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Stop Feeling Bad

How many times have you said, “I feel bad”? How many times have you been asked “What’s wrong?” or told, “Don’t be sad/mad/worried/_____”?

About a million, right?

And therein lies a problem. 

We are taught from early on that certain emotions are good. They’re ok to have. They are desired. Other emotions, in contrast, are bad. We shouldn’t want them, or worse, we shouldn’t even have them. We’re taught to believe that when they show up, there’s something wrong. There’s a problem – our EMOTIONS are a problem – and problems need to be fixed. This leads to working hard to get rid of those “bad” feelings. Unfortunately, avoiding, suppressing, getting rid of, or otherwise fixing feelings doesn’t actually work. Worse, we might even pile on to them by beating ourselves up for having them in the first place.

What most people aren’t taught is that emotions – the full range of emotions – are normal and natural. By virtue of being human, you are destined to feel sad. And mad. And guilty, jealous, joyful, embarrassed, confident, ashamed, happy, disheartened, peaceful, confused, surprised, ambivalent, horrified, empty, excited, etc. You will feel them all, whether you want to or not. In fact, we’re wired to have twice as many negative emotions as positive ones, and we have them for a reason.

Emotions Serve an Evolutionary Purpose

Our brains have the enormous job of processing every bit of data coming in through our five senses all of the time so that they can keep us alive. As a result, they’ve developed a lot of shortcuts. Emotions are one.

Emotions are messengers designed to give us a lot of information very quickly and motivate us to act in certain ways, aimed at ensuring our survival. Think about it. The message of anxiety is danger, and the action urge is to avoid or escape. That’s very helpful when a threat to our bodily safety is near. The message of guilt is “I did something wrong,” and the urge is to make amends. Again, helpful for a social species whose survival depended on being part of the community. Even in present day when we’re not likely to be eaten by predators or die if we are shunned, emotions are incredibly useful…when we understand and have a healthy relationship with them. 

 

Redefining Your Relationship with Your Feelings

Bad is not feeling. Neither is good. Those are judgments, another brain shortcut. Our brains quickly categorize things as good and bad, safe and unsafe, desired, or undesired to speed up information processing. When it comes to feelings, though, judging them is part of the problem. That’s not promoting a healthy relationship with them. Consider this. How healthy is your relationship with that person who constantly judges you?

When we designate natural, normal experiences as “bad,” we’re setting ourselves up to struggle. Feeling sad or anxious or angry or guilty at some point is unavoidable (remember, we are literally WIRED to feel them). Yet, when we call something “bad,” we are saying to ourselves that we shouldn’t have that experience, that there is something inherently wrong with what’s going on inside of us. That would be like saying that having to go to the bathroom or eat or sleep is bad. It’s just a part of being human. We accept those experiences, throughout the course of our day, and move on.

We need to do the same with feelings

When we can learn to recognize the emotions that show up and call them by their proper names, not good or bad, with the understanding that they are there for a reason, we are now open to receiving their messages. From there, we can decide whether the message is helpful or not and whether to act on the urge or override it.  

 

Dealing with Painful Emotions

Once we are able to pause, take a step back, and call our emotion by its name, we’ve already begun to make space for it, to allow it to be there. As we examine our emotions with curiosity, we can reflect on whether acting on them is in our best interest. The goal is to take the input from your feelings under consideration but to stay in the driver’s seat of your actions. And sometimes the best course of action, the one that keeps you moving in the direction that is right for you, is simply to be patient. All emotions, even the most intense and difficult ones, will pass if we let them. If we do not add fuel to the fire and, instead, know that we won’t drown in them if we just stay mindful and compassionate, they will burn out.

I heard this quote the other day that so deeply resonated. 

Emotions aren’t math problems to be solved. They’re sunsets to be experienced.

If that didn’t immediately make you pause, read it again.

Emotions are not math problems to be solved. They are sunsets to be experienced.

That shift in perspective leads to a fundamentally different way of relating to your emotions, a new way to be with them, especially the unpleasant ones. It allows you to make space for and explore with curiosity the very human experience of emotions.

Instead of judging feelings and falling into the trap that comes from having “bad” feelings, we need to accurately recognize them and precisely name them, open ourselves up to having them so that we can explore them with curiosity, glean their message, then move forward intentionally. We need to bask in those sunsets. Doing so isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Fortunately, we can all build psychological strength, including those skills of emotional intelligence and acceptance, which, among many others, we teach inside our Ascend program. If you are interested in building your own psych strength, consider enrolling in Ascend or our brand new live Quarterly Workshop Series (or bundle them and get the workshop series free for a year).

“Emotions are not math problems to be solved. They are sunsets to be experienced.”

– Dr. Robyn Walser

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Gratitude Habits for Life

Gratitude gets a lot of attention these days. Hopefully, you’re at least somewhat familiar with the benefits of a gratitude practice. It helps train your brain to notice and appreciate the little things in life and, in doing so, shifts your life experience tremendously. 

Gratitude can increase your happiness and wellbeing, life satisfaction, even overall health while decreasing the stuff we all want less of like anxiety, depression, and anger. Whether its a gratitude journal or expressing gratitude, it is important to practice gratitude. Today, though, I want to offer some new perspectives on gratitude.

Power of Gratitude as a Competing Response

In the world of habits, there’s a treatment approach called Habit Reversal Training. A key component of HRT is the use of a competing response, which is an action that is incompatible with the habit you are trying to break. For example, if you’re trying to break a nail biting habit, you might clasp your hands as a competing response when you feel the urge to bite. It’s really difficult to clasp your hands AND bite your nails at the same time. Consistently using a competing response trains your body to replace the undesired habit with the new one.

Rumination, worry, complaining, and negativity are mental habits, and ones with far worse consequences than nail biting. These mental habits involve stewing on negative thoughts, indulging them in a repeating and amplifying loop with the effect of dragging down your mood and pulling you out of the present moment. I propose that we try gratitude as a competing response for these mental habits

It’s surprisingly difficult to tap into gratitude – really tap into it – and also get stuck in negativity. When you find yourself getting wrapped up in those negative thoughts or starting down a spiral, challenge your mind to find something in that moment to be grateful for. Be sure you don’t just go through the motions, though. The goal is to truly activate grateful feelings to help buoy you against the negativity and to help keep you grounded in the present moment.

When Gratitude Backfires

I’d argue that you’d be hard pressed to find a situation in which tapping into gratitude isn’t possible or isn’t helpful. That said, be mindful that gratitude doesn’t become fuel for guilt. That happens when your mind uses gratitude to minimize your painful experiences.

It might sound something like this: “I don’t have a right to be sad. I have so much to be grateful for. I haven’t been hit as hard as others.” Sentiments like that take gratitude, which is an expanding and bolstering practice, and turn it into a mental whip with which to flog yourself. The resulting guilt is unnecessary and underserved.

Research shows that grateful people are generally happier people, but gratitude doesn’t negate pain. It’s a “both and” not an “either or” practice. You can be both hurting AND grateful. You can use gratitude as a lifeline to keep you from drowning in the negative mental habits that intensify your pain but not to eliminate pain completely.

Your daily gratitude practice can start small. Spend time every single day just tapping into feelings of gratitude. Acknowledge the reality of your present situation and find some small bright spot. 

In this moment, I miss my family who I haven’t seen in eons because of COVID AND I am grateful for grocery delivery and a warm sunny day.

In this moment, my heart hurts for those who were affected by the recent shootings in the U.S. AND I am grateful for feeling well rested this morning.

In this moment, I am SO OVER this pandemic AND I appreciate my Brandon Sanderson audio books that I love so much.

In this moment, I am grateful for you, that you’re in our community and that you’re a part of the movement to make life better.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”
–       Ralph Waldo Emerson

P.S. If you like this post and want to understand gratitude even better, Dr. April and I just recorded a podcast episode about gratitude habits and toxic positivity. We go so much deeper into these topics. It was such a great conversation!

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Podcasts

How To Holistically Heal Your Brain With Dr. Brant Cortright

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Since 1950, rates of anxiety and depression have rapidly increased in the U.S. and around the globe, to the point that we now have a mental health crisis on our hands. Improvement in testing and diagnosis does not explain this increase. Rather, changes in our diet, environment, and lifestyle are believed to explain this rapid increase. 

Our brains are constantly changing (neuroplasticity) and growing (neurogenisis). Cutting-edge research shows us that the linkage between our brain and the “neurotoxic environment” we currently live in is leading to a weakened brain, causing us to experience heightened levels of anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. 

While there are many types of holistic medicine, when referring to mental health issues, the term addresses alternative therapies other than conventional medicine. The holistic approach often combines western medicine with alternative medicine complementary to form a mind/ body connection.

This week on the podcast, I’m speaking with Dr. Brant Cortright, clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the California Institute of Integral Studies. In his recent book “Holistic Healing for Anxiety, Depression, and Cognitive Decline,” he discusses the link between our “neurotoxic environment” and our mental health. 

Most importantly, we have a deep conversation about how we all can begin to reverse these effects. You won’t want to miss this episode. Your brain will thank you! 

Learn more about Dr. Cortright at: https://www.brantcortright.com/  

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10 Tips for Feeling Better this Winter

You’re probably expecting something related to love or relationships in honor of Valentine’s Day. Sorry to disappoint, but I’ve got other things to share today. I don’t know about you, but it seems like nearly everyone (self included) has hit a wall in the past week or two. The ongoing pandemic plus the ridiculously frigid weather has us in a bit of a funk. 

Fortunately, psychology offers us a ton of tips, techniques, and strategies to help ward off the winter+ blues. So here are 10 tips for feeling better this winter. 

1.     Put a smile on your face…and in your mind.

Smile. Make it a part of your daily routine. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if it’s completely fake. Just do it. And hold it for a while. You might feel silly, but engaging your smile muscles just might trick your brain into feeling a bit happier.

Now the “put a smile in your mind” part is something I heard during a Sam Harris meditation this week, and I loved it. I’m not exactly sure how to explain how to do it, but I could feel it. I hope you can, too.

2.     Laugh

My little brother used to youtube “babies laughing” when he needed a boost, and I have my go to videos that are guaranteed to crack me up. Find something funny to watch, read, think about, or share. And if all else fails, just start laughing. If you give it long enough, the fake stuff will turn into genuine laughter.

3.     Do something productive.

When motivation, energy, and mood are low we tend to do things that are more passive, rather than active, and more consumption-based as opposed to creation-based. That is, we passively take things in rather than actively put something into the world, and that passive consumption doesn’t do us any favors. Doing something productive will give you a sense of accomplishment. Even if you don’t enjoy the task in the moment, it feels good to get it done. 

Another way to tap into that sense of accomplishment is to set a goal and crush it. Even silly little goals that don’t matter in the grand scheme of life can be useful here. Being challenged and working to conquer that challenge feels good.

4.     Do something social.

Yes, I know this one is hard. The past year has made it incredibly difficult to meet our social needs, and that’s likely one of the contributing factors to our collective funk. But even outside of COVID, we tend to withdraw and isolate when we’re down, which only fuels the ick. 

Connecting with others can help break the spiral. It can also be surprisingly helpful to share with someone how you’re feeling or what you’re going through. Sometimes sharing the load really does help to lighten it.

5.     Move your body.

Physical activity does all kinds of good stuff for your body…and your brain. Without going into the boring details, tons of studies show that exercise has mood-boosting effects; it’s a natural antidepressant, antianxiety thing. Winter makes it hard to get outside, but find some way to move your body, get your heart rate up a bit, and maybe even break a sweat. Throw on some tunes and dance around, do a workout video from youtube, and do some bodyweight exercises. 

You may not feel like it, and your mind will give you a million excuses not to, but, if you’re able to override the inertia, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Get your vitamin d from the sun to help with the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Walking and fresh air paired with sunshine and green spaces improve your mental health and your immune system. 

6.     Do a theoretically enjoyable activity that doesn’t involve a screen.

Back to that passive consumption idea, consider how you spend your time when you’re feeling off. Do you scroll more? Watch more? Basically, sit and take content in? These kinds of things don’t really boost our mood. Sure, you might enjoy it in the moment, but over time it’s a mood/energy/motivation zap. 

Think of some other activities you used to enjoy and make yourself do one of them for 15 minutes. You just might find that once you get going, the enjoyment kicks in.

7.     Try some metta meditation.

Meditation in general is a great practice that tends to lower depression, anxiety, stress, and anger. I’m finding this specific type of meditation to be particularly helpful right now. Metta roughly translates into loving-kindness. I’ll admit, I find that hippie-dippie name kind of cringe-inducing, but the practice is legit. 

This particular type of meditation helps you tap into, hold on to, and boost positive emotional states like love, kindness, and compassion. It’s a good antidote to the dark, heavy feelings. Google “metta meditation” or “lovingkindness meditation,” and you’ll find tons of free ones to try out.

8.     Daydream.

Staying present is generally something to strive for, but some intentional daydreaming can be quite beneficial. Use your imagination to conjure images of warmth and sunshine and all the things you’re looking forward to when this (whatever this is) passes. Having something to look forward to can help stave off hopelessness and boredom and, in turn, keep us resilient and happy.

9.     Watch out for sneaky negativity…

There’s a fine line between processing and venting. Processing is working through difficult things, perhaps leaning on your social support. It’s useful. Venting, though it feels good in the moment, is really just rehashing the same old negativity, without gaining insights or solving a problem. It’s basically ruminating out loud, with someone else. Notice what emotional state venting puts you in. Do you need more of that right now?

The goal here isn’t to deny the negative stuff. It’s just to recognize whether stewing in it is helping you or hurting you. We don’t have a choice in a lot of the things going on, but we do have a choice in where we focus our attention. Less venting and less complaining can make a big difference.

10.  And balance it out.

We’re going to complain at some point. It’s a really hard habit to break. We can offset the negativity, though, by balancing it out. Follow up complaints with a “but at least.” 

“It’s a bitter cold day! But at least the snow is beautiful today.”

“I miss my family! But at least they’re safe, and I can talk to them by phone today.”

“Netflix took away The Office! But at least that’ll make it easier to try some of the other things on this list.”

I’d be remiss not to also mention gratitude and savoring here. Focusing on and expressing appreciation, for yourself and/or others, is important all the time, especially now. It’s not enough to give quick lip service, though. Savoring means really intensifying the experience by focusing on it, reflecting on it, and holding it in mind for a period. 

Draw out the sweetness of the moment like you’re trying to get the most out of the last bite of something truly delicious. Doing that helps it stick in our minds, giving it a bigger impact.

Support your mental health by taking time for yourself. Follow these ten steps to prioritize yourself and your wellbeing. 

Taken together, these strategies can make quite a big difference. I doubt, however, that it’s an exhaustive list. If you’ve figured out some others that work for you, I’d love to hear them!

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
-John Steinbeck
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 Coping with Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

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When I had my first baby, I experienced post-partum anxiety. It was, without a doubt, the darkest time of my life. It is now 5 years later, and when I think back to that version of me in that dark place, I am increasingly afraid for her. 

Post-partum depression, anxiety, and related issues are so much more common than we realize, and on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Lauren Robbins. She is a therapist and Executive Director of Pregnancy & Postpartum Support MN.  

In this episode, we’re talking about the sensitive and important topic of supporting parents through their pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting years. If you are a parent, or if you know and love someone who is, you won’t want to miss this episode. 

 Learn more about PPSI-MN at https://ppsupportmn.org 

If you need help, you can call or text PPSI-MN at 612.787.7776 

Learn more about the Self-Care [by design] program at https://www.peakmindpsychology.com/selfcare  

Those suffering from postpartum anxiety disorders can encounter physical symptoms including panic attacks and sleep deprivation. Feeling overwhelmed, mood disorders and panic disorders are just some of the mental health challenges many face in the postpartum period. While family members can be helpful, those with higher risk factors may want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy through a licensed professional.

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Permission to Take Care of Yourself

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If you’re like me, you’re a “doer.” When something needs to be done, you do it. When someone needs help, you’re there. When you see something that can be improved, you’re on it. We need to prioritize self-care the same way.

There’s a shadow side to all that “doing.” 

Many times, we take on more and more at our own expense. We feel obligated to tend to others’ needs at the expense of our own. We try to control and manage things that are in actuality, not ours to control and manage.  

This is called “over-functioning,” and it’s one of the key topics we’re talking about in today’s episode. 

Today, we’re speaking with Mandy Barbee. Mandy is a hypnotherapist, the founder of Palladium Mind, and perhaps more importantly, a recovered over-functioner.  

Mandy brings her personal transformation and her expertise to this episode to talk about a number of important topics that are likely influencing us right now: 

  • We talk about the committee of voices we all have in our mind that drives us to over-function 
  • We talk about self-sabotage. What causes it and how we can use it as input to move forward toward what we really want. 
  • We go in depth on the real role of self-care. It’s more than bubble baths and manicures 
  • And, finally, Mandy shares a free resource she’s put together just for us, which you can access here

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, this is the episode for you. 

Focusing on emotional self-care includes spending time for yourself in a guilt-free environment. Those who utilize some form of self-care in their daily life find long-term benefits not only to their emotional health, but also with their physical health. Medical reviewers found those with an emotional self care plan, were able to better cope with illness, exhibited a stronger immune system.

Physical self-care may mean eating healthy and being active to feel better and live longer but when we emotionally self-care, research shows lower levels of anxiety and depression and a greater ability to manage stress. For those looking to maintain healthful habits, consider any number of practices of self-care listed in this podcast.

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Podcasts

What is Perfectly Hidden Depression? with Dr. Margaret Rutherford

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Perfectionistic tendencies can mask depression and that fact alone explains so much of what we see in perfectionists and how we approach them. Setting high expectations and achieving them is a coping method.

I stumbled upon this week’s guest on Lewis Howes’ podcast, ‘The School of Greatness,’ and I was only about 5 minutes into that episode when I realized that she needed to be on our show as well.  

This week, we’re speaking with Dr. Margaret Rutherford, clinical psychologist and author of the new book “Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism that Masks Your Depression.”  

This is such a powerful episode because Dr. Rutherford’s work hits on some of the basic things we can all do to foster self-compassion and self-acceptance.   

In this episode, Margaret shares with us: 

  • Three different types of perfectionism and how they link to and mask depression 
  • The link between perfectly hidden depression and where we place our value as a human being 
  • The role that shame plays in perpetuating this cycle 
  • How to accept ourselves and develop self-compassion for our whole selves, not just our strengths  

Margaret also gives us a peek into the methodology she teaches in her book by offering 3 actionable steps you can take to develop even greater self-awareness in this area and move forward in the direction of ridding yourself from some of the shame you might be feeling.  

This episode is a powerful reminder of the importance of taking care of ourselves and loving our whole selves, faults and all.