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.


When Everyone Turns to You, and You’d Rather They Didn’t

Everyone occasionally gets assigned to be the Point Person: the one people turn to for making plans, coordinating, and figuring everything out. The people around you may have the impression you are the most knowledgeable, capable, or willing to do the work. They may look up to you or see you as an authority. For whatever reason, you become the Point Person, the hub of responsibility in a situation or group.

Sometimes it can be preferable to be the “Point Person,” but there will be times that you just do not want the responsibility. You may have been told to “just say yes” or “step up to the plate” when you have been put in this position. People may try to cheer you on, thinking you just need encouragement and that leading or organizing will be good for you, or that it’s your duty. Still, you do not want to do it. So, what now?

Your Health

Consider whether it is healthy for you to take on unwanted tasks. The associated stress increase can cause you harm. We all know excessive stress is harmful, but the chronicity of stress that comes from being a “Point Person” can be especially injurious, because there is no apparent time for your body to realize that the situation is over, signaling that it is time to relax.

Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety” – National Institute of Mental Health website

when you're the point person, assigned responsibility, appointed in charge

Your Relationships

Allowing others to decide that you are in charge can be detrimental to your relationships. It is best to talk about what you are comfortable with early before you grow resentful for having endured a situation you felt forced into. This can also prevent tensions that would inevitably arise in the course of you trying to fill that “Point Person” role.

Feeling pushed into a default role of responsibility most likely does not help you put your best foot forward and shine. Your performance as an unwilling “Point Person” may disappoint people that matter to you, or matter to your success at work or other areas of your life.

How to Handle Being Elected Point Person

Once you decide how you feel about being the responsible party, you can then set limits that protect you from absorbing more responsibility than you want. Be clear with yourself about what bothers you, what feels right in your wisdom, and how you would like to interact with the project or situation ahead of you. Then you can set parameters with the people looking to you for guidance.

Setting limits promotes better health and well-being. Some of the benefits of being clear about your boundaries include that you learn more about yourself, you become a more transparent and effective communicator, and you have more time for the things you value.

It can take practice setting boundaries with others. Here are some tips to help you set your boundaries:

  • Do your homework: Ask what others expect of you without assuming.
  • Know yourself and be truthful: Before starting a conversation about your limits, know what you are willing to accept and be honest about it.
  • Negotiate: Be willing to try to find a solution that works for everyone if it exists, don’t accept “solutions” that truly do not work for you.
  • Self-care: Stick with your commitment to take care of yourself.
  • Be assertive: Don’t try to disguise your limits or make them seem like something they aren’t. Be direct and clear.

If you want to learn more about limit setting or other ways to take your health from surviving to thriving, contact Dr. Bando today.


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!

 

 


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.)

Psychotropic medications, taking medicines, psychotherapist

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!


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 2 of 4

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

Part 2 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide

 

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

 

RELATIONSHIPS DURING THE HOLIDAYS

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

California Online Therapist, holiday stress, relationships

 

SKILLS FOR INTERPERSONAL CONFLICTS

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

VALIDATE (yourself and others)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

 

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


6 Most Common Questions About Therapy Answered

Going to therapy for the first time can be daunting when you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes, even if you have been to therapy before and have not received the results you wanted, you may have questions about how to return to therapy and achieve a different outcome. The answers to these frequently asked questions can help you wisely invest your time and money in therapy to achieve the success you want.

  1. Why Should I Go To Therapy?

If you’ve never been to therapy before, you might wonder why you should take the step to get treatment. Every therapy experience is different, so defining your personal goals can help to guide both your motivation to go to therapy, as well as your choice of therapy type and therapist. If you wisely choose a change-oriented therapist, treatment can be fruitful as a growth experience or to help you navigate a stressful life situation or relationship. Many people visit a therapist to discuss a specific issue or diagnosis, but you don’t need to have that all figured out before reaching out to a new therapist. Just knowing that you want help is enough. A skilled therapist can help you define your treatment goals and decide what changes you would like to see in your life for therapy to be deemed successful.

What is DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, online therapy service

  1. How Do I Find A Therapist?

Common ways of finding a therapist are through recommendations from family and friends, online directories, your insurance company, online reviews or often, a web search. Searching the web allows you to define exactly what you are looking for, and get to know prospective therapists through their websites, before deciding who to contact. A benefit of our technological age today is that you can choose TeleHealth, or online therapy sessions, for location independent therapy when and where you need it.

  1. How Do I Choose A Therapist?

Choosing the right therapist involves either identifying a problem you want help with or the type of therapy you want and evaluating whether the therapist is the right match for you. Some therapists have individual specialties or areas of interest that may appeal to you, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Ask for a phone consultation with your potential therapist to see if this is someone you feel comfortable opening up to and working with.

  1. How Will I Know If A Therapist Is A Good Match?

You want to find out if your therapist’s goals match your goals. Is this clinician results-oriented so you can focus on moving forward (not just talking about moving forward) and from therapy eventually? Can they identify your main problem areas, as well as an action plan to work on them? Can they develop a treatment plan and treatment goals with you, and help you project how long you will need therapy within the first few sessions? Therapy is a collaborative effort, and it is important to ensure your goals and vision match those of your therapist.

  1. How Do I Monitor The Progress of Therapy?

You probably want to heal, grow and progress through therapy, and it is important to know how to measure that. An experienced, results-oriented therapist will understand how to monitor progress according to the goals you set. Progress monitoring is essential because you want to make sure therapy not just helps you feel better, but also helps you get better. Using psychological measures to track your progress can help you and your therapist know whether treatment is working, how fast it is working, and whether the treatment plan needs to be altered to receive better results more quickly.

  1. I’ve Never Been To Therapy Before, What Do I Need To Know?

While it’s natural to feel nervous before your first therapy session, understand that your therapist is a professional who is trained and experienced in helping you face problem areas in your life, and promote growth, healing, and change. If you have put the time and research into choosing the right therapist, you should feel comfortable and at ease in therapy within the first few sessions. Stay open minded, and if you experience that things are not going as planned or the therapist is not meeting your needs as you had hoped, feel free to discuss this with the clinician, or to try a different therapist.

Therapy can promote profound, impactful change to your life. It is important that you are empowered to get the right help for you. Hopefully, the tips in this article will boost your confidence about starting or revisiting therapy with these frequently asked questions answered. Take a step towards the life you want today, and start shifting from surviving to thriving!


4 Tips for Handling an Argument

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

  1. Use “I Feel” Statements

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

  1. Lower The Intensity

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

handling an argument, therapy, behavior change

  1. Take a Break

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

  1. Practice Acceptance

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

 

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


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.

How to become Happy, Breaking through an Obstacle, Orinda Psychologist, Lafayette Psychologist, Berkeley Psychologist, Oakland Psychologist, Moraga, Alamo

 

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!


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!


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:

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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