5 Thoughts to Help Cope with Anxiety in The Moment

Anxiety can feel overwhelming, often involving unpleasant physical sensations accompanied by rumination that just won’t stop. Anxiety can creep up and spoil an otherwise pleasant moment. The very best thing you can do to cope with anxiety when it rises is welcome it in! It’s entirely counter-intuitive to do so, yet it works. In fact, it is the most effective treatment for anxiety.

When you try to avoid feeling anxious, push it away, or try to distract from it, you are feeding the monster and anxiety will continue to grow. If you attempt to escape anxiety, you are learning that anxiety is something dangerous to be feared, which in turn increases your experience of anxiety. When this happens repeatedly, you become more and more anxious. When you not just face anxiety, but welcome the experience in, you will learn that anxiety is not to be feared, you can cope with whatever comes your way, and then, and only then, will anxiety subside and become tolerable.

Use these to encourage yourself to cope with anxiety in-the-moment.

 

 1. “This is a moment of suffering”

Acknowledging that you are in a painful moment is a first step toward tolerating it. Taking a mindful approach by simply labeling that “this is a moment of suffering,” can help you notice and attend to what is happening. When you mindfully label this experience, it can give you some space to decide how to respond. Instead of being caught in the hurricane of anxiety, you can take an internal step back, put words on your experience, and have a moment to get a little perspective to cope with anxiety. Acknowledging when you are in a moment of suffering is also a first step in the practice of mindful self-compassion, a therapy developed to alleviate human suffering.

 2. “I can do it”

Anxiety and fear can make you freeze up, holding you back from some task you need to do or a goal you want to go after. Remind yourself you can do it (after all, you made it this far). Sure, it may not turn out perfect or exactly as you want. However, when you commit to trying, there is hope that it can work out. When you try, you also get a chance to learn. Saying to yourself, “I can do it,” reminds you that even if you are feeling so anxious that you are sweating and shaking, you can still continue to put one foot in front of the other, gently moving toward your goals. Anxiety and fear may come along for the ride, and they don’t have to stop you from getting to where you want to be.

5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety in the Moment

 3. “I can get through this”

Maybe you have tried something new, and it’s not working out. You may feel like your world has crashed down and thoughts like “I can’t cope with this” and “I can’t get through this difficult situation” may cross your mind. Anxiety is a common trigger for the belief that we cannot cope or we can’t make it through. Remind yourself you can get through this. Chances are, you have already faced challenges in your life. Each time, you managed to make it through and learn from the situation – you may have even ended up with a better outcome. Draw upon this inner reflection on strength and resilience to get through this situation too.

 4. “I am here now”

One of the biggest causes of anxiety is the tendency to live in the past and the future, rather than the present. Sometimes, you may dwell on the past with regrets. You may worry about the future and what could be. This adds to anxiety by keeping your mind spinning in many different directions and adding the pain of the past and possible pain of the future to an already difficult moment. Use gentle reminders to pull yourself into the present. You can also support a present-focused mindset with mindfulness techniques, such as slow, deep breathing or noticing and labeling your surroundings, such as describing the shape and color of objects in your environment.

 5. “I am okay”

Fear is a hard-wired response that you have developed through many years of evolution. Fear tells you a threat is near, and you must take action. However, fear does not always fit the facts. Anxiety is fear run amok and the fear of possible threats. When you feel anxiety, check things out. Look at your emotions and the facts of the situation. Evaluate whether that anxiety is well-founded or a false alarm. Sometimes your anxiety is well-founded, and you should react. Most of the time, anxiety is your mind working in overdrive and there is no real life-or-death threat in your path. In those cases, remind yourself that your brain is trying to keep you safe, but you are okay. It helps to notice the fear so you can cope with anxiety and understand that it is the experience of it and, you are okay.

If you struggle with persistent anxiety, you might benefit from the help of a therapist. Mental health providers who use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help you recognize and challenge your thoughts, tackle anxiety, and provide one-on-one solutions empowering you to manage and cope with anxiety. If needed, contact a qualified therapist to help and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!

 

 


4 Tips for Returning to Therapy

For an audio recording of this post, visit here: Dr. Bando on Soundcloud 

When you make the investment of time, energy and money in therapy, you want to experience progress and change. If you’ve been in therapy before but haven’t achieved the results you want, you may be wondering what you can do to make those changes. Talk therapy can feel helpful, allowing you to have some real ‘aha’ moments and gain insight into the cause of your problems. However, talk or what’s called “supportive” therapy often does not help you change and meet your goal. Often, what is needed is to learn practical, concrete skills that will help you foster lasting change and healing. This can be achieved through treatment with a results-oriented therapist.

If you’re thinking about returning to therapy and want to create more effective change, here’s what to do:

Four things to keep in mind.

1st- Know That Returning to Therapy Takes Readiness and Commitment

If you have decided on returning to therapy, that’s a great sign that usually indicates you have some readiness and commitment to do what is needed to make changes. The most important first step is finding a therapist who aligns with your goals and who you feel comfortable working with. This can help you stay committed and focused.

Many clients prefer a results-oriented therapist who will work with them to make specific changes toward goals, rather than attending therapy indefinitely. The right therapist can help you identify and build upon your goals from the start and keep you motivated to do what is needed for lasting change.

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2nd- Develop A Plan

While the idea of planning your therapy might seem strange, having a goal and a plan in place makes it much more likely you will succeed in making changes. Sometimes people attend therapy to just talk or vent, but to transform your life you need to work systematically to plan and implement change.

The therapist you choose to work with should develop a case formulation within your first few sessions. This formulation offers expert reflections and additional insight on your current situation. A skilled therapist will indicate a thorough understanding of your unique situation and collaborate with you to make sure this formulation is on target. By the third or fourth session, you and your therapist should have treatment goals and a treatment plan that will guide your future sessions, help you better understand what to expect out of therapy and ensure you both keep your eyes on the prize and moving toward your goals.

 3rd- Take What You Learn in Therapy Outside the Session

One benefit of therapy can be receiving support from your therapist and leaving sessions feeling relieved or empowered. Keep in mind, this is not enough. If you are working to make changes, then you must take the work done in therapy with you, outside of the session, and into your day-to-day actions. A therapist focused on getting you the results that you want will probably ask you to do “homework” or to practice new skills throughout the week. It is essential to follow the recommendations of your therapist and do your assigned practices so that you can reap the benefits of therapy and translate them into your daily life. Practice in between sessions is imperative to change. It also arms you with information about what happened when you tried these new skills, and you and your therapist can troubleshoot and hone the skills in your next session. Your practice and feedback are invaluable in helping you and your therapist stay on track with moving toward your goals.

Depending on your therapist’s style and theoretical orientation, they may be able to implement additional ways to help you achieve change. For example, therapists that have been trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) might ask you to complete weekly Diary Cards, so you can plan to try out and practice newly learned skills and then keep track of what happened and have a straightforward way of reporting this in your next session.

4th- Discuss Problems with Your Therapist

 Therapy does not always happen on a linear path without hiccups. At times, problems may arise. Whether you felt misunderstood by your therapist, your homework did not seem to hit the mark, or you are not making the changes you expected as quickly as you wanted, it is important to talk about this honestly with your therapist. This can be an excellent time for you and your therapist to revisit your identified goals, refine your treatment plan, and figure out any adjustments that need to be made. Although it might seem like a challenging conversation, talking with your therapist about what is not working may help you discover some factors that are holding you back or halting change, making this a valuable part of your treatment. Do not underestimate the value of the feedback you give to your therapist. Once your therapist knows your experience, thoughts, and feelings, he or she has the opportunity to respond effectively, make any necessary adjustments, and this ensures you can get the quality care you want and need.

With the right approach, you can make effective and lasting changes when returning to therapy, learning new and valuable skills that lead to a more rewarding and satisfying way of life.

Remember, life is too short to just survive, that’s why I help people thrive. I’m Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando, licensed psychologist. Thank you for reading and best wishes to you in making the lasting changes you want.

 


What Happens When You Stop Depressant or Anxiety Medications?

Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications work to alter your brain chemistry and support a more balanced mood state. Since psychotropic medication changes your brain chemistry and may also come with side effects, deciding to take medication should not to be made lightly.  It’s helpful to understand how the medication you are prescribed works and what to expect when discontinuing it before deciding to stop. It’s always advised to be under the supervision of a doctor who can ensure your safety and help minimize any side effects before discontinuing psychotropic meds.

(Please skip to the last section of this article if you would like to consider alternatives to psychotropic medication and discuss your options with your prescribing doctor and other healthcare professionals.)

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Why Take Psychotropic Medications?

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety in a way that is significantly affecting your life, your doctor may recommend anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications. Medications are also sometimes prescribed to alleviate symptoms, making therapy more helpful and useful. When feeling burdened by emotional overwhelm, at times it can be impossible to participate in your therapy in a way that promotes the change you need or motivate yourself to follow up on homework in-between sessions. When this is the case, your doctor may recommend psychotropic medication to help you engage in therapy in the way that you need to give you some relief from the symptoms you are experiencing.

Current-day research supports the use of both psychotropic medication and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to treat diagnoses associated with depression. Medication may help you be fully involved and benefit from therapy. CBT will help you make the chemical changes in your brain for the long-term so that if you decide to taper off your medication at some point, you can maintain the brain changes you have worked to achieve in therapy.

In other cases, psychotropic medications may be prescribed to address chronic forms of depression and anxiety. Some people suffer from depression and/or anxiety for years. Despite trying many approaches, they struggle with symptoms on a daily basis. In these cases, medication may be a helpful option. Some people choose to maintain their medication regimen for a lifetime because when the medication is withdrawn, symptoms quickly return. Sometimes, even when engaging in all the behaviors necessary to support your health, the chemical components of the disorder you suffer from are just too strong, and medication is an essential part of your health routine. Each person is unique, as are the type, dosage and length of time prescribed medication works best.

It is very important to note that psychotropic medications may be contraindicated for some anxiety disorders and interfere with treatment and prognosis. Evidence-based treatments for anxiety require that you are able to experience the anxiety to its fullest extent in therapy in order for the treatment to be effective. If you are taking medication to decrease your experience of anxiety, in some case, this may interfere with your therapy. Talk to your treatment provider so that you can collaborate about the most effective treatment for you.

 

How Do Psychotropic Medications Work?

Different anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication work in distinctive ways. Some medications stimulate the brain to produce more neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and other processes). Some help the brain by blocking the effects of neurotransmitters. Others, affect the brain by encouraging it to hold onto extra neurotransmitters. Because it takes some time for these medications to affect and balance the neurotransmitters in the brain, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications need to be taken for a minimum period of time before results are noticed. Your prescribing doctor can advise you the time needed to experience the affects from your medication.

 

Why Stop Taking Psychotropic Medications?

People often decide to stop using their medications once they start to feel better. This can be a mistake. It is important to carefully consider this decision and preferably, discuss your desire to discontinue medication with your healthcare professional. Often, it’s wise to wait a while after feeling better before discontinuing your prescription. When people quit taking their medication too soon, symptoms can return and sometimes the medication does not have the same effect or potency on mood symptoms the next time around. It is often preferable to wait until you have made changes in your health behaviors and maintained them for long enough where they have become habits. Once you have made the changes needed to support your sustained mental health, you’ll want to make sure they are engrained and part of your life so that you will continue to be supported in this way after your medication has stopped. Other times, people may find the medication they are taking no longer works and they may need to stop one type of medication to start another. Additionally, people may need to discontinue using their medication due to some other health concern (possible side effects, drug interactions, or in cases of pregnancy).

 

What Happens When You Stop Anti-Depressant or Anti-Anxiety Medications?

If you are taking an anti-depressant medication and suddenly stop, it can cause unpleasant symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, nightmares, and paresthesia (unpleasant sensations in the skin). If you are taking an anti-anxiety medication (or anxiolytic) and suddenly stop, symptoms could include nausea, vomiting, seizures, sweating, weight loss, heart palpitations, migraines, muscle pain, insomnia, and even suicidal thoughts. Specific side effects are unique to the medication and the person who is taking it. In either case, you may experience a rebound of psychological symptoms.

Because suddenly stopping anti-depressant or anxiety medication can cause unpleasant side effects, it is very important to consult with a doctor before you stop taking prescribed medications. A doctor can help to assess whether this is the right choice. They will also help you slowly reduce your dosage so that you are weaned off the medication safely, which helps to prevent uncomfortable side effects.

When you start or stop medications, it can be helpful to also seek the services of a qualified therapist who can help you address thoughts, feelings and emotions that may be affecting your mental health. A Dialectical Behavior Therapist (DBT) can provide specific education and skills to help you naturally cope with life’s ups and downs, without medication in some cases. A frequently used DBT slogan is, “Skills over pills.” This means that with learning and practice of DBT skills, often people can reduce or eliminate medication and lean on the DBT strategies they have learned to help them function effectively. The most important thing is to work together with your doctor and therapist to find the healthiest and most effective treatment solution for you.

 

Alternatives to Psychotropic Medications

Taking any type of prescribed medication is a personal choice. While doctors can advise you and make recommendations, ultimately, the decision whether to take psychotropic medication is up to you. Many times, making lifestyle changes can significantly impact your mood and decrease the need for prescription use. However, making these changes can be difficult and requires work. Only you and your wisdom can decide whether you are in a position and have access to the support needed to make these changes, or if now is not the time and medication is a worthwhile option.

If you are interested in making changes to your health behaviors to support a more balanced and stable mood, consider consulting with a Health Psychologist, such as Dr Bando. Health Psychologists are trained to understand all the factors maintaining the ineffective behaviors you are engaging in and help you directly target and change those behaviors to better support you. A good therapist can take out the guesswork and help you move toward your health goals with ease and precision.

Whatever your choice, please consult your wisdom and be gentle with yourself. In a time of difficulty (like experiencing depression or anxiety), increased self-compassion is needed.

Take action today and start shifting from surviving to THRIVING!


Where Does Anxiety Come From?

We’ve all experienced stress, worry, and anxiety from time to time. For some of us, or at certain times in life, it occurs frequently and can feel overwhelming. At its worst, anxiousness can even impair daily functioning. A lot of factors work together to cause the experience that we call anxiety. Let’s take a look at some specific ways that it develops:

From Chronic Stress Conditions 

Most of us equate stress with anxiousness, and oftentimes, these two do go together. However, when we talk about anxiety as opposed to a passing stressor (a stressful life event that comes and goes rather quickly), there is a lot more to it than just feeling stressed. Some people grow up or live in incredibly stressful environments (e.g., low-income households, experiences of neglect and abuse), and these long-term stressful conditions can make people more vulnerable to anxiety, and in some cases, weaken their ability to handle stress. If your system is already taxed by dealing with chronic, daily stress, your ability to manage more stressors thrown your way will very likely be compromised. A buildup of chronic stressful situations that do not go away quickly can lead to an experience of anxiety.

From Reinforcement

Have you ever heard someone say, “You don’t need to worry,” and you want to answer with, “I do need to worry!”? When we are experiencing anxiety, we often believe it’s helpful, because it gets reinforced. When we feel anxious about something and spend time ruminating and worrying, often everything turns out just fine. We can then believe that anxiety helped achieve the desired outcome. There is an old quote by an unknown author that goes, “Worrying works! 90% of the things I worry about never happen.” We continue to feel anxious and sometimes become almost fearful that if we are not anxious, things will not work out. Most of the time, this isn’t even a process we choose. The cycle gets reinforced, and the brain keeps it going without our intent. Reinforcement is brain food; when a behavior is reinforced, it is likely to occur again.

 

Anxiety, anxious, anxiousness, worry

 

From Avoidance

One function of anxiety is that it helps us to avoid other issues. This can be the most puzzling reason for anxiety. Most of us hate the experience of anxiety, and at first glance, it does not make sense that we would use anxiety to avoid anything. Rather, we want to avoid anxiety! Think of it like this: Anxiety gives our mind something to chew on. We may not like it, and it may not feel pleasant, but it occupies us, nonetheless.

Anxiety tells us that something is wrong and we need to fixate on it, wring our hands, figure it out, look up facts, check out others’ opinions, etc., and it keeps us very busy. Sometimes it keeps us so busy that we can’t focus on much else. If we are having an uncomfortable emotional experience or find ourselves in a painful situation that cannot be solved (e.g. a job we cannot quit, the death of a loved one), sometimes we are so overwhelmed that anxiety jumps in to try to give relief. We may prefer (on some level) the experience of spending our time figuring out an unfixable problem than sitting with the feeling of grief or helplessness.

 From Other Emotions

Another function of anxiety is its ability to hide other, more difficult emotions, because it is a secondary emotion. Anxiousness (or any secondary emotion) happens when the primary emotion is not sufficiently experienced and processed. In other words, your anxiety serves as an avoidance (see above for more explanation on this). When we experience it, we don’t feel the underlying emotion. Our way out of anxiety is to feel this primary emotion. When we resolve a primary emotion, the secondary emotion regulates.

 From Itself

One of the most unpleasant aspects of anxiousness is that once we are aware of it, we can start to feel anxious about our anxiousness. The more we work to avoid it, ignore it, fight it, or self-criticize it, the more space it takes up in our mind. We end up feeling anxious about having anxiety and sometimes anxious about the rare times we do not feel anxiety. We may also experience additional concern about others noticing or criticizing our anxiousness.

If you struggle with anxiety, consider seeking therapy. Therapy can help you safely address and resolve unrelenting anxiousness. A therapist who practices Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a good choice. DBT can help you build skills to address any vulnerabilities you have, to identify and cope with primary emotions, and to make more effective choices than avoidance. They can also teach the skill of Radical Acceptance, which is learning how to accept things that cannot be changed, rather than adding to your suffering by fighting it or feeling more anxious. If you could benefit from these skills, contact a qualified therapist and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!


What is DBT and How Can It Help Me?

Seeking help and going to therapy can be stressful. Choosing the right approach can ensure you get the care you need to make the changes you want. In this article, I’m going to give you introduction to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment that may be helpful if you want more balance in your emotional life. DBT has become a popular technique used to help individuals cope with the stressful challenges life throws their way, and the intense emotions that can follow. The scientific research for this treatment is strong. Individuals often report huge, impactful, positive life change as a result of DBT. DBT focuses on helping people change their reactions and behaviors to create more resilience in life. Understanding what Dialectical Behavior Therapy is and how it works can help you decide if it is the right approach for you.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that was initially developed for people suffering from chronic suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, implementing DBT revealed that it is helpful for people in a range of situations having difficulties managing emotions, and can help to reduce anxiety and improve coping mechanisms under stressful circumstances. DBT teaches you coping techniques and strategies to deal with difficult emotions without being caught up and swept away in them.

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What Does Dialectical Behavior Therapy Involve?

DBT is best administered by an experienced therapist, with a history of training and supervision in DBT by experts in the field. Full program DBT involves weekly individual therapy in addition to attending a weekly DBT Skills Group. Treatment length varies by person and treatment goals.

DBT includes –

  • Collaboration – working with a skilled therapist can help you identify what you want out of life and obstacles getting in your way. Bringing awareness to both your goals and challenges in a specific, systemized way is a key step toward making the changes you want.
  • Learning skills – one of the most important aspects of DBT is learning specific skills to incorporate into your everyday routine for growth, happiness, and fulfillment.
  • Practice – DBT is a behavioral therapy. This means that new behaviors must be practiced for change to occur. Practice, practice, practice, and then some more practice, is a common mantra in DBT.

The Four Modules Of DBT Skills

The four areas of skills learned in DBT are designed to help you better understand your thoughts and feelings, and change your behaviors to better achieve and support the life that you want. These modules include:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Distress Tolerance
  3. Interpersonal Effectiveness
  4. Emotional Regulation

Who Can Benefit From DBT?

DBT has been shown to be successful in a number of different areas and for those suffering a range of issues including:

  • Relationship problems
  • Low self-esteem or shame
  • Weight management
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Borderline Personality Disorder

DBT can also be used in many other situations, even where a specific diagnosis may not be defined. Under the guidance of an experienced and well-trained DBT therapist, you can learn life-changing skills to make a profound impact on your well-being.

DBT is an inspiring treatment method that can help change your life for the better. Talking with a DBT therapist can help you determine whether DBT is the right therapy approach for you. Contact me today if you may be interested in finding out more about DBT and shifting your life from surviving to thriving!


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.


Name that Emotion

We’ve all got things to do and people to see. Who needs unwanted emotions slowing us down? Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away. Right?

Here’s the hitch: emotions are hard-wired into our human experience. In other words, emotions are part of us and the more we push them away, the louder they become. When we deny and try to block out emotions, we starve them until the emotional hunger pains are so strong, we become overwhelmed with unruly, overbearing, unable-to-control feelings.  You know, that moment someone asks you something harmless like to pass the salt, and you completely lose your cool? When we suppress or don’t acknowledge emotions, they bubble up, and like water boiling in a covered pot with the burner on high, eventually they’re going to blow.

The solution? Don’t ignore the monster!

Emotions grow to become monsters when we ignore them, push through them, judge them and just plain do whatever it takes to try not to feel them. There is a better way! The next time you feel an unpleasant emotion, try noticing it and putting a name to it.

Scientists call this affect labeling. It goes something like this:

  • I am noticing a feeling of butterflies in my stomach. I’m nervous.
  • I feel a lifting, light feeling in my chest and shoulders. I’m happy.
  • I feel like it’s hard to move. I notice that I’m slumped and don’t feel like doing anything. I’m sad.
  • I can’t believe that guy just cut me off. I’m irritated.

When we give our emotion a name, it starts the process of calming it down. Instead of pushing the feelings away, we pay attention and engage our intellect to give it a name. Once emotions are acknowledged and paid attention to, they start to digest and let go of their grip. Relief can get his foot in the door, and we initiate the process of regulating emotions and feeling more in control.

 

Brain imaging studies explain the science behind affect labeling: When we experience an emotion, a part of our brain called the amygdala, gets activated. When our amygdala is very active and fired up, it is hard to access the reasoning part of our brain, the frontal lobes.

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When we use techniques like affect labeling, we begin to activate our frontal lobes (the organizing, planning, thinking-through part of the brain) and de-activate the amygdala (the “OMG!” emotional part of the brain).

 

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PRACTICE:

The next time you are “freaking out” or “stressed” or just “feeling off,” try getting specific. What emotion are you feeling? Can you put a label on it?

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Now, reinforce yourself by checking out the Reinforcement Practice Sheet and get some suggestions on how to reinforce yourself. You’ve just taken the first step toward processing and letting go of that unpleasant emotion.

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?

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The MOST EFFECTIVE way to change a habit

We have all been there. We want to 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 that we wanted at all. We just 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 might give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try just to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever change them.

Maybe we decide to finally get serious. We are disgusted with ourselves so 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 short 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, feel stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

PUNISHMENT: the least effective way to make lasting change

This cycle of being stuck involves a very ineffective long-term change strategy: punishment. A punisher is anything that weakens a behavior, and when we punish a behavior (e.g., critical, harsh words or self-talk), we are decreasing the likelihood that the behavioral change will occur. A very important thing to keep in mind is that punishment is the least effective way to create long-term change. Punishment works to motivate and change behaviors only in the short-term, but has the opposite effect in the long run.

Let’s take a look at an example: Imagine that you want to exercise more. You have defined specific goals and know that you would like to walk for 20 minutes, four times per week. Currently, you are sedentary and hardly walk at all, and never for more than about 5 minutes. Let’s look at two different ways of approaching this change.

 Punishment: Whenever you think about exercising, you practically roll your eyes. You know that you do not do nearly as much as you should (judgment) and are disgusted with yourself for not doing what you know is good (judgment) for you. You plan to go for a 20-minute walk that week and when the time comes, you just don’t do it. It’s like you can’t get yourself to make it happen. You internally beat yourself up, make a mental note about how you’ve failed, and then push it away and try not to think about it. You stay stuck.

REINFORCEMENT: is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Now, let’s look at another way of approaching this same problem, Reinforcement

You look at the REALITY of the situation and VALIDATE yourself: You know that walking regularly has been difficult for you but you also know that a value of yours is to be physically fit and strong.

You define a GOAL: You are aware that walking regularly (20 minutes, four times per week, specifically) will help you to move closer to this value.

You define SPECIFIC STEPS you can take toward that goal: You know that changes take time and practice, so you define some steps that you know you will be able to take in the next week to begin to lead you toward your goal. You set yourself up for success.

You notice judgments and turn toward REINFORCEMENT: When thoughts arise like “This should be easy”, “These are only baby steps”, and “I should be able to do more), you define them as “judgment thoughts”. You then shift your attention toward reinforcing what you are doing, instead of focusing on what you are not doing. You can use my Reinforcement Practice Sheet to help you reinforce each step you take. By the end of the week, your Reinforcement Practice Sheet looks something like this:

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In the above example, you have not yet reached your goal of walking 20 minutes, four times per week, but you are also no longer stuck. You will have gotten off the all-or-nothing roller coaster and have started to move toward your fitness goal. You will create an opportunity to make these steps a habit and be able to build upon them. By letting go of any judgments about whether these actions are “good” enough, you are able to identify steps that are possible for you to take, that are in line with moving toward your goal, and that give you an opportunity to use reinforcement.

A reinforcer is anything that strengthens a behavior. Reinforcement is presenting a reward (e.g., encouragement) directly after a desired behavior to optimize the likelihood that behavior will occur more frequently. Reinforcement is THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to achieve lasting behavior change!

How can you apply reinforcement? A reinforcer can be as simple as telling yourself, “Good job!” or “I did it!” You can give yourself a gentle and encouraging touch, like rubbing the back of your hand gently or giving your shoulders a hug. You can keep your favorite essential oil or lotion nearby and breathe in the aroma to reinforce the step you just took toward your values.

When can you reinforce? When you reinforce yourself is important. Your brain makes links and relationships. When we reinforce a behavior, the brain associates that behavior with something pleasant and we are then more likely to move toward it.

TIP: Make sure to reinforce as soon as you have engaged in the desired behavior. Do not wait! As soon as you do something related to the desired change you want to make, reinforce the hell out of it! Reinforcement greases the wheels of behavior change. When you reinforce desired behaviors right after they occur, the brain learns that engaging in that behavior is rewarding and over time, it becomes easier and easier for you to do these behaviors.

 

ADVANCED TIP: When the behavior you have been reinforcing becomes easy and you start doing it more automatically, only reinforce that behavior some of the time and start reinforcing new, harder behaviors. (Reinforcing behaviors only sometimes is called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement helps to lock in a behavior. Once a behavior has been intermittently reinforced, it becomes very hard to extinguish that behavior.)

 

If you read this article so far, you may have sparked some new ideas. That may feel exciting, but it will not help you change anything. In order to create change, you must PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! and then PRACTICE! some more.

 

Your CHALLENGE: Use the attached Reinforcement Practice Sheet to get started today. Decide what you want to change and fill out the worksheet with related behaviors.

  1. Choose actions that are possible for you to do this week. (Not behaviors that “should” be possible, and really aren’t. Choose behaviors you are able and likely to engage in.)
  2. Make sure the behaviors are specific (so that you know what to reinforce).
  3. Look at the back of the worksheet and choose how you are going to apply reinforcement. Pick a couple of options so that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can reinforce immediately.
  4. Be on the lookout for the behaviors you defined and REINFORCE! REINFORCE! REINFORCE! every time you try to practice engaging in these behaviors.
  5. At the end of your week, re-evaluate. Fill out a new Reinforcement Practice Sheet for the upcoming week and make sure to follow the above steps. Keep what worked for you this past week and tweak what didn’t.
  6. Last but not least, HAVE FUN with this! Life’s too short just to survive! Let yourself enjoy and THRIVE!

 

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