emotions

The Truth About Emotional Health: Part 1

Want to know the truth about emotional health? I think we all want to know what we can do to have it and keep it. No one really enjoys being in an emotional spiral or even an emotional swirl. We like it best when we are stable, when life around us is stable, and we have a sense of all is well. Unfortunately, that is not reality. And that is the first truth.

Accepting the hard moments or hard days is necessary for experiencing emotional health. Emotional health is not synonymous with emotional neutrality. Living in a narrow range of emotion with no high or low is denying reality. Life is full of pain, hardship, uncertainty, disappointment as well as exuberance, explosive joy, and celebration. Actually feeling the rhythms of life is not being bipolar. If you find yourself so low you cannot get out of bed for several days in a row and at others so high you don’t sleep at night for several days in a row while rearranging your home for instance, it’s possible you are bipolar and you may need an evaluation. The normal highs and lows of life however are not a cause for alarm. But many of us don’t like those highs and lows. What’s your alternative? To live in a restricted response to life around you and that is not emotional health. You are stunting your true experience. 

To enlist the first truth of emotional health, start noticing what you are feeling. Allow the feeling to be there for as long as you are comfortable with it. Name it. Are you feeling sad, discouraged, disgusted, pissed off, concerned, unsure, afraid, content, excited…? Notice the full expression of the emotion in your body not just the cognition of it. If you are feeling pissed off, what does it feel like in your body? Be aware of its physical sensation. Simply let it be there. You don’t need to do anything with it, just notice and let it pass, like a wave.

For some, allowing emotion to be fully experienced is unsettling and may even trigger such an extreme connection that you feel out of control, like the emotion is going to take you over. If that’s the case, don’t feel it. Shut it down. Anchor yourself to the given moment: My feet are touching the ground, I can see the clock on the wall, I hear it ticking, I am right here in this room. Then, find a good counselor to help you with processing your emotion.

Sometimes, especially with sadness tied to grief and loss, it feels so strong that we cannot sleep well or we sleep too much, our appetite changes, our interest in things we once enjoyed disappears, we have lethargy, maybe even an increase in anger. These are all signs of depression. Depression can be situational: I lost my job, I’m going through a breakup or divorce, my child died, I have cancer. It can also be a physiological issue in your brain. For both, see a counselor and a medical provider. You may benefit from working through the situation with a counselor and taking medication, either to help you through a really challenging time or to help balance your body’s chemical production. 

To sum up this truth: feeling deep feelings is normal, being neutral all the time is not emotional health. Sometimes we do feel too deeply and we can serve ourselves well to get that checked out by a counselor and a medical provider. If looking for a counselor, check out your insurance for covered providers or PsychologyToday.com. You can put in parameters for location, insurance they take, therapy techniques they use, and more. 

If you can’t wait for the rest of this series, check out my book: The Journey Forward Workbook: Daily Steps to Achieve Emotional Balance and Healthier Relationships or my course The Journey Forward Workbook Series

Categories: Acceptance, awareness, Emotional Healing, emotions, Growth, Journey Forward Workbook, Recovery, Self-Help, The Truth About Emotional Health | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving in the Midst of the Pandemic

For those of you who read my blog regularly I have no explanation for why I haven’t written a post in a long while. I just didn’t feel like it. That’s all. Some days…or months! are like that. We are all doing well, including Anna.

Thanksgiving in the US is tomorrow. Normally my family has a large gathering. This year it is not happening. I know this is the case for many others. Our plans have changed in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We are also trying to be mindful of the impact this pandemic is having on many medical facilities. Given all that, what can we do to honor the reality of the changes this year while still celebrating the holiday?

I think it’s helpful to be aware of what you are feeling and why. This is not new to anyone who reads this blog. I frequently write about the importance of awareness: knowing what you are thinking as well as what you feel physically and emotionally. Stuffing our feelings inside does not taste nearly as good as the stuffing we shove inside a turkey! It might make the moment easier but in the long run you are setting yourself up for some kind of unhealthy leakage or explosion. I know this first hand 😉

So start by honoring your true experience but not letting it dominate you. You notice what you are thinking and feeling. You find the parts of your thinking that are based on made up stories or predictions i.e., “We’ll never have another family gathering!”, “Thanksgiving is ruined forever!”, “This pandemic is never going to end!” Those predictions could come true but we don’t know for certain. All we know right now is it is safest to limit our gatherings, our usual Thanksgiving traditions will need to be altered, and we are living in the midst of a pandemic. Keep your thoughts reigned in to what is true. The truth is painful enough for us. We certainly don’t do ourselves any good by adding the emotionally crushing predictions.

Next, consider what you are grateful for. When the pilgrims celebrated their first harvest celebration, they had already endured tremendous hardship, illness, and loss. Sometimes the less we have, the more grateful we can become. The little things begin to take on more meaning. Many of us have a roof over our head, food to eat, and technology that allows face to face communication. We can step back and be grateful for those. We can look around us, at nature, the sky, sun, moon and starts and marvel at their beauty. Take a moment, breathe as deeply and slowly as you can, and soak in the beauty…the gratefulness. Let this moment bathe you and nourish your soul. Carry it with you and share it with others.

Categories: Acceptance, awareness, COVID-19, emotions, Growth, holidays, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery | Tags: | 4 Comments

You Always Have A Choice

Some might disagree with my title. That’s OK. I believe no matter what is happening to or around us, we can choose how we will respond. As we enter into a Presidential election here in the States, it’s easy to allow other’s words or actions dictate our words and actions. You have more power than that.

I like to start with breathing. Slow your breathing down. Let your exhale be longer than your inhale for a few breath cycles. Begin to notice what you are feeling emotionally and physically. Notice your thoughts. Allow the situation to just “be” without having to judge the situation or act on it. Just pause, breathe, and notice.

After a few minutes, consider if there is any action you still want to take. Standing up for something you believe in is healthy but not if it is meant to be intentionally hurtful to another. That’s retaliation. I generally don’t think retaliation comes from a centered, grounded place inside. I think of it as a reactionary way to hurt another because you believe they hurt you. If it’s retaliatory, go back through the breathing, non-judgmental, non-reactive, just be with it place. Give it some time. Perhaps you will change your mind and find a healthier step you choose to take.

Categories: Acceptance, awareness, emotions, Growth, integration, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships | 1 Comment

Done With This?

Tired of the same story new day theme we are living right now? Even with some areas loosening restrictions, most of the loosening (if you even have that) isn’t different from what we’ve been doing. We’re still being guided to wear masks, limit outings, and minimize contact with others. Personally, I’m over it. While I understand the necessity of this (after all my daughter who is in the at-risk group lives with us) I just don’t see how the shut downs are a long term solution. Even as a short term solution this has been devastating for so many across the globe. This simply isn’t sustainable. In my mind, we’re done. We’re not doing it anymore. But in reality, I have to abide by the rules. This creates conflict.

What do we do when our mind wants one thing and reality dictates another? We wrestle until we give up. Think of a two year old who wants her way. The caregiver says, “No” and follows through. The two year old throws a fit on the ground until she’s worn out and stops protesting. Then the caregiver gently pulls this pile-of-a-spent-tantrum child into her arms with a soothing voice, “It’s so hard when you really want something but can’t have it…” Brushing tear soaked strands of hair away from tear stained eyes. Caressing this spent child’s chubby cheeks and sealing it all with a sweet kiss.

I’m not two and there’s no one to really hold me like that. But I need it and you probably do, too. What do we do? When all else fails, we have to give this acceptance to ourselves. Try a visualization. Allow yourself to have that temper tantrum. Feel the anger and sadness all wrapped up in a powerful force. Cry if you need to, scream in your mind or into a pillow. Flail in the safety of your bed or in your mind if you don’t have that luxury. When the fit is over, cradle yourself in your arms. When I do this, I usually see God inviting me up into His lap. He gently envelops me in his powerful arms and soothes me. That might not be what works for you. Find a loving figure or your adult self and see them holding you, soothing you. Take a deep breath expanding your entire chest cavity. Exhale long and slow. Let it all out. Repeat. Let your body relax. Now go do something good for yourself that is healthy, legal and wise 🙂

Categories: COVID-19, emotions, integration, self care, Self-Help | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

When Little Things Mean A Lot

When really awful things are happening, sometimes little comforts make a big difference. People are struggling. They are starving, homeless, isolated, and sick. And yet, I felt disappointed when our crabapple tree blossoms succumbed to a recent spring freeze. On one hand it seemed myopic and childish to feel so sad. People are fighting to live. Not seeing crabapple blossoms is nothing compared to that. I get it, I do. I also believe we need to honor even the little things.

I love spring and everything that represents it. The warmer temperatures, longer days, and many blossoms that grace the stage for a handful of days fill my soul. When I saw the brown bits on the ground below the crabapple tree, I realized they were the life-cut-short embryonic buds of my treasured flowers. Their beauty will never be seen, their fragrance will never fill the air. Maybe they represent more than just a passage of seasons. Maybe for me, this year, they represent the hope of better days to come…for all of us.

I know, that sounds dramatic. After all, they are just flowers. I care far more about people and their plight of survival; however, for a moment, I will feel the sadness of this loss. I will grieve the absence of their beauty and heart-warming scent. I will take a deep fragrance-less breath and as I exhale I will remember all the good that still exists. I will do this because I believe the act of grieving, even the little things, ultimately frees me to move forward in life and show up in the midst of the big things.

Categories: Acceptance, awareness, COVID-19, emotions, Self-Help | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Just Keep Swimming 2

In December of 2017 I wrote a post with the same title. At that time, my daughter Anna had discovered she had both acute and chronic rejection of her transplanted lungs. Chronic rejection led to her need for new lungs this past fall…again! So much of my life in the last six and a half years has been affected by Anna’s declining health, transplants, hospitalizations and unknowns. Today, I’m kind of tired of the unknowns as I sit in this added unknown of COVID 19. I don’t know about you, but right in this moment, I’m over it. Can we just be done? Oh! That’s right, NO! We don’t get to decide that.

I kind of want to have a temper tantrum. I feel two years old and part of me wants to kick and scream on the floor until I get my way. Just a part of me wants to do that. I’m not totally down. In fact, my day started out really well. I was productive. I had a meeting with a client and then I participated in a planning group for an organization I volunteer with. Activities that fill me. But then I sat down and thought about what I wanted to write for this blog post and this is what’s coming out.

I’m thinking this is how a lot of you are feeling, too. Some moments are fine, some are great and some suck! Yes? The stay-in-place extension may be taking its toll. We sometimes cling to a number. “I can do this until April 12.” But when April 12 comes and goes and we are still confined to our homes it can feel depressing. Are you feeling that, too?

There’s no magic. There’s no healthy formula to not feel depressed or sad or mad. In fact, I believe ignoring our emotions will take its toll at some point during our lives. It’s best to honor your emotion. Let the tears roll down your cheeks or have a safe temper tantrum on your bed. Tell a friend or family member how you are feeling. Then, find something you can do that feels good to you. I have a cleaning project I’d like to tackle (not the most fun but it will feel good to get it done).

We can do this. We can take it breath by breath, emotion by emotion. I hear Dory from Finding Nemo sweetly reminding us, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” So that’s what we will do.

Categories: Acceptance, COVID-19, Depression, emotions, Self-Help | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Power Over Circumstances

From certain angles the pandemic and its effects are just too much to deal with. It seems you have no choice but to succumb to the despair. That’s one view. What we know about humans is we have the ability to look at the exact same situation and see a variety of realities all occurring at the same time. With this ability comes choice and hope.

What can you do to get out of despair or protect yourself from falling down that slippery slope?

Enlist your ability to choose and have power over your circumstances: 

You get to decide the view you want. You can look at the circumstances around you and see all the bad or you can look for the good. Maybe you have COVID-19, feel miserable and are quarantined. The good here is if you are reading this it tells me you have internet access and a device to stay connected to others. You likely have shelter, too. What else can you come up with that is positive?

You can choose the attitude you want to have. You can be grouchy or kind. This doesn’t mean ignore your true emotional experience. If you feel mad, sad or angry, give yourself space to feel the emotion. Go through the emotion processing technique I wrote about last week. Then decide if you want to move toward a more peaceful state.

Engage in activities that elicit joy or at the very least busy your mind so you don’t swirl in the negative. This can be simple like going outside and listening to the birds or more complex like cleaning out your closet. Finding a way to volunteer or help others can also do a lot to move you to sense of purpose which helps with feeling more peace within.

One of my favorite reads related to choice is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. He found purpose and choice as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. If he mustered up the ability to choose in those dire circumstances, we can, too!

If gaining Power Over Circumstances is a challenge for you, join me for an interactive online workshop this Monday April 6 7-8:30p MDT for $20. Enrollment limited to 20 people. Click here to sign up.

Categories: Acceptance, emotions, Growth, integration, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stay Away From Panic

The stock marketing is taking a dive and COVID-19 is spreading. It’s easy to get caught in the panic. Panic has never made anything better. It doesn’t feel good internally, it doesn’t help us think clearly, and it doesn’t have the power to change anything. When you find your thoughts ruminating on one topic that sends you into anxiety, it’s important to take control.

There’s another approach when bad things are happening and that’s to ignore them completely. I like to think of this as sticking your head in the sand and pretending everything’s fine. You are completely disconnecting from reality and it’s not a healthy response either.

We have panic on one end and ignoring on the other. The best place to be is somewhere in the middle. You are aware of what’s happening but not owned by it. You prepare as you can without going overboard. Don’t spend all day watching the news or reading everything you can get your hands on. Check on things now and then, but spend most of your day doing what you used to do like work, study, be with friends and family, read something enjoyable, go for a walk, prepare and eat meals, clean, shower, sleep. In general, take care of yourself and don’t get swept up in the panic.

Have you heard the phrase “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off”? When I was young I had friends who lived on a farm. One time when I was there they butchered a chicken for dinner. They chopped its head off and it ran around for awhile without any direction what so ever. It’s a visual of panic. We’re running around in a frenzy but the rational part of our brain is not engaged. We are controlled purely by the emotional part.

Put your head back on. It’s really hard and sometimes impossible to do on your own when you reach full panic mode. It’s best not to let yourself get there. Start practicing now. When it comes to things that are not completely within your power to stop, find out what you can do that is healthy, legal and wise. Take time periodically throughout your day to breathe deeply a few times. With each exhale feel the tension in your muscles loosen. This will allow more oxygen to get to your brain so you can think more clearly and stay away from panic.

 

 

Categories: Acceptance, awareness, emotions, self care, Self-Help | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Sorrow And Celebration

After 25 days in the hospital for her double lung transplant, Anna was discharged! I don’t say, “Anna went home” because home is in CO and she can’t go home until she has fully recovered. She went to our apartment in Durham. It’s our cozy ‘home’ here. People in the Duke Lung Transplant Program refer to home as their Durham home and home-home as the place where they lived before coming here. People come from all over the world to receive a life saving lung transplant at Duke University Hospital. One of Anna’s transplant buddies is from Israel!

This journey, while a tremendous gift, has not been easy. Anna battles feeling discouraged. At 28, she wants to live a “normal” life. She wants to be like most 28 year olds: healthy, finding meaningful work, living on her own, dating, getting married, having children, enjoying time with friends…While she is grateful for this chance to live, at times it’s hard to keep her perspective on the good.

A reality for humans is having sorrow and celebration all mixed together as we travel through life. It’s healthy for us to allow ourselves to sit in the sad space at times. It’s part of grieving our losses. The things we don’t have in the moment are real and it’s important to acknowledge that. It is also important to remember the good. I find it helpful to keep the two in my mind at the same time rather than all one or the other. As I grieve a loss, I visualize the good, too. Neither one discounts the other, they are simply allowed to be in the same sphere of acknowledgement. It helps to bring balance to sorrow and celebration. 🙂

Categories: Acceptance, Anna the lemon, awareness, Emotional Healing, emotions, Growth, Healing, integration, Recovery | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Anna Got Her Transplant!

The wee hours of October 8 marked the beginning of Anna’s eight hour surgery to replace her first set of gently used lungs with the precious lungs of another family’s lost loved one. For Anna, it was exciting and terrifying all mixed together. She is still in the ICU healing and getting better in different ways every day. It’s a bit of a roller coaster trying to balance the medications they are giving her for pain, keeping fluid off the lungs while also keeping her blood pressure stable. The bottom line is, she’s doing well. Anna told me last night that this transplant is way better than the last one. 🙂

My mental health tidbit for this post is, it’s so important to let our feelings have a healthy outlet. This is an emotionally and physically exhausting adventure for all concerned. The most challenging job is Anna’s. While on the ventilator she had to calm herself down so she wouldn’t be constantly fighting the breathing tube. She has hallucinations. She knows it. So she talks herself down from whatever the hallucinations might be telling her or simply reminds herself, “Yeah, this isn’t real. Random people are not hanging out in the corner of my room singing to me.” 😊

A few nights ago I noticed myself getting really snippy with my husband and he totally did not deserve it! The next morning I took time for myself doing yoga, spending sweet time with God, and soaking in a bit of peace and sun outside. I felt the rise of tears but they disappeared. I started texting a friend and the tears started to roll down my cheeks. Yay! I needed this. I cried and cried. My friend called me and I cried with her for a bit. It felt so good just to let all the built up emotions out. I had spent the last six days being strong, holding it together, staying positive. That’s an important part of this process: the ability to contain when necessary but also the ability to let the emotions out in a safe space. I felt teary most of the morning. It was hard to shut down the faucet but eventually it ran dry. By the afternoon I was feeling grounded and clear again. I don’t feel so exhausted either. A good cry goes a long way!

Anna and me. I’m all gowned up to protect her.

On a walk the day after transplant! Her dad is the photo bomber in the background!

 

Categories: Anna the lemon, awareness, emotions, lung transplant, self care, Self-Help | Tags: | 4 Comments

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