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.


How To Prevent Seasonal Depression This Winter

seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder, SAD

 

Many people find it hard to get going on a gloomy day. The covers feel extra cozy and that cup of hot coffee or tea, extra warm and inviting. The urge to stay in your pajamas and curl up indoors beckons you.

You may notice the weather can influence your mood. You might feel more tired or even down and blue. It might be hard to motivate yourself to get much done. Feeling subdued is nothing to concern yourself with if it happens for a day or two. Relax and put your feet up (as much as your schedule allows) and give yourself permission to chill out and indulge. The key is to soak up the laziness and enjoy, without shirking your responsibilities or feeling pulled farther and farther into hibernation.

This may be easier said than done. For some, seasonal depression is an experience that lasts all winter long.

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal Depression is sometimes called “the winter blues” and psychologists give it the more formal title of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a set of depressive symptoms that occur with a seasonal pattern, typically emerging in the Fall, when the weather gets colder, and remitting in the Spring, with the more frequent sunshine. Occasionally, people experience the opposite, with symptoms during Spring and Summer.

Typical symptoms include having low energy, feeling tired, sad and sluggish, losing interest in activities, difficulty concentrating, and sleep/appetite changes. Additionally, with seasonal depression, you may experience irritability, agitation, anxiety, hypersensitivity, and conflict in getting along with others. Frequently, symptoms start out mild and can become more severe.

What causes Seasonal Depression?

A major cause of seasonally-based depression is biology. Your biological clock (or circadian rhythm) may be partly to blame.  Changing patterns of sunlight and less daylight affect your biological clock. Reduced sunlight can also cause decreases in serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical in the brain) which affects and regulates mood. Finally, the body’s balance of melatonin may be disrupted, which also affects mood and sleep.

Another cause of seasonal depression is vulnerability factors. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), vulnerability factors are described as circumstances that make you more vulnerable to experiencing intense, unpleasant emotions. These factors may include environmental stress, a diet that isn’t supporting your needs, sleep irregularities (lack of or too much sleep), lack of exercise (or too much or the wrong kind for you), and physical illness. During Winter, as the weather and winter colds and flu make you feel tired, worn down, and depressed, you may become even more vulnerable, less equipped to handle stressors and feel greater amounts of unpleasant emotions more frequently.  When vulnerability factors are high, intense emotions can follow, making you even more vulnerable.

How to prevent Seasonal Depression?

A gold-standard and evidence-based treatment (research shows it works) for any cause of depression is called Behavioral Activation. In short, this means that as soon as you suspect depression may be on its way (or has arrived), you make a plan to get active. In DBT, this is called Opposite Action.

Specifically, identify all of the depressive behaviors you might want to engage in (e.g., call in sick to work, stay in all weekend without socializing, watch more television). Then, identify their opposites (e.g., show up early to work, make plans ahead of time with friends and keep them, have your shoes and jacket by the door ready to go for a walk after work). Next, get busy doing the opposite behaviors that you feel like doing when you are depressed.

The key is to be clear and specific about what Opposite Action you are going to take (make plans with Joe to see a movie on Sunday afternoon, not vaguely: make plans this weekend), and then throw yourself in all-the-way. Don’t expect it to be easy. Combating depression is exactly that, combat. And, do not be discouraged. It is a battle you can win with persistence and encouragement.

When engaging in Opposite Action, do not suppress how you are feeling or your desire to stay home and put your head under the covers. Instead, allow yourself to feel how you feel AND, at the same time, throw yourself all-the-way into the Opposite Action you have identified and let the skill do the work. (Do not wait until you feel like doing Opposite Action. That day may never come, and it allows Depression to take even more of a hold.) Then, do it again and again until you have gone through your list of Opposite Action tasks and Depression has been sent on his not-so-merry way. If you find it hard to get started, pick one very small step you can take, and take it! Last (and definitely not least), remember to reinforce yourself for taking each step. Reinforcement is a powerful change agent. The more you use it immediately after engaging in desired behaviors, the easier those behaviors will become.

Another way to prevent seasonal depression is by managing your vulnerability factors. Identify what is making you more vulnerable to intense, unpleasant emotions. Although this step may seem obvious, we often do not realize the number of stressors present until we say it out loud to someone else or give it some intentional thought. Once you’ve identified your vulnerability factors (e.g., not sleeping well, feeling under the weather, nutrition has been off the past week), you can brainstorm some ways to attend to them and give yourself really good cold-weather care. For example, if you know that you need extra sleep during the winter and without it, you become quite irritable, see if you can brainstorm some ways to get even just a little bit more sleep each night. Your body and emotions will thank you.

Other treatments for seasonally-based depression address the physical causes. To help combat decreases in natural light, you might use Light Therapy. This works with specially designed light therapy boxes, and research shows it can help. Some people also elect to try vitamins and supplements (in consultation with their health provider) as an alternative to psychotropic medications, such as anti-depressants.

If you have noticed that your mood shifts as the season changes, you may find it helpful to seek out therapeutic support in learning to manage it. Therapists can teach you how to send depression into remission, and then prevent or drastically reduce the likelihood of a relapse. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is one helpful approach. DBT offers techniques to help you identify your unique vulnerability factors, engage in self-care to reduce and manage them, and notice earlier when they may be affecting you so that you can take steps to mitigate depression. If you think DBT may help you, contact a qualified therapist and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!

 


How To Get The Most Out Of Your Therapy Session

If you are seeking a therapy session, it is likely because you want something in your life to change and you would like expert support and guidance through the process. You want a skilled professional to help take out the guesswork and help get you to your goals.

In the past, this has meant that on top of the stress or problem(s) for which you are seeking help, you must find the time, during business hours, to leave your home or office and make it to a weekly therapy session. Packed schedules, work requirements, and congested commutes present valid obstacles to taking over an hour out of your day every week to drive to your therapist’s office. Not to mention the trouble if the expert you’d like help from lives far away from you. In today’s busy world, many people are turning to TeleHealth or TeleTherapy sessions. These video therapy sessions use HIPAA-secure formats that function similar to Skype or Facetime to make therapy more accessible.

Whatever format you select for your therapy session, your success depends largely upon the work you put in, not just on the effort of the therapist. When attending therapy, your active participation in the process will help you to get the most out of your therapy appointments and ultimately, achieve the results you want.

Treat Therapy As A Collaborative Process

We often view therapists as the expert in the room. Therapists do bring a great deal of knowledge about psychology and new ideas for how to help you. However, you are also an expert in the room. You know best about your history, what you have tried in the past, and what is happening in your present.

A therapy session will be most successful if you work collaboratively and come prepared with what you want to work on in each session. Then, work with your therapist to set goals, explore information, make discoveries, and learn how to apply new skills to your life. Ultimately, you decide what to take away from the therapy session.

 

Make therapy work for you, Get the most of therapy, California therapist

 

Apply What You Learn Outside Of Session

As you and your therapist work together, you will understand yourself better and identify new, more effective ways of behaving. It is essential to apply these new skills outside of session. Whenever possible, ask for homework and then do it. If it is too challenging (usually this is the case when you find yourself not doing the homework), ask your therapist for help. It is your therapist’s job to help you generalize the skills that you learn in the therapy office to making real-time changes in your life. This means the therapist must use their expertise to assign homework in a way that not only challenges you but also is likely that you will engage with and complete the practice(s) they’ve suggested.

Remember to communicate with your therapist about any barriers you face putting the new skills into action. Trying a new skill once and never again will not help you get to that point of lasting change. Every new skill takes practice to become a new habit, and you are paying with your time and money to get help. Use it to your advantage!

Talk To Your Therapist About Your Therapy

When people go to therapy, it is often because they want to address some concern or problem in their life. You may be focused on discussing that problem and finding solutions, which makes sense. In addition, therapy works best when you also talk to your therapist about your therapy.

This means you can reflect on what is working and share those thoughts with your therapist. If you like a new skill, let your provider know. If you are unhappy about something, talk to your therapist about it and see how the two of you can navigate this situation. Giving your therapist this feedback allows them to respond by adjusting their interventions to be more appealing to you or more relevant to your treatment goals.

Find Therapy That Fits Your Lifestyle

Nowadays, most people don’t want to travel to get to therapy appointments or lie on a couch in the room with a therapist. And you don’t have to do these things to get results. With TeleHealth therapy, you can benefit from the skilled, focused attention of a therapist when and where you need it. Even within the comfort of your home, you can access professional therapy with TeleTherapy services via video calls. Making therapy easier to access means you are more likely to stay engaged and on track with your goals.

Once you have started therapy, use these tips to get the most out of your sessions, get the results you want, and start shifting from surviving to THRIVING.


Mindfulness Made Simple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Thank you,

Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

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


3 Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills You Can Use to Transform Your Life Now

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is designed to help you better understand your feelings and emotions and free you from feeling trapped by them. Rather than simply analyzing your problem, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches specific skills that can be used in everyday life to give you greater happiness and wellbeing. So many people feel that they know what’s wrong, they just need the clarity and skills to work with the issues. DBT empowers you to do just that, with the ongoing support of a therapist’s guidance.

The skills learned in DBT fall under four umbrellas – Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Emotion Regulation. Here we look at three skills you can learn in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and that you can use right now to bring real change to your life.

Identify and Label

Mindfulness is the ability to know and be aware of what is going on around you and within you. With the distractions and busy-ness of modern life, this is not as easy as it sounds. Consciously and intentionally bringing awareness to ourselves and our environment is the first step to building our mindfulness muscle.

When we are beginners, one of the most effective ways to do this is through meditation or a mindful activity like slow walking. Meditation does not have to be complicated. Placing your attention on three breaths as you inhale and exhale can reap benefits. (Remember, when your mind wanders, as minds do, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this as many times as is needed during those three inhalations and exhalations.) As you do these mindful activities, notice what you feel, physically and internally, and identify these qualities by giving them a name, like ‘step,’ ‘breath in,’ ‘breath out’; or even ‘anger,’ ‘worry,’ and ‘self-criticism.’ As you become more skilled at doing this, you can extend it to everyday situations, like driving to work, being in a meeting or having an argument. Simply knowing and recognizing what is going on is a powerful tool to allow you to begin making changes.

Accept Things As They Are (even if you want them to change)

Once you’ve learned to recognize and understand what is going on inside and around you, it is easier to work with these feelings. In some cases, you may identify things you can change. For example, every time you walk past the bakery, you notice a craving for cookies, so you can choose not to take that route anymore. To make that decision to change your course, you had to be aware that this caused a craving in you and accept this reality. If you spent effort pushing away and denying that this craving was a problem for you, or you were not aware this desire increased when you passed the bakery, you would not have been able to apply the solution of walking a different route.

Working skillfully with our feelings is also about recognizing what we can’t change, and accepting rather than fighting against them. One way to do this is to cope with a distressing moment by having a one-mindful focus. Learning to focus on one point, like your breath, a candle or flower, or sounds, can draw your attention to this one-pointed focus and give you time to calm down. Your Dialectical Behavior Therapist can work with you to develop a range of different coping skills to help you walk through difficult moments that will inevitably arise.

Taking Care of Yourself to Regulate Emotions

When you feel angry, hurt, or another painful emotion, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. You might even feel like your emotions are out of control. Fortunately, Dialectical Behavior Therapy can teach you how to manage emotions, so you feel more in the driver’s seat of your experience. A first step you can take, even before feeling a painful emotion, is to manage your vulnerability factors.

Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, resting and taking time off when you need it can all help. By taking care of your body and health needs, you are making yourself more resilient to challenging situations. Imagine being cut off in traffic when you are well-rested, have had enough nutritious food to eat, are wearing comfortable clothing and had a nice walk out in the sun earlier that day. Someone cutting you off probably won’t have much of an impact. Now imagine someone cutting you off and you are sleep deprived, hungry and haven’t had any exercise. If you’re like most people, being cut off will have much more impact, and you will be more likely to experience intense emotions. Although life circumstances prevent us from always taking care of our bodies in an ideal way, the more we can do our best to take good care, the more emotionally resilient and better able to ride out life’s difficult moments we will be.

A skilled therapist can help you develop the DBT skills that work best for you to give you greater freedom and happiness in life. You don’t have to live each day as a struggle – talk to a therapist who uses Dialectical Behavior Therapy to learn more about these life changing skills today.


How do I Handle This?

 

How can we prevent crippling anxiety or depression? We need LOTS of practice welcoming in and feeling unpleasant emotions like sadness, fear, and anger. We need to lay out the red carpet for resentment, despair, and even hopelessness at times, because when we do, these emotions pass. If we open the door wide and set out the welcome mat, these emotions typically dissolve more quickly than we expect. We also don’t cling to these emotions – we feel them and let them go. Depression is that massive cloud of weighted bleh following you around. That cloud is made up of emotional buildup: thick, dense, burdensome emotions that have not been processed.

We forget that we can handle pain. In fact, we can cope with a lot of pain, often more than we expect to survive. Women engage in natural childbirth for hours on end and make it through. We survive break-ups, deaths, personal and societal tragedies, lost jobs, fever, and sickness. Through it all, we survive and usually gain self-respect in the process.

We breathe in-and-out and a new day comes. Sometimes the pain is so great all we can do is focus on just this one breath. Right here, right now. And then you know what happens? The next breath comes, and the next, and the next, and pretty soon we feel differently, and our thoughts change and shift. We welcome a new experience.

Us humans do a lot to get in the way of this process. We push away, avoid, ruminate, argue, distract, anything to not feel what is taking place in our body. (Remember, emotions are a physiological experience and happen in our physical body.) If my friend says something to me and I feel hurt, how do I process this?

  • I could avoid feeling it by thinking about it over and over (ruminating)
  • I could talk with numerous other friends about it to no end
  • I pretend it didn’t happen
  • I choose to ignore my friend hoping for an apology
  • Fill in your favorite way to deal by not dealing here ________________.

Instead, if I want emotional freedom, I could meet HURT at the door laughing and invite him (or her) in. I could treat this guest, HURT, honorably. How would this look? I might do a little self-talk that goes something like this:

“Ugh, I feel kicked in the gut. Where do I feel that? How do I know I feel HURT? What in my body is telling me HURT is here? (Take some breaths and notice sensations in my body.) I feel like the center of my chest is sinking. I almost feel out of breath. (Take some more breaths while paying attention to these sensations in my body and any other feelings that arise.) I think I feel HURT. (Some more breaths while paying attention to sensations in my body. When my mind wanders, or I zone out, I ask myself, ‘Now what is happening in my body? What do I notice?’)”

After maybe a few minutes pass, I gently decide what is most effective for me to do next. Is it to drink a glass of water? Talk to my friend about what they said prompting me to feel hurt? Continue breathing into these feelings and sensations? Get to work and put this aside until later? The key here is that I calmly ask my Wisdom what is most effective, rather than ducking, hiding and getting rid of that emotion as soon as possible. Personally, I sometimes like to set a timer for three minutes. When I do, this means that I have committed to throwing myself into feeling into my body (paying attention to sensations) for three minutes and will gently evaluate what is next when that time is up.

 

Remember, HURT is a guest, and if we want emotional freedom, we treat each guest honorably. I pour HURT a cup of tea, sit down with him, ask how he’s doing, pay attention when he talks, and we have a visit together. When he’s ready, HURT will decide to go. I won’t rush him out or even turn my back as he leaves. I will thank him for coming, and gently open the door and watch him go, letting him know he is always welcome. I may even thank him for his visit (emotions are very informative). I feel at peace.

When we push away what is uncomfortable, we create stress and even more unpleasant emotional intensity. When we welcome in our emotions and treat them honorably, we may experience pain, discomfort, aching, and we also give ourselves the gift of peace.

As with anything, reading this article will not change your life. What will? PRACTICE, of course! The next time you are feeling a painful emotion and would like help welcoming it in, listen to this short, three-minute, guided meditation to help you along. [Insert meditation link here] In fact, you can use this recording as a daily practice if you’d like to regularly engage in a skill to mitigate emotional buildup. (If you’d like to practice for a little longer, listen to this 8-minute meditation at the end of my article, The Guest House .

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

Thank you,

Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.


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.

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).

 

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

 

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?

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

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?

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


HOW TO FIND A RESULTS-ORIENTED THERAPIST

Maybe you have never been in therapy. Perhaps you have been in therapy, and it hasn’t gotten you the results you’d hoped.  This time, you want to try something a little bit different. You may even have a particular goal(s) and know what it is that you want to change. Now come the questions, “How do I get the results I want?” and, “Who is the best person to help me?” Despite the consumer-savvy world we live in, there is little information on how to find a therapist, let alone how to find a therapist who will truly help you achieve real results and change your life in the way that you want.

Here, you will find a five-step process to help you find a therapist who will help you achieve the goals you want to reach. Stop wasting time, money and effort with treatment that doesn’t work. Set yourself on the path to success today!

 

  1. Get COMFORTABLE. – Going to therapy can be a hard process, requiring courage to step outside of your comfort zone and ask for help. At times, therapy asks you to be quite vulnerable, talking with another person about your deepest, most private experiences. Treatment often requires you to be super uncomfortable, and even want to temporarily squirm out of your skin or run for the door. After all, you are in therapy to get help with areas that are likely challenging and possibly, quite painful. To venture to feel this awkward and uneasy, you must first be comfortable! It is so important that you are at ease in the presence of your new therapist and feel understood and not at all judged. In other words, think about whether this is a person to whom you would want to open up.
    • Ask for a PHONE CONSULTATION to get a feel for the therapist. Most therapists will agree to talk to you for a free, 10-15 minute phone consultation. During this meeting, you can give the therapist an idea of what you want help with and hear his or her response. It is important to ask questions and leave time for the therapist to talk so that you can start to assess your feel for this clinician’s competency and ability to help you. Trust your instincts. The therapist should give you a choice (or you can ask) whether you want to schedule an in-person appointment right then and there, want time to think about it, or do not believe that this therapist is a good fit for you.
    • MEET IN PERSON with the idea that you are still evaluating whether this professional is a good fit for your needs. During the first session, the therapist will likely ask you questions about why you are seeking therapy and many other detailed questions about yourself and your treatment goals. The more open you are will help you to experience how the clinician responds to you and gives you the opportunity to evaluate your comfort level with this person. Their response will provide valuable information about whether you would like to proceed or seek another’s help instead.

 

  1. Ask for a CASE FORMULATION. – A results-oriented therapist will be able to discuss their conceptualization of your problem(s) and what is currently missing for you to reach your goals. Likely, this won’t be obvious information that you already know. Rather, it should add more information to your understanding of your stuck point(s) and show you that this person has the education and experience to understand your particular problem area(s) expertly. Think of the analogy of visiting a medical doctor (M.D.). You may report your symptoms (e.g., poor digestion, feeling light-headed) and the doctor will not simply repeat your symptoms back to you: “You have poor digestion and feel light headed. That must be hard.” They will tell you, based on their evaluation (e.g., examining your vitals, blood tests), what is wrong (e.g., “You have high blood sugar.” “Your thyroid is malfunctioning.”). You can expect this same kind of expert information regarding your psychological and emotional health as well. A results-oriented mental health professional will not only repeat your complaints back to you; they will add information to fully conceptualize what is contributing to the problem and why you need help in solving it. For example, you may report repeated over-eating and sudden emotional outbursts. The results-oriented clinician may suggest after their assessment (e.g., conversation with you, standardized questionnaires), they believe these problems come from deficits in understanding how to change behaviors and regulate emotions successfully.1 The results-oriented therapist will explain this to you in detail and discuss precisely how this affects you. This explanation will be in language you understand, and the conceptualization should make sense to you. If you think the therapist is off-base, does not accurately comprehend your problem, or cannot communicate in a way that you understand and agree with, openly discuss this with him or her. If you still cannot come to an agreement, it may be time to interview another therapist for your treatment needs.

 

  1. Ask for a TREATMENT PLAN, including TREATMENT GOALS, prognosis, and length of therapy. – Just as your general medical practitioner will give you an idea of your treatment options, likely results, rate of recovery, and time needed to achieve these results, you can also expect this from a results-oriented therapist. For example, a clinician may tell you that in the first three sessions2, the two of you will collaborate to reach a case formulation. At that point (by the third session) the therapist will make a treatment recommendation. They will talk with you in detail about how the treatment he/she is recommending addresses your particular problem(s), will help you reach your goals, and the time you should expect to devote to attain this outcome, including frequency and length of sessions, and expected length of time in therapy. Alternatively, at the third session, the therapist may refer you to another professional with the expertise to help you meet your goals if you and the clinician have determined that is what is needed. Again, think of the M.D. If blood tests reveal you have a thyroid problem that is relatively simple and straightforward, the doctor may express this to you and lay out a treatment plan. If, however, the problem seems more complicated, the M.D. may then refer you to an endocrinologist or another specialist to help you achieve your health goals. Defining treatment goals in therapy is important because these goals will help you know if you are making progress and whether the therapy is working.

 

  1. Understand how you and your therapist will MONITOR TREATMENT PROGRESS and ask for HOMEWORK. – How will you know whether you are moving toward your treatment goals and making progress? This is a question a results-oriented therapist will be able to answer with clarity.
  • Together, you and your therapist may choose to use standardized measures of symptoms or progress and chart them on a graph, making sure your symptoms are decreasing, and skills needed are increasing. You may also choose to track behavioral markers, such as how often per week you are engaging in a particular behavior or have the urge to do so. Successful treatment would show a decrease in those behaviors (and possibly urges) the therapist has agreed to help you decrease (e.g., over-eating). You will also see an increase in the behaviors moving you toward your treatment goals (e.g., taking three breaths before a meal, stopping eating your meal when you experience a feeling of satiation regardless of the quantity of food left). Your therapist may ask you to chart each time you have the urge to or actually engage in these behaviors in between sessions to track your progress.
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then, you guessed it, more PRACTICE is needed to make changes and reach your goals. Homework will always be present in results-oriented therapy. Homework doesn’t mean that you will be sent off to write a 5-page paper about what you learned. Rather, therapy homework is a way for you to put into practice what you are learning in therapy. Typically, therapy sessions last about 50 minutes once per week. What about the other six days of the week and 24 hours each day? 50 minutes is not going to change your life in the way that you want. A results oriented therapist will send you home with something to practice (e.g., filling out a worksheet about a skill you learned at your session, practice saying “no” and noticing in detail the thoughts that come into your head or sensations in your body). If you want results, you must practice. Change does not happen in our thinking. Change happens when we do things differently over and over and over again. If you want results, ask for homework!

 

  1. CONTINUE TO EVALUATE, on an on-going basis, whether your treatment is helping you move toward your goals and achieve the results you want. A results-oriented therapist will regularly review treatment progress with you using the techniques described in Step 4. Therapy is not meant to be life-long. Remember, you are hiring a professional to help you reach specifically-defined treatment goals. At some point, if therapy is working (as you are carefully monitoring), you will have achieved those goals and will either want to develop new treatment goals or decrease the frequency of your contact with this clinician or terminate your treatment.

 

Therapy can be an enriching, life-changing experience if you choose an effective treatment. Use the five steps above to help you get the help you need and deserve, and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!

 

NOTES

 

  1. This is provided as an example only and does not imply that all causes of over-eating or emotional lability come from the same source. These statements are meant to clarify the topics addressed in this article, not to assess or diagnose.

 

  1. Not all clinicians assess within one to three sessions. This is meant as an example only. Please check with the therapist you plan to see about their individual policy and of course, ensure that it makes sense and is reasonable to you.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • What is the difference between a Ph.D., Psy.D., LMFT, LCSW, MFTi, etc., and will it affect the quality of my treatment?

A Ph.D. and Psy.D. both have doctorate degrees in psychology. LMFTs and LCSWs have a  master’s degree. A Psychological Assistant (someone with a doctorate who is not yet licensed) and MFTi (Marriage and Family Therapist intern) indicate this person is still in training and under supervision before they can become licensed. While the degree itself may show different types of training and specialties, what is usually more informative is how the therapist works with their clients. I have results-oriented colleagues with LMFT and LCSW licenses who work similarly to myself and other contemporaries who have doctorate-level training. I also have met professionals with doctorates who are not results-oriented and do more of a supportive-type therapy. In my opinion, if you follow the five steps laid out in this article, you will significantly increase the likelihood that you will work with a therapist who will help get the results you want, regardless of their type of license. Trainees can also be good options. I personally would choose to work with a Psychological Assistant or MFTi if they met all of my requirements in the 5-steps to finding a results-oriented therapist. The quality of work a therapist demonstrates to me is more important than where they are in their education and whether they have a master’s or doctorate degree. One caveat: if your problem is quite complicated and you have been to several clinicians before who haven’t helped, you may need a skilled and seasoned eye and choose a therapist who has some years of experience under his/her belt.

 

  • Should I look for a therapist with a particular theoretical orientation?

Some of my results-oriented colleagues may argue that it is imperative to receive treatment from someone doing “evidence-based therapy,” such as cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). I like to be careful about making this generalization. There are certainly CBT practitioners who are results-oriented, and there are those who are not. Because someone professes to work under a particular modality is not an assurance that they do. More relevant is whether the therapist helps you develop treatment goals, assigns homework, monitors your progress, etc. I am less inclined to be concerned about the modality and more interested that the therapist can give you evidence that their treatment recommendation(s) works (has been researched to be effective) and the way the therapist is applying the treatment to your problem makes logical sense to you.

 

  • What if my therapist tells me that being uncomfortable with him/her or wanting to leave therapy is as a result of my problem(s) and I should not act on this?

This answer is not a straightforward “stay” or “leave.” Rather, it is a more nuanced answer: Use your WISDOM. On the one hand, if this is a new therapist, it is important to be comfortable and feel at ease in his or her presence right away. (See Step 1.) You will already be challenging yourself to grow in various ways throughout your treatment; no need to do this with the relationship with your therapist. I have talked to countless people who have stayed with a therapist they didn’t like or felt uneasy around because they assumed they (the client) were at fault and there was something wrong with them that they felt this way. I previously had a personal experience visiting a therapist with whom I was uncomfortable. I told her so, and she stated that she thought this meant I had significant problems with intimacy and needed to sit physically closer to her than I was comfortable with and work through the problems in my relationship with her. At that moment, I felt ashamed and unsure of myself. After leaving the session, and discussing it with a loved one, I determined that the only relationship in my life that I was having a significant problem with and wanted to get out of was the one with my therapist. I left, found a new therapist who I was immediately comfortable with, and therapy was successful. I have heard some version of this story from many clients about their past therapy, and often, once they remove themselves from that clinician, they find much success moving toward their goals with much more ease. On the other hand, it could be useful to ask yourself if your therapist has a point. Does this reaction toward your therapist happen in many other relationships? After visiting a few therapists, do you feel this same way about each of them? If so, you may want to consider whether this is something you want to target (work on) in therapy and may decide to stick with this therapist. You may want to consult with a trusted loved one and get some help tuning into your WISDOM to make this decision. Also, remember Step 5 and to continuously evaluate whether this treatment is helping you.


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

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando