Processing Thoughts and Emotions

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

A Feeling Is Not Necessarily Reality

Our feelings about situations or relationships can be misleading yet we often base our understanding of reality on a feeling we have. Shift your thinking to the data. Does it prove your feeling is right or does the data offer up a shadow of doubt? If you feel your friend doesn’t like you ask yourself why. What tells you your friend doesn’t like you? Is it because she hasn’t called in awhile? Do you know why she hasn’t called? Probably not. You are likely starting to build a case for your feeling but it’s based on assumptions and skewed data in an unwise attempt to prove your theory. Be very careful how you read into information. Step back and take on a neutral stance. Then sort through the data. Also, it helps to contact those involved, in this case the friend, and ask. We have a tendency to create stories without checking our facts.

Categories: awareness, Growth, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Leave a comment

How To Deal With Worry

toilet paperThere’s lots to worry about right now and if we aren’t careful those worries will swallow us up. The run on toilet paper got me thinking about humans’ thinking process. I have toilet paper. Not a stockpile, the leftovers from my last purchase several weeks ago. But now, I WANT toilet paper. I feel the fear settling in, “Oh my gosh there’s no toilet paper! Will we run out?” and I want more toilet paper. I want to be sure I don’t end up without it. If I let this scarcity/panic side of my brain take over I will become animalistic in my search for toilet paper. I really don’t want to sink to that level. I have paid far too much money for therapy to literally flush it down the toilet. So what do we do? For starters, recognize your thoughts and walk yourself through the following thought and emotion processing technique:

  1. What are you thinking?
  2. What are the accompanying emotions?
  3. Identify your thoughts that are based in reality and those that are based on a created story.
  4. Throw out anything that isn’t beyond-a-shadow-of-reasonable-doubt true.
  5. Now what do you feel? Acknowledge the emotion for a few minutes.
  6. Take a few deep breath cycles, look at nature, and let the emotion go or just know it’s there but not let it capture all of your attention.
  7. Regarding the situation, where do you have control that is healthy, legal and wise?
  8. Do what you can.
  9. Get in some good, healthy, legal and wise self-care.

For my toilet paper scenario, here’s what I did (and am doing as it tends to crop up now and then…this isn’t a once and done practice, it’s a rinse and repeat practice):

  1. I’m thinking I don’t have enough toilet paper because there’s none on the store shelves and everyone is talking about a toilet paper shortage.
  2. I feel anxiety about not having enough toilet paper and confusion about why this is happening…where did all the toilet paper go?
  3. The true and real thoughts are: There’s no toilet paper at the stores I have been to or online. Even the horrible but eco-friendly Who Gives A Crap toilet paper is gone. (I bought a case of that awhile ago. I’m so sorry. I really want to be good to the environment but that is the worst toilet paper ever!). The made up, not true, future-tripping, created story thoughts are: I’m going to run out of toilet paper. I don’t really know this will happen. It could happen but hasn’t and likely won’t for a few weeks. If it does happen we can figure something out.
  4. I don’t need to focus on the coulds because they aren’t in the present and it’s not going to help me at all to focus on this particular could. I’m throwing those thoughts away – figuratively of course!
  5.  Now I feel a little nervous about toilet paper but not panicky.
  6. I’m breathing in “It’s going to be ok” and breathing out “Let it go” (the toilet-paper-fear that is)!
  7. My healthy, legal and wise control is to use our toilet paper responsibly, let go of the toilet paper panic, don’t get caught in the herd mentality, stay aware of my thoughts and keep shushing the crazy-making toilet paper voice.
  8. I’m doing it right now, #7 that is.
  9. I’m going for my daily walk as soon as I finish this post.

For more help on getting control of your thoughts and emotions go to my website 🙂

Categories: awareness, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Embracing Reality

Do you remember a time when you did not prepare adequately for something that resulted in a negative experience and then you spiraled into a pool of shame? I do! I’m an Adjunct Professor for Dr. John Townsend’s Masters in Counseling graduate school at Concordia University in Irvine CA. Recently, I was teaching a live class and couldn’t get a video I wanted to show to work. I did not prepare, I just assumed I would have no problem.

After class I started beating myself up for not having taken the time to prepare the video for class. I went into an accurate yet harsh spiral that moved into an inaccurate and harsh spiral. I could feel all of this icky energy in my stomach and hearing the message, “You should not be a professor! You are not good enough for this task!” I felt the all too familiar pull toward a shame spiral over it.

Eventually I also employed skills to battle the spiral. I reminded myself that I was using a harsh voice. The truth is I wasn’t prepared and it took away from valuable class time. The harshness came from a meanness toward myself which then shifted to inaccurate shaming statements that I shouldn’t be teaching and that I’m not good enough. I made a mistake, yes, but that is not a definition of who I am.

I didn’t magically feel better after battling the shameful harsh judge inside of me, but I did stop the powerful avalanche of all the ways I fail from dislodging and suffocating me. The next day, I shared this experience with my husband and later a trusted group of women (we had scheduled this gathering weeks before-I’m so grateful for God’s perfect timing!). It felt good to speak it aloud and also hear their encouragement. We all need it!

This reminds me of the power of Dr. Townsend’s book, People Fuel. We need others to hear our hurts and help us activate our healthy coping skills. Our healing journey is just that, an ongoing journey. For me to ignore or dismiss the disappointment I felt would only set me up for further damage and deny my actual experience. That denial would lead to stuffing my authentic experience and pretending I was fine. This pretending leads to disconnection with others because I then project the “I’m perfect” facade and no one can relate to that. The disconnection with others leads to unhealthy behaviors like quitting things I love after making a mistake (I have a history of doing this!). Instead, I embrace my reality because it gives me an opportunity to choose community over isolation, healthy over unhealthy, and growth over stagnation. This embracing also reminds me that perfection is unachievable and never what God intended. 🙂

Categories: Acceptance, awareness, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, integration, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Leave a comment

Tips From The Journey Forward Workbook: Processing Thoughts & Emotions

When we are willing to take the time to process through our emotions and thoughts, we give ourselves a gift. It’s the gift of time before reacting. So often we react instantaneously without slowing down and thinking through what’s going on within ourselves. The very first step in processing thoughts and emotions is from Tip #1: Awareness. You have to know what you are feeling and thinking in order to process them.

The process is fairly basic. Identify your thoughts and emotions. Understand how they are connected. Put your thoughts through the fact-checker filter. If it’s not based on fact and is a created story, it’s generally best to let go of the thought. If the thought is based in truth and reality, allow yourself to feel the accompanying emotion for a time. Find out where you have some responsibility or power regarding the situation and take appropriate action (keep it healthy, legal and wise!). If there’s not much you can do, enact self care (again, keep it healthy, legal and wise!).

To learn more, check out the Journey Forward Workbook. Another option is the Journey Forward Workbook Video Series designed for those who prefer an audio/visual presentation of the information in the Workbook. It will be available very soon on my website: Journey Forward for Life. If you want to get on my email list and find out as soon as it’s available click the “Sign Up Now’ button.

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Categories: Journey Forward Workbook, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Self-Help | Leave a comment

Unwanted Thoughts And Emotions

What to do about those unwanted thoughts or emotions? It’s crucial that you first understand what you are feeling or thinking. After naming it, find connections to help you understand why you are thinking or feeling what you are. Here’s an example: if you are feeling fear, what is the fear reacting to? Perhaps you just heard about impending layoffs at work and you’re not sure if you’re going to lose your job? It makes sense to feel fear when you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Now that you know what it is and why it’s there, you can work to change it. How will you benefit by continuing to feel the fear? Perhaps it will help you do your job well. Maybe it will help you update or start your resume, to begin thinking about the possibility of a job change for yourself. Think of channeling that fear energy into doing the things you can to prepare yourself, just in case.

Next, focus on the thoughts that led to fear. It’s likely something along the lines of, “and I’m going to lose my job.” What do you know is true and real beyond a shadow of doubt? Perhaps you received a memo from HR that announced upcoming layoffs. All you know is you received that memo. That’s it. You know nothing more so don’t add to the story: “Oh my gosh! I’m going to be laid off, I’m not going to be able to find another job and I’ll be living under a bridge.” You don’t know that won’t ever happen, but you also don’t know it will. You don’t have any data to support this. Have people lost jobs and ended up homeless? Yes. Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it will happen to you? No.

When you put your thoughts through this test, it helps to minimize the emotion that is connected to the thought. Now you can free up some mental and physical space to work on your resume, just in case. It’s ok to prepare for the worst while acknowledging you don’t really know what will happen.

You will likely need to go through the process again and again of asking what is true and real about your thoughts on this very same issue. I like to say, “rinse and repeat” because our thoughts have a way of going back to square one. Just recognize what you are thinking and feeling, and repeat the process.

Categories: Acceptance, awareness, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Leave a comment

Storm In Your Life?

My neighbor has a home in Morehead City, NC. A fun little beach cottage she and her husband just finished remodeling and it sits right in the path of Hurricane Florence. We chatted at the mailbox last night about holding things loosely and doing the next right thing. Often when faced with some sort of adversity we may freak out, which doesn’t really help us at all. Other times we may try not being bothered in the least, which isn’t actually real. Either option is an extreme and extremes don’t tend to be beneficial.

So what does balanced look like? It’s when we are aware of the emotional impact of whatever is happening but we don’t allow the situation to own us. In my neighbor’s case, she feels the sadness of what might happen but recognizes she doesn’t actually know yet so she is holding some hope that perhaps things will be fine and if not she will then deal with it. Her words, “I’m taking the next right step.”

Closer to home, Anna (my daughter) is going through chronic rejection of her transplanted lungs. I’m focusing on what we know now: she’s fine, she’s humming along living her life even though she is well aware her lungs are failing. This is a slow progression for the time being so no action is necessary at this time. Anna understands this balance of living in reality but not letting her emotions take control. From her blog post in July:

“…yet as with all my fears they turn out to be not so bad and the things that suck are things I never really saw coming.  Trust me I know from experience God really meant it when he said “DO NOT BE AFRAID”. There really is no point, it does nothing but get us all worked up, steal our present moments and lock us in a box of fear.  Everything I have ever been afraid of happening that has happened was actually okay, there was no reason to get all worked up.  And yet God also knew what he was doing when he said it over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over …. okay you get the point. Not being afraid is something I have to constantly remind myself.  My latest mantra is the little bit of the song “don’t worry, about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna be alright” and it is true!”

“Every little thing is gonna be alright” doesn’t mean everything will turn out as we want it to, but whatever it is, we can grow through it step by step.

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

You Have The Power To Endure

I frequently talk about Viktor Frankl with my clients. He survived Nazi concentration camps from 1942-1945. His freedom came when his camp was liberated at the end of World War II. A Psychiatrist, he was intrigued by the motivations and actions of himself, fellow prisoners and guards in this unplanned and unwanted research experiment. After the war, he turned his discovery of the power human beings possess to survive horrific experiences into a therapeutic method: Logotherapy.

In the most unlikely of places, Dr. Frankl made a decision to be the best prisoner he could be. He didn’t execute this perfectly as he admits in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning but his intention gave him purpose and the will to surviveHe reasoned if he was able to do this in a concentration camp, then anyone can. As human beings, we have the ability to choose our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes.

My circumstances are not even remotely as challenging as Dr. Frankl’s. Still, I recognize I have the same choices. In simple trivial situations like driving behind a slow vehicle I can get upset about it or relax, recognizing I have no power over the driver. I only have power over myself. I know that unhealthy, illegal and unwise decisions will have a negative impact on me and potentially others so I choose to breathe, be calm, and recognize that my impatience is likely my own responsibility for not leaving enough time for the inevitable slow driver, accident or heavy traffic.

The same goes for the more painful situations in my life. It’s important to note, this doesn’t mean I pretend to be fine. Oh, no! We must be real about the emotions we have in all situations whether trivial or intense. Acknowledge your emotions, understand why you feel what you do, validate your emotions then have a conversation with yourself about what to do. I go into this process in greater length here and here.

Remember, you have the power to decide what you think, feel, say and do in all situations. No one decides that for you.

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Doing and Feeling Balance

Vintage balanceI took a break from everything for a few days over the holidays. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened and it felt awesome! I had to pick up a few dropped pieces afterwards but it was still worth it. Life can get so busy sometimes it’s easy to forget to just be, not do. Sometimes life is so painful we avoid the being so we don’t have to feel; the doing serves as a painkiller of sorts. Some days we need more being and feeling. Some days we need a break from the feeling. Too much feeling can overwhelm us.

Find the balance that works for you of feeling and doing. Everyone is different. Our needs vary. I need a lot of being and feeling. I need time to just sit and ponder. In that space emotion rises to the surface. I identify it, understand it, sit with it, decide what I want to do because of it, then let it go ~ until the next time it shows up. Then I go through the same process. The more I allow myself to intentionally be with my emotions, processing them not just swirling in them haphazardly, the less control my emotions have over me.

Make time to find your balance between doing and feeling.

Categories: Acceptance, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, self care, Self-Help | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

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