Emotional A, B, C’s

The power of a name. Do you remember naming things when you were a kid and first learning how to read or write? Teachers would teach the alphabet with the aid of the quintessential A – Apple, B – Boat, C – Cat, etc. It was comforting to have these visual aids to help with something so abstract and new to us at the time – which was language! Now language is second-nature and it feels like something we’ve known how to do since birth.

 I wish our education system would go further and use this same format to teach the naming of our emotions and how to incorporate emotional fluency into our life the same way they teach language fluency.

Sure we know happy, sad, and angry. But things pretty much stop there at the basics. There are many more complex emotions that we don’t get acquainted with early on and don’t get taught how to approach and live with them. Not only that but we aren’t taught about where these emotions might stem from. Or how new emotions, like fear, terror and trauma responses might come from experiences that we may encounter. Even further, we are not taught how to work with these emotions once they grow within us.

Not one of us is immune from the human condition, and not one of us will make it out of life without experiencing unpleasant emotions, unpleasant relationships and unpleasant circumstances beyond our control. Since these things are certainties we should make it a rule to strengthen our mental capacities to face these inevitabilities with confidence.

No doubt, learning these skills from a young age would do a great deal of preventative care, but as adults, even if we might have missed the bus on learning these things at a young age, it’s never too late to try out a different way of thinking about, and interacting with out emotional selves.

Is there an emotion that you’ve been trying to put your finger on lately but it’s been alluding you? Do you feel a general unease or confusion with your feelings? Do you find yourself over using one or two words to describe your emotions when you feel that doesn’t entirely fit the bill?

If so, I want to challenge you this week to sit with that puzzling feeling. Go inside yourself and see if that feeling has a shape to it, maybe a color, maybe a sound. See what that feeling wants to or needs to tell you.

We can’t escape our emotions, so the best thing to do is get acquainted with them. It may be scary, but give it a try.


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Little Magic Moments

I have always loved space and everything that has to do with science and science fiction. I credit this affinity to my early years watching Star Trek and all other manner of sci-fi with my dad, as well as my dad’s own history of working at NASA.

It’s only taken me this long to get into hobby astronomy and I’m wondering why I didn’t do it sooner! In the world of hobby astronomy there is a range of equipment and I thought I’d start out with the smaller model reflector. I did some research and had an idea that this was a pretty good beginners telescope, but had no idea really of what to expect in terms of views.

When it arrived the “tabletop” telescope was MUCH bigger than I imagined, and my excitement began to grow. It rained for probably a week after I got it so finally the night came to break it out and take a look at the sky.

It was a dark night and a new moon so we scoped out stars and even saw a tiny glimpse of mars from our light polluted area.

But it wasn’t until we had a near full moon on a clear night that I was really wow-ed.

Do you remember the last time you really let yourself get excited about something? As adults we can get curmudgeon-y pretty easily. It makes sense, we have a lot of responsibilities and have been disillusioned by much of what life actually is.

Yet – we can succumb to this notion that everything is dull in the end, or we can expand our childlike capabilities that still live within us and allow ourselves to be astounded by everyday things.

Looking at the moon that night was one of those moments. Seeing something in a new way, when I’ve seen it every night since I can remember was particularly wonderful and whimsical in a way.

Precipitated by a somewhat frivolous purchase, I had an experience that was pretty darn magical. I think that these moments make life wonderful, and we should seek these moments whenever we can.

Where can you look for wonder this week?

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Mind Control (our own)

Mind Control. Is it real? Would you be shocked if I said it was? Of course, I’m not talking about MK Ultra or reading other people’s minds, but we have LOTS of control over our own.

Spirals and Loops

When we get into thought spirals and rumination loops we tend to believe the lie that we do not have control of our minds, but rather our minds have control of us. It’s easy to see how we can believe this, and trust me I’ve been there. But we are the authors of our thoughts, and when automatic thoughts pop up we are stuck in them only out of habit, not out of necessity.

Over the course of our lives, starting from a young age, we are not taught very much about our thoughts and how we can interact with them. In fact, we’re not taught we can interact with them at all! By default, our thoughts become a thing that we believe we just have to be subjected to – good or bad. So as a result, we get into the habit of just believing everything we think and settling into the idea that we have to ride along on any thought train that comes rolling into the station. We assume we have to board these thought vehicles that chug along without a conductor, wreaking havoc on our sense of wellbeing.  

As adults, if we’re willing to examine this process, and practice something new with an open mind we can begin to see a different way. We realize that we, in fact, are equipped to conduct this train. That conductor booth is empty because we were never shown the door, but we need only open that door, get in the seat, and direct these thoughts where we do and do not want them to go.

This doesn’t mean we will never have unpleasant thoughts, but it will mean that we have more agency to interact with them rather be held captive by them.

When you have a thought that is unpleasant, or enter into a rumination loop that is tiresome, I challenge you to imagine yourself as the conductor of that thought. The CEO of your mind, making decisions and calling the shots. Remember, your thoughts are just thoughts. You have the power and the agency to have a healthier relationship with them.

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“I’m not doing Get Help”

If you’re a Marvel super-fan like I am, and have seen Thor Ragnarok you may remember a scene where Loki and Thor are breaking out of a prison of sorts and resort to a ploy called “Get Help”. Long story short (spoilers here): Thor and Loki pretend that Loki is hurt in order to catch some guards…off guard…and then Thor subsequently throws Loki into them (as super heroes do) and they make their escape. The lead up to the scene is Loki recognizing that he’s about to get thrown through the air and tells Thor “I’m not doing ‘Get Help'”, indicating that this is a well known tactic they’ve used before.

Getting Help For Real

In an effort to link my love for Marvel to mental health this is actually a great metaphor for how we can look at our own problems! Often times we are in prisons of our mind (or circumstances). Life can deal us severe blows, and our own mental habits can torment us. We feel helpless, but we are not. Still it takes work and risk to break free from these emotional confines.

One way is to…get help. Like in the movie, when we try to work out a way to free ourselves, it’s seldom through pleasant or painless means. We have to do a lot of introspection, we have to have courage, we have to explore parts of ourselves that make us vulnerable – and we often times see these steps that we need to take and we say “No Way” or… “I am not doing ‘get help'”.

Even though help is the things that is needed, it doesn’t come for free. Any challenge worth undertaking is going to require effort, risk and perseverance. We can always choose to stay where we are. We can choose to not risk the discomfort of getting hurdled through the air that is our recovery journey, but the result of not taking these steps is that we remain in the prisons we are encased in.

I often remind my clients, and implore any of my readers, to take heart. The journey to healing is challenging, scary and uncomfortable. We don’t want to Get Help, but we know we need it.

If you’re going through something right now, and you recognize your own avoidance to getting help, then I encourage you to be brave, take that step, and see what it teaches you.

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time to deal with time

Are you the kind of person who, if you have somewhere you have to be at 3pm in the afternoon, you feel like you can’t do anything the entire day leading up to it? It’s like the day is a wash and you have to lay in wait, immobile and ready, for that planned “thing”. Me too!

I’ve noticed this about myself in recent years and I have to say, it’s pretty inefficient. As we have busy professional and family lives, we should be aware of how we organize our time and events.

My professional life is where most of my time is allocated these days. I know this will not always be the case, but while I work two jobs (one at an agency for families and children, and the other my private practice), I’m finding less and less time in the cracks.

Personally, as my schedule is getting busier with clients in private practice and as I approach having to implement a waitlist, I’m finding that it’s not the best self-care for me to not use my in-between times during the workday.

Let’s say I have a client at 11am and then at 3pm. My initial impulse is to feel rushed and agitated that from 12pm-3pm I have “dead time” where I “can’t do anything”. This is a fallacy and a thought error. In reality, that’s two whole hours where I can get things done or do some self-care!

So lately I’ve been challenging myself to take advantage of these times and it’s been a nice exercise in flexibility and seeing that behavior change is possible. The excuse that “this is just how I am” doesn’t fly in the therapy circle and it shouldn’t fly in our personal lives either.

If you’re like me and feel like you’re stuck in a weird schedule, try to look at things a little differently. Where can you truly open up space for yourself?  

What kind of thoughts do you have around time management, and what kind of behavior and thought changes can you put in place to make the most of the day?   

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Its all in our mind

Over the last year+ I have really begun to love the act of meditation. I was put off on the idea for so long because I thought it was fruity or hippy and not scientific at all. Boy was I wrong!

As humans we get stuck in thought habits and it’s only through training our mind to unstick us that we can find peace with our thoughts and ourselves. Mindfulness and meditation are simply the tools to unstick us.

This week in one of my guided meditations the narrator discussed how bringing awareness to our troublesome thoughts will not make those thoughts go away, but what it will do is allow us to witness those thoughts from a different place.

In that act, we get space from the thought and ultimately engage with it in a healthier way. I loved this image and love this aspect of meditation. Sometimes it’s helpful to visualize these kind of mental practices to get a better hang of it.

In my mind I see this stepping back in awareness as riding in a glass bottom boat.

My thoughts are on the sea floor swimming around, weaving in and out of coral, but I’m safe and dry in the boat, watching what is going on instead of stuck under water being pulled by the currents.

When you think of observing your thoughts from a different place, what comes to mind for you?   

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The Importance of Social Groups

In one of my social media posts this week I discuss the benefits of a social group. This week I began meeting with a group of therapists for peer-supervision and after a year of social desertion it was a wonderful thing to take part in.

More than that it reminded me how important it is as adults for us to meet regularly with people who have similar interests, or are in similar area’s of life.

That can be found in a church group, a mom’s group, a community sports team or a hobbyist group. On more than one occasion my husband and I have been dreaming of all the ways we plan to find new friends, groups and social connections this year after a depressing year of poor social cohesion.

After this last year we’ve seen how social connectedness is more important than ever, and it’s exciting to look forward to times where this can happen again. As adults, this can be difficult. We don’t have the natural landscape of college to meet people at, and the only source of connection that leaves us is usually work. Yet often times co-workers and friends don’t make a good mix, so below I’ve listed some possible ways you can incorporate a more rich social life in coming months – once it’s safe to do so!

  1.  Book Clubs
  2.  Audobon Society
  3. Local sports (Kickball, Soccer, Tennis, Martial Arts, etc.)
  4.  Interest Groups (Board Games, Dungeons & Dragons, Photography, etc.)
  5.  Art classes
  6.  Religious Groups
  7.  Support Groups
  8.  Parenting or Mom’s Groups

These are just a few. What kind of groups have you been thinking of joining? Where can you fit in?  

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We all have them. Some habits are good, some are not so helpful, some are downright bad! What we may not realize thought is that most of our thought life is dictated by habit too.

habits of thought

The way we zone out, process stressors, or analyze social input is all habitual. Our brains are pretty lazy at the end of the day (even though they can do amazing things) and when our minds find the path of least resistance, they don’t have much incentive to change. If we have delved into a pattern of believing the worst in people’s motives then we will see most interactions with a negative tint.

If we cope with being overwhelmed with tasks by procrastinating then that’s likely what we will do in the future. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Research shows that habits can be broken but it takes time and effort. We know that if we make it a habit to wake up early and run it may be difficult the first few weeks but after that it’s our new normal. The same thing happens in our thought life.

If we believe the worst in a situation now and we’re not happy with how that makes us feel, try switching gears. Look for the truth in a situation rather than your initial perception – then do it again. The more you interpret something with a more neutral or positive spin, the more likely you will be to see things in a brighter light moving forward.

Our brains are powerful and plastic and the power to change lies within us – all there is to it is to do it!

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mental health maintenance

As we head into another weekend, what chores do you have on your mind that need to get done? Does the lawn need mowing? Weeds whacking? Do window’s washing or a new piece of furniture need to get put together? For me it’s the fish tank.

If you’ve kept up, I started keeping an aquarium at around year twenty of this pandemic and it’s been going great! I learned though that my fish are happiest (and let’s be honest, alive) when I keep up with their regular maintenance. Every week I clean their tank and do a partial water change. I check the ammonia, nitrate, Ph, nitrites and acidity. I vacuum the gravel, and clean the filter when needed. Is this the most fun? No. Is it stinky and a bit grimy? Yes. But is it necessary if I want a healthy fishy ecosystem – also yes!

More important than a hobby aquarium is our mental health. We need to do regular maintenance on IT to keep our mental systems healthy and happy. Often times when we are working on our mental health and putting in the tough hours of self-improvement we see results. How about that!

But then when we get to that place where we’re doing better we think we’re done and those skills we had been using go to the wayside. We’re doing so “fine” we forget to do the things that got us to “fine” in the first place. Meditations become less frequent, healthy eating begins to suffer, TV watching increases, social media becomes obsessive.

Getting better doesn’t happen magically, and it doesn’t maintain itself magically. Your mental health may not need the same level of work but it still needs regular check ins. How can you check in with yourself today?

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In one of my social media posts schedule for next week I wrote about a common cognitive distortion called All-Or-Nothing thinking. In All-Or-Nothing thinking we get it into our heads that if something is a little bad it’s all bad, or a little good it’s all good. With this type of thinking negativity grows. We use it when we’re not doing well in an area of our life or when our self-esteem is at its lowest.

Personal goals also become victim to this kind of thinking. We slip up a bit and figure it’s “useless” and we might as well give up because we’re “never going to get to our goal anyway”.

Mindfulness to Mindlessness

I recently had an enlightening moment where I was caught up in this thinking. Last year I began a daily meditation practice. The app I use for the guided meditations has a function where it tracks your “streaks” (why a mindfulness app would do this, I don’t know but hey everyone needs to make a buck and keep customers engaged).

Well I’d had a really long streak going! I was nearing a pretty nice round number and I forgot to do my meditation one day. As a result the app reset that counter. I was so frustrated. I had the initial urge to just skip the next day too. All of these “what’s the point” thoughts began to creep in. Before I realized it I was getting caught up in this All-Or-Nothing thinking trap! Even more ironic, I was trying to achieve something for achievements sake which is the total opposite of what mindfulness is about.

It didn’t take long to course correct but the point is this kind of thinking is near automatic. We need to be on our guard. It’s not helpful and just a trap to keep us ineffective. What ways do you feel like you engage in All-Or-Nothing thinking? Has it been going on for a while? How can you begin to change that script for yourself?

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