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22/Mar/2018

price-of-admission

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” – Susan David

Dr. Susan David is a Psychologist at Harvard Medical School and is a founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School.  In her Ted Talk about emotional agility, which you can find here, she discusses the concept of emotional agility, how society has made a push towards positivity, and inadvertently, how this may have led to additional suffering.

There is a push in our media, in our society, and in our homes to be positive; think positive, look on the bright side, or simply, smile!  Dr. David posits that this push towards positivity often leads to denial of the truth and denial of our emotions.  We can end up feeling bad about ourselves for experiencing negative emotions and negative thoughts because we’re supposed to be happy and positive all of the time.

The truth is, life isn’t always happy and positive.  Certainly there are times in our lives when we are happy and things are going well and we feel good, but there are also times when things do not go our way and we just feel bad.  Dr. David suggests that instead of trying to be positive during these times, and pushing those negative thoughts away, we need to embrace them, to learn to deal with and cope with them rather than trying to run away from them.  Dr. David’s Ted Talk mirrors much of what is discussed in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and, in particular, the idea that we must accept, rather than try to push away, negative thoughts and feelings.  These things are a way of life and like a rollercoaster, sometimes we have to just wait it out.

I like to use grief as an example in my practice with clients.  Our society treats grief as something that is normal – we are expected to be sad or to cry when someone close to us passes away.  We also know that people we love may pass away, and as much as we do not like that thought, we have no choice but to accept it.  We treat grief with a lot of respect, in most cases, and allow it to come and go naturally.  I believe that we need to learn to treat the rest of our emotions with the same type of respect that we treat grief.  When we are feeling anxious or sad, rather than beating ourselves up for these feelings we should be accepting that this is how it is right now, and allowing those feelings to come and go.  Often, the more we try to control these feelings, the worse off we become.  Either we actually end up enhancing the feelings that we started with, or we add additional distress, such as shame or frustration when we do not succeed in getting rid of the feelings.

I would like to challenge you to you try accepting your negative thoughts and feelings, and treating them with the same respect that you would grief.  Listen to Dr. David’s Ted Talk, and reflect back on your own experiences of trying to get rid of your negativity.  Try something new, and see what happens.

jenny-thomson

Source: Click


13/Feb/2018

hearts

With Valentine’s Day fast-approaching, and the holiday seasoning winding down, I found myself reflecting on the important people in my life, and how we choose to celebrate these people.  When we think of birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and other important holidays, what do we think of?  For me, the first thing that pops into my mind is gifts.  Chocolates and flowers for Valentine’s Day and anniversaries, expensive presents, gift cards, and even money for other important occasions.  But is this how we really want to celebrate the most important people in our lives?

While gift-giving can be a great way to show a loved one that you’ve been thinking about them, spending quality time with loved ones is also extremely important.  A study outlined by NPR in a December article suggested that people felt most loved during times of interaction rather than when receiving gifts.  However, during busy holiday times, such as in December, people often feel additional stress at having to rush to spend time with people close to them.

During these times of high stress, such as Christmas, we often lose sight of being present.  We become consumed with worries about making it to every family gathering, getting the right gifts, and planning out every detail of our holidays that we may forget to stop and enjoy the moment.  Christmas may be over for this year, but we can still practice being more present with our loved ones.  Take some time to breathe and ground yourself before attending that birthday party or anniversary dinner – leave the stress from work and home where they belong, and practice being in the moment.

Instead of focusing on gifts for your upcoming anniversary or birthday, why not begin a tradition that involves spending time with one another, or going on an adventure every year?  Maybe you and you partner decide that every year on your anniversary you will try a new restaurant in a different city, or that every Christmas you will plan your annual trip together.  Try shifting your focus from giving and receiving material items, to making new memories and living a fulfilled life.

holding-hands

All in all, I think we sometimes lose sight of why we take time out of our busy lives to see the people who are important to us.  We want them to feel loved and appreciated, and know that they are important to us.  So maybe try something new – make some great memories that will last a lifetime with the people that are most important in your life.

jenny-thomson

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/12/09/568834440/what-s-better-than-expensive-presents-the-gift-of-presence 


20/Oct/2017

meditate

To Begin I’d like you to watch THIS VIDEO.

What thoughts came up for you as you watched this video?  Were you able to relate to what the individuals were saying?  Did you understand why they answered the way they did?  I’d like you to take a moment to reflect on a time when you made a mistake, and some of the things that you said to yourself.  What sort of words did you use?  How did those words affect you?  Now think of the last time a loved one came to you and told you about a mistake.  How did those words differ from the ones you told yourself?  I’m willing to bet that there is a big difference in how you speak to yourself versus how you speak to others.

Why Self Compassion?

I’m sure you’ve heard the term self-compassion before.  Maybe you wondered why it was important, or why people even bother talking about it.  Maybe you thought you didn’t need to be self-compassionate, or that it simply wasn’t something that would impact your life.  Kristin Neff (2012) suggests that self-compassion is more than looking on the bright side or attempting to avoid negative feelings.  Self-compassionate people are able to recognize when they are suffering, but act kindly towards themselves.  Neff (2012) further explains that studies have indicated that individuals with higher levels of self-compassion experience less anxiety and self-consciousness when asked about their weaknesses, display more wisdom and emotional intelligence, and often experience higher levels of social connectedness and overall life satisfaction.

If we can learn to be kinder to ourselves, we can learn to let go of our mistakes and shortcomings, and move forward from them.  This doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring them, but rather not allowing them to hook us into a pattern of self-depreciation and dislike.  Instead, we can accept our mistakes/shortfalls/situations for what they are, learn from them, and move forward.

So how do I be Kinder to Myself?

Being compassionate towards oneself is similar to the way that we express compassion for others.  As in the video above, it is clear that many of us are better able to be compassionate towards our loved ones than we are to ourselves.  Learning how to be self-compassionate will not happen overnight; it may take time, practice, and trial and error.

Neff (2012) posits that there are three main components to having compassion for oneself:

  1. Self-kindness
  2. A sense of common humanity
  3. Mindfulness

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In short, these three aspects of self-compassion involve being understanding towards ourselves and our downfalls; recognizing that we are not alone and that other people struggle as well; and practicing living in the moment and accepting some of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  What self-compassion is not, is self-pity, self-indulgence, or self-esteem (Neff, 2012).  To learn more about how you can be more self-compassionate, click here to read Kristin Neff’s chapter on The Science of Self-Compassion.

jenny-thomson

Source:  Neff, K. D. (2012). The science of self-compassion. In C. Germer & R. Siegel (Eds.), Compassion and Wisdom in Psychotherapy (pp. 79-92). New York: Guilford Press.



Every day, we are faced with difficult thoughts and feelings that are uncomfortable.  Whether it’s sadness, fear, shame, guilt, or anxiety, these feelings can take on a life of their own and feel overpowering.  Soon enough, we may start to have other unpleasant feelings as a result of our struggle with the initial feeling.  For example, we may feel frustration over the fact we are anxious, or guilt over the fact we are sad. That’s the problem with many of our feelings – the more that we struggle with having the feeling, the more the feeling takes hold of us.

What if there was an alternative?  What if there’s a chance that these feelings are here because there is something that is meaningful, something that is so important we hurt because of it?

If struggling with the feelings isn’t working, the only other alternative we have is to create space to allow them to be present.  Give this a try:

Take a few breaths.  Notice how it feels when you breathe, and how the air feels as it flows in through your nose when you inhale, and how it feels when it exits when you exhale.  Notice the speed of your breath, and how your rib cage moves slightly up as you inhale, and falls again when you exhale.  Now see if you can locate the difficult feeling.  Is it in your stomach?  In your chest?  In your heart? Your head?  Notice where you feel it.  Notice how big it feels – does it feel large and heavy, like it’s weighing you down?  Does it feel small?  Notice if it feels like it has any movement – is it pulsing, or vibrating?  Is it still?  If it had a colour, what colour would it be?  What kind of texture would it have – would it be smooth, or spikey?  See if you can create a picture of a creature for this feeling using these qualities. 

You don’t have to like the creature or want it there, but see if you can allow it to just hang out.  As ugly or undesirable as this creature may be, it is telling you that something is important.  We hurt where we care, and this creature’s presence is a sign that something is very important to you.  In other words, struggling with the creature is only struggling with an essential part of yourself.  What’s more, struggling with the creature ties up energy and resources that you could be using to do things that bring you closer to the life you want.

creatures

So, next time you see the creature, see if you can hold it lightly.  See if you can soften a little around it, and provide yourself with self-compassion like what you would feel for a friend experiencing the same thing.  Notice that you are always larger than the creature.  And maybe, it is okay to have this little creature along for the ride with you after all.

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28/Sep/2017

Kerry Foster wrote an excellent blog, Best Practice: Is Your Injured Worker With A Psych Injury Too Sick To Work?’, summarizing two compelling articles: ‘Is your patient too sick to work?’ by Dr.’s Gregory Couser and Gabrielle Melin of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine Rochester; and ‘If Work Makes People with Mental Illness Sick, What Do Unemployment, Poverty, and Social Isolation Cause?’ by Joe Marrone and Ed Golowka from the Institute for Community Inclusion in Portland.  Foster and the authors of these articles have, in our opinion, hit the mark on the topic of staying off work due to psychological illness or difficulties.  We have been working with a population of individuals who are off work due to chronic mental and/or somatic health difficulties for many years and the trends we see are directly in line with what these authors are speaking of.

First of all, when we meet with clients for our initial assessment and we ask them what led up to their leave from work, they start off by listing the stressful events and/or the limiting symptoms, and then go on to say that when they met with their doctor, their doctor suggested that they take some time off work to recover.  In many cases, through going off work, the client has now eliminated from their life a key part of their identity or role in this world.  They have deleted the human interaction that may have accompanied their job, they have opened the door to possible financial pressures and isolation, and they have closed the door to productivity, financial contribution to the family, and maybe even a sense of accomplishment and purpose that they may have once obtained from their job.  They have also now entered the mindset that the difficulties they are facing and their work cannot co-exist, and that they must wait until they feel better in order to do their job.  The problems here are that with chronic conditions, the individual may in fact never feel completely better with symptoms at times persisting regardless of treatment. It is the case that until these individuals resume working and actually immerse themselves into their work environment again, they will never be able to learn how to allow their difficulties and their work to exist simultaneously.    Whether it was a decision made independently, or one made by their doctor, it is often one that can hinder a client’s recovery rather than encourage it.

The next problem that arises is that as people continue to sit at home waiting to feel better enough to return to work, the time keeps passing, the challenges continue to exist or become even worse, and the idea that they are disabled from doing their job gets further and further reinforced.  Often times, when we see clients who have been off work for two years or more, we are automatically faced with additional challenges in helping them Portrait of an upset businessman at desk in office. Businessmanget back to work, primarily because this notion and conditioned belief that their symptoms and work cannot co-exist has been carved into their minds.  The earlier clients are referred to us, the better results we see.  If we see clients at the point that they go off work, or even when they are still working but are having challenges, we can work with them to learn how to manage and cope with their difficulties in such a way that they do not have to give up a pivotal part of their life.  We can provide strategies to manage their difficulties while AT WORK, and can teach them how to address and deal with issues as they arise.  Furthermore, we can help them identify the value that their work brings to their life.   Even if someone does not go into work every day thinking I LOVE MY JOB, we can often still help them identify what it is about working that is meaningful to them – whether it is financial security, status, sense of accomplishment, financial contribution within the family, setting an example for their children, the ability to live a comfortable lifestyle, or the means to keep their family healthy – there is rarely an empty response.  From there, the client may notice that in being off work, they are moving away from that value rather than towards it, which is causing additional suffering to their already quite full plate of difficulties.

Early intervention is important, but is not always granted.  There are a number of reasons for this, but one that I will discuss is the issue of individuals needing to feel that they CAN open up early on and that they will be heard.  In order for early intervention to be possible, it is essential that the individual suffering feels that they have someone they can open up to as soon as they start to notice their struggles so that they can be dealt with immediately rather than allowing them to persist and likely bring on additional suffering.  Workplaces need to create open and inviting environments that make employees feel comfortable to speak up about their difficulties and to receive the support needed, rather than having to go off work to deal with things in the privacy of their own home.

At JMA we offer intervention services to individuals at any stage, whether they are still working and are struggling or whether they have gone off work and are looking for help to get back on track.  If you, or someone you know could use some support and guidance towards getting back to where you want to be, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.  We are also able to provide educational programs to employers about mental health at work and about how to best support your employees if they approach you with challenges they are experiencing to lessen the risk of prolonged disability.

Kerry Foster’s full blog is available here: Best Practice: Is Your Injured Worker with a Psych Injury Too Sick to Work?

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References

Crouser, Gregory, P. & Melin, Gabrielle, J. (2006). Is your patient too sick to work? Current Psychiatry 5(9):17-25.

Foster, Kerry. (2014, April). Best Practice: Is Your Injured Worker with a Psych Injury Too Sick to Work? Retrieved from https://activeohs.com.au/best-practice-2/best-practice-is-your-injured-worker-with-a-psych-injury-too-sick-to-work.

Marrone, Joe & Golowka, Ed. (2000). If Work Makes People with Mental Illness Sick, What Do Unemployment, Poverty, and Social Isolation Cause? Speaking Out (Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal) 23(2): 187-193.


21/Sep/2017

guilt

I’m sure that just hearing those words, your mind took you to a particular incident that you’re not proud of.  Psychology Today explains that shame happens when you fall short of “societal moral standards”, whereas guilt is when you fall short of your own.

Many people who struggle with feelings of guilt and shame are often stuck in a cycle that they can’t seem to get out of.  The unfortunate part is that it is often paralyzing, and can lead to resentment and depression.  The torment that we feel limits us from fully engaging in what life has available for us, strains relationships, and can leave us questioning our self-worth.

The truth is that dwelling on the past hurts us more than it helps us.  Our minds have an unfortunate way of hooking us into unhelpful cycles by recalling memories that are hurtful and painful.  Constantly feeling guilty and ashamed can then cloud our judgement and stagnate our personal growth.  Whether what you’re guilty or ashamed of was something small or something that had huge consequences, ruminating over our thoughts to the point that we can’t see the good in ourselves and hope for the future doesn’t make things better.

Take these steps today to overcome the sting of guilt and shame, and move towards a more fulfilling life:

Accept Mistakes

A part of living life is making mistakes.  You’ve made many mistakes in your past, and will make many more in the future!  Accepting that no one’s perfect can be difficult, but understanding this can help to reduce your suffering.

Improve the Future

How can you take what you’ve learned from your experience to better yourself in the future?  We can’t change the past, but we have the ability to shape our future.  How can you apply the lessons you’ve learned towards future actions so that you can live a life that you’re proud of?  How can you inspire others to overcome their guilt and shame?

Exercise Self-Compassion

It can be difficult to feel good about ourselves when we’ve done something we’re not proud of, but self-compassion is vital to overcoming guilt and shame.  Forgiving yourself starts with acceptance and the commitment to be better.  Challenge negative thoughts about yourself and practice positive self-talk to encourage healing.

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Source: Burton, N.  (2017, March 16).  What’s the Difference Between Guilt and Shame?  Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201703/whats-the-difference-between-guilt-and-shame


13/Sep/2017

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the effectiveness of weight loss programs and diets by people who feel fat and want to lose weight.  We concluded that losing weight is not the solution.  Even after losing weight, guilt, deprivation and “feeling fat” can persist.  The solution is to acquire the skills to control when you start eating and when you stop eating.

In Part II of this series, we will start by looking at what it is that starts and stops us from eating – the determinants of eating behaviour – and why it is that we have to eat in the first place.  We will discover that “the real problem” has nothing to do with willpower.


PART II:  WHAT IS HUNGER?

We use the term ‘hunger’ all the time.  But what is hunger?  Have you ever spent any time thinking about it?  Put yourself in the position of a scientist who wants to discover and understand what hunger is.  Is hunger simply a feeling?  Where does this feeling come from?  Is it always related to a true state of need?  If so, are overweight people experiencing a feeling of hunger when they are driven to eat?  They certainly are not in a state of need.  Is hunger a primitive instinct with which we are all born?  Is it identical for all of us?  Is it a feeling that is always the same and is related to specific physiological events (e.g. stomach contractions)?  Or is hunger something that we may learn?  Is hunger different for different people?  Are there different types of feelings that we tend to call hunger?  Do different people call different feelings hunger?  What is it?  What causes it?  What effects it?  How do you know what someone else calls hunger is the same as what you call hunger?  Does it even exist as a simple singular well-defined entity?  How do you know it exists?  Have you ever seen it?

Hunger is a concept.  It is a notion that has been invented by human beings.  Although we commonly use the term and we have feelings we often label as hunger, it is not something which is a simple fact, in that it is not directly observable by others and we are uncertain what others mean or feel when they say they are hungry.

HUNGER is a term we use to explain that which starts or ‘drives’ people to start eating.  Generally, it is a notion or concept that refers to a need state which results in a motivation or drive.

SATIETY is something which is rarely talked about, but is probably more important than the concept of hunger.  Satiety is the ‘drive’ state that stops or actively inhibits people from eating.  As you will discover, satiety is probably more important than hunger in the control of eating behaviour.

First, let’s begin at the beginning – the basics.  Let’s look at some simple biological principles and facts.

Life – what is it?  It is all those millions of chemical reactions that take place in living cells that we call life.  Most people do not appreciate the fact that these chemical reactions – life – can only exist under a very narrow set of conditions.  Think about it.

The sea is the best example of the conditions necessary for life to survive.  This was described a century ago by the French physiologist, Claude Bernard.  Life cannot survive much outside the boundaries of a sea environment.  Life requires a very delicate balance of electrolytes (various chemical salts in water) and if balance changes only slightly, life cannot survive.  That is why, for example, salt amongst other things is used as a preservative because it prevents all forms of life including bacteria.  The balance of various salts to water in the sea is that necessary for all forms of life.  The range of temperature is also critical and again best described by the sea environment.  Look at the range of temperature in the sea.

It obviously does not get colder than the freezing point of water, and it clearly does not become extraordinarily hot.  Don’t confuse this with the temperatures that occur outside of our bodies.  If our internal body temperature (where chemical reactions of life take place) changes only a few degrees from normal (e.g. a fever), our lives hang in a critical balance.  Our temperature cannot fluctuate like the outside temperature fluctuates.  Life exists within a very narrow range.  There are many other factors and conditions necessary for life including energy balances, the presence and absence of different chemicals (e.g. waste product in the form of nitrogen and urea which must be eliminated) and so on.

But what of animals and organisms that do not live in the sea?  They have to take the sea environment with them and maintain it within the critical boundaries of life or they will not survive.  So even though temperatures are ranging from well below freezing to well above critical fever level in the outside environment, these organisms must maintain their internal environment like the sea.  They must have systems for getting rid of waste products and maintaining salt water balances.  They must have systems for maintaining the critical chemicals required for life.

Claude Bernard termed this internal environment – the internal sea environment which land animals have – the ‘INTERMAL MILIEU”[1].

The Internal Milieu pertains to the very delicate and narrow set of conditions which are required for life to survive.  All living organisms must maintain this very carefully and very accurately or they simply will not survive.  Few people think about this very much and fail to realize how narrow and delicate the range of conditions are.

But how is this internal environment maintained?  Obviously, we must have some kind of a mechanism or process which allows us to maintain the delicate balance of all those conditions necessary for life to survive.  The process by which this is maintained is called Homeostasis.  “Homeostasis”, a term coined by the great physiologist Walter Cannon, MD Sc.D., of Harvard University.  In his famous book, The Wisdom of the Body (1932, W.W. Norton Publishers), Dr. Cannon explained how, regardless of conditions that may vary widely, the “bodywisdom” works constantly to maintain homeostasis.

So, homeostasis is the process by which our bodies maintain this critical balance that is complicated, delicate, and vital for the survival of life.  The range of conditions in which we can move is much narrower than most people think.  It is critical that the balance is guarded very, very carefully and very accurately.

So what role does eating behaviour and food play in homeostasis and maintaining life?  Let us begin by looking at why we eat in the first place.  Why do we need food?  What does life require that food supplies?

1.  Essential building blocks for growth and repair

A major reason we have to eat is to supply the various chemicals needed for the biological reactions within our body.  Our body has a structure which requires building blocks.  As we are growing we need to supply these building blocks and later we need to repair or replace damaged or continuously changing structures.  We are constantly growing new skin to replace the surface skin which naturally dies and is replaced.  You are probably familiar with many of these needed building blocks such as the vitamins, minerals, and proteins.  This will be discussed later under Nutrition.  The important point is that we need to eat to supply ourselves with the building blocks required for growth and repair that are essential for life.

2.  Energy (calories)

The second important reason that we require food is for energy.  Energy is measured in calories.  One calorie is the amount of energy that is required to heat up one millilitre of water one centigrade degree.  The commonly used term ‘calorie’ to describe the amount of energy in food is really a thousand of these calories.  It is really a kilocalorie.  In other words, the calorie (kilocalorie) that you eat is enough energy to heat up one litre of water one centigrade degree.

Why do we need energy?  Energy is essential for life and is the fuel that is required for the following:

  • Movement and work – muscles and glands;

Everything that we do requires energy.  All the work that our muscles do requires energy and the amount of energy varies with the amount of work.  Our glands require energy.  We sweat and shed tears just to clean our eyes.  All this requires energy.  Obviously the amount of work that our muscles and glands do varies from time to time considerably.

  • Temperature regulation;

As mentioned earlier, maintaining temperature is critical for the survival of life.  Heat is a form of energy and is needed to maintain temperature.  In cool environments we require energy to produce heat, while in very hot environments we require energy to allow our glands to generate sweat and keep us cool.

  • Metabolism – catabolism, anabolism;

Metabolism is a term that refers to the biochemical processes necessary to maintain life.  It is the breaking down (catabolism) and building up (anabolism) of the various chemicals and structures needed for life.  All of these chemical reactions which take place in our body require energy.  Often, the term ‘basal metabolic rate’ refers to the minimal amount of fuel that is required just to keep the chemical reactions going.  This in fact, requires a considerable amount of energy.

In summary, energy is critical for our survival.  We need it for movement and work, for temperature regulation and heat, and for metabolism to fuel all the activities of our body needed for the existence of life.

The balance of energy is very delicate and very critical.  Obviously, the amount of energy we use from time to time and day to day varies considerably.  Some days we are doing a considerable amount of work and carrying heavy loads, walking long distances for long durations, while on other days our activities may be drastically reduced.  Similarly, we may be in a very cold environment requiring a great deal of heat energy an on other days require very little energy for heat maintenance.  Therefore, the amount of energy you use from day to day varies considerably.

What happens if we take in more energy through eating than we use up?  What happens if our input is greater than our output?  You gain weight.  When energy input exceeds energy output, the energy can be stored in the form of fat and our metabolism shifts to produce more fat and stores it.  Consequently, there is a net weight gain.

What happens if we take in less energy through eating than we use up?  You lose weight.  When your body requires more energy than can be obtained through input by eating, the energy that is stored in the form of fat is then converted and used to meet the body’s needs.  In more extreme cases or with extremely rapid changes, energy can be obtained from other tissue types including protein as well.  This can have detrimental effects on your body.

Weight, therefore, is simply an index of how well the balance of energy is being maintained – whether input is balancing output.  If you use up more than you take in, you lose weight; if you take in more than you use up, you gain weight.  It is as simple as that.

Most people know this.  But do they realize how delicate the balance is?  The balance is so delicate that if you took in only 1% more energy than you used up, you would probably gain over 50lbs in a year!

In summary, it is quite clear that the balance needed for the existence of life is extremely ‘delicate’ and that the control of this balance is simply too important to be left to conscious control.  To think that humans regulate their weight and their food intake by consciously thinking about it and making calculated decisions, is simply absurd.  It is important to keep these things in perspective.

In Part III of this series, we will look at the extremely complex internal mechanism that regulates our eating behaviour.

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[1] Gross, C. G. (1998, September). Claude Bernard and the constancy of the internal environment.  Neuroscientist, 4(5): 380-385.  DOI: 10.1177/107385849800400520



You’re at home in the evening, and all of a sudden a wave of sadness creeps in.  You find out you didn’t get the promotion you worked so hard towards, and you feel shame, wondering how you’ll tell your family.  You arrive at an event, notice you’re significantly under-dressed for the occasion, and instantly feel embarrassed, wishing you could just disappear.  We experience a multitude of emotions each and every day, and yet we dread and try and avoid this experience as best as we can.  But why?

Were you ever told as a child, “Big boys/girls don’t cry”, “Snap out of it”, or “Don’t worry about it”?  From a very young age, many of us were taught to do our best to avoid emotions, to not think about them, or to use distraction techniques.  We learned that some emotions were “good”, and some were “bad”, and that we will only be happy in life if we avoid the “bad” or “negative” emotions.  As such, we start to become masters at avoiding emotions, whether it be holding them in, harshly judging ourselves for experiencing them, or trying to dampen our emotions with substances or other avoidance techniques.  Although this can sometimes be effective in the short term, there are many long-term implications for treating our emotions as enemies, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), our emotions are viewed as a part of our experience that are neither good nor bad.  Instead, ACT takes a radical stance that we must learn to universally accept all emotions, no matter how they make us feel.  Acceptance does not necessarily mean that we want the emotions or like them, but rather that we are choosing to allow space for them to be a part of our experience.  When we allow space for our emotions, we are fostering self-compassion by allowing ourselves to be here, as we are, right now.  Dr. Joan Rosenberg, a psychologist based in Los Angeles, argues that emotions actually help us to feel more comfortable in our own skin.  In her TEDx Talk, she discusses how we must embrace our emotions, as they are the path back to being more fully you.  In other words, to deny our emotions is to deny a part of ourselves and perhaps the very thing that makes us human.

So how can we end this battle with our emotions?  Next time you experience a strong emotion, pause.  Notice where you feel the emotion, and any thoughts that show up with it.  Notice if any rules or judgements about your emotions appear.  Notice if you experience the urge to run away and escape this uncomfortable feeling.  Then, instead of doing the escaping – just let it be.  Open up and allow space for the emotion, granting it permission to be there.  Physically, emotions hurt, but they cannot harm us.  We are always bigger than any emotion we may experience.  We hurt where we care, and experiencing an emotion is a sign that there is something we care deeply about.  What is it?  How can we honour this part of ourselves?  Can we thank ourselves for caring so deeply and passionately about something?  It is through this last step of gratitude that we can slow down, connect, and centre ourselves in what’s really important.

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You can view Dr. Joan Rosenberg’s TEDx talk by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKy19WzkPxE

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J Marlin and Associates Inc. offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy services to help individuals increase their sense of vitality, well-being, and fulfillment.

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