Emotional Hygiene: Say Goodbye to Box Thinking and Emotional Buildup


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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.

August Newsletter

Welcome to my August newsletter!
For return readers, you will notice that I’ve changed the format around a bit to not only include my current writing/articles, but also what’s fresh on my mind, and some relevant commentary on what’s happening in the world around us. In this issue, please enjoy Part 2 of my Body Image and Weight Loss series, an introduction to a psychiatrist who prescribes NO medication (shocking, yet true!) and a little tidbit on healthy eating and what happens under the influence of a big corporation not interested in our health or side effects.
Great news: My recent articles are now available in podcast form. This means that you can choose to read or listen.
I hope you are having a great summer and this issue adds to your sunshine! Happy August!

FEATURED ARTICLE…

My featured article for the month of August is Part 2 of my Body Image and Weight Loss series. In this installment, I discuss Nonjudgment/Curiosity, and I also have a guided practice that you can listen to, which will help you along the path of Nonjudgment. Click here for Part 2
You can also read/listen to Part 1 of this series by clicking here.

CATCH UP…

If you have enjoyed this month’s article and would like to read any of my previous articles, you can do so by clicking here.


ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW

Kelly Brogan is a NY-based psychiatrist who prescribes NO medication “under any circumstances, ever.” Rather, she helps people eliminate their psychotropic medications (anti-depression, anti-anxiety, and even anti-psychotics) and change their lifestyle with some remarkable results. Much like my perspective, Dr. Brogan is an advocate of informed consent. Simply put, this translates to educating the consumer/patient by making relevant information available and understandable so that YOU, the consumer, can make an informed choice. Too often, doctors prescribe medication without offering other options or even assessing the patient’s lifestyle. If you are curious about some possible alternatives to psych meds, check out this podcast (Joe Rogan interviewing Dr. Brogan).

Disclaimer: While I may agree with some opinions that some people discuss, my endorsement is never of the entire person and is not an implication that I agree with everything they say or do. As always, please filter everything through your wisdom; use what works for you and discard what doesn’t.


DID YOU KNOW…

Monsanto supplies Starbucks with their milk products? This means that every time you order a mocha, latte, frappacino, or any Starbucks drink with dairy, you are getting a dose of Monsanto’s chemicals as well. Buyer beware, and take heart: I say this without judgment and simply for your own information. Knowledge is power and you may do with it as you wish. Recently, I was driving with a friend (I was the passenger) and she said, “Don’t hate me, but I just really want to stop at Starbucks right now!” Even though she has known me for a few decades, because of my personal boycott of Starbucks, she assumed I would look down on her choice. Rather, I told her that I choose not to spend my money at Starbucks and make information available to others who want to receive it but I do not wish to make anyone’s choices for them. Long story short, I sat with her in the Starbucks drive-thru while she purchased her drink, and we continued our friendly conversation. The point here is that education is for empowerment, not to control others’ choices. So, no judgment from me if your everyday morning routine involves Starbucks or Monsanto-supplied milk right out of your fridge. I do support your right to know what is going into your body and your right to choose whatever decision you make about that. As always, consult your wisdom.

Speaking of Monsanto, did you see this recent article? Monsanto has been ordered to make a huge payout to a school’s groundkeeper who contracted cancer after years of spraying their pesticide as a part of his job. This is more information to keep in mind regarding Monsanto products and the risk to your health.


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.

Motivation: Start Lifting Yourself Up and Stop Beating Yourself Down

Motivation, non-judgment, authentic life
Listen to the Audio Version of Dr. Bando’s Article.
Often, clients or prospective clients approach me for help with motivation. We all want to live vibrant lives and maybe increase exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by, and we realize we haven’t made that change we wanted at all. We can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever make that change.

Finally Fed Up?

Maybe we finally decide to get serious. We are disgusted enough with ourselves that we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a brief time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by, and we are sick of being restrictive and “depriving” ourselves, so we give in and “indulge,” feeling stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

It’s Time to Get Motivated!

MOTIVATION happens when our goals align with our values, then the behaviors we take to move toward our goals link closely to our values, and we reinforce those behaviors. I know from personal experience that the key factors in staying Motivated are reinforcement, which inspires and ignites Motivation, and punishment, which extinguishes Motivation. When we narrow it down to these two simple principles, we begin to realize how straightforward it is to start down a path to lasting change. By reinforcing yourself with simple things like clear goals, being in tune with what is truly important to you, and staying passionate (by focusing on what works and reinforcing the hell out of it), you are guaranteed to break yourself free from that cycle.

Audio Meditation for Motivation:

Listen to Dr. Bando’s Audio Meditation
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.


In an Exercise Rut? 5 Steps to Get Unstuck!

exercise rut, healthy habits, staying active

 

If you are in an exercise rut or not exercising at all, you are probably associating exercise with a “have to” rather than a “want to.” If you’re not having fun and exercise feels more like a punishment than a reward, you will not keep doing it. The way your brain is wired, it remembers situations that feel punishing and avoids them. This means that if exercise feels like a chore, your brain will make it harder and harder for you to engage in that activity. You will notice your motivation continue to decrease.

We all know that a sedentary life brings countless health problems. Most people agree that exercise has extreme health benefits: strength and muscle maintenance, slows down the aging process, weight management, mood regulation, skin health, balanced hormones, increases energy, promotes sound sleep, andimproves circulation. Exercise also regulates your brain chemistry, including the neurotransmitter serotonin, a key chemical involved in depression and anxiety.

Since you know exercise is beneficial to your overall health and well-being, how about making it rewarding instead of punishing? Follow the 5 Steps below to get out of the rut and feel vibrant and energized moving your body again!

STEP 1: Identify where exercise could be enjoyable.

What, realistically, would be a step toward enjoyable exercise that you can take this week? Before you respond with, “No exercise is enjoyable,” really open your mind here. Most, if not all of us enjoy moving our bodies in a way that feels good. What way of moving your body feels pleasurable to you? Perhaps you miss going on a morning walk and listening to the birds. Maybe you enjoy the feel of the water when you go swimming. Perhaps you feel powerful lifting weights. If exercise is new to you, think about environments you enjoy being in and how you might inject just a little bit of movement. Perhaps you enjoy that first big stretch before getting out of bed in the morning? No movement is too small. For Step 1, just start identifying where or when you enjoy moving your body. Put judgments aside and think about what feels good in your bones.

STEP 2: Figure out a small and realistic next step based on where you are right now.

Be honest with yourself. If you take advanced yoga classes three times per week, lift weights, and hike regularly, your next step will look very different than if you fancy yourself a couch potato and haven’t exercised in years. It doesn’t matter where you start or how small your first step seems to be. I once had a client who was sedentary, and years ago, she used to love to walk outdoors in her neighborhood. Her first steps toward exercise involved finding and then cleaning her walking shoes. These steps took a couple of weeks, and then she was off and walking. I viewed this as a tremendous success because she had been trying to bully herself into walking for years, with no success. By putting judgments aside (she initially thought these steps were too “small” and “silly”), she was moving regularly, and feeling energized and motivated in a matter of a few weeks.

STEP 3: Take the first step!

This may seem obvious, but many people can get stuck in the planning stages. Planning exercise is not exercise. Once you have identified a first do-able step, take it! Go for it! HINT: If time goes by and you are not taking that first step, break it down further into much smaller steps until you can follow through and take one.

STEP 4: REINFORCE!

There is a reason this step is in all CAPS. I cannot emphasize enough the power of reinforcement. If you respond to the step you have taken by telling yourself it is “too small” or “not enough,” you are punishing yourself for the effort you just put forth and can look forward to another exercise slump and watch your activity level wane. In contrast, reinforcingyourself for doing it, giving yourself positive feedback and being proud of what you are accomplishing is how you can keep your momentum, or build it. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for more specifics on reinforcement and how to do it.)

STEP 5: Keep taking this same step and reinforce it until it becomes easy.

Resist the urge to take on more until you have mastered this step. If you do, you risk becoming overwhelmed and may give up before you’ve reached your exercise goals. Keep taking this step until it no longer feels like a challenge but feels rather easy to do. Once mastered, it is time to increase the difficulty and, you guessed it, reinforce. (Expert tip: Once the step has become easy, reinforce it only sometimes before tapering off the reinforcement altogether. This is called intermittent reinforcement, which is the most effective way to lock in a behavior and make it permanent.)
These steps still apply even if you have an active lifestyle. Are you feeling stalled because you have plateaued, or have been doing the same workout so long that it is easy or boring now? Then make it a little harder, step it up, and move towards a more challenging work out using the five steps above. Immediately jumping ahead to something that is very challenging to you right away can only work if you accept that the road to a new habit or skill is not a straight line. For more on that, visit the earlier article on how change really happens:REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Some ideas for reinforcement:

DEFINITION: A REINFORCER is anything that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

  • TIMING counts!
  • Make sure to reinforce your progress as soon as you can after engaging in the desired behavior. (e.g., You just put on your shoes to go for a short walk to increase fitness. REINFORCE yourself right then. “Nice!” “I did it!” Don’t wait. REINFORCE immediately!)
  • Remember, the brain is making connections. The most powerful connections are made when the behavior and reinforcer happen close together in time. You can do it!
  • Find REINFORCERS that work.

Make a note of the REINFORCERS you want to try from the list below or use the list to help you brainstorm some of your own reinforcers.

  • Congratulate yourself (“Good job!” “You did it!”).
  • Make and enjoy your favorite flavor of tea.
  • Write a smiley face on your list next to the task you accomplished.
  • Stop and notice sensations of pride in your body.
  • Enjoy a small bit of nourishing food you enjoy and really taste it (e.g., a sip of fresh orange juice, a small piece of chocolate).
  • Look in the mirror and say, “I’m really proud of you.” Mean it and take it in. Feel the effects.
  • Choose an activity you enjoy to reward yourself (e.g., coloring, a favorite TV program, listening to a favorite song, play with Play-Doh).
  • Dance around the room.
  • Pat yourself on the back or give yourself a hug and feel the effects.
  • Gently rub the back of your hand while acknowledging your efforts.
  • Keep joyful pictures on your phone and take a moment to look at them and enjoy.

The key, no matter how many good tunes are on your iPod or what new sport you’re trying, is that you reinforce yourself- give yourself credit for all the work you do, even and especially when you are moving towards your goals but have not hit them yet.

For professional help with changing habits and creating a thriving life in alignment with your values, contact Dr. Bando today.

 


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.

 

 


Release Emotional Buildup

In a recent 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. Name your emotion and change your brain chemistry, in essence. (Read the full article) Then I introduced you to emotions being a biological, physiological experience. In other words, we feel, we don’t think, emotions. (Read the full article)

When you practice feeling into your emotions, you may start to develop a greater sense of peace, relaxation throughout your day, a release of physical tension, and the ability to feel what is happening in the moment, and then let it go, without hanging on and ruminating. The key here is PRACTICE. To reap the benefits of any of these concepts, you must practice, practice, practice. Notice, the word is “practice,” not “perfect.” You do not have to perfect these skills. (In fact, perfectionism leads to avoidance. More on that another time.) You just have to practice when you can, and for the length of time you are able.

To really learn how to feel into and process our emotions, we can’t just understand, we must practice. In this video you will be guided through noticing, feeling, and labeling your emotions in a very specific way. Check it out here:


Keep practicing and  see what benefits you start to 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 working 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!


PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

I heard that you might want to make some changes to become happier and more fulfilled.

Well, what are you waiting for?! Just do it! Do it now! Go! Start! Fast! Come on! What’s wrong with you?! Get it done!

That approach of hammering and berating yourself is not effective. In fact, it is quite unmotivating, especially in the long-term.

Did you know that it is scientifically impossible to simply change and create a whole new way of being suddenly and without practice?

Imagine you want to become a professional golfer. You decided one day that would be something you would like to do. So, you told yourself, “Just do it! It’s a matter of will. If I want it bad enough, I can have it. Just do it!” What then? Would you expect yourself, never having hit a golf ball, to go out the next day and successfully compete against Tiger Woods? Of course not. You know that is impossible.

Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time. We decide that we want to eat healthier, exercise more, act differently in our relationships, and we tell ourselves to “just do it!” Then we slip into behaving the same old way that didn’t work before and believe we have done something wrong and somehow should have gotten different results. What we are missing here is that change requires skill and

DEVELOPING A SKILL REQUIRES PRACTICE!

 Not just practice, but PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then some more PRACTICE.

You can start PRACTICING new behaviors to start to change your life today. Here are FIVE STEPS for successful practice:

  1. Think about what you want and make sure it is something that YOU want. (Not something you think you “should” want or a way that others believe you “should” behave.)

EXAMPLES: You want to feel healthy and vibrant in your body and want to change your eating to achieve this. (You do NOT set out to change your diet because someone told you that you should.)

  1. Now, think about some action steps that might be needed for you to be on the path toward what you want. Keep these actions steps simple and easy enough for you to do them in real time.

EXAMPLES: mindfully eat a nourishing meal, go for a walk, take a breath before responding when irritated, go to bed before midnight

  1. Write these action steps into your personal Reinforcement Practice Sheet (CLICK HERE).
  2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then PRACTICE engaging in these behaviors whenever you can.
  3. Rather than focusing on or mentally beating yourself up for when you are not practicing, focus your mind on when you do PRACTICE, and reinforce it. (Use the Reinforcement Practice Sheet for ideas.)

Most importantly, give yourself a break! Smile, laugh, understand that you are human, and revel in the imperfections along the way. (More on this in a future newsletter.)

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


REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

If you know or have worked with me, you have most probably heard me say that REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change. Years of research and over a decade of my own professional and personal practice have shown this to be true again and again. When you want to change behavior, define steps toward your goals (that are possible for you to take) and reinforce them over and over again. Then what? Well, then it gets interesting.

As it turns out, change is not a linear process. Progress does not happen in a straight, upward moving way. It does NOT look like this:

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

 

Even powerfully reinforcing a behavior does not produce change in an upward, no mistakes fashion. We do not go from eating processed food that drains our energy to reinforcing whole foods eating and suddenly, in 10 days, reform our eating for life, with no going back. Change just doesn’t work like that.

Rather, change is messy and looks more like this:

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

What this means is that we will inevitably slip back into old, ineffective behaviors. 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 perfect “T”, you will find yourself engaging in old, ineffective behavior at some point. You will eat that food that drains your energy, blow off that walk to watch TV, stay up later and get less rest than you know you need.

My message to you is this: Be ENCOURAGED by this part of the change process!

Let’s look back at the messy model of change. The green line going through the graph represents the slope of the line or the rate of change. Notice that although there were setbacks in progress along the way, overall, progress is upward moving!

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

Going back to old behaviors is part of the process of change, not failure! Going backward momentarily can mean 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. Now that you know this, you can give up on the illusion of perfection.

Isn’t that empowering?!

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’ve gotten off track and decide the most effective step to take next. “Failure” is an opportunity to notice, reinforce, 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,

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

the sooner you will notice lasting change happen and stick. Remember, going back to your old ways is a part of change, not failure! What happens is that the more we notice we’ve reverted to old ways, reinforce our noticing, and get back on track, the sooner we will get back on course and more quickly reach our goals.

Keep going, keep practicing and try to enjoy and laugh in the process.

Remember, 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