A Birthday Gift

My husband gave me a book for my last birthday by Alan Alda called IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK ON MY FACE?  I've only read a few chapters but am enjoying the book and am hopeful that I will be learning some new things about the art and science of communication. 

Sadly,  so many of us grew up in dysfunctional families and never learned the skill  of clear and effective communication.   Below is a list of dysfunctional styles of communication taken from the book HEALING FOR ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS by Sara Hines Martin.  I'm amazed (and a bit embarrassed)  at the number that I revert to when I'm stressed or feel under attack. 

1)  Talk at, Not to a Person - this style lacks in sharing of feelings & emotion. 

2)  Talk About, Not to People - "Person A talks to Person B about Person C: the classic triangle" p. 62.  Fueled by fear of conflict and fear that others will be angry. 

3)  Little Eye Contact -

4)  Send Messages Through A Third Person

5)  Secrecy Rather Than Openness

6)  Confusing Messages - Example:  smiling when angry

7)  No Answers to Questions or Inadequate Explanations

8)  Passive Communication - Examples:  Not talking, hinting, pouting,  denying that anything is wrong, glaring, sighing, tardiness

9)  Acting Out - Examples:  slamming doors, throwing things, denying affection  

Here are some simple guidelines for functional communication:

1)  Talk to the person.

2)  Use direct eye contact.  

3)  Be open. 

4)  Answer questions directly and give explanations. 

5) Say what you feel rather than acting it out. 

6)  Share your feelings rather than giving should messages.  

I invite you to examine your communication style and be curious about it.  Is it effective?  How does your style affect the relationships in your life?  Does your style work for you or against you?  

Thanks for letting me communicate with you!!!!!!  

Non-capisco-image.jpg

Everything Is Random

Comedian Patton Oswalt's wife died at age 45 leaving behind a grieving husband and 6 year old daughter.  After 15 months of doing grief work Patton bravely tackles sharing his process in his new Netflix special called ANNIHILATION.  Patton shares of his pain, his loss and ultimately where he is beginning to find some peace is in the philosophy that his wife often expressed:  "everything is random, be kind". 

The simplicity and beauty of the phrase is so peaceful.  Let it be, don't try to figure everything out, live kindly - let it all unfold.  To spend time trying to find meaning behind the pains and losses of life often leads to more dark and painful thoughts - to accept what is creates space for the grief tears which lead to healing.  Its all so much easier said than done because the brain is always trying to figure things out.  But with practice and gentleness its possible to start observing our thoughts rather than letting them rule our lives. 

I invite you to watch ANNIHILATION and see if you are interested in living by a philosophy that is less complicated and more gentle.  (Please note Patton's comedy does contain "adult" language and his politics do lean left - the section about his wife is in the last 30 minutes of the show).    

 

patton.jpg

Ned Flanders

Many years ago the Simpsons ran a New Year's Eve episode and at the stroke of mid-night while everyone was celebrating and hugging,  Ned Flanders was running to the post office shouting "oh no my taxes are late".  The bit cracked me up but I kid you not I found myself this morning "feeling" like I was behind on Christmas shopping -- ITS NOV 2nd!!!!!!!!!

There is plenty of time for all that needs to be done and yet I was having thoughts of "I'm behind",  "I'll never get it all done", "the gifts won't be good enough". George, my brain, was running a muck and because I hadn't paid enough attention to him - the thoughts had turned to physical sensations of anxiety in my body. 

I returned my attention and focus back to my deep breathing and started noticing the thoughts that were creating such havoc.  I pulled out a piece of paper and made a list of things that need to be done for Christmas.  Making lists is a great way to slow down the feeling of anxiety.  If its on paper I don't have to worry about carrying it all in my brain.

The holidays can be a very tough time of year for most of us.  So many ads of people in perfect outfits, eating perfect foods, opening perfect gifts and they all look like they are enjoying each other's company.   Those images create a sense of failure and pressure in most of us and trick us into believing we have to do things at 100%.   

I'm going to keep reminding myself of the 80% rule - all I have to do is 80% - nothing can be perfect and to try to give 100% energy is way too taxing and anxiety making.  As we go into the holiday season will you join me in reducing the stress of the season by:

  1. Remembering to breathe deep
  2. Noticing thoughts that are causing problems
  3. Living by the 80% rule
  4. Making lists
  5. Maintaining  regular routines of sleep, exercise and healthy eating, and as always 
  6. Lots and lots of gentleness !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

 

Ned-flanders.jpg

Don't Be Special

I began my own personal therapy when I was 25 years old.  My self-esteem was pretty low and for so many years my therapist worked with me on empowerment and helping me tap into my own unique self and all the reasons that I was a special human being.  And, although my self-esteem improved and the therapy was helpful I now understand that what I really needed was to be given permission to NOT feel special.  

The act of feeling special creates a tremendous amount of anxiety - fear of rejection, fear of what others will think, fear of failure - all of these things stop people from acting in their own lives and can lead to isolation and depression.  

Stay with me because I know its very counter intuitive. It feels as if people would be less depressed and less anxious if they had higher self-esteem.   We have entire education programs based on building self-esteem and for years parents have been told their children need to feel special in this world.  The opposite is true. 

By letting go of the idea of being special and  (or the opposite some sort of dismal failure) people are free to focus on more mundane identities:  student, a partner, a friend, a creator.   The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you.  For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways possible.  (Paraphrased from Mark Manson's THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F**K, p. 140).  There is much freedom and less terror in just being another ordinary "shmuck" just doing what you can on a daily basis.  

special1.png

Disgust

Recently our home was visited by some mice and man my disgust showed up big time.  It has always been hard for me to look at mice and the thought of them in the house was almost unbearable.   Luckily our cats took care of the problem quite efficiently but I noticed that in order to do what I needed to do around the house I had to be aware of my disgust and shift it so that it became tolerable and that I didn't completely shut down.   

I have a lot to learn - I've been in this field for 20 years now and love that something new is always showing up.  The concept of disgust has been around forever but it's importance in the range of emotions has only surfaced in the last few years (don't laugh at me but I became acutely aware of disgust's importance when I read that the film makers of INSIDE OUT re shot the film to include disgust). 

The following article, Taking Control of Disgust, by Rachel Herz, Ph.D.  ran in  Psychology Today and is a nice beginning to understanding the importance of disgust and some ideas on how to take control of it.  

TAKING CONTROL OF DISCUST

We've all had the experience of a viscerally disgusting experience; a whiff of sour milk, your foot in something your neighbor's dog left behind, shaking hands with a sweaty palmed stranger. These triggers feel like they must be instinctively disgusting. In fact they're not and even the most basic cues to disgust have to be learned. This is because disgust is dependent on experience, socialization, personality,  and context, and it is a very complex and complicated emotion. The reason humans are the only animals who experience emotional disgust is because we are the only creatures with a sufficiently sophisticated and advanced brain to be able to figure it.

Fear is an automatic and instinctive emotion that helps us when we are in harm's way fast--the tiger is leaping at you, whereas disgust is about slow and uncertain peril. We have to deduce the connection between the fact that we touched the person with the oozy red sores who then died a week later, and now we are covered in oozy red sores and what that means. This is when feeling disgusted rather than attracted to a person covered in spots is very beneficial. But it isn't always the case that disgust helps us. Many times our feelings of disgust serve no purpose, prevent us from expanding our personal and social horizons, or at worst enable us to cause harm or disregard others. But because disgust is so involved with our thoughts, it is also in our control and we don't have to be disgusted if we don't want to be. For example, if you're disgusted by earthworms you may have eliminated the possibility of ever gardening, but if you undisgusted yourself you could put something new on your bucket list. The way to undisgust yourself in this type of scenario is unfortunately to expose yourself to the object of your aversion until you reach the point where you can tolerate it without flinching. You can start out small-maybe just looking at pictures of earthworms, but gradually you'll need to be able to confront these little critters in real life without repulsion. If you have the will and work at it, you'll be happy to discover that many new and enjoyable activities become available to you.

Besides benign creepy crawlies we are also often disgusted by other people and this can cause grave social consequences. When we are disgusted by the new immigrants who have moved in next door, not only are we engulfed by the negativity and social harm of prejudice, we may also miss out on the potential for important and enlightening new experiences. Surprisingly in these cases, if we instead become empathetic towards the source of aversion we can undue disgust. This is because by being empathic we have to expose and engage with the source of our aversion, but it is also because empathy and disgust are fundamentally linked. Both emotions are processed in the same part of the brain-the anterior insula-and both are very much about the self and about protecting the self from discomfort. When I empathize with you I feel your pain and I am motivated to make you feel better because I don't want to feel bad anymore. When we are disgusted we are actually empathizing with ourselves for the awful contact we have had with dog poop, or with the thought that we too could be deformed, ill, or alien. In the case of other people, if we empathize with the person who is disgusting us, we will not only do good for another, we will do good to ourselves and become undisgusted. For example, if your first reaction to seeing an amputee is repulsion and rejection, try to help that person instead. Not only will you feel virtuous you will also feel much less disgusted by the sight of someone maimed in the future. Or, if you feel disgusted by the smells of your new neighbor's cooking, offer to help them get settled in and bring over a pot of your favorite stew instead of shunning them. Not only may you benefit from new freiendship and the discovery of a novel cuisine, you will see these strangers now as more like you and have turned off your disgust towards immigrants. The bottom line is that we can control disgust, and use it or lose it.

Rachel Herz is an expert on the psychology of smell and emotion and author of the new book   That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion.

Io_Disgust_standard2.jpg

New Software & Technology

Yesterday I learned that a big change is coming to some software that I've been learning and using for a year.  My immediate reaction was NO!!!! NO!!!! NO!!!  George, my brain, started saying, "your never going to learn it", "your too old for all this new technology", "it'll be so much work ... give up now".  

Change truly is hard for everybody and the more we resist the harder it becomes.  Following is an article written by Costa Provis, LCPC, which helped me challenge my thinking and helped sooth my brain.   I hope you find it interesting and helpful.  

Someone once told me “only a wet baby likes change,” and as silly as that sounds I have found these words to be pretty spot on.  Why are we so resistant to change?  Is it really change that we resist?  I don’t believe we are actually afraid of learning and experiencing new things, because newness usually brings something positive.  Sometimes an adventure, a challenge, a little bit of fun, experiencing new things tends to enhance life.  It seems to me that what we actually fear is the idea of stepping outside of our comfort zone.

Do you sometimes find yourself feeling limited or bored?  What role does your desire to stay within your comfort zone play in this?  Leaving the familiarity and safety of your comfort zone can be difficult and scary, but by figuring out ways to challenge yourself and take steps beyond it, life becomes immediately more interesting and fun.  If you think about it, as safe as it can be your comfort zone mostly serves as a limitation.

It can be an anchor shackled around your ankle, weighing you down.  Limiting yourself like this typically ends with inactivity and stagnation.  It seems like a pretty huge sacrifice; that fear must be really intense.  Whether its fear of looking foolish in the eyes of other people, or feeling inferior because you are struggling to learn a new skill, or fear of being rejected by someone you’re attracted to, staying inside your comfort zone is limiting your life.

So what can you do to help get beyond your current comfort zone?  Let’s start by acknowledging that no one likes the discomfort of being outside their comfort zone!  This isn’t an exercise in convincing yourself you like that discomfort.  Instead I am asking you to challenge yourself in the reaction to the discomfort, because after all “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  How can you challenge yourself (and are you up for the challenge)?  Try these three steps:

1.  Have a goal(s) that you want to achieve.

Without a specific goal, it can be difficult to find the motivation to endure the discomfort of struggling through the early challenges.  Don’t forget, this is all about how you choose to react to discomfort and giving up is not your objective!  Besides, life is all about passion and without a goal that you really want to achieve where will you find that passion?!  Search your soul and try to identify that goal you really want to work towards.  Maybe you want to start working out, or get back into the dating scene?  Whatever the goal may be, it represents the finish line and is a necessary component to getting outside of your comfort zone.  It takes hard work but you can reach the finish line.

2. Create measurable actions/steps .

Anyone who has seen the movie What About Bob, is familiar with the concept of “baby steps” and that’s exactly what is needed to successfully achieve your goals.  That doesn’t mean that you lower the bar to avoid struggling, but rather that you focus only on the next small step while trying to reach the finish line.  Making these small steps measurable helps you to be accountable to yourself (or your therapist/life coach).  For example, if your goal is to lose weight then the measurable steps could be what days you go to the gym, what exercises you do, a meal plan, etc.  By having measurable small steps that you can focus on one at a time, before you know it you are well on your way to your goal.

3.  Challenge your thought process that keeps resisting change.

Quite often when we experience discomfort our narrative focusses on the fact that we are not comfortable.  Have you ever found yourself struggling with a new challenge and thought something like ‘I can’t do this’ and you instantly want to quit.  You tell yourself ‘I feel like an idiot, I’m never doing this again.’  You have already given up on your goal all because of your reaction to the discomfort you are feeling.

Instead, maybe you can shift your thoughts to something like ‘by struggling through this moment right now, I will be one step closer to my goal.’  Give yourself permission and patience to learn something new, and then give yourself a pat on the back when you complete each step along the way.  It doesn’t have to last very long but at least take a moment and let this achievement soak into your mind.  Your narrative is extremely important so try not to get down on yourself along the way as you try to reach your finish line.

In conclusion, I think it’s important that you think about your comfort zone, and ask yourself what am I so afraid of that I would need to limit my life?  Your comfort zone isn’t really as helpful as you probably thought it was, and in fact is probably slowing you down.  You don’t have to sprint away from it, but instead take some time to reflect on your goal(s), the steps you can take along the way, and your narrative while you’re struggling through the learning process.

Remember, it’s all about how you react to the discomfort while you are taking steps towards the finish line.  By: Costa Provis, LCPC 

Changes.jpg

What Can Be Said?

Las Vegas ... another city added to a growing list that is already way too long.  What can be said ... the sadness, the carnage, the absolute waste ... what can be said?  One lone gunman in less than 10 minutes shatters hundreds of lives.  WHAT CAN BE SAID?  

All week I've listened to client's reactions to the Las Vegas shooting - I've heard everything from "oh no now the liberals are going to come for my guns for sure" to "how can I possibly ever go to another concert?" to "I guess we just have to get used to that this is the world we live in".  A wide range of varying thoughts and yet the primary emotions were the same sadness, fear and helplessness.

I really struggled with trying to comfort people this week - I just couldn't find the words.  Obviously I can't promise that this won't happen to them or their families.  I can't promise them that "leadership" is going to make helpful changes and I can't even promise that there is meaning in any of it.  

There is always a lot of talk about the courage and resiliency one finds in these situations.  Truthfully I'm tired of the talk ... I don't want people to have to be brave and resilient ... I want them to go to concerts have fun and then go back home.  This can NOT be our new norm!!!!!

I'm out of words around massive gun shootings - so this week I found myself just listening, validating people in their fear and pain.  Maybe that is the best thing we can offer each other is hugs, acts of kindness, and the simple understanding that words are very limiting but continued actions are of utmost importance.  So for this week I'm going to: 

1) Write my congressman, 2) contribute to a worthwhile cause and 3) treat others with lots of gentleness ... will you join me?  

this-is-johnny-cash-holding-a-kitten-no-more-can-3915187 (1).png

Power Cords

I'm embarrassed to admit this but here goes.  For 3 years now I've been wanting to clean out the closets in our home.  You know a real spring cleaning, throw out old stuff, organize what we do want and make a real commitment to living an organized life.  For 3 years I have had this desire. 

On the surface it sounds so easy ... take a day and just tackle the project.  For 3 years I've lived with the frustration of opening a closet and having to dig for what I needed or the annoyance of having my husband run to the store to buy a new power cord only to find out later that we already had one.  

For 3 years cleaning the closets has been on my to-do list.  For 3 years I've lived with the stress of this, the guilt around not doing it and the anxiety of it buzzing around in my head.  Was I loosing sleep over it ... no, but for 3 years it did cause emotional strife in my inner world and occasionally led to arguments with hubby over why we owned so many power cords.  

The good news is I finally did it!  In 2 short days my husband and I cleaned out the closets and made a Good Will run.  While sorting through we used some of the time to reminisce over shared memories but mostly just treated the project as a fun way to spend some time together rather than the dreaded chore that it had become in my mind.   

Now that its done its hard to understand why it became such a large thing in my brain -- but it did.  Whenever I thought about cleaning the closets George, my brain, would start:  its such a big project its going to take forever, what if you need some of the stuff you throw out, you work hard all week why would you spend your day off working, on and on the arguments went ... the more I put it off the bigger the arguments got.  And the bigger the arguments got the bigger the dread of doing it grew.     

With gentleness and compassion sorting out the brain's messages is very important work.   Things usually seem BIGGER in our brains then they actually are.  The on-going work of stress reduction is latching on to the thoughts that are workable and letting the other thoughts just float on by.

Had I cleaned the closets 3 years ago I would have saved myself a lot of emotional stress and gosh knows we would own fewer power cords.  

cluttered-closet1.jpg

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

As I start to write, George, my brain starts the work of pushing me along.  George starts yelling, "you have so many things to do, move quickly, hurry, go, go, go".  Its been like this my entire life and its quite exhausting.  Always feeling like I'm behind, like the thing I'm doing isn't important enough, like the next thing will be the right thing.  Do you recognize this feeling?  It can get overwhelming and it truly robs me of enjoying that which is right in front of me.  

This pushing from the brain creates anxiety because the body can only do what is right in front of it.  This anxiety not only causes problems in my life it gets in the way of relationships.  George's messages of "must move faster and get more done" don't take into account other people's needs, their desires or their pace.  The faster George is going the more I start to bulldoze over other people.

I know its history ... my poor mom is a fairly anxious woman.  She raised 10 children on very limited resources and she was always hurrying us along, trying to save some pennies today to have something for tomorrow, always trying to work as quickly as possible because there was so much to be done.  I fully understand she was doing the best that she could and am amazed at what she did accomplish.  But the toll has been heavy. 

I'm 58 years old and by 8 pm I'm exhausted - not because my life is physically demanding but because my inner world is usually pretty revved up.  Throughout the day George is in overdrive, thinking, planning, hurrying me along.  

A long time ago a friend gave me a book called "SLOWLY, SLOWLY, SLOWLY,"  SAID THE SLOTH  because he said I was always in a hurry.  I often reread this cute fun book as a reminder that life is way to precious to be hurried through and I rely on my mindfulness tools to help me slow things down:   

    1)  I notice what I notice - creating space to decide which thoughts are helpful and allow non-helpful thoughts to float on by. 

    2)  Good gentle deep breathes to bring me back to the present and to help still my brain.

    3)  I intentionally slow things down - the more George says hurry the more I notice his messages and then with compassion for myself I slow things down.  

What are your brain's messages to you that may be causing anxiety?  Are you willing to notice those messages without judgement or harshness - just notice and then take gentle action that is in your best interest?  These things sound simplistic and yet they are incredibly effective.

I leave you these words from Eric Carle:  Why are we always in a hurry?  Rush. Rush. Rush.  We scurry from here and there.  We play computer games and then-quick! click!-we watch TV.  We eat fast food.  Everyone tells us to make it snappy!  Hurry up! Time is flying! Step on it!  There's so little time just to be with friends, to watch a sunset or gaze at a star-filled sky.  Ah, what we could learn-even if just a little-from the gentle sloth who slowly, slowly, slowly crawls along a branch of a tree, eats a little, sleeps a lot, and lives in peace.     

sloth.jpg

There Is Nothing To See Here

I'm on vacation this week and writing this just as a reminder that it is very important to take a break now and then.  Changing up our daily routine, doing things that are fun and relaxing, spending time with love ones are all great ways to reduce stress.  

Look forward to writing next week and in the mean time ... move along nothing to see here.  

Creativity

 

Most of the clients that I work with are battling anxiety and depression.  I have a long personal history with anxiety and depression - they tend to go hand in hand.  More than not clients report that when anxious or depressed they find it very difficult to tap into their creativity.  Its hard to find the energy to invest in creativity.  And yet we know that creative tasks help people feel better and add to life's enjoyment.  

Whether its playing an instrument, painting, scrap booking, writing or playing sports - its very important to participate in activities that help release endorphins, make us laugh, add beauty to the world and stretch our comfort levels.  

One of the really hard things about anxiety and depression is that they take over our lives and start robbing us of doing things that would actual keep them at bay.  Our brains start saying I'll get back to my hobbies when I feel better and yet the best thing we can do is push through and do hobbies EVEN if we don't feel like doing them.  

Below is an article that I hope will be helpful in supporting you in pursuing creative tasks even if you are not feeling well.  

Written by Dean Bokhar

Increasing your creativity—or developing any sense of creativity in the first place—seems to be hardest when you need it most. Personally, I’d always thought “creativity” was sort of elusive. I thought creative people, like Pablo Picasso, for instance, were blessed with some sort of magical, innate talent that most of us just don’t have. And this is how I’d rationalize why people like Picasso were so much more creative than I was. But, as it turns out, I was dead wrong (kind of.)

You see, most people think Picasso just sat down in front of a canvas and effortlessly cranked out masterpiece after masterpiece all day long, but that’s not how things went down at all. The way Picasso actually painted was much more in-depth. He’d sit down and start at the corner of the canvas with one single stroke of the brush. Then, he’d expand from there, allowing the brush to let him transfer whatever he was envisioning onto the canvas.

Sometimes, he’d decide to let an idea take his painting elsewhere. Other times, he’d end up painting something totally different than what he initially envisioned. A few times, he’d start the whole damn thing over again. But, almost every single time, he’d end up with something beautiful. How did he create so many million-dollar masterpieces? Was he talented? Heck yeah. Was he “born with it”? Maybe, but people are born with all sorts of talents they neglect to nurture and refine.

And that’s the key: cultivation. Picasso cultavated his talent into mastery.  He was dedicated to his craft. In other words, he did it often enough to recognize that if he went off the beaten path halfway through a painting, he could take a different route and still end up with a piece of art.

Bottom line? Creativity is neither magical nor mysterious. Creativity is like a muscle ... 

The above was written by Dean Bokhar and the rest of this by me (Rosemary).  

And like any muscle it takes time, energy and practice to strenghten it.   There are lots of great books about creativity, take classes to enhance your creativity and most importantly don't be afraid to make mistakes and do NOT wait until you have the energy.  Be gentle with yourself and allow your creativity to be a "friend" that helps you lessen anxiety and depression.      

Creativity.jpg

Laugh

Its been another tough week and I'm feeling the reality of being older.  I don't have the energy to write and so I'm going to pass along some of Chuck Lorre's brilliance: 

"CHUCK LORRE PRODUCTIONS, #540

You can laugh at the human predicament. You can laugh at yourself. You can laugh because the alternative is crying. You can laugh because a truism has been exposed. You can laugh at the weakness, stupidity and failures of others. You can laugh because you identify. You can laugh to be polite. You can laugh from surprise. You can laugh from nervousness. You can laugh at the futility of it all. You can laugh at the antics of animals. You can laugh because it hurts. You can laugh because others are laughing. You can laugh at tragedy if enough time has passed. You can laugh at the statement, "This is no laughing matter."

I could go on, but clearly there are many reasons to laugh. As a fun homework assignment, I encourage you to look for others, write them down and don't send them to me."

The guy just makes me laugh and hopefully you enjoyed this and next time your having a tough week remember  that laughter really helps!  

 

 

The 4 Qualities of Mindful Acceptance

Ahhhhhhhhh (that's suppose to be a scream).  We just got back from LA and I'm exhausted.  Its a great city but I find it very tiring - the traffic, the crowds, the noise.  The trip was about visiting family members who are having a difficult time in their lives.  Children in the foster care system, can't hold on to steady work and from my perspective are in complete denial about their situation and about how to fix the problem.   

My sweet calm husband tells me the best we can do is accept that these people are adults, are doing the best that they can and all they need from us is love, non-judgement and words of support.  The hard part is that there are 5 children involved who have no say in their situation but are getting shuffled from house to house.  Every bone in my body wants to scream "WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS".  We tried having a supportive conversation about a plan to help these people and it didn't go very well (big big big sigh).  My mind keeps looping back to what I should have said and starts down the path of do I try again and what if I say this or that.   My sleep and dreams the last two nights have been very restless and I can feel the anxiety and tension growing around the situation.  So for today knowing that I really have no control of the situation I'm going to review the 4 qualities of mindful acceptance so that I can keep practicing and letting go of what I have no control over.  

1)   Paying Attention - Staying present to the here and now.  Deep breathing is good for this and is a way to keep bringing attention back to the body and to the space in which we live - the here and now.  Taking time to notice what we notice in our bodies and in the space around us.  Taking a minute to notice what you notice, the noises in the room, the temperature in the room, focus on your breath and just notice what you notice.   This exercise brings us to the present, the place where we can take action in our lives.    

2)  On Purpose - In order to pay attention we must choose to do it, and do it again and again, over and over throughout your day and your life.  So paying attention isn't something that we practice when we start to get anxious its a life commitment to be present.  

3)  In the Present Moment  - We all know the experience of not paying attention - driving and thinking about other things, watching a movie and suddenly realizing that you have no idea what is happening, etc.  We all know this because the mind is in a constant state of thinking and looping and pulling us out of the here and now.  So the trick is to over and over purposefully practicing staying present - to our breath, our bodies and to the moment that we are in - the only place that is real.

4)  Non-judgmentally - This one is really hard to do (especially for me).  George, my brain, is always shooting messages of judgement:  good-bad, right-wrong, sour-sweet, should-shouldn't, and so on.  George was really going to town when we were talking to my LA family members - labeling them as selfish and judging them for putting their needs in front of the kids.  And then later George started judging me saying "if you were smarter you would have said the right things so that they would take better actions in their lives".  When our brains are being  judgmental its very hard on us and creates a lot of confusion and anxiety.  Very important to keep noticing our thoughts and  practice sorting out which thoughts are helpful and letting non-helpful thoughts just drift on by.  

So I'm off to my day ... praticing forgiveness, compassion and a committment to purposely live a mindful life ... more in the physical here and now than in my brain.  Thanks George for all the times you help me plan and problem solve and respectfully I will choose to ignore you when your words are critical and judgemental.    

The above 4 qualities  were paraphrased from THE MINDFULNESS & ACCEPTANCE WORKBOOK FOR ANXIETY by John P. Forsyth, Ph.D  and Georg H. Eifert, Ph.D

p-a-r-k-4-qualities-of-mindfulness.png

Can't Say Enough About Avoidance

I realize I wrote about avoidance just a few weeks ago but the subject is so important I find myself coming back to it.  There is  new research that shows that  struggle and anguish is connected to avoidance.  Hope you find the following article as helpful as I did.

 How Avoiding Emotions Keeps Them at High Intensity

The normal wave pattern of emotions get interrupted and extended by three maladaptive coping strategies. The first is emotion avoidance.   It’s important  to realize how the attempt to control and avoid emotions paradoxically maintains, even intensifies, emotional distress. The effort to suppress painful emotional experiences can take multiple forms (situational, cognitive, somatic, protective, and substitution-based avoidance), but the outcome is always the same: increased suffering. The following describes the forms of emotional avoidance and some of its possible negative consequences.

Consequences of Emotion Avoidance

There are at least five types of emotion avoidance that researchers believe are at the root of many emotion problems.

Situational: people, places, things, and activities

Cognitive: thoughts, images, and memories

Somatic: internal sensations such as racing heart, palpitations, breathlessness, overheating, fatigue, or unwanted sexual arousal

Protective: avoiding uncertainty through checking, cleaning, perfectionism, procrastination, or reassurance seeking

Substitution: avoiding painful emotions with replacement emotions, numbing out, alcohol, drugs, bingeing, or gambling

Why not just keep on avoiding? Because the consequences of emotion avoidance are usually worse than the experience of what we try to avoid.

  • Since distress, discomfort, and anxiety are all a guaranteed part of life, emotion avoidance is often only a temporary and superficial “solution.”
  • Emotion avoidance reinforces the idea that discomfort/distress/anxiety is “bad” or “dangerous.” It reduces your ability to face and tolerate necessary pain.
  • Emotion avoidance often requires effort and energy. It’s exhausting and time-consuming.
  • Emotion avoidance limits your ability to fully experience the present.
  • Emotion avoidance can keep you from moving toward important, valued aspects of life.
  • Emotion avoidance often doesn’t work. When you tell yourself not to think about something, you have to think about not thinking about it. When you try to avoid an emotion, you often end up feeling it anyway.
  • Emotion avoidance often leads to suffering: addiction, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, damaged relationships, and lost opportunities.

By allowing yourself to experience fears—and difficult thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges—you can learn to decrease your suffering. To explore how emotion avoidance impacts your life, identify one or two strong emotions that show up frequently. Then examine which strategies you typically use to avoid the emotional experience:

  • Situational: avoiding people, places, or things
  • Cognitive: avoiding thoughts, images, or memories
  • Somatic: avoiding unpleasant physical sensations
  • Protective: avoiding uncertainty through frequent checking, procrastinating, or assurance seeking
  • Substitution: avoiding by numbing, suppressing, addictive behaviors, or replacement emotions (i.e., replacing shame with anger)

When you’ve identified and listed frequently used avoidance strategies for a particular emotion, examine consequences (see the Emotion Avoidance Consequences Worksheet in the book Emotion Efficacy Therapy). There are always advantages (pros) for avoidance. Be sure to acknowledge those--and even write them down. Usually the advantages are immediate (brief suppression of emotion) and short-lived, but they are real. It’s important to validate that there is often a short, positive effect from emotion avoidance.

Now examine the disadvantages (cons) of avoidance. What negative outcomes have you endured from your avoidance strategies? Have there been costs in the form of increased anxiety, depression, or shame? Have there been costs in the form of feeling stuck, damaged or lost relationships, or addictions? Finally, determine both advantages and disadvantages of experiencing this particular emotion. Document all the pros and cons.  

(From Praxis Website) 

 

The Feedback Loop

 This week I said good-bye to a client because she took a new job out of state.  When I first met this young woman (lets call her Sue) she was new to Sacramento, lonely, frightened, extremely depressed and very anxious.  Sue was convinced that at age 28 she was doomed to be alone forever and that she had made a disastrous  mistake in moving to CA.  She had moved here for a new job and for a blossoming romance.  Shortly after her arrival to CA the romance ended and she found herself alone and feeling very lonely.  The sadder she felt the more trapped Sue got in a  brain feedback loop which went something like this "if your feeling sad, its all your fault, you made the decision to move - clearly it was a bad decision"  the sadder she got the louder the loop in her brain got, telling her that she was a poor decision maker, that she could not trust herself and that if she was sad that that was evidence of what a bad decision she had made.  

Gently, Sue and I worked on separating feelings from thoughts and helping Sue to see that her thinking loop was adding struggle to the sadness.  Of course she was feeling lonely and sad, she was brand new to the city and needed time to meet people and readjust to her surroundings.  She also needed to grieve the break-up as well.   Things were all ready painful and tough and the feedback loop was making things so much worse.  The brain loop was creating the anxiety and depression and beating up on her, making it hard to go out and make friends.   

We've all been caught up in these loops.  Its an interesting part of the brain that can actually have thoughts about our thoughts so when Sue observed her sadness she started having thoughts that said it was not OK to feel sad.  We have a culture that is forever giving people messages of you always have to feel happy or else something is wrong and therefore you are somehow wrong and defective if you are having uncomfortable feelings.   So poor Sue got caught up in the if I'm sad I did something wrong loop and then felt bad about herself for feeling sad which started an entire cycle of beating up on herself which just made her feel worse.  

If your reading this your human and therefore I know you know the loop.  Its a hard one to break and the work is to become the watcher of the loop and of the thoughts.  Mark Manson writes about this in his book THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F**K (p. 5)   - I highly recommend this self-help book.  The more we step back from our thoughts and observe them with curiosity and without judgement the more clarity we have in our own lives.    

True mental health is allowing ourselves to feel everything - not just happiness or joy but the whole range of emotions.  

At our final session, Sue was filled with lots of gratitude for her new found ability to allow for tough emotions like sadness,  loneliness,  and anxiety.  She had learned to break the minds' feedback loop and to recognized that she had the tools to make decisions on her own behalf and that if the decisions didn't work she could make new ones.  Sue learned to be gentle with herself and to stop beating up on herself.  Sue said, "Rosemary, it was in treating myself with kindness and gentleness that I was finally able to break the feedback loop".    

Its sad to say good-bye to clients who I have grown to like and respect.  I learn so much from their courage and ability to change things.  I will miss seeing Sue and am very glad she came into my life.  Next time I get caught up in a feedback loop I will remind myself of Sue's words - its about kindness and gentleness!!!!!!        

 

Feedback_Loop.png

Avoidance

I find the more I avoid my problems and emotions that I end up struggling more and more with them to no resolve.  Following is a great article that addresses the problem of avoiding our emotions.  Thanks for letting me share this with you and happy reading.  

THE WILLINGNESS FACTOR: LEARN TO AVOID AVOIDANCE

Article by Martha Beck 

Melanie’s life was shrinking like a cheap blouse in an overheated dryer. At 30 she’d developed a fear of flying that ended her dream of world travel. Within a year, her phobia had grown to include—or rather, exclude—driving. After the World Trade Center attacks, Melanie became terrified to enter the downtown area of any city. She quit her job as an office manager (the potential for mail-based terrorism was too big) and called me hoping I could help her devise a way of earning money from home. “Everybody tells me my fears aren’t realistic,” she said. “But I think I’m the most realistic person I know. It’s a dangerous world—I just want to be safe.”

There was only one thing for which Melanie would leave her apartment. Once a month, she walked to a rundown neighborhood to meet her drug dealer, who sold her Xanax and OxyContin of questionable purity. I insisted that Melanie see a psychiatrist before I’d work with her, and the worried shrink called me before the impression of Melanie’s posterior had faded from his visitor chair. “She’s taking enough medication to kill a moose,” he told me. “If she slipped in the shower and knocked herself out, withdrawal could kill her before she regained consciousness.”

Ironic, n’est-ce pas? Safety-obsessed Melanie was positively devil-may-care when it came to better living through chemistry. This made no sense to me—until I realized that Melanie’s objective wasn’t really to avoid danger but to prevent the feeling of fear. Melanie was using a strategy psychologist Steven Hayes, PhD, calls experiential avoidance, dodging external experiences in an effort to ward off distressing emotions. It wasn’t working. It never does. In fact, to keep her tactics from destroying her, she would have to learn the antidote for experiential avoidance—and so must the rest of us, if we want our lives to grow larger and more interesting, rather than smaller and more disappointing.

Why Experiential Avoidance Seems Like A Good Idea

Most of us do this kind of emotional side step, at least occasionally. Maybe, like Melanie, you feel skittish on airplanes, so you take the train instead. In the realm of physical objects, dodging situations associated with pain is a wonderfully effective strategy; it keeps us from pawing hot stovetops, swallowing tacks, and so on. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to psychological suffering? According to Hayes, it doesn’t. Experiential avoidance usually increases the hurt it is meant to eliminate.

Consider Melanie, who, quite understandably, wanted to steer clear of the awful sensation of being afraid. Every time she withdrew from a scary activity, she got a short-term hit of relief. But the calm didn’t last. Soon fear would invade the place to which Melanie had retreated—for example, she felt much better driving than flying for a little while, but it wasn’t long before she was as petrified in cars as airplanes. Drugs calmed her at first, but soon she became terrified of losing her supply. By the time we met, her determination to bypass anything scary had trapped her in a life completely shaped by fear.

The reason this happens, according to Hayes and other devotees of relational frame theory, is that Melanie’s brain works through forming connections and associations. So does yours. Your verbal mind is one big connection generator. Try this: Pick two unrelated objects that happen to be near you. Next answer this question: How are they alike? For instance, if the objects are a book and a shoe, you might say they’re alike because they both helped you get a job (by being educated and dressing well). Ta-da! Your book, your shoe, and your job are linked by a new neural connection in your brain. Now you’re more likely to think of all these things when you think of any given one.

This means that every time you avoid an event or activity because it’s painful, you automatically connect the discomfort with whatever you do instead. Suppose I’m having a terrible hair day, and to not feel that shame, I cancel a meeting with a client. Just thinking about that client brings on a pang of shame. If I watch a movie to distract myself, I may be hit with an unpleasant twinge just hearing the name of that movie. This happens with every form of psychological suffering we try to outrun. When we run from our feelings, they follow us. Everywhere. 

The Willingness Factor

In Hayes’s book Get Out of Your Mind & into Your Life, he suggests that we picture our minds as electronic gadgets with dials, like old-fashioned radios. One dial is labeled Emotional Suffering (Hayes actually calls it Discomfort). Naturally, we do everything we can to turn that dial to zero. Some people do this all their lives, without ever noticing that it never works. The hard truth is that we have no ultimate control over our own heartaches.

There’s another dial on the unit, but it doesn’t look very enticing. This one Hayes calls Willingness, though I think of it as Willingness to Suffer. It’s safe to assume that we start life with that dial set at zero, and we rarely see any reason to change it. Increasing our availability to pain, we think, is just a recipe for anguish soufflé.

Well, yes…except life, as Melanie so astutely commented, is dangerous. It’ll upset you every few minutes or so, sometimes mildly, sometimes apocalyptically. Since desperately twisting down the Emotional Suffering dial only makes things worse, Hayes suggests that we try something radical: Leave that dial alone—abandon all attempts to skirt unpleasant emotions—and focus completely on turning up our Willingness to Suffer.

What this means, in real-world terms, is that we stop avoiding experiences because we’re afraid of the unpleasant feelings that might come with them. We don’t seek suffering or take pride in it; we just stop letting it dictate any of our choices. People who’ve been through hell are often forced to learn this, which is why activist, cancer patient, and poet Audre Lorde wrote, “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Once we’re willing to confront our emotional suffering, we begin making choices based on attraction instead of aversion, love instead of fear. Where we used to think about what was “safe,” we now become interested in doing what seems right or fun or meaningful or ripe with possibilities. Ask yourself this: What would I do if I stopped trying to avoid emotional pain? Think of at least three answers (though 30 would be great and 300 even better).

Stick with this exercise until you get a glimmer of what life without avoidance would be like. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, Oh, the places you’d go! Oh, the people you’d meet, the food you’d eat, the jokes you’d tell, the clothes you’d wear, the changes you’d spark in the world!

The Consequences Of Willingness

What happens when we’re willing to feel bad is that, sure enough, we often feel bad—but without the stress of futile avoidance. Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests, and falls in a series of waves. Each wave washes parts of us away and deposits treasures we never imagined. No one would call it easy, but the rhythm of emotional pain that we learn to tolerate is natural, constructive, and expansive. It’s different from unwilling suffering the way the sting of disinfectant is different from the sting of decay; the pain leaves you healthier than it found you.

It took Melanie a huge leap of faith to accept this. She finally decided to turn up her Willingness to Suffer dial, simply because her Emotional Suffering levels were manifestly out of her control. She started by joining a yoga class, though the thought of it scared her witless. She found that her anxiety spiked, fluctuated, and gradually declined. Over the ensuing months, she entered therapy, traded her street-drug habit for prescribed medication, and found a new job. Melanie’s worry isn’t completely gone; it probably never will be. But that doesn’t matter much. She is willing to accept discomfort in the pursuit of happiness, and that means she’ll never be a slave to fear again.

To the extent that we reject anything we love solely because of what we fear, we’re all like Melanie. Find a place in your life where you’re practicing experiential avoidance, an absence where you wish there were something wonderful. Then commit to the process of getting it, including any inherent anxiety or sadness. Get on an airplane not because you’re convinced it won’t crash, but because meeting your baby niece is worth a few hours of terror. Sit on the beach with your mocha latte, humming the song you shared with your ex, and let grief wash through you until your memories are more sweet than bitter. Pursue your dreams not because you’re immune to heartbreak but because your real life, your whole life, is worth getting your heart broken a few thousand times.

When fear makes your choices for you, no security measures on earth will keep the things you dread from finding you. But if you can avoid avoidance—if you can choose to embrace experiences out of passion, enthusiasm, and a readiness to feel whatever arises—then nothing, nothing in all this dangerous world, can keep you from being safe. 

 

 

It Just Hurts

Recently I texted one of my brothers and invited him to a concert I thought he might enjoy.  He lives a distance from me and I don't see him very often.  I wanted a chance to connect over something fun and just hang out with him.  Its been 10 days and no reply.  

The first couple of days were easy cause I know he is a busy guy and George, my brain, kept saying "he will respond later".  By day 3, 4, 5 George was giving out messages that were not at all helpful and saying "how rude that he has not texted", "you don't need rude people in your life", "its his loss".  I noticed that George's messages were making me feel angry, frustrated and upset.  

With each passing day George's messages got louder and even entitled.  "Rosemary, you always remember your brother on his birthday and have made several attempts to reach out to him".   "You deserve better than this".  "People should be respectful and reply to invitations".  My mood grew heavier and nastier.  I noticed George's comment started to shift to attacking me, "told you nobody likes you", "your own family doesn't want to spend time with you, who were you kidding trying to make friends".  

I was sinking fast, and some old depressive feelings started setting in.  Being mindful of my feelings I knew it was time to thank George for his observations and take action.  I reached out to a few friends and acquaintances and started to book events and time with people. Scheduled a concert for December with some friends, scheduled dinner with some people I have not seen in a while, tried scheduling a game night with some other friends (that didn't work but they responded).  

In taking action I got out of my head and started gathering evidence that not everybody ignores me and that I can turn to people who do respond to invitations and who have time and energy in their life for me.  Having this information helps to reinforce the type of life I want ... a life filled with enjoyment, activity and people.  Action helped me turn from anger and just allow for the sadness of not having a relationship with my brother.       

Whatever my brother's reasons are for not responding are his own.  I suppose I could push back a bit - pick up the phone and ask him whats up.  But I know him well enough to know that he has felt pushed around a lot in his life.   I don't want to impose that on him and I'm noticing that my anger has just turned to a bit of pain.  It just hurts that my brother isn't too interested in hanging out.  It just hurts that he doesn't understand I need him in my life.  It just hurts.  

In the hurt space I'm more vulnerable more approachable.  Next time I see him at a family function I can honestly say "nice to see you bro" which is MUCH nicer than what I would say if I remained in the angry place and much truer to who I want to be in this thing called life.  

Famous Siblings 

Famous Siblings 

Gaslighting

7 Stages of Gaslighting in a Relationship

   “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth.” ―attributed to various sources

   “Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” —Paramahansa Yogananda

Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.

In its milder forms, gaslighting creates a subtle, but inequitable, power dynamic in a relationship, with the gaslightee subjected to the gaslighter’s unreasonable, rather than fact-based, scrutiny, judgment, or micro-aggression. At its worst, pathological gaslighting constitutes a severe form of mind-control and psychological abuse. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society.

Multiple studies and writings have focused on the phenomenon of gaslighting and its destructive impact.   Here are seven stages through which a pathological gaslighter dominates a victim (excerpted from my book, How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying). Depending on the situation, there may be variations in the order and the number of gaslighting stages involved:

1.  Lie and Exaggerate. The gaslighter creates a negative narrative about the gaslightee (“There’s something wrong and inadequate about you”), thereby putting the gaslightee on the defensive.

   “My wife is a pathetic loser, and she needs to know the truth.” ―Anonymous husband

   “The work your department does is a waste of time and resources. How do you even justify your employment?” ―Anonymous manager

   “I hate it when you put groceries on the checkout counter that way. I told you before I HATE it!” ―Mother to daughter at supermarket

2. Repetition. Like psychological warfare, the falsehoods are repeated constantly in order to stay on the offensive, control the conversation, and dominate the relationship.

3. Escalate When Challenged. When called on their lies, the gaslighter escalates the dispute by doubling and tripling down on their attacks, refuting substantive evidence with denial, blame, and more false claims (misdirection), sowing doubt and confusion.

   “When I caught my boyfriend sexting with someone, he flatly said it didn’t happen — that I imagined the whole thing. He called me a crazy b----.” ―Anonymous

4. Wear Out the Victim. By staying on the offensive, the gaslighter eventually wears down their victim, who becomes discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. The victim begins to question her or his own perception, identity, and reality.

5. Form Codependent Relationships. The Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as "excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner.” In a gaslighting relationship, the gaslighter elicits constant insecurity and anxiety in the gaslightee, thereby pulling the gaslightee by the strings. The gaslighter has the power to grant acceptance, approval, respect, safety, and security. The gaslighter also has the power (and often threatens to) take them away. A codependent relationship is formed based on fear, vulnerability, and marginalization.              

6. Give False Hope. As a manipulative tactic, the gaslighter will occasionally treat the victim with mildness, moderation, and even superficial kindness or remorse, to give the gaslightee false hope. In these circumstances, the victim might think: “Maybe he’s really not THAT bad,” “Maybe things are going to get better,” or “Let’s give it a chance.”

But beware! The temporary mildness is often a calculated maneuver intended to instill complacency and have the victim’s guard down before the next act of gaslighting begins. With this tactic, the gaslighter also further reinforces a codependent relationship.

7. Dominate and Control. At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a pathological gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual, or a group, or even an entire society. By maintaining and intensifying an incessant stream of lies and coercions, the gaslighter keeps the gaslightees in a constant state of insecurity, doubt, and fear. The gaslighter can then exploit their victims at will, for the augmentation of their power and personal gain.

Source: http://nipreston.com/new/publications/

Preston Ni is the author of (click on titles): How to Successfully Handle Gaslighters & Stop Psychological Bullying and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People.

  • About the Author

Preston Ni is a professor, presenter, private coach, and the author of Communication Success with Four Personality Types and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People.

 

Stress Reduction

Please Enjoy the Following from SHAPE:

20 Simple Stress Relief Techniques

You need relief! Stress relief, that is – and we 20 simple but highly effective stress reduction techniques that you can use, starting now.

1. Prep for tomorrow.

Nothing is more stressful than being unprepared. Get organized so you're ready for the next day, taking a few minutes to make a to-do list and clean up before you leave. Knowing you've got everything covered means you'll be less likely to fret about work in the evenings. When you come in the next morning, you'll have the sense that you're in control of the situation and can handle it. This sets a positive tone for the day, which can help you get more accomplished.

2. Arm yourself with healthy snacks.

According to an American Psychological Association (APA) survey, more women than men (one in three) turn to comfort food such as ice cream and cookies to ease stress. It's common for women to deny themselves favorite foods because they're trying to lose weight. But under stress, the urge for them becomes even stronger.
In fact, researchers at Montclair State University in New Jersey recently confirmed that dieters are more likely than non-dieters to overeat when under pressure, bingeing on the very same high-fat foods they normally try to avoid. The key is to not deprive yourself. Keep three or four healthy snacks on hand that you know you'll probably want--peanuts, if you like salty; string cheese, if you crave protein; a small piece of chocolate for something sweet--so you aren't tempted to binge.

3. Try a repeat performance.

Doing almost any routine, repetitive activity (like vacuuming, shredding paper or knitting), or reciting a word that represents how you wish you felt (such as calm) is a quick way to achieve a Zen-like state.
Studies show the effects lower blood pressure and slow heart rate and breathing. The crucial elements are to focus on a word, your breathing or a movement and to bring your attention back to your task if your mind wanders or negative thoughts intrude.
Or look to your faith for a mantra: A recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that repeating phrases with spiritual meanings helped participants cope with a range of problems, from anxiety to insomnia.

4. Use the proper hand washing technique.

When you're under pressure, you're more susceptible to cold viruses and other germs because your immune system is suppressed. Hand washing is your best defense. Lather up with soap and warm water for 10-20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday.

5. Turn on some tunes.

According to a recent study published in the British journal Heart, slow or meditative music is a proven stress buster, so set your dial to a soothing station during your commute.
And, if you're stuck in a traffic jam, sneak in this quick exercise: Grab your steering wheel and clench the muscles in your fingers, arms, shoulders and back. Do this until your muscles begin to tremble (about 45 seconds), then release. You'll produce a wave of relief in your upper neck and arms all the way down to your fingers. Just make sure your foot is on the brake when you let go of the wheel!

6. Use the ATM once.

Limiting your cash withdrawals to once a week is a quick, easy way to monitor your spending habits. Multiple trips to the ATM make it harder to track your money. If you put yourself on an allowance and pay cash for everything, you're more aware of what you're spending and more careful about what you buy.
And while thinking about your finances may be enough to send you over the edge, it turns out that getting them under control eases tension in the long run. (Money and work tied for first place as the leading sources of stress, according to an APA survey.)
When you have a weekend afternoon free, try this take-control move: Write everything down, so you can see exactly where you stand financially--what you owe, the amount of interest, your monthly income, your budget. Not facing what you're up against creates even more stress, because it's always in the back of your mind. But once you have the information down, you can begin setting concrete goals using real figures. And taking action will make you feel so much better.

7. Hit the pool!

A Swedish study published in the International Journal of Stress Management found that floating in water triggers the body's relaxation response, helping lower stress-hormone levels. Even better, nearly 80 percent of the subjects showed improvements such as feeling less tense and depressed.

8. Give your thumbs a rest.

Thanks to e-mail, cell phones, and BlackBerrys, it seems like your job never ends. The increasingly blurry boundaries between work and home life leave us with less downtime than ever before (and in some cases, no downtime!). Advances in technology are a leading source of chronic stress, putting many of us in a constant state of alert. Not to mention the effect it has on family ties.
A recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found a link between the use of cell phones and pagers at home and increased stress, which spills over into family life.
To make technology work for you, screen calls with caller ID or, better yet, limit your cell phone and e-mail use to working hours only. Can't kick the BlackBerry habit? Set a regular time you'll check it in the evening (say, after dinner), so you're not constantly disrupting home life to keep tabs on work.

9. Recall a past success.

Taking five minutes to reflect on how you pulled through other stressful situations like your last breakup or when you switched jobs can help you reconnect with your resilient side.
In the moment, it may feel as though you'll never get over your present problem, but when you look back, you realize that you felt similarly before and found a way to overcome it.
If you're going through a divorce or recently lost a loved one, you also may want to seek out a support group: Research on grieving presented by the Center for the Advancement of Health in Washington, D.C., suggests that talking with peers is even more beneficial than one-on-one counseling in the initial months after a loss.

10. Do yoga asanas in your pajamas.

A simple spinal twist can help you get a better night's sleep. It alleviates tension that's built up in your lower back throughout the day. Sitting on your bed with legs crossed, place your right hand down on the bed behind you and rest your left hand on your right knee. Sit up straight and inhale for four to eight counts, lengthening your spine as you breathe. On your exhale, begin to twist toward your right hand (don't strain your neck). Hold this position for four more full breaths, lengthening your spine on the inhales and deepening your twist on the exhales, if it feels comfortable. Repeat yoga asanas on opposite side.

11. Worry about one thing at a time.

Women worry more than men do. A study of 166 married couples who kept stress diaries for six weeks found that women feel stress more frequently than men because women tend to worry in a more global way.
Whereas a man might fret about something actual and specific—such as the fact that he's just been passed over for a promotion—a woman will tend to worry abstractly about her job, her weight, plus the well-being of every member of her extended family. Keep your anxiety focused on real, immediate issues, and tune out imagined ones or those over which you have zero control, and you'll automatically reduce stress overload.

12. Focus on your senses a few minutes a day.

For a few minutes a day, practice being mindful—focusing only on what's going on in the present —whether it's during your workout or taking a break from your work. Try taking a short walk and instead of thinking about what's worrying you, pay attention to your senses—what you see, feel, hear, smell. This can make a huge difference in your emotional and physical well-being when done daily.

13. Talk about—or write out—what's worrying you.

Writing or talking about the things that prey on you—in a diary, with friends, in a support group or even a home computer file—helps you feel less alone and helpless.
One study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at people who had either rheumatoid arthritis or asthma— conditions known to be stress-sensitive. One group chronicled in a perfunctory manner the things they did each day. The other group was asked to write daily about what it was like, including fears and pain, to have their disease. What researchers found: People who wrote at length about their feelings had far fewer episodes of their illness.

14. Be faithful to your workout routines, no matter how stressed or busy you are.

Working out is one of the most effective stress relievers. Researchers recently found that after spending 30 minutes on a treadmill, their subjects scored 25 percent lower on tests that measure anxiety and showed favorable changes in brain activity. If you only have time to do one thing for yourself, make it sticking to your workout routines. If you can't hit the gym or trails, even a brisk 30-minute walk at lunch or getting up several times a day to stretch and walk around will help relieve stress.

15. Take time to be touched.

Experts haven't figured out why having your body pressed and prodded works wonders, but they know that it does. Studies suggest massage can speed up weight gain in premature babies, improve lung function in asthmatics and boost immunity in men with HIV. If you can't indulge in regular full-body massages, treat yourself to the occasional pedicure, manicure or facial—all nurturing, hands-on treats that offer some of the benefits of massage.

16. Speak a stress-free language.

People who handle stress well tend to employ what stress experts call an "optimistic explanatory style." They don't beat themselves up when things don't work out in their favor.
So instead of using statements that catastrophize an incident, like "I'm a complete failure," they might say to themselves, "I need to work on my backhand." Or they'll transfer blame to an external source. Rather than saying, "I really blew that presentation," it's, "That was a tough group to engage."
Replace the word "expect" with "hope." Expectations can only be used for those things over which you have the greatest personal control. You can expect to quench your thirst with a drink of water. You cannot expect to get the job you just interviewed for. You can hope to get it.

17. Don't be so serious.

There's nothing like anxiety to annihilate your sense of humor. It would follow, then, that it's impossible to feel stressed when you're hunched over in a fit of giggles. Studies have shown, in fact, that laughter not only relieves tension, but actually improves immune function. Swap jokes with your friends. Rent a funny movie. Stop taking things so seriously!

18. Once a day, get away.

When you're having a hell of a day—good or bad—checking out for 10-15 minutes is revitalizing. Find a place where you can be alone (and definitely ditch the cell phone)—the attic, the bathroom, a quiet cafe, a big oak tree—and wipe the slate clean for a few minutes. Do whatever it is that relaxes you: Meditate, read a novel, sing or sip tea. It's crucial to take just a few minutes everyday to de-stress. It's not how much time you allot, but being consistent that's important.

19. Identify at least one good thing that happened today.

It's a scenario played out every evening all over the country: Come home from work and start venting to your spouse or roommate about your day. Instead of creating a negative atmosphere the minute you walk in the door, try starting off the evening with your family or friends by exchanging good news. Something good every day, you just need to recognize it.

20. Take the stress in and release it.

Literally embrace whatever it is you're going through and then let it go. Try doing a tai chi exercise known as "embracing the tiger," where you take your arms, spread them wide, put your hands together and then draw them—and everything around you—toward your navel, the center of your being. Doing this allows you to take the good with the bad. Then reverse your hands and push them out, releasing your tension. When you can control stress, it can no longer control you.

Copied from SHAPE Blog