Three mindfulness exercises to use right now to quiet your mind and focus your attention

One of the reasons mindfulness is used is to get yourself calm. If you are a person with a lot of anxiety, your anxiety might get in your way of handling problems, thinking clearly, or addressing something with your full attention.

Mindfulness is one way to lower emotional arousal, center yourself, and help you get back on track. When emotional arousal returns to baseline, accessing the problem solving part of your brain becomes easier.

1)   Inhale to the count of one, exhale to the count of two. Keep going until you get to the bottom of six. Start over. Do this for about three minutes. If you get lost or distracted simply start over. The point is to have something to focus your attention on; which helps cut the distractions of your mind.

2)   Trace your hand. Inhale on the way to the tips of your fingers, exhale on the way to the crevice. This can be done with pen/ pencil on paper or with the finger of the opposite hand. This is a tactile way to “trace” your breath and focus your mind. Keep your attention on your breath.

3)   Pause for three minutes and focus your attention entirely on sound. Try to tune in to every possible nuance of sound. See what you can hear that you typically don’t pay attention to. If your mind drifts, bring it gently back to the experience of hearing.

Is someone you love in extreme emotional distress?

Did you miss the teleseminar in February on

How to Be Around People in Extreme Emotional Distress? 

If so, make sure you sign up for my mailing list so you can be alerted to upcoming classes for April, May, and June of 2014.

Online classes cost about the same as an insurance co-pay, are packed with information, and present opportunities to listen live and ask questions.

Discounts and announcements for all upcoming classes are available to persons on my mailing list.

10 Reasons why you need The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon Elephants book this holiday season

1. The Cartoon Elephant book, after being temporarily unavailable through Amazon, is now back on the market. The retail price is $26.95, but sometimes Amazon will let it go for a bit less.

2. Cartoon Elephants approach painful emotions with humor. If there is an elephant in the room in your family, this book is the starting point for approaching avoided conversations. You will recognize yourself and others in this book. There is no finger pointing or blaming.
 
3. Cartoon Elephants is something you can put on your coffee table. Because it is a graphic book with pictures and fun fonts, it is an easy read. The elephants will fit nicely next to big picture books about Africa and Asia.
 
4. The Cartoon Elephant book is being used to teach people in Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills groups about emotions. Loaded with psycho-educational material and teaching points, it cleverly accomplishes the task of making people think they are reading something fun yet giving them something valuable.
 
5. This book is not hard to read. There is no “plugging away” at chapters. If you want to bring something to someone’s attention in a way that is universally applicable, this book will do the trick. You don’t need to have painful emotions to appreciate elephants- you just need to have emotions.
 
6. If you are going to buy someone a self-help book for Christmas, this is safe bet.
Whether they believe it or not, everyone has cartoon elephants. The research proving this to be true is cited in the back of the book.
 
7. This book can be used and re-used, read and re-read. You can share it with family members, friends, or long lost relatives. It won’t go out of style. Emotions, as a rule, will be with you as long as you live.
 
8. You will get some food for thought about how and where you see yourself in relationship to your elephants. This is great for discussion groups, weekend retreats, and writing workshops.
 
9. This book is great for people of all ages. If you’re trying to get your kid to read something important, heavy, and deep, you can give them this book. It won’t take long to read and it is much more fun with illustrations.
 
10. The book will be the perfect introduction for my live series on emotions starting January 20, 2014. Of course you don’t need the book to sign up, but if you have the book you will have a better appreciation for cartoon elephants in general.

 

 

When two different concepts can both be true: A tip for handling and understanding your emotions

Two different concepts that often come up for handling emotions might at first appear contradictory:

1)   In order to handle emotions effectively, a person has to be able to step back and notice what they feel (observe).

2)   In order to survive strong emotions, a person needs to fully experience the nuances and physiological discomfort that arises when emotion is present (enter into the experience).

Can you see how both of these concepts make sense?

Being able to step back and observe emotions is effective because it increases options and awareness for how to respond to emotional material. Without the ability to “stand by”, a person might immediately act on their emotion. When a person always acts on their emotions, he/ she might regret it later. For instance, if you become really angry at someone you care about, you might lash out. The ability to “step back” and observe what you are feeling can help you organize a thoughtful response in which you maintain integrity, speak clearly, and feel better about yourself later. Sometimes refraining from taking immediate action is very effective.

On the other had, a willingness to experience strong emotions when they arise is a critical element to being human and being alive. Emotions give us very important information that we can’t always ignore. When we experience emotions fully, we are in touch with what matters. When we suppress, hide, ignore, or push away strong feelings they may become worse or “blow up” on us down the road.

In some ways, a person can both experience and observe emotion. A willingness to get in touch with what hurts and to hold off on any immediate reactions can increases options for the best response.

What should you do with the elephant in the room?

The elephant in the room usually refers to the thing that’s not being said. Typically the thing that is not being said should be obvious, but it is not.

Things that don’t get said have a tendency to create a bit of stress! Consider what happens if what needs to get said doesn’t get said.

  • It becomes avoided
  • No one brings it up
  • You think someone else should bring it up
  • By not talking about it, it gets ignored
  • Ignoring it makes it worse
  • Ignoring it makes it so that others continue to do and say things that create problems or are hurtful

Generally the cost of bringing the elephant into the room is one in which people have to contend with something big.

If the big thing is in the room, this might generate anxiety or even anger. The participants in the room would have to tolerate a conversation in which stuff was out in the open, even if it meant dealing with things that are hard to talk about. However, if the elephant could be invited in to the room and managed, it might just be the case that elephants would eventually become easier to handle.

One quick tip for bringing the elephant into the room is to describe in an accurate, matter-of-fact way what you have observed. This helps lower defensiveness and doesn’t come across as an attack. Keep your tone of voice neutral and curious, and be ready to hear the other person out- even if what they are saying is hard to hear. Consider that the other party may find it just as difficult to talk about, and it may take more than one try to bring the elephant into a place where it can be seen for what it is.

Consider: What is it costing you to keep the elephant out of the room? 

Pleasant events and positive life experiences

One way in which we buffer negative emotion, stressful life events, and painful circumstances is to create opportunities for positive emotion, tell people about these opportunities, and plan activities and events in our lives that we look forward to doing.

One way of doing this is to build mastery. This means doing things that are challenging or hard and provides opportunities for growth and achievement. Building mastery generally gives us a sense of purpose, accomplishment, or an “Aha! I did it!”.  Not having enough challenges can make us bored, which can be a contributing factor for depression. Approaching something that we have been avoiding, taking an emotional risk in sharing what we are feeling, or speaking up when we usually don’t might all be ways of building mastery.

Another way to create positives is to really notice and experience the small comforts throughout your day. Small daily pleasures or simple “little” things often get taken for granted, ignored, or neglected when we are focusing on our pain. When we plan for pleasant events and opportunities, resulting positive emotions show up more often. Consider spending time with someone you care about, fostering a relationship, attending and listening carefully, or being emotionally present when you are with someone. Consider sharing recent pleasant events, ways in which you are building mastery, how you are working on short or long-term goals, or what you are looking forward to this week.

Too needy? Too dependent? Too clingy?

When we desire or want things that other people aren’t able to give us, one option is to blame ourselves for wanting or desiring it in the first place. This can be especially true for people who feel misunderstood or unacknowledged.

When we blame ourselves for wanting or needing something from someone else, we not only fail to solve any problems- but also feel worse for being in this situation in the first place. Sometimes people believe that by determining fault they’ve actually solved a problem! The field of psychotherapy confuses this issue even further by using condescending labels like narcissistic and entitled, and implies that it is simply bad to want or need things in the first place.

If you have been in the business recently of sitting around, feeling bad, and blaming yourself for desiring something from another, here are a few things to consider that might help your relationships go more smoothly:

1) Are you clear about what it is you want in the relationship that you aren’t getting? Consider the intensity behind your request and the urgency of how you come across. Is there any particular pain involved that you are trying to avoid feeling, don’t want to accept, or don’t think you will be able to tolerate if the person can’t accommodate you? Sometimes urgency and intensity is increased when we don’t want to grieve, acknowledge our own loss regarding the relationship, or move on.

2) Consider that no one relationship can placate or accommodate all demands for affection equally. Intense and intimate relationships need periodic breaks. Is there a way in which your relationships complement different areas of need for you? Is there a way in which your need for affection, acknowledgement, or understanding can happen with more than one person?

3) Consider the diversity in which people in your life express caring, show appreciation, or give their support. See if there is a way you can focus on acknowledging this, and be willing to let go of focusing on what the person isn’t giving you.

4) Bear in mind that all people need and want things from other people: The ones who don’t get called narcissistic or entitled simply have ways of getting it effectively. One way of being effective is being able to read and interpret interpersonal cues accurately. If you know when to back off- and you are good at gaging what other people can tolerate- you will be easier to get along with and better liked. Forcing a square peg through a round hole in any relationship can hurt or even destroy the relationship.

5) Not having affection, acknowledgement, validation, or understanding now doesn’t mean that you will never have it or no one will ever give it. It may mean that you have to search around for it, you need to find it in other relationships- and you may have to tolerate the emotional pain of not having it right now.

What does mindfulness have to do with validation?

Mindfulness involves an ability to “get in touch” and be aware of experiences that are both going on inside (ie, feelings) and the outside.

In DBT, the ability to validate means not dismissing or attacking oneself. Self-validating is about paying careful attention to what is present in the moment; true, accurate, and real.  It’s about looking at how you do feel, rather than how you should feel or are supposed to feel. This involves a focus on internal experience and physical sensations. It means figuring out what’s really there- even when it is confusing.

People with extreme emotional reactivity often have difficulty believing that their opinions, attitudes, values, and perspectives count. They may spend a lot of energy worrying, not speaking up, or even attacking themselves for having a different perspective. They may have difficulty when asked about intentions, wants, or desires. In some cases they may be used to not offering input. They may have adapted to not expressing intentions or wants. They may be living most of their lives not really existing, or at least existing on the periphery of what their lives could be.

Are you someone who has a hard time figuring out what’s going on within?

The 30 (more) days of mindfulness program offers many options in finding ways ways to be in touch…to be mindful…and to increase awareness of that which is within and that which is on the outside.

It is just about finished! I hope to have it available by the end of next week. If you want mindful options to arrive in your e-mail inbox for 30 (more!) days, and if you’ve already tried the initial (30) days of mindfulness, you will not be disappointed.

Stay tuned!

Participating mindfully

Often when people are experiencing a high degree of anxiety their attention is pre-occupied. They may walk around in a daze, feel unreal or disconnected, and are unable to pay attention to what is going on around them. Internally they may be ruminating, worrying, or responding to high emotional arousal.

The skill of “participating” as a mindfulness skill is a very difficult skill- especially for people who have lots of emotional stuff going on inside of them lots of the time. The concept of participating is this idea that you throw yourself into the moment. In a way it is like shifting gears, going with the flow, and really working to put your attention to what is going on in the immediate environment. It is one thing to show up in your body, but it is another thing to show up with your mind. It can be effective to show up for the party, movie, meeting, or event even though something really stressful is going on. You can practice shifting gears to show up for the immediate moment or situation- and perhaps shift gears again when you go back to worrying about what is stressful! At the very least, notice how you feel when you are working hard to connect, participate, be part of, and include yourself. Notice how it feels when you are worrying, ruminating, stressed out, and under emotional threat- and possibly shut down to the world around you.

Using the skill of participating means keeping your eyes open to what is going on around you; listening, feeling, and being touched by the things that matter. When you put yourself out there into the world, you risk being vulnerable. Engaging, interacting, and participating in the world helps connect to people in meaningful ways, find people that share similar struggles, and feel more real. When people have extremely stressful situations, they may be able to mitigate the stressors by being present to the things that could be enjoyable despite being stressed out. Sometimes trying to participate doesn’t yield immediate rewards, and therefore takes a lot of effort.

Are there ways in which you are sitting back, playing it safe, and not participating? Consider what it would be like to share with someone how you really, actually feel about something. What would the risk entail?

Really putting yourself out there is hard.

Mindfulness, DBT, extreme emotions, and doing what works:

One of the DBT mindfulness skills includes being effective: Doing what works. Learning how to sit for long periods of time and focus on one thing, such as your breath, can have quite an impact on quieting the mind. However, sitting for long periods of time can be rather difficult for people who are learning how to “be mindful”, and may not be helpful in solving other problems (ie, communicating, reading one’s environment accurately, interpreting behavior).

The persons I tend to treat have difficult with extreme emotion- and sometimes tolerating a single moment can seem like an eternity. The skill of “observing” in mindfulness appears deceptively simple- and yet the actual doing of the observing when it’s needed in real life- as it applies to solving painful problems- is a whole different story.

Observing and describing the cracks on the sidewalk or the ceiling tiles may be a way to be mindful. But here is where it can get tricky:

  • It may be an effective way to be present in the moment, to become grounded and connected to what’s going around you, and prevent you from dissociating, “floating off”, or disconnecting.
  • It may be a way to distract, avoid, inhibit feeling, occupy the mind, and avoid relationships. If you can become overly focused on things and not people, you can avoid taking emotional risks, connections, and opportunities to address conflict. Noticing a tendency to avoid may be a more effective use of mindful activity.

I’ve been working hard on getting together my free 30 days of mindfulness for my mailing list readers. The approach for learning varies and the agenda includes suggestions for trying new and different things. It’s experiential- which means that you get to participate in the exercises. I’m hoping that it will satisfy those who are looking for ways on how to be mindful as it relates to real life.

All you have to do is click on the upper right side of this blog post where it says Get 7 free steps for sailing through emotional storms when you join my mailing list. Sign up!

The 30 days of mindfulness are going to start February 8, so you will have to sign up before then if you want to be included!