Do you catch yourself constantly distracted by your thoughts? Are you consumed with thinking about things – how a situation will turn out, what someone might say, how you will respond, worrying about things that have not happened yet, etc? Do you get stuck in the same thought patterns? Do you get stuck not making decisions or taking action because you can’t stop weighing all the options? Can you remember the last time you felt really happy or really sad or really angry?
I like balance. If we are too lopsided one way – thinking too much for instance – it usually creates problems for us and those around us. What would it look like if we strive for a balance between THINKING, FEELING, & DOING? We think sometimes. We feel sometimes. We do (or take action) sometimes.
I bet we would find a relief from a lot of the dialog in our head, the worry we constantly feel, or the meaning we’ve made out of things that might not have any meaning at all.
Go ahead, give it a try!
The holidays are upon us and that usually means lots of time with our extended family. 2020 has no doubt brought an extra helping of limitations and pressure for us to navigate this season.
Do you dread this time of year or certain aspects of it? Do you wish you had ways to cope with the parts you don’t enjoy? Is there that certain someone who triggers something within you every time you see or talk to them?
Remember this: You only have control over yourself…how you think about things, your behaviors, how you are feeling, and what you say.
- Act, don’t react to the times when you are triggered. his means slowing yourself down enough to regain control of the situation by choosing how you want to respond (if at all) to inappropriate, mean comments or people. Have a plan for how to respond before you are in the situation. “If he says something mean, I will just look at him blankly while taking some deep breaths to soothe myself. Or if I decide I can’t not say anything, I’ll just say ‘Huh, that’s an interesting perspective, or Huh, that’s a good question, I’ll have to think about that.'”
- Acknowledge and validate your feelings that get triggered, “Of course I want to scream at her for commenting about my weight, that was inappropriate for her to say.” Take a deep breath and know that you have zero control over that other person and instead you will take control of yourself and respond appropriately, if at all.
- Let yourself off the hook. Often we think we have to respond to negative comments or inappropriate questions so we can defend ourselves or to make sure the other people in the conversation don’t feel awkward. Remember to be your best adult self and sometimes saying nothing at all communications more than we could ever say with words. In fact, if we don’t respond, it shifts the awkwardness back to the sender.
Ultimately be gentle and tender with yourself and others. Allow each new moment to unfold as it needs to. Trust that you will do your best in each new moment and allow others the opportunity to be their best in each new moment.
Healthy boundaries keep us safe, both physically and emotionally. They keep us clear about what’s “me” and what’s “not me.” They are rules we make for ourselves that determine just how much others can come into our “space.” And like societal rules, personal boundaries can be looser or more rigid, depending on what the situation requires. The purpose of boundaries is to keep us feeling safe on the outside as well as the inside.
Healthy Boundaries are:
Flexible: we are able to be both close and distant, adaptable to the situation. We are able to let go of destructive relationships and connect with nurturing ones.
Safe: we are able to protect ourselves against exploitation from others. We can read cues that someone is selfish or abusive. Also, we are not offensive to others.
Connected: we are able to engage in balanced relationships with others and maintain them over time. As conflicts arise, we are able to work through them.
In order to develop healthy boundaries, we must know what we like and don’t, what feels good to us and what feels bad. We must know “who we are” and “who we are not.” Healthy boundaries are developed in childhood when a kid gets the message from caregivers that his/her thoughts and feelings matter. This happens when a parent models healthy boundaries by guiding and correcting a child in a firm, nurturing, and consistent manner. The parent doesn’t use the child to regulate his/her own difficult emotions by beating the child, for example, or by demanding emotional nurturance from the child. When this occurs, a child grows up unable to separate his/her thoughts and feelings from others’. He/She takes undo responsibility for others’ thoughts and actions, blames others for his/her feelings, or needs to control and manipulate in order to feel safe.
In therapy, we “redraw” our boundaries. We reconnect with our feelings and strengthen the muscle that sets limits and keeps us safe.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong
I don’t know about you, but this year has felt like a tornado of constant change. And that’s putting it mildly. Whether you’re pulling your hair out homeschooling your kids, bent over a laptop trying to work from your couch, or trying to figure out what dating looks like in the time of COVID, all of us are experiencing some feeling of mental spinning.
Change… now adapt. Change… now adapt. And repeat.
When life brings this level of upheaval, it’s going to bring stress. And that’s normal. In fact, it would be pretty unusual for you NOT to feel stressed right now. Stress alone doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But recognizing when you need a little help managing your stress is a good thing.
Check out the image below to understand more about how too much stress can effect your mind, body, emotions and behavior.
Being diagnosed with chronic illness can often feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster ride!
Here are 9 that are often relatable to both the individual and family members after a diagnosis
has been made:
- “Finally an answer, I’m not crazy after all!”
- “At least now I can build a plan of action and keep from getting worse. It sucks
not to know!
- “Well, at least it’s not going to kill me. So I have that going for me. It could be
- “Why do I feel so limited by my illness while others I know with a chronic
condition seem to do just fine?”
- “How unfair! My friends and family are getting to follow through with all the
plans they made for their future – now I have this roadblock in front of me!”
- “Why don’t other people understand – I may look just fine, but they can’t see
the invisible symptoms I am feeling like fatigue, depression and anxiety”.
- “Why all the long waits for a doctor’s appointment – it feels like they just don’t
care about me!”
- “When will I know if this medication is actually working?”
- “How come they don’t have a cure by now?”
- “I feel like crap but my doctor says I am fine.
- “I give up! Why bother eating healthy and going to PT – nothing is making me
- “I used to have dreams and ambitions. Now I can no longer do the things I
wanted to do with my life. What do I do now?”
- “All I do is think about my condition – I just wish I could take one day or even one
hour off from all the worrying!”
- “I hate having to rely on others all the time for help – I worry about adding more
stress to their lives too!”
- “I am so anxious and worried that I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate, and I have mood swings all the time.”
- “There are so many unpredictable problems -I am worn out by all the emotional ups and downs.”
6. Loss of Identity
- “Do I have any choices anymore? I feel like my body has betrayed me and I am
no longer who I once was.”
- “I have lost sight of who I actually am as a whole human being.”
- “Can I still have a career? Will I still be able to perform my job without asking for
- “Can I still find love as a person with this condition? Will I ever be able to enjoy
romance, friendship, sex or care for my own family?”
- “My doctors do not care about me, they just want to collect my insurance – they
probably don’t even want to find a cure.”
- “Things aren’t getting better…why do I even bother trying to fight this disease?”
- “So much for living mindfully. I may as well live on the edge because nothing I do
for myself makes a difference.”
- “I don’t talk to friends or family or coworkers anymore because it’s too difficult
to explain – they wouldn’t understand anyway.”
- “I don’t work or take part in my usual activities anymore because I can’t perform
them the way I used to and it is embarrassing. I used to be good at these things.”
- “I don’t want to leave the house anymore because it is physically too hard, there
are too many obstacles out in the world for people with disabilities and people
can be cruel and stare at me.”
9. Getting Perspective (Gratitude)
- “I am grateful to my friends and family who through this journey have helped me
by being good listeners and also sharing their feelings in a way that helps me
clarify and value my own journey.”
When we think of ourselves being on autopilot it can be helpful to consider that feeling as a trance. We go in and out of trances multiple times throughout the day. A trance can be a simple day dream or perhaps being zoned out while driving. There can be positive and negative trances which can influence our behavior.
Alcohol can create a strong trance.
When we drink too much and become inebriated we are in a bit of a trance. Continued use of alcohol can create a different type of trance. When our use of alcohol begins to negatively affect our lives we can experience two things; shame and guilt. Shame, which can be described as “I am bad,” can put us on autopilot by believing we are “bad.”
When assessing our use of alcohol it can be very helpful to consider our use as a relationship. We all have a relationship with alcohol. And with any relationship, it can be healthy or unhealthy. If we notice our relationship with alcohol to be unhealthy it could be because we might be on autopilot or in a trance.
A negative relationship with alcohol can be tricky. Alcohol may want to stay in a relationship with us even when we do not. It can manipulate our thinking or judgment in order to stay. Alcohol could make us rationalize and/or justify our behavior to maintain the relationship.
If we notice we might be in a trance and have a negative relationship with alcohol there are a few things we should do to protect us and make sure we are healthy.
- First, we would want to find any ways our use has created a loss of self. A loss of self could be a loss of happiness or peace. It could be a loss of a friend or family member. Or it could be a loss of a hobby.
- We would then need to set up boundaries to protect ourselves from alcohol and regain anything we may have lost. Not drinking and ending a relationship with alcohol is one boundary someone might make. Another, could be to limit the amount of alcohol an individual uses.
- Lastly, if the trance of alcohol puts us in is very strong, therapy is a must. Therapy can help us heal from the affects alcohol and end the trance it creates.
Humility is the willingness to stay teachable regardless of how much we already know.
Have you ever spent time with someone who views her or his self as the best human in the room? Maybe it was a friend, partner, boss, or coworker. How did it feel? How’d the conversation go? Did you enjoy it? Want to talk more to this person or less?
It’s hard NOT to assume we don’t own the truth.
Our experiences shape us to believe and think certain things, sometimes passionately. It’s hard for us NOT to see our version of reality as the right (or only) version of reality. BUT. While it may feel threatening, there’s so much more freedom and opportunity in allowing others to “own truth” too. Think of it as trying on another’s experiences, imagining how their life may have led them to their thoughts, fears, biases, dreams. Think of it as trying on humility.
When we get stuck in the idea that we own the truth, we constrict around that.
People become “good” or “bad” as judged by our inner critic and we fight against them and their ideas from a place of self-protection. We are less apt to seek to understand them. Instead, we seek to protect our truth above all else because we believed the false rumor that doing that somehow protects us. We hunker down, refuse feedback, and struggle to imagine that safety, security, AND multiple truths can coexist.
Instead of trying to be the best human in the room, what if we tried to be the best version of ourselves in the room, in our families, careers, and relationships? What if that was less about proving something and more about listening? What if the deepest strength is really found in compassion, empathy, and humility? How might we experience ourselves and life differently if we trust that?
I learn a lot from my 3-year-old niece. Last time she visited, she walked in and immediately said, “Do you have Popsicles?” When I said “no” (terrible aunt oversight), she looked at me point blank and said, “Well, you should get some.”
Such directness. Such self-assurance. She asked for what she wanted. And while her attitude is typical of a 3-year-old, she made me wonder on a deeper level how we lose this directness, this wildness. When do we stop asking for what we need? What causes us to get all “polite” and quiet and afraid to say things like, “I need this. I want this. I miss this, love this don’t like this.”
Many of us stop making these requests as adults.
We think staying quiet equates to “making things work” or “keeping the peace.” But does it?
For a very long time, I thought my messy parts were unacceptable. I thought the “in process” version of me needed to be hidden in order to be loved and accepted. And so I hid, and watched many of those around me do the same.
I was presenting to the world the image of a final product instead of the messy, always-becoming work in progress that I am, that we ALL are. And that was not helpful. If anything, it was destructive and furthering a lie that being all of ourselves is somehow not okay.
The world NEEDS us to be messy because it gives others permission to be messy too.
When we stop pretending we have it all together all the time, we meet each other in actual reality, which is complicated, beautiful, good, bad, scary, exciting, and so much more. We grow together in ways false facades don’t allow. Most importantly, we get real and know that we are loved precisely because of that realness.
Isn’t there still a voice inside of you that has something important to say, something that might make life more authentic and real? When we don’t share those words, we create a barrier.
How do we share our truth in a kind and direct way? How do we ask for what we need and hear others’ requests for what they need? It’s certainly not easy, but when we do it, when we begin to cross those bridges with ourselves and others, we find ourselves feeling closer, realer, and safer than we ever could have imagined. Be you. Be loving, be wild.
“Trauma has become so commonplace that most people don’t even recognize its presence. It affects everyone. Each of us has had a traumatic experience at some point in our lives, regardless of whether it left us with an obvious case of post-traumatic stress.” ~Peter Levine
What living with trauma can look like:
- Feelings of hopelessness and beliefs that aren’t meant for you
- Constantly finding ways to escape from reality
- Sleeplessness, fatigue, nightmares, sleep disorders
- Avoidance of anything connected to a traumatic event
- Difficulty regulating emotions like anger, fear and sadness
- Reoccurring flashbacks of past events
- Extra sensitivity to physical and emotional pain
- Addiction to alcohol and other substances
- Increased panic and anxiety
Everyone responds to trauma differently, and finding healthy ways to cope and heal from those events and their after-effects is key to living a healthy life. It’s easy to minimize, normalize, and rationalize some of these less severe symptoms, but if healthy coping mechanisms are not developed, they can lead to patterns of self-sabotage and withdrawal from the world and relationships. Like Peter Levine also said ,”Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”
The most courageous thing we can do is love our self during times of pain and struggle.
Being aware of our story, and owning it, requires immense bravery. After all, to be human is to think and feel, and our emotions are here to try and protect us. If we see anxiety and stress as friends and offer them empathy, kindness, and thankfulness, they will be able to relax and dissipate. When you feel them approaching, welcome them, be kind to them, be thankful that they are there, and then invite them to leave. Bringing our minds to the present can reduce stress, anxiety, and connect us to everything around us.