Ooooh BURN!: A Culture of Burnout


It’s Sunday night and you groan and moan as you dread tomorrow being Monday. It never used to be this way, you used to be able to handle the juggle of work and life responsibilities. You feel disconnected to your work and have trouble finding the energy to get through the week.

We have a burnout epidemic. We are TIRED. Burnout is a unique type of stress that is compounded with physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. Just think of how often you you see “Thank God It’s Friday”, “TGIF” or “Ugh Mondayzzz”, “Hump Day!!” posts you see on social media. It’s not simply tiredness and stress that come with burnout; its cynicism, lethargy, depression, and a likelihood to cause accidents on the job. Burnout can be caused by repetitive long hours, blurred boundaries between work and home life, lack of social support at work and home, working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, and a lack of self-care.

What is so twisted, is that we are a society that PRIDES itself on our high level of burnout!  We compete with each other to one up each other’s “work ethic”. We have blurred our lines between work and home. More and more people are bringing their work home with them to fit as much as they can into a single day.

How many times have you gone into work, taken conference calls, written reports, answered emails, created schedules for staff, ON YOUR DAY OFF? I know I have done it. What makes us so prone to burnout? Why as a culture have we embraced burnout as the norm? I saw a friend who lives in Germany say that her company held a meeting to reinforce that people take time off and when they are off the clock that they not answer emails. The Spanish have midday siestas! How have other countries embraced the benefits of self-care but America seems to be lacking?

Three big signs of burnout are:

Feeling ineffective, like nothing you ever do is good enough.

Feeling cynical, apathetic, resentful, frustrated, or angry all the time.

Utter exhaustion, withdrawal, and even emotional withdrawal from your partner and/or your kids.

You can experience burnout from school, work, parenting, and even caregiving. Here are four ways to combat burnout:

  • Replace perfect with “good enough”.  Instead of trying to make everything perfect, re-adjust your frame of thought and try and settle for “good enough for now”.
  • Have a sounding board or outlet. Try and find a support system to bounce ideas off of, for example, co-workers, friends, or loved ones. If you find a group or person that you feel can be your vulnerability outlet, you can ask things like “is this normal?” “I feel this way, have you ever felt that?”  and seek support to help you cope with job/life stress and feelings of burnout.
  • Evaluate your options. Do you have the option to work from home? Can you ask for extensions? Can you hire a babysitter or trusted relative to take the kids for a night out of self-care? Are there any ways you can rearrange your schedule to allow more time before deadlines? Could you take a vacation? Practice being assertive with your boundaries in your work/life balance.
  • Assess your interests, skills, and passions. Take an honest assessment of your thoughts and feelings and determine if this is really the right job for you. Are you living along side your value system and surrounding yourself with things that enhance your character strengths? If I value creativity, but do not surround myself with it or at least have an outlet available to it, I might not feel inspired or at my best. If you find that your job or life is not living up to those values, can you find a job that is less soul sucking or make time for these values in your life?

Many people have come to accept the fatigue, depression, and cynicism as part of life with a job/tiny humans/caregiving. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t use effective tools to help the quality of your down time, help to establish good boundaries, and to be assertive. If you notice that you are feeling burned out, try some self-care strategies to reduce immediate stress (think of activities that make you feel good, productive, and feel centered). If that doesn’t seem to work, practice being assertive and creating boundaries at work. For instance, consider giving yourself permission to tell your boss that you need to have lunch where you do not answer emails regarding work or setting limits so that you can be at your most productive for the company’s benefit.

Finally, remember that things can change. Nothing stays the same forever. You can get through this! If you feel like you can’t, you can always seek the help of a professional or loved one to help you make some serious changes or reassessment in your life.

World Mental Health Day: Diagnosis with Dignity

Mental Health is a highly debated topic in today’s world of news, campus shootings, political agendas, and word on the street. It is used both as a scape goat to decrease attention toward gun control policies and as a rally for more attention toward the homeless population and suicide prevention. This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is “Dignity”. This perfectly aligns with a cartoon that I found online the other day.

If you were to ask anyone on the street what the first word they thought of when they hear mental illness, it most likely is something close to “crazy”, “sick”, “psycho”, “sad” and “weak”. These perceptions of mental illness do not inspire someone to have dignity within their struggle. Mental Illness is not only Schizophrenia and Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is only what the media likes to highlight and depict on famous television shows. Mental health also includes things like Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Post-partum depression, Eating Disorders, and Addictions. These are issues that an average person can develop at any point throughout their lives. It affects human beings WORLDWIDE. One in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health struggle in any given year. Thousands of people with mental health conditions can experience fear of judgement, discrimination, emotional and physical abuse, lack of resources, lack of qualified mental health professionals, and poor quality of appropriate care. These people are average people who more often than not try to conceal their struggle in order to feel normal.

What can we do about it? Know the facts, show compassion, advocate for mental health rights, and help reduce the stigma (#OwnYourIssues).

If we shift our perception from pity and fear to hope and encouragement, mental health might not be such a taboo thing for people to accept. Working in this field, I get to witness clients who feel so much shame talking about their struggles with anyone, let alone someone they have loved and trusted forever. So many clients feel alone in the process and fear being labeled. The way society looks at people who “need help”, it makes it incredibly difficult for others to seek assistance, let alone admit there is a problem to begin with. Instead of judging someone’s struggle, hand out a stick. Dignity and respect is deserved for the struggle that thousands, if not millions, have with their own brain chemistry and circumstances. Dignity and respect for the rehab visits, the therapy hours, the doctor visits, the medications, etc. The more caring and empathy that we show towards people with mental illness, the more we can do to help.

 

Your Inner Bitch: Negative Self Talk

The Inner Bitch, everyone has one and she can be pretty brutal too! What I’m referring to is the voice inside your head that says things like “You aren’t good enough for them”, “You are an idiot”, “You are worthless”, or “You can’t handle that, you are too weak”.

These thoughts can have a serious blow to your confidence, your values, your self-worth, your motivation, and even your attitude towards others and about life itself. Your Inner Bitch can make you feel hurt, sad, angry, depressed, shameful, anxious, frustrated, and worse, apathetic. Your Inner Bitch can be so constant and so relentless that we may not even realize she has even arrived! We can also have problems differentiating her from our true selves. Negative self-talk most often develops in childhood through the messages about ourselves that we get from our parents, friends, society, and other important relationships and can be reinforced throughout our lives. These negative beliefs about ourselves become part of our core belief and form the lens through which we see the world. If we have a core belief that says “I am worthless and no one likes me”, if a friend doesn’t call you on your birthday you might feel sad, lonely, and upset, which will trigger your “I am worthless and no one likes me” belief and you might withdraw and not contact anyone. It becomes a tough cycle to break, but it’s not impossible…

Why is Negative Self Talk So Bad?

Well, for starters, not only does it make you feel bad, but it can affect your family, your job, your friendships, your relationships, school performance, and prevent you from experiencing new and amazing opportunities. It can even affect your health. Depression and anxiety both tend to have large amounts of negative self-talk being absorbed daily.

Sometimes a little reflective critique is beneficial, it can stir up motivation and help incite personal progress. But there is a huge difference between “I’m really out of shape and I want to lose weight” and “I am a fat, disgusting slob! No one wants to be with me and I’ll never be able to change so it’s all pointless.” The counter statement for this negative talk is not “I’m not fat” because our internal lie detector will go off and we won’t believe it. Changing that statement to a neutral standpoint can be more helpful, “I want to lose weight, I can sign up for a gym or buy healthier foods.” This way, you now have a statement without judgement and the beginning of a plan.

So what are some of the types of Negative Self Talk? Here are just a few:

Black and White Thinking– It’s one way or it’s another, there is no grey area. Using words like “always”, “never”, or “every”. When in fact, there is almost always an exception to the rule.

Filtering– Focusing on only the negative and ignoring all the positive.

Mind Reading/Fortune Telling– Inferring a possible negative thought a person might have from their behavior or nonverbals; predicting negative outcomes of events before they even happen.  “I’m not going to the party because it will be lame and everyone will think I’m weird and not talk to me anyway.”

Catastrophizing- This is very common with anxiety. Assuming the worst possible outcome. For example, “If I leave this job to pursue my dream, what if I’m no good at it and I fail and then my wife leaves me because we have no money?!”

Okay, Now What Can I Do About It?

  • Reality Test- Let’s say that during a staff meeting you ask a question or make a statement that you feel was a “dumb question” or that you “sounded stupid”. Did everyone recoil in horror or were most people on their phones not even paying attention? Say you went on a first date with a really attractive person and you text them later and they don’t respond. Instead of driving yourself crazy with “Oh God they totally hate me, they thought I was boring and never want to see me again”, what if we explore other options like maybe they are working, maybe they were busy with something else, maybe their phone is on silent or vibrate and didn’t hear it, or maybe they are sleeping or their battery died and it actually has NOTHING to do with you as a person. Point is, we can’t assume to know what other people are thinking unless they come out and actually say it. We aren’t mind readers.
  • Would You Say That to a 5-Year-Old? To Your Best Friend?- When you get stuck in a negative thought loop, pause and take a minute. Would you say these things to a 5-year-old? Would you say this to your best friend? Would you call a 5-year-old a lazy, good for nothing, loser?
    •  If your friend said they can’t accomplish a goal because it’s hard, would you respond with “yeah, you are right, you suck, you can’t do anything right”? Basic Rule: If you wouldn’t say it to a friend or to a 5-year-old, don’t say it to yourself.
  • Give Your Thoughts a Name- If you put your negative self-talk into categories or describe them as stories that you tell yourself, it helps you separate the shame and the triggered negative core beliefs from the actual event. If you find yourself making patterns, you can learn who and what your triggers are and learn to manage them.
  • Talk to Someone- If you get stuck in an anxiety-ridden or depressive downward spiral, have the courage to call someone (therapist, friend, someone you trust) and say it out loud. If you pull your friend aside and say “Ok, I’m stuck in a shame spiral—here’s what happened.” This will invariably help cut the shame around it. These conversations usually end with tons of laughter, a new perspective, and maybe make you feel a little better about the experience.
  • Embrace Your Imperfections-Try not to hold yourself to impossible standards and judge yourself for your shortcomings. Part of success is not being perfect, but messing up, picking yourself up and moving on. No one is perfect. Give yourself the same empathy and grace that you would show a friend and show that Inner Bitch who’s really in charge! There are so many negative messages in the world that say you CAN’T do something, why add to that? Why not BE the one voice that says you can?

Disclaimer: Now I am not saying “Hey! Just think happy thoughts and your world will be transformed and filled with magic, star shine, and glittery happiness”. Some people have really horrible experiences and circumstances, grief and loss of a loved one, have dire medical issues, poverty, depression, and discrimination, work 2 or 3 depressing jobs just to be able to put food on the table all the while worrying if your food stamps will come in this month. Positive thinking and radical self-love are not going to be a cure-all for these types of things. But, instead of adding your own self judgement and allowing that Inner Bitch to talk shit about you, if putting a stop to negative self-talk can make you feel even the teeniest bit better and help you get through today, I think that it’s worth it. By far.

 

Affairs and Betrayal: How Can I Ever Trust You Again?

Someone I know recently went through a tumultuous and heartbreaking divorce due to one of the leading factors in splitting up these days, infidelity, and it got me thinking about other couples I have seen in the therapy room.
After this betrayal, many people will struggle with trusting their partner again. According to Esther Perel, renowned couples therapist, “Genuine trust rests on our ability to tolerate what we do not know about the other, as long as we’re driven to uncover every detail, we can’t trust”. Many couples are driven by their own past experiences of abandonment and rejection and this can prevent trust from being rebuilt. Often times after an affair, the betrayed partner will hold on to their investigative mode of going through credit card and cell phone bills, checking their emails and text messages, monitoring their every move and expense to ease their anxieties. These partners establish a reign of control and all-knowing, confusing intimacy with surveillance. Even though the intrusiveness, interrogations, and search for evidence is done out of anxiety, it does little to alleviate their fears. Instead of searching for details and facts about the affair, you might get more out of asking questions about the meaning of the affair.
Meaningful questions will help the couple shift from detective mode to repair mode. Some examples include: Did you think of me when this was going on? Did you think it would help you stay in our relationship or help you to leave? How did your lover illuminate other parts of you? At what point did you realize you wanted to stay? Were you afraid to lose me, our family, our kids?*. This is the shift from facts to meaning. Facts tend to cause pain and keep you in a loop of ruminating over details that keep you up at night, whereas meaning gives you the opportunity to open up and discuss the multitude of feelings that are shaken during the wake of an affair. Things like love, sex, desire, commitment, betrayal, loss, secrecy, honesty, intimacy, eroticism, accountability, trust and forgiveness.

But how do you move on from an affair in your relationship when you have friends and family saying “Oh, he’s a dog, leave his ass!”, “Get rid of her, she’s no good and not worth it”, or “once a cheater always a cheater! You are dumb for staying with him”? Many people will share with their best friends or family that they were cheated on and understandably their friend will see the pain and have the gut reaction to protect them. The problem with that is that is often times the betrayed partner still loves them and actually needs advice that will help her think and not just react. This advice which can include her accountability in the relationship and the examination of her role as a partner, is difficult for most friends to offer when they see a friend in pain. If the betrayed partner chooses to stay with their person, they can feel like they can no longer talk to their friend because they fear that they might be angry for staying in the relationship or “not standing up for themselves”. This can feel very isolating even though the friend’s intention was to be supportive.

How to Be Supportive to a Friend Through an Affair:

  1. Provide a safe space for your friend or family member to cry, process their thoughts and emotions, and a place to stay if they need to.
  2. Let them know that they are important and that you care about them.
  3. Offer a distraction, offer to watch the children occasionally (if there are any involved).
  4. Do not insert yourself into the story of your friend. This is their process and they need to decide what is best for them and their relationship.

Couples may be feeling like they are on a roller coaster, that they have conflicting emotions within themselves and about their partner, and feel like they had the rug ripped out from under them. Pain from an affair takes time to heal. It takes patience and both sides to want to work toward a place where the pain isn’t so much.
After an affair is revealed, both partners are shaken, both of their predictable futures have been altered, neither know where this is going to go and may be experiencing lots of anxiety, fear, regret, anger, and sadness. Yet, a lot of couples in therapy during the aftermath of the affair tend to have really open and honest conversations that they have not had in years, even if they are painful. In therapy, we focus on creating a space for managing the aftermath of the bomb drop, creating meaning of the affair, and then creating a new vision for the relationship. We need to shift the idea of “What you did to me” to “What we went through together”. You just have to start the conversation.

 

*Perel, Esther, 2015. Global Media Production. Investigative Questions for Couples Experiencing Infidelity. Email subscription.

Introverts vs. Extroverts: How to Navigate Relationships When You Have Different Social Needs

The terms introversion and extroversion became part of our vocabulary through the work of Carl Jung and different personality studies. It is also one of the four areas identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a common test given to analyze personality and cognitive style. According to many personality theories, everyone has some degree of both introversion and extroversion. However, people often tend to lean one way more than the other. The difference between extroverts and introverts is how they gain their energy, how they deal with stress, and their preferred way of dealing with the world. For introverts, they gain their energy from spending time alone and value their own thoughts and feelings over the external world. Extroverts gain their energy from other people, use their energy to attract people to them, and they get recharged from social outings. But how do you navigate a relationship between an introvert and an extrovert? It may seem like you are total opposites, but I like to think of it is as being complimentary. One is not greater than the other, they just are different ways people process their feelings and where they place importance in the world.

What do you do when two different personality types combine in a loving relationship?

Communicate honestly and often.

It is important to be able to communicate your social needs to your partner. If you feel “trapped” at home or bored all the time while your partner is enjoying staying in, you aren’t getting your needs met.
If you are uncomfortable in large gatherings where you don’t know anybody or find yourself dreaming of your couch, some yoga pants, and your Netflix account while you are at social gatherings, you maybe aren’t communicating your needs to your partner. It may sound hopelessly difficult (won’t one person always be sacrificing for the other?). But there are ways to make it work! If you let your partner know that you aren’t comfortable or don’t enjoy settings for long periods of time, you can come up with a game plan together. Since you can’t avoid everything that you don’t love doing, find out what you CAN deal with.

Check in with each other. Set time limits.

Maybe you’ll feel better at a party if you know in advance how long you will be staying? Having a time limit can let the extrovert know when to begin winding down and the introvert has something to look forward to in a social setting. One way to check in with your partner or to communicate your needs could be coming up with a secret code word at a party to let the other person know that you are feeling flooded (i.e. “Hey baby, I think the Dodgers are playing tonight” *wink wink*).

What if you asked your partner if you could invite a friend over for movie night to create a social aspect to staying in? Negotiate how many nights a week you need to stay in (or go out) and find a happy medium that works for the BOTH of you. Most importantly, take time to really enjoy each others company (and appreciate the other person for being there with you), especially when the other makes an effort to assimilate to your social style for the evening. Don’t forget to set aside a few days for just the two of you!

Allow each other space to get their needs met.

If your partner needs more social time, would it be okay if they went out with friends without you? If your partner needed alone time, are you able to recognize that it may not be about something you did but that they may just need some space to unwind? Make adjustments so that your partner can de-stress effectively without sacrificing the needs of the other partner all the time. Sometimes taking ownership of what your needs actually are is the hardest part of making it work. I know that even in my own life I’ve had to realize that I align most often with extroversion. I’ve had to work out how to meet my social needs while still being attentive to my family. It is a constant negotiation, but well worth the fight.

Embrace the differences.

It’s like the old Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang; apparent opposites or contrary forces that are actually complementary (rather than opposing) and interconnected. They can give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another and form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than its individual parts. The introvert can create a peaceful home environment for the couple and initiate meaningful conversations. The extrovert can bring new friends into your lives and help initiate new life experiences that studies say can create lasting happiness in couples. Work together to create a life that is dynamic and healthy. With your powers combined…..!!!!!

 

Love and Other Drugs: The Twisted Love Story between “Fixers” and Addiction

Has anyone ever referred to you as a “fixer”? Have you ever been in a relationship with someone where you felt like you had to rescue them from themselves or were giving them support at the cost to your mental, emotional, and physical needs? This sacrifice for your partner’s happiness without getting anything in return has a name, codependency and enmeshment.

Codependency can arise in any type of relationship, but it can commonly occur in the relationship between an addict and their highly enmeshed spouse or partner. Drugs and alcohol can seem to provide an answer to the hole that the person is trying to fill. The relief that the addict feels from distressing emotions wears off and as use continues, more drugs will be needed more often to achieve the same effect. As dependence grows, addiction may result. When dating an active addict, the addict’s relationship to drugs can soon define and control your whole relationship if proper care is not taken, hence the CO- in codependency.

By denying the existence of a problem to others and themselves, trying to control the addict’s drug use or rescuing them from the consequences of their actions, and accepting blame when it is given, the partner enables the addiction. The enmeshed partner then feels needed and the addict continues to maintain their drug habit. It’s a  twisted win-win that actually ends up being lose-lose situation. I know this pattern all too well, having seen many clients needing support for a partner’s addiction, and even my own personal experience being in a codependent relationship.

“How do I know what enmeshment and codependency looks like?”

Many people who struggle with codependency feel a sense of responsibility for the thoughts, decisions, needs, and life satisfaction of others. Often in a controlling way, they try to solve other people’s problems and doing far more than they should to ensure the other person’s happiness. They put the other partner’s feelings before their own and can lose themselves in the process. They can become defined by the addicted partner’s emotions and become wrapped up in the other partner’s identity.

For example, if the addict is having a bad day, so is the codependent spouse/partner. They may have difficulty expressing and identifying their own feelings and may stay in a dysfunctional relationship for fear of abandonment and losing that feeling of being needed. Most codependent partners have difficulty setting boundaries with others, saying yes when they want to say no, and taking control when others are capable of doing so.  Many partners of addicts secretly (or not so secretly) wish to save them, to have their love for them be enough for them to change, but as much as you might want to, you can’t overcome the addiction for them. You CAN create a healthy, emotional environment for recovery to take place.

“Where do we learn codependent behaviors?”

Most people learn from role models growing up, especially if they were raised in an addicted or dysfunctional home. For example, about half of the children of alcoholics go on to marry an addict and duplicate the addict/codependent model they saw in their parents’ relationship. For most “fixers”, seeing the pain in others mobilizes the pain within them, either consciously or subconsciously. For example, if someone suffered a traumatic or painful experiences early in life, it can contribute to low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment and other codependent traits that mobilizes the need to “fix” the pain they see in others, essentially attempting over and over again to fix the pain that is triggered within ourselves.

Since enmeshment is the only way they know how to be in a relationship, few people recognize their own codependent patterns, instead labeling themselves selfless, loving or just “too nice.”

Although their efforts may seem noble and come from a honest place, they actually can hurt the recovery process of the addict and are in fact driven by the person’s subconscious need to feel needed. Serving others to the exclusion of their own needs and desires is the way that they feel valued and loved. All of this self-sacrifice can eventually build up to anger and resentment towards the addict, along with other mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse, as well as physical health problems.

“What can I do? “

Just like the addict needs help and support to stop depending on drugs, the codependent can benefit from counseling (what is the pain that keeps getting triggered for you?), support groups, books (I recommend Codependent No More by Melanie Beattie and Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood), so that they can become less dependent on the neediness of others.  It is not about the relationship with the addict, but more about forming a stronger sense of self.

It is learning how to be loving and care for themselves instead of trying to “fix” someone. Trying to fix someone is like trying to nail jello to a tree, it just doesn’t work.  For those people who love an active drug user: Let them know you understand the difficulty of the challenge they face, and that you are in their corner. Encourage them to explore the roots of their addiction with a professional; the drinking or drug use may seem like the main issue, but it is often a symptom of a deeper problem and keep in mind that relapses are also a part of the recovery process and should not be seen as a failure per say, but more of a set back.

The Fear of Emotional Quicksand

Fear…It is one of the most overwhelming of emotions. It’s one of the four basic human emotions (happy, sad, angry, and scared).  We all feel fear, it is engrained in our DNA. Our ancestors even used fear as a survival skill.  If you think you don’t feel fear, you’re kidding yourself.  If anyone tells you they don’t get scared, they are lying to you.  People get scared, that is just reality.  However, in a society that tells us we shouldn’t be, we start to judge ourselves for feeling fear.  We think we’re “weak”, “ridiculous” or “stupid”.  How many times have you told yourself, “I know I am just being stupid/ridiculous, but I am scared”? We have become a society that is afraid of feeling fear because we think it will reveal something deficient about us, about our character, about our strength or lack thereof.  Yet, if you acknowledge your fear, you are in a better position to manage it.  If you deny your fear, it can grow and manifest in other ways—usually as anger towards yourself or others…and then you’re still left with your unresolved feelings of fear!

A few days ago, I came across this quote….

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After reading this, I felt a sadness come over me for the person who posted this. I wanted to reach out and say “It must be really hard to carry around all that hurt and to live a life afraid of trusting people”. It had me thinking about the fear of the emotional quicksand.  This is the fear of an emotion that is so strong it will overtake you, suck you in, and eventually destroy you.  Those emotions that make up emotional quicksand can be anger, sadness, or fear.  It’s usually the negative emotions that can create a debilitating fear, even though sometimes people can be afraid of positive emotions like being happy (let’s save that topic for another blog post).  Sometimes this fear can develop from surviving a traumatic event, multiple traumas, or having grown up with parents with unregulated emotions.  Other times, this fear slowly builds up over time, like a callous, because emotions can be too difficult to regulate.  Maybe you didn’t have a good role model for managing emotions (like an empathetic parental figure) or maybe no one ever taught you that it was even possible to survive extreme emotion. In our society, many people were taught at a young age to not show their emotions or that their feelings were “too much”. Unfortunately, this can be translated into “I AM too much for others” or “I AM a burden” in a child’s mind and can be a message that someone carries on into adulthood.

The only way to know that extreme emotions are manageable is to strap yourself in and ride the emotional rollercoaster.

Strong emotions come in waves, very similar to waves of emotion that come with grief and loss.  It is possible to ride them out and SURVIVE.  Even the strongest of emotions will eventually pass.  You may be left exhausted, you may be worn out, you may be physically weak from the ride, but eventually your strength will return and you will have peace. You may have to ride many roller coasters, but each time it might get easier to handle the feelings.

Like in the quote, many people have developed their own ways of dealing their emotions and fears and even shutting them out completely. Humans like to avoid unpleasant feelings, we distract ourselves, numb ourselves, and even dissociate.  Each person has their own thing that works for them.  Some are healthy, like writing or yoga, others are not. Addictions are one way of distracting ourselves or numbing ourselves from our emotions.  The trick is to know what you turn to in order to regulate your emotions.

Can you think of your go-to to deal with tough emotions?

Do you work a lot? Drink? Do drugs? Self Harm? Work out? Eat too much? Restrict your food consumption? Jump from relationship to relationship? Have sex? Obsess about a person, place or thing? Browse the web? Read? Write? Call a friend? Clean obsessively? Go to an AA meeting? Party? Go shopping? Masturbate? Look at porn? Make lists? Watch T.V.? Play video games?  Gamble? 

Some of these things are healthy coping skills and some are not. There is no right or wrong, since you have kept coping mechanisms because they work for you (or so you think).  It all boils down to the fact that everyone has a way to deal with negative emotions, but if you do something to the point that it is negatively impacting your life, your work, your school, or your relationships, you should consider that there is probably an emotion you are avoiding that should be dealt with.

If the idea of facing that emotion is too strong, don’t do it on your own.

Find someone who you trust to help you with it or even sit with you with it. It may be hard to let someone else in, especially if you have never experienced genuine empathy and acceptance before.  Therapists can also be a good resource as well, especially since we are trained to help people through this type of thing. Human beings like to experience fear in a safe setting. We like to be scared, as long as the threat is not real, like the experience of watching a scary movie or riding a roller coaster (an actual one). Therapists can help offer a safe, separate space to explore these feelings.

What is the thing that you do when you are feeling overwhelmed?  The next time you find yourself doing (or about to do) whatever that is…pause.  Check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Is there a feeling you’re wanting to run away from? If you accept my challenge, give that feeling one minute.  Can you let yourself feel it for just 60 seconds?  You can always continue to do whatever it is that you were going to do after those 60 seconds are up.  But, you are creating an experience where you “survive” that emotion for a little bit longer than you thought you could. This in itself takes the power away from the emotion, even if just for a minute and gives it to you, and doesn’t that feel good for a change?