Adelaide Dynamic Psychology

Medicare Eligible Clinical Psychologist

Category: Uncategorized

Resolutions

As the time for making resolutions passes and the time for implementing these resolutions also passes, I find myself thinking about how people go about doing this year after year. I doubt how successful most people are.  It is wonderful that so many people have the desire to make positive changes in their life, but the way they go about it is often flawed.

I find this particularly true with the desire to lose weight. It seems that most people experience this at one time or another and therefore can almost all relate to this desire.  I find that the first problem is that people make a goal for themselves.  Goals are often considered to be postive things, but I find that they make behaviour change difficult.  I would have you consider instead exploring your values and finding how well you are following what you value in life. I often find that goals are too far off for people to see them as possible and therefore they end up falling off the path of their goals.  Valued living, on the other hand, doesn’t have an end as such. Each moment can be done in a way that is consistent with values.  There is no beginning or end of values, they just are. Losing weight is a goal, and often the goal is a long way off.  Living in a healthy and active way is a value. It is something that can be done everyday and throughout the day.  There is no quantification on this way of being, it just is.  There need not be a judgement on how well one is following ones healthy lifestyle as long as you can say that you are following what you value in this area.

I think it helps to look at children when exploring and following values, particularly on values of activity.  Children, especially young children, do not have as much of the awareness of how something should look or the “importance” of this.  When they are active, they are just “being” and they are enjoying their body and what it can do. They run fast, they run slow, they hop and skip, they do spontaneous stretches or “yoga” poses.  They do not judge how they do it, they just do it.  They do not think that they don’t do it well until somebody tells them that.  They do not have goals of being better at what they are doing at that moment until someone tells them that they should do it “better” or differently. When most adults are active, they are constantly trying to do it better, or faster, or look better while doing it or doing better then that person.  They have a dialogue with themselves while doing.  They do not tend to enjoy their body or what it can do.  They do not tend to be in awe with what their body is capable of doing. They have lost the playfulness of being.  There is always a goal to be met. These goals get in the way of being.

What if being active could be about being in the moment with our body in a non-judgemental way and just exploring what we are capable of and how our body moves.  What if we could be ok with what our body does at each moment, without having to compare it to the last moement or the last day or the next day. What if we could continue in this way day after day  without expectation.  I suspect this would take a lot of pressure off and that each day would not be loaded with so much baggage from the last time our body moved.

I suspect we could also carry this same idea into eating.  What if we could explore our food  and how we make it and how it tastes.What if eating was more about being aware of different types of food and how they taste or feel or cook.  If we could explore new recipes and how they encorporate food and different types of food into them.  What if we could be in the moment with our food and our experiences around cooking our food.  What if we could be aware of how making something relates to taking care of our selves and our family and nurturing them, instead of not thinking or exploring and instead just eating whatever is easiest. Eating often becomes afterthought and a chore or a way to cover up bad feelings, instead of exploring these feelings.

So instead of treating the idea of eating and activity as things to be valued and enjoyed for their present moment gifts, we treat them as means to looking a certain way.  As we treat them in this way, they become tools for a goal that will likely never be reached in the way we think we want to reach it. We also lose the ability to enjoy these things as they become loaded with emotional pain and avoided because of emotional pain.

Grief

Grief incompasses so many experiences.  There is the grief involved in death, the most commonly evoked experience when one pictures grief.  But there is also grief in any loss that is experienced.  Examples are divorce, breaking up in a relationship, loss of a friendship, and loss of dreams about the future. Sometimes the loss of dreams are associated with the other loss.  All the plans that were related to the relationship are also lost when the relationship goes away.  With multiple losses the grief may be even bigger. When you lose someone, either by death or just a seperation, often you lose your sense of self at that time.  Sometimes that means losing your identity as a daughter or partner or mother, depending on who you is gone from your life. You may lose the sense of being taken care of  when you lose a parent.  You might lose your identity of being a caretaker/ parent when you lose a child.  You often lose your dreams of the future with the loss of a partner, such as the idea of a white, picket fence or a family that you fear may never happen.  Sometimes the grief comes in the form of losing the dream of having children when you find you are too old or there are problems in conception.

Like many “negative” emotions, grief often feels quite intolerable.  It can feel like your whole world has fallen apart and at that moment it has because not only is the person/thing gone, but the dreams and identity are also gone.  Often it feels like a rug being pulled out from under you because your whole world can change so dramatically.  Coping with the grief means not only tolerating the unbearable feeling that is experienced but also exploring ideas about yourself and how they have changed and probably not in a way you wanted. Loss of our ideas and our identity does not mean that they are forever gone, but we may find that they won’t look exactly as we had imagined them to look and that can take time to adjust to and accept. The grief is often far more difficult to tolerate and cope with when it is closely connected to our current daily experience or our future dreams.

You will have to reexperience the grief whenever you have a memory of what is lost or when you attempt to move your life forward in a valued direction. Often the hardest part of moving forward is having to accept the loss.

Often we fight the horrible feeling both because it feels bad, but also because if we are to feel the pain it means we are accepting the loss.  Sometimes we get stuck in grief or more likely in depression because we avoid the feelings and possilby believe we avoid losing something. In fact we have already lost and cannot keep from experiencing that feeling.  We might try to avoid it, but it will still be there.  The only way to lesson this pain is to allow it to be there and allow things to enter our life that are important to us or to remain consistent with what has always been important to us, even though this may remind us of our loss in the short term.

Control

I think having children brings up issues of control for many people, this has certainly been the case for me. When children are infants, they are entirely reliant on us for survival and we decide most aspects of their day.  They may decide when they are tired or hungry, but we decide where they sleep and what they eat.  As they get older we often decide more aspects of their day, but inevitably there are somethings we are not in control of and this will get more apparent the older they get and the more they make their own decisions.  I struggle with this when I worry about the decisions they make and think I know best. There are inevitably times to intervene but there are times when it may be best for them to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes it is hard as the parent to differentiate between these two situations, partly because it is hard when you are the one involved in the situation to see clearly and partly because of the discomfort with letting go of the control.  I think I struggle with both of these issues and probably the discomfort around the lack of control colours my behaviour the most.  When worry comes into the equation and wishing for a solution to a problem, I tend to act quite differently than what my values are in parenting. Usually my wish to control my child and reduce the perceived negative consequences of their actions causes me to act completely differentlly then what I would like to act like and I tend to feel out of control of myself at the time. At times I am completely cognizent that how I am behaving is in no way helpful, but I can’t seem to stop myself.

I am aware that this is when I really need to stop and notice the feelings I am having and realize that my desire to get rid of the discomfort of not having control over my child and the outcome of their decisions is causing me to behave in an unhelpful way towards them and toward myself.  I need to be mindful and accept that completely uncomfortable feeling of not being able to control the future or fix everything.  I have to realize that telling my child the consequences of their actions is not necessarily going to cause them to want to change their behaviour and that sometimes the best I can do is be understanding of their need to be more independent and also be there to help them when they ask for help instead of forcing my help and my values onto them. I need to be able to stop and be mindful of what in my history is impacting my behaviour toward my child and try to tolerate the feeling.

Worry is common for parents, but doesn’t have to cause them to be inconsistent with their values as a parent.  Learning to tolerate the unknown and the uncertainty of the future goes a long way in reducing worrying thoughts. Tolerating feelings of being completely out control also goes a long way in reducing the anxiety and worry of being a parent. I find that when I am able to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings evoked by not being in control, I am able to be a much more compassionate parent and a more thoughtful parent, which will likely do more for helping my child in the future then being able to “control and fix” my child at that moment.

Mindful parenting is really being able to be in the moment with our children as much as possible and when we find ourselves being hijacked by our feelings,  to stop and notice what is going on internally, tolerate the feelings and notice the unhelpful thoughts that are stopping us from being the parents we want to be.

Winter Depression

I have been thinking about the winter blues over the past couple of days as the rain comes down.  The winter blues is probably something alot of people can relate to and not as sever as Winter Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is not that common, but gets more common the further you live from the equator.  It is also more common in women then men. I suspect many people wonder if they have something of this sort as they struggle with the change in seasons and the lessoning of daylight. I love daylight and miss it when it is gone. The nights of winter are much less exciting as everyone moves inside earlier and it gets cold (at least where I live). I miss being able to roam the garden or at least see without a light on and I definitely notice a difference in how I feel.  I don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as I don’t have most of the symptoms such as, depressed mood, weight gain (winter SAD), oversleeping, loss of interest in activities that used I enjoy, loss of energy, hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating. But, I still find myself feeling a bit less positive, with lower energy and with weight gain (as  I imagine most people can relate to).

I do notice that when I step out in the day and get some sunshine and feel the sun’s warmth I feel so much better. At night, I often just feel like going to sleep.  So, it doesn’t surprise me that the most recognized treatment is light therapy (light boxes that filter out most UV light). Also, I am always a proponent of exercise for better mental health and I notice that I feel better in the winter when I do exercise, even if not outside.

Interestingly, SAD doesn’t just occur in the winter.  There is a summer SAD, with symptoms that differ with insomnia, poor appetite and weight loss.  Not surprisingly, the summer SAD is less common.

 

 

Experiencing Fear

I often find myself thinking about yoga and how it relates to my understanding of mindfulness.  Today is no exception as I think about writing a post that I have had on my mind for sometime.  This post relates to tolerating a feeling of fear and how I have had to tolerate that fear in yoga often over the last 3-4 years.  I remember that it started with my teacher encouraging me to work on “drop backs”- a pose which requires you to arch backwards toward the floor from a standing position.  I remember never being told to do this in my past classes, which encouraged me to think of it as an advanced posture that I would do one day, a long time in the future.  My first emotion with this posture was fear.  The idea of falling backwards toward the ground and not knowing how to get there and worse feeling pain in my lowerback.  I associated the pain with pain that a relative had in their back after hurting it years ago and they have had chronic back pain ever since. This caused me more fear. That fear and that thought immediatedly caused me to tense up and I found my back had even less ability to bend. This felt like an impossilbe task. I then began to notice frustration and hopelessness. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to do this posture.  I found this thought to be interesting as I have had this thought before about other postures, although none of these postures caused the same fear.

I found that awareness of my internal process has been incredibly helpful in yoga in general and with this particular posture.  I have talked before about physical awareness, awareness of what muscles I am using and having to tolerate some discomfort in yoga.  Now I am talking more about the feelings that I have had to tolerate to be able to continue on the journey.  I have great admiration for my teacher and I believe in her ability to gently guide me in the right direction.  I don’t think she asks more of me then I can do, although at times my fear has caused me to question this.  I have sometimes felt angry at her or resentful when the fear became to great and I felt as if she had abandoned me into this too difficult posture.  I realize that my response to her was me not wanting to feel the fear.  I have had to tolerate that fear to be able to stretch backwards in that posture, even when I may not have known quite how to go backwards in a way that didn’t hurt or feel wrong.  Much of this yoga practice is just that, practice.  Practice  is just doing something over and over and not always getting every aspect of the pose, not always knowing how to engage the muscle or flex more, not always knowing what parts of the body to activate.  It means tolerating a lot of unknown, but also trusting yourself to figure it out as you practice. I have done this with the back drop and I can’t say that I can do it yet, not on my own, and not in a way that feels completely correct, but it feels more correct then it did and I feel more able to understand the posture then I did.  It is a journey that I am willing to take and not have to know how or when I will get there.  I guess that attitude has allowed me to enjoy yoga.  I have never felt that I had to achieve anything in particular while I was there, just enjoy how it made me feel, both there and when I am not there. And sometimes not enjoy it, but explore that experience as well.

I think I have realized that yoga is a wonderful metaphor for life.  In the way that I have had to tolerate fear in yoga, I have also had to tolerate fear in life.  Not always knowing the answers and not always being sure of myself.  I find that hard and know that I haven’t done it well in the past.  I often avoided the fear and instead felt the utter hopelessness of not being able to do things and then I would jump into a depressive place to avoid those feelings.  I know realize that I have to tolerate some fear and insecurity to engage in life and live a valued life.  If I am not willing to tolerate these feelings then I will feel helpless, hopeless and depressed and life will feel not worth living because I will not be living it true to what is important to me.  I will also then feel unable and incapable of doing more with myself because I will be too scared to try.

 

Your observing self is like the sky

I had a difficult day recently, where I was feeling quite overwhelmed and tired. This translated to feeling grumpy and short with those I care about. I had a moment to reflect on my experience and what came into my mind was that I had not changed from yesterday or the day before and nothing significant was different in my life, but I was feeling and thinking differently then I have been.  Because I have garnered a bit of awareness over the years, I was able to notice my experience and found myself remembering a metaphor that I have learned.  It goes something like this: the observing self is like the sky. Thoughts, sensations, feelings and images are like the weather. Sometimes the weather is sunny and bright and sometimes cloudy with a bit of sun and sometimes it is stormy and dark. The weather is always changing. There are even times that there are quite serious tornadoes or cyclones.  When weather comes into the sky, it can be comforting to know that there will always be new weather around the corner, it never stays the same and whatever weather is there cannot damage the sky.   Knowing that my thoughts/ feelings were all that had changed about me on this particular day, I was able to not get caught up in this bad feeling.  I knew that tomorrow or even in a few hours, I would have a different feeling and different thoughts.

Tolerating physical and emotional sensations

Lately I have been thinking about the parallels between yoga and achieving good mental health.  Specifically, I mean the mindfulness that is required in both of these endeavors. When I started practicing yoga 10 years ago, I did not realize I would be learning mindfulness.  I started because I felt like I needed to do some sort of exercise and I had taken a few yoga classes in the gym and liked them.  I started slowly, one day a week in a self-guided class.  I chose this class because it was suitable for all levels and it suited my time slot. Little did I know I would be transformed by this class and not want to live without yoga.  I was very consistent and attended this class faithfully every week.  It took about a year before I started going more then one time a week and finally I wasn’t committed to the same day every week.  But still ever since that day that I started, I have rarely missed more then a week or two.  Looking back, it wasn’t the “exercise” that kept me attending, it was the way it made me feel and that was directly related to learning to be mindful.

Mindfulness is learned both by the teacher reminding you to focus on your breath and to come back to your breath when you find your mind drifting off, but also by the learning of focusing on your body and what sensations you feel in your posture.  As you become stronger and more flexible, you also become more aware of using  muscles to get into postures, to hold postures and to get out of postures. You become more mindful of the feelings and sensations your body is experiencing.  You also become more aware of some difficult sensations in your body.  Invariably when you engage your muscles or when you stretch your muscles, you will sometimes feel discomfort and staying in a posture means having to tolerate some discomfort.

This same idea of tolerating discomfort is central to mindfully tolerating feelings.  When we experience feelings, we also tend to be able to locate a physical sensation in our body (lump in our throat, gnawing in our stomach, rapid heartbeat, etc).  Once this sensation is located, we are then able to practice mindfully exploring and tolerating that sensation.  This allows us to practice tolerating feelings, just as I have practiced tolerating physical sensations in yoga. Sometimes we have to practice tolerating emotions in yoga as well…..but that is for another post.

Noticing a feeling

I had an experience not long ago that really reminded me of why the practice of mindfulness is so powerful in helping people.  I was driving to work and had a memory.  This was not a pleasant memory, but rather a memory that comes up occasionally and it always evokes embarrassment and shame.  I noted these feelings as I remembered and I also noted a desire in myself to get rid of these feelings.  I had the urge to get rid of it by saying to myself, “you are horrible, everything is bad, nothing feels good” and many things of that nature.  It is an urge that is familiar and that in the past I would often do when faced with feelings and memories that I found too painful and horrible to face.  The things I would automatically say to myself would send me spinning into a numb and flat place where I would retreat into myself to feel safe from all pain and all intolerable feelings.  Of course, I was left feeling not much at all and while I didn’t feel the horrible feelings, I also didn’t feel the good feelings that one feels at various times.  My experience became about avoiding anything bad and therefore always feeling numb, and while I didn’t know it then, feeling much worse then I would have felt if I just allowed the memory and the feelings to be there and not get rid of them.

This time in the car, I did things very differently.  I noted the urge to say everything is horrible and go into a dark, numb, and lonely place, and instead I allowed the memory and the feelings to remain inside of me and I explored it for just a little while.  It didn’t feel nice, but I tolerated it and slowly it left and was replaced by a different feeling as my attention was moved back to driving my car. I didn’t fall over and die nor did I fall into a heap on the floor, I just allowed the ugly and difficult feeling to take its course and then the feeling and I both moved on.

That memory and those feelings will come back as they have now and then throughout my life. Luckily I know I can tolerate them being there, in part because I know they do not stay forever, they are there for a time and then another thought and/or feeling replaces them.