully.) Take a deep breath in the moment, take a break from the discussion if you need to calm down (and use Willing Hands or Half-Smile, some other DBT Skills that come in handy during an argument), and lower your intensity.  Ask the other party to do the same.  E.g., “Let’s both lower our voices. I’d like us to get through this together calmly and respectfully.” Then it can be possible to talk calmly as equals, hear each other, and respond effectively, working to get everyone’s needs met.

handling an argument, therapy, behavior change

  1. Take a Break

There is an old saying, “never go to bed angry.”  Although this statement probably intends to help resolve an argument, it can convey that when we argue, we must keep arguing until we resolve the disagreement.  This is simply not true, and it is not the most effective way to handle an argument.  If you are in an argument, sometimes the very best solution in that moment, is to take a break to calm down.  However, just walking or storming off can make the argument worse.  Instead, as calmly as you can, let the other person know that you need a break from the discussion.  Taking a break can give you each time to reflect, give your nervous system a chance to calm down, and help you to come back more clear-headed.  Negotiate a time to resume the discussion later.

  1. Practice Acceptance

Some arguments happen because we have different points of view.  You can get wrapped up in trying to make another person agree with your outlook.  Perhaps you even want them to adopt your opinions.  However, there are times you must “agree to disagree.” In other words, sometimes no matter how long or skillfully you talk, you will continue to have a different opinion from the other person. In those moments, you can practice the skill of acceptance. (Radical Acceptance is another DBT Skill useful in the midst of an argument.)  You will be accepting that the other person has a different viewpoint and that you may not be able to change it. Acceptance does NOT equal approval.  You do not personally have to approve of or adopt their perspective. Acceptance means that you accept the reality of the situation, even the parts of it that you don’t like. You let go of trying to change things that won’t change.

 

With these 4 Tips, you can practice handling arguments differently. Start with small, low-intensity disagreements and move to more emotional arguments once you’ve mastered some of these skills. If you often get into arguments, struggle to communicate, or feel unhappy in your relationships, you might seek the support of a professional therapist to help improve your communication and get more of your needs met.


Mindfulness Made Simple

As part of my practice as an action-based psychologist, I teach skills for emotional health and well-being. All of these skills start with the foundation of MINDFULNESS – purposeful awareness in the present moment.

My full definition of mindfulness is: The PRACTICE of adopting a curious, nonjudgmental, and gentle stance while cultivating awareness in the present moment by bringing one’s attention to an intended focus in an effective way.

That’s a dense definition. Let’s just concentrate on the PRACTICE part of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice. No one, no matter how much they have meditated or read or talked about mindfulness, can ever make the declarative statement, “I am now mindful.” Mindfulness is a practice, and we slip in and out of this state. When practiced on a regular basis, we build the skill of mindfulness, a first and crucial step to peace, happiness and emotional freedom. When we strengthen our mindfulness skills, we can be more aware and awake in our lives and make conscious choices more often.

Intentionally bringing awareness to yourself and your environment is the first step to building your mindfulness muscle. One way to practice is through a simple daily meditation. Meditation does not have to be complicated. Placing your attention on three breaths as you inhale and exhale can reap benefits.

Even when your mind is very busy this practice is effective. You can attempt, as best you can, to notice yourself breathing for three inhalations and exhalations. When your mind wanders, as minds do, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this as many times as is needed during those three inhalations and exhalations. When you bring your mind back after it wanders, it is like doing a rep with your mindfulness muscle. Think of your mind wandering as something that is supposed to happen, and the act of bringing your mind back to your breath, even if only for a second, is like lifting a heavy weight with perfect form and building this focused muscle.

The more you practice (even if it is three breaths once a day), you will start to notice more about your experiences sooner and sooner. For example, you may observe that you are somewhat stressed earlier in the day before it turns into being overwhelmed. Knowing and recognizing what is going on is a powerful tool to allow you to begin making changes.  See video below to practice.

As with anything, reading this article will not change your life. What will? TAKING ACTION! Here are two options for something you can do today:

  1.  Pause, right now, in this moment and notice where you feel your breath in your body. You do not have to change or alter your breath, simply become aware of what your breath is doing right now. Attempt to place your attention on feeling your breath in your body for the next 3 breaths, and when your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. Notice the effect this has on you in the moment and the rest of your day.
  2. PRACTICE with my short, guided introduction to mindfulness.

 

LIFE IS TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

Thank you,

Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Questions or comments? Email them to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, she may address your question(s) or comment(s) in a future newsletter.


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

By Rumi


The Guest House may be my favorite poem ever written. I have been known to call it the holy grail for emotional well-being and general happiness in life.

More often than not, our suffering is caused by trying not to feel uncomfortable. It makes sense, right? We are human beings. We are built to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Hurt, sadness, fear, and shame receive a big, “NO,THANK YOU!” Happiness, elation, love, and passion are welcomed with, “YES, PLEASE! In fact, give me seconds!”

Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is human nature. We gravitate toward what feels pleasant, and even call these things “good” and reject or run away from the unpleasant, that which we call “bad”.

Let’s take a moment to remember what Rumi is telling us.

“Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.”

Nowhere does this imply we should hunker down, shut our eyes, brace ourselves and hope that anything uncomfortable ends quickly. Instead, let’s WELCOME and ENTERTAIN every emotion that comes. Oh, Rumi, you crazy 13th-century poet, why on earth would we want to do that?!

This poet is on to something here. Something I call the secret sauce of emotion regulation. Something huge, important and completely life changing. In fact, if I could teach anyone I reach to do one thing, it would be this: Welcome your emotions regardless of whether or not you like them.

“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.”

What a HUGE change in perspective this requires.

We must shift from an – “Oh no! Make this feeling go away!”  – perspective, to a – “Welcome! Come on in! I’ve set a place at the table for you,” – perspective.

To change our stance in this way is no easy feat. It is a daily practice, something we must do as often as showering or brushing our teeth. Remember, we are hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, so we are going against our nature here. Good thing the rewards are great: EMOTIONAL FREEDOM!

If we learned to practice welcoming our emotions on a daily basis in this way, my prediction is that we would eradicate depression, anxiety, and many, if not most, disorders. That is a bold statement, and I stand by it! I have not yet, in over a decade of seeing many clients come through my office, witnessed anyone suffering from depression or anxiety while simultaneously welcoming their emotions. This is not a failure on anyone’s part. This is a skill we’ve got to learn, and unfortunately, usually aren’t taught as part of the growing up process. Be encouraged though, because no matter your age, this skill can be learned.

As always, your life will not change by reading this article or thinking about it. Rather, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and then more PRACTICE will help you build emotional resilience. If you would like some guidance practicing welcoming in your emotions, listen to this 8-minute audio, CLICK HERE. This is perfect to listen to when feeling a painful emotion, or as a daily exercise.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

Thank you,

Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Questions or comments? Email them to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, she may address your question(s) or comment(s) in a future newsletter.

 

 


How to Love Your Emotions (and why you want to)

I was browsing my YouTube feed recently and noticed a number of videos about “getting rid” of your emotions. There seems to be a lot of talk and instructions on how to control, master, and avoid having to feel those pesky and painful emotions. Tap this point on your body here, say this “positive” statement there, and make that pain and unpleasantness go right away.

I started to get worried.

You’d think I would be delighted, and that I might think, “I don’t have to feel painful or unpleasant emotions?! Great! Let’s get rid of them!” The thing is, I know better.

What I know, in my years of experience of helping people regulate their emotions, is that trying to get rid of or push emotions away increases pain, suffering, and misery in the long run. Avoiding emotions or trying to make them vanish makes things much, much worse. In fact, viewing any emotional experience as “negative” sets the stage for emotional buildup and suffering.

Well then, what do we do?

LOVE our emotions!

Now, I’m not just talking about those mushy, gushy, gotta love ‘em emotions like joy, amazement, thrill, infatuation, delight, and all of their friends. I’m suggesting even loving emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, despair, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy.

Here’s the deal: our emotions exist and they aren’t going anywhere. Emotions are a human experience, and all of us experience the entire range of those emotions. Whether we want to or not, we all experience emotional pain. That is just part of life. If we didn’t have unpleasant emotions, we wouldn’t have empathy, gratitude, connection with others, deep appreciation for art and drama, understanding, and the list goes on.

In other words, all emotions, even painful emotions, have great value. They give us information about what is happening in our environment and ourselves, help us understand what we need and attend to it, and connect us to others. Pain is not something to be pushed away. In fact, when we push away painful emotions or try to mask them or just be “positive,” we actually suppress the painful emotion, which leads to emotional buildup.

The way to truly and freely experience life is to welcome in and feel whatever emotion comes. In other words, love your emotions.

Want practice? Check out this short audio meditation that you can listen to anytime, anywhere and start practicing loving all of your emotions today.

 

 

A practice in loving your emotions.

Take a moment to settle in wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you are standing, sitting, lying down, or any other configuration, bring your attention to this very moment.

Begin to notice that you are breathing. Notice your breath coming in and out. Where in your body do you notice your breath? When you bring your awareness to your breath, where in your physical body is your attention drawn? It doesn’t matter if you notice your nose, throat, belly, or tips of your toes. There is no judgment about this, just simply noticing where your attention is drawn in your physical body as you notice your breathing.

Now, let’s take a few moments and notice physical sensations. What physical sensations are present in your body in this moment?

When you notice thoughts coming in, either distracting you or analyzing why you are feeling what you’re feeling, very gently, bring your attention back to your physical body and notice what sensations are present in this moment?

See you if you can lay out the welcome mat for whatever physical sensations are there – pleasant, unpleasant, static and rigid or shifting and changing, it doesn’t matter. Welcome in whatever comes.

You might turn the palms of your hands toward the sky, opening your posture to help you welcome in and allow whatever sensations are present in this moment.

See if you can put words to the sensations you are noticing: like, a presence in the center of my chest, a tightness in my neck, a warmth in my belly. Take the next few moments, notice physical sensations in your body and try, as best you can, to briefly describe them to yourself.

Now, I am going to ask you a couple of questions while you continue to breathe and notice physical sensations in your body. I don’t want you to search for an answer or try to come up with a way to answer these questions. Instead, simply notice, what, if anything you notice, when I ask you a question:

  • What emotion is present in your body in this moment?
  • Where is emotion present in your body in this moment?
  • Where, in your physical body, do you feel an emotional sensation in this moment?
  • Take some breaths as you notice emotional sensations or lack of sensations. Remembering to welcome in whatever is there.
  • Breathing in and out and welcoming whatever emotional sensations are present or absent. Welcoming your experience in this moment.

Now, bring both hands to rest over your heart center, or the center of your chest, one hand over the other. Breathing in and out, notice the sensation of your hands resting gently and lovingly on the center of your chest. Know that by tuning into your breath and your physical body, you have just participated in a practice to nourish, cleanse, and love your emotions. Your emotions, even when painful, are friendly and here to inform you. The more you practice loving your emotions in this way, the more peace and ease you are inviting into your life.

Acknowledge yourself for putting the time and attention into this loving practice.


Let’s get Physical

How are you feeling? Really, how are you feeling? In this very moment, what are you feeling? Take a moment to answer this question before reading on.

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What did you describe? A situation you are involved in or thinking about? Who said what to whom? What happened or is about to happen that resulted in feeling like you are now? If you are like most of us, you probably described thoughts about how you are feeling, and not the actual feeling itself. Well, guess what?

Emotions are a physiological experience.

This means that emotions happen in the body, not in the mind. We don’t think emotions, we feel emotions. That’s where the question, “How are you feeling?” comes from.

When an emotion fires, our physiology changes: our heart rate, temperature, breathing, and blood pressure (and possibly other functions like digestion) changes! We also experience physical sensations in our body resulting from this biological, emotional experience.

Have you ever become fearful and held your breath? Maybe you could feel your heart pounding fast in your chest. Think of a time you became angry and noticed short, rapid breathing and a strong energy surging through your body? Perhaps you felt heat in your face or the tips of your ears. What about a time you felt dread and couldn’t shake that feeling of a pit in your stomach or a nauseous sensation? These are examples of feeling an emotion physically in your body.

 

anxiety, depression, overcoming depression, life coach, fixing relationships, relationship management, couples counseling, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, thriving, breaking through obstacles, therapist, counselor, how to be happy, becoming happy, enjoying life, Orinda, Berkeley, Oakland, Lafayette, Moraga, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Alamo, Concord, Danville

 

Emotions happen in the body.

Although this statement is true, most of the time, when I ask someone how they are feeling, they tell me what they are thinking. It goes something like this:

 

Me: How are you feeling?

Holly: Eh, I’m a little stressed. I was stuck in traffic longer than I expected and I have a lot to do.

Me: That does sound stressful.

Holly: Yes, and you know it doesn’t help that my boss just upped my deadline. Well, at least I have a job to complain about, right? How are you?

 

Do you notice what is missing? I know very little about what Holly is feeling emotionally, and more importantly, she probably doesn’t know either. You might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute. She told you she was stressed. What more do you want?”

THOUGHTS:

Being “stressed” is a thought. To have the thought, “I am stressed,” something had to happen to give me that information. Think about the last time you were “stressed.” How did you know? Your first inclination may be that you know you were stressed because there was a lot on your mind and you have a long to-do list. Those are thoughts. There may have been other times where the same factors were present (a lot on your mind and a long to-do list), and you didn’t feel stressed.

EMOTIONS:

What really happened is that you sensed some sensation in your body (an emotion) and your brain interpreted this as “stressed.” You may have noticed tension in your shoulders, the feeling of your heart pounding in your chest, your stomach doing flips or tightening, or many other possible sensations. In my work, I have never met two people who experience emotional sensations in exactly the same way.

Emotions are like snowflakes. When you get specific and describe how you are experiencing a particular emotion in your body, you will discover that this is uniquely your experience.

I will expand on these concepts in a future newsletter, but for now, how about having some fun with a practice? After all, we don’t learn or change from thinking and reading about concepts, we learn, change, and grow by taking action!

 

PRACTICE:

Over the next week or two, practice this for about a minute or so. If you make the practice session short, you will be more likely to do it more often, and the more you will learn. (Consistency counts! The length of time doesn’t matter as much.)

  1. Briefly scan your body. See if you can put words on sensations you notice in your body. (E.g., I can feel sweaty palms; I’m noticing some energy or movement in my upper chest; My jaw is slightly clenched; I notice my feet moving and fidgeting around.)

What do you notice? If it helps you put words to your experience, jot it down.

NOTE: This step is hard and may require repeated practice over and over and over again. When most people try to start describing the sensations they notice in their body, they struggle. It can be like learning a foreign language. Keep practicing and trying your best. Even if you notice something like, “a sensation in my chest but I can’t really describe it any further,” that’s great! Keep noticing and practicing and you may be surprised at how this skill develops.

  1. Now, without searching, without looking for or actively trying to come up with an answer, notice what happens when you ask yourself the question: What emotion is present in this moment? See what comes up and if you sense a particular emotion. (E.g., dread, excitement, nervousness, sadness, joy)

In my last newsletter, I discussed affect labeling or putting a name to an emotion you’re experiencing (e.g., anger, love, happiness, fear, sadness) as a way of regulating them. In essence, if you name your emotion you will change your brain chemistry.

  1. Now, again without searching or forcing an answer, ask yourself: Where do I feel ________ (insert emotion from #2 here) in my body?

Keep practicing and see what you notice. If you have questions or want to share your experience, please email them to contact@drbando.com. While I will not answer personally, I plan to expand on these concepts and practices in future posts and I may address your question(s) or comment(s). I would love to know what is clicking and what questions you have.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

 

 

 


Nonjudgment for Emotion Regulation

Earlier this month, I sent out a call for nonjudgment. In this time of chaos, violence, fear, and confusion, nonjudgment can be a place of refuge. Practicing nonjudgment gives us three profound gifts:

  • complete understanding
  • the power to move into compassionate, effective action
  • the ability to defuse our emotions

Let’s focus on that last gift, the ability to defuse emotions. In over a decade of working with clients, I have never once seen anyone be able to let go of and regulate an emotional response while clinging to judgments. Only when practicing nonjudgment, can regulation and emotional freedom begin.

Example:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Imagine the emotions you might feel if you were in this situation. Anger and a sense of injustice and self-righteousness, maybe? Every time you interact with this manager, you might feel like rolling your eyes, sighing and throwing up your hands in this hopeless situation.

Now try to feel better about it. Look at the situation detailed above and attempt to calm your emotions and let it go.

Not working? Impossible? Let’s try an easier way.

Look at the same example, with a line drawn through each judgment:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Without using judgment words, how would you describe this situation? Before you attempt, remember that nonjudgment is describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. It does NOT mean pretending you like or want something that you don’t. In other words,

nonjudgment = truth.

Let’s look at a nonjudgmental way of describing the same situation:

You are quite unhappy with a manager at work. You do not understand why she makes the requests she does and how they improve the function of the department or the company. After you engage with this manager, you often feel frustrated. Your peers have commented about feeling a diminished sense of morale at work due to interactions with this manager. You are disappointed by your daily interactions with her.

Notice that I don’t have to ask how you feel (as in the first example) because you’ve already described it – frustrated and disappointed. Now we’ve got something to work with!

 You might ask, “How does this help me regulate my emotions? The manager is still difficult for me to work with and I still don’t like the situation.”

This is true, AND you have gone from overwhelmed and hopeless to frustrated and disappointed. When your emotions are not bogged down by judgments and the helplessness or unrelenting anger that judgment creates, you have POWER. When we become aware that we are making judgments, we give ourselves choice – choice about whether or not it is helpful for us to proceed with our judgmental thinking, feeling, and behaving, or whether we would like to choose another path.

I teach my clients many emotion regulation strategies. Tools include step-by-step skills to come up with creative solutions to solve the problem, strategies to release the grip of the emotion and feel differently, and at times, complete and total acceptance (which often leads to emotional and environmental changes we previously didn’t know were possible). Practicing nonjudgment is a required prerequisite to these changes.

Nonjudgment does not eliminate the pain. It takes it down a notch so that you can breathe, get a bit of distance from the intensity of emotion, and regulate the emotions and/or solve the problem. If you are interested in further developing the skill of nonjudgment, try the practice suggestions below:

  • Practice noticing judgments throughout your day. When you are aware of yourself (or someone else) making a judgmental statement, or you have a judgmental thought, say to yourself “judgment.” (Over time, noticing and labeling judgments helps us become more aware of them and gives us a choice about the most effective way to proceed.)
  • Plan to sit and focus on your thoughts for 30 seconds to a minute. Imagine two different boxes, labeled “judgment thoughts” and “other thoughts.” For the next 30 seconds to a minute, notice any thoughts that come into your mind and imagine placing them in the appropriate box.
  • The next time you notice yourself being judgmental, see if you can describe (verbally or in writing) the same situation nonjudgmentally. That is, truthfully and descriptively, without judgment.

Notice the effect(s) each of these practices have on your mood, emotions, thinking. Feel free to share them on my Facebook page or in a private email. (While I may not be able to respond to all emails, I will read them and appreciate the feedback and being able to share in your experience.)

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


A Call for Nonjudgment

Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.

 

This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?

 

Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.

 

What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?

 

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.

 

Example:

Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.

Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.

 

Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.

 

Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:

  1. The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
  2. The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.

 

If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.

 

If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.

 

Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.

 

Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?

 

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.

 

If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.

 

  1. Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.

 

  1. Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.

 

  1. Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.

 

  1. Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando