Living with an anxious mind is like living with a bully and a fortune teller who are always putting their negative spin on things. Anxious thoughts that endlessly repeat can make us miserable, interrupt our sleep, and drive us towards unhealthy habits such as nail-biting, smoking, or overeating. We may start to avoid other people and find it difficult to relax at all. An anxious mind is distracted, which increases stress and our chances of getting sick.
If you've read my blog post about changing unhealthy thoughts, than you know that when we repeat any thought over and over again, it starts to seem like a fact. Our brain doesn't care if it's true or not - it just makes things automatic after repetition. Anxious minds tend towards specific types of false beliefs, otherwise known as cognitive distortions. So take a step back, take a deep breath, tune into your own thinking and ask yourself if any of these seem familiar.
1 - All or Nothing
If things don't go exactly as you've planned, is the whole thing ruined? If you have one spot on your shirt, or one hair out of place, do you feel as if you can't go out? Do you think others are either "good" or "bad"? Trustworthy or untrustworthy? Reliable or unreliable? Most things are on a spectrum and it can be harmful to generalize one way or the other. The red-flag words here are "either" and "or". If you recognize this kind of black-and-white thinking, look for the grey areas.
2 - Fortune-Telling and Catastrophizing
Do you find yourself thinking that you know what will happen? You have all the evidence you need, to know that this is unreliable. Think about times you predicted a terrible thing would happen, and it didn't . No matter what the outcome, it isn't helpful to feel certain about things that may or may not occur. Sometimes people think they have to worry or else disaster will strike. You can be thoughtful and cautious without the worry. In fact, you can counteract these thoughts by considering possible neutral or positive outcomes, and telling yourself you will do the best you can with whatever happens.
3 - Mind-Reading
Do you find yourself thinking that others are having negative thoughts about you? Do you assume that you know what other people are thinking or feeling based on their facial expressions or behaviors? Evidence that that an anxious mind is doing this can sound like, "Are you mad at me?" We project our own beliefs onto others, and we're often wrong. For example, if you're thinking that something you've done is not up to par, chances are you believe others have this same negative opinion. Truth is, we can't read each others' minds. As with other mental mistakes, we may be entirely wrong or right, or the truth may be somewhere in the middle.
4 - Magnification
Do you find yourself feeling anxious when others around you have the same facts, but are calmer? If this is the case, you may be seeing a problem through a magnifying lens. An anxious mind tends to see things as much worse than they are, which is unhealthy and unhelpful. When you become distressed about something, ask yourself if you can look at it any differently. (The answer to this is always, "yes".)
5 - Filtering
Our mind typically takes in what it already believes. This means that when there is evidence to challenge distortions such as fortune-telling and mind-reading, our brain will likely filter it out or make us actively reject offers of reassurance or positivity from others. Furthermore, we will magnify evidence that supports the anxious thought.
If you find yourself collecting evidence that supports your anxious negativity, be like a detective, and search for clues that disprove your anxious thoughts instead. Be persistent and keep looking because your anxious mind will be sneaky and try to hide them from you. Look for facts, and look for positive interpretations of those facts. What do you have to lose? (Answer: anxiety.)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is very effective for decreasing anxious thoughts. Read more about CBT here.
Marsha Mandel, LMHC is a therapist with a private practice in Cornwall, New York. www.mandelcounseling.com
1 - It has no filter for false or unhealthy thoughts.
You can be 100% certain of something and be 100% wrong. The upsetting thoughts that you’re going to fail at something, that you can’t recover, that something bad will happen, or that others are judging or angry with you, can be entirely false. So can the related thoughts that you wouldn't be able to stand it if your worry was even partially true.
2 - You are inadvertently brainwashing yourself.
Accepting thoughts as facts without questioning them allows them to grow and spread, and they will. Thoughts are like seeds in a garden; whether they are weeds or flowers, given the fertile space to grow, they will thrive.
3 - Self-talk is going on whether you are aware of it or not.
Most of your brain activity is completely beneath your level of awareness. All of the knowledge you are carrying around with you which includes how to walk, talk, write, drive, and a million other things, also includes any other thoughts you have repeated – healthy, unhealthy, true, or false – your brain doesn’t care. If thoughts are repeated, they become deeply rooted and automatic.
4 - Your brain will reject ideas that conflict with whatever it already believes.
This means that even if your brain is given indisputable facts, it will seek to find a way to filter out and reject them with those deeply rooted automatic thoughts.
5 - Your brain can hijack itself with emotions.
Powerful emotions can take over your thinking and your behavior. Your brain is built for survival – sense danger, take action, and think about it later. When you experience intense fear or anger, self-protection kicks in within 20 milliseconds. The problem is that these emotions can generate false or unhealthy thoughts that that remain after the danger has passed, taking root and becoming part of your belief system.
6 - Images can be worth much more than a thousand words.
The images you carry with you hold immeasurable knowledge and beliefs. You may be certain of however you see yourself, others, the world, or the past and future in your mind, and yet these images and views may be entirely unhealthy and false, just like your other thoughts.
7 - You have the ability to make purposeful changes in your brain.
You can learn from mistakes, you can change your mind, change your thoughts, change your habits, and change your life. You can refocus and reimagine the images you carry with you. The thoughts, “I can’t change,” or “This is just the way I am,” are both false and unhealthy. The indisputable fact is that you can make changes. Question the thoughts that pop into your mind or that have been with you for a long time because the thought, "I just know I'm right," can actually be partially or completely wrong. Use self-talk to purposefully tend to your thinking, to consciously brainwash yourself with true and healthy thoughts that you have carefully developed and that you can believe. This may feel unnatural, which just means it’s different from how you're used to thinking, because whatever we repeat becomes habitual and feels natural - including self-defeating thought patterns.
8 - These changes are an inside job that only you can do, however there are two forms of therapy that can quickly and effectively help you do this. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you identify false and unhealthy thoughts and to develop healthier ways of thinking. Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) can help change distressing images and views that you may feel stuck with. When the images are changed, your brain will shift to healthier perspectives of the facts. ART helps you let go of the distressing images, emotions, and body sensations, which you really don't need to hold onto. This can profoundly and quickly improve your quality of life. See more about ART at www.acceleratedresolutiontherapy.com.
Marsha Mandel is a therapist with a private practice in Cornwall, New York. www.mandelcounseling.com
Learning to balance the needs of my children with my own self-care became essential. While my children were young, I was in a graduate program in psychology, however some of the most helpful learning came from books on a wide range of topics including parenting kids with special needs, mindfulness, self-compassion, and cognitive behavioral therapy skills. I connected with an online group of parents who faced similar challenges, my “friends in the box”, who shared invaluable lessons they had learned from their real-life experiences.
Here are 8 ideas to help balance the demands of special needs parenting with self-care.
1. A little bit of mindfulness goes a very long way. Whether our distress is about our child’s behavior, future, education, treatment, or emotional state, though concerns may be valid, if it’s not a crisis, there is no need to constantly keep this concern in the forefront of our minds. In fact, it can easily do more harm than good as it prevents us from being present. Whatever the reality of the situation is, it does not require us to relentlessly distress ourselves.
Mindfulness is about putting our full attention on the here and now, in the present moment, and on our sensory experiences in it. The saying, “When we take care of each moment, we take care of all time,” is about observing the moment without judgment, being present, instead of allowing the mind to wander, dwell, or distress itself. The here and now is not about what's happening with our kids at school, what has occurred in the past, or may happen in the future; it is only about the present place and time. Mindful breathing is a good place to start. How does a deep breath feel? How does it sound? We can focus on any sound, taste, scent, image, or feeling as it occurs. Just by doing this, we are providing our formerly preoccupied mind a welcome respite. We are interrupting a crescendo of distressing thoughts. We are decreasing the overflow of stress hormones, and we may be averting an anxiety or panic attack. And, we are growing our skill of managing our own attention as we keep returning our wandering minds to the present. Mindfulness enables us to be better parents, to be present and nonjudgmental with ourselves and our children.
2. Get out of your own way. Like a fish in water who asks, “What is this water you speak of?” we may be entirely unaware of our tinted lenses of perception that we are seeing things through. Ongoing feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, or other negativity may indicate the presence of deeply rooted unhealthy beliefs, such as judging a situation as all bad, magnifying the effect of a problem, wanting to control another person or past event, dwelling on the negative and filtering out any positives. Often, we are unaware that we are carrying these beliefs around with us, we just experience them as part of our reality, oblivious to the fact that these are judgments. When we feel stuck in a rut, we are stuck in our thinking, and we are rejecting alternative perspectives. It may feel counterintuitive to turn towards the situation, roll up our sleeves and take a closer look, however this is just what we need to do. If you find yourself repeatedly upset about the same thing, it is time to ask yourself if it is your perspective that would benefit from an adjustment. I spent years trying to change something that was out of my control, unnecessarily distressing myself. Shifting my perspective led to new solutions and finding peace.
3. Ask yourself, “Is it possible to look at this another way?” I love this question, because the answer is always yes! This includes things we feel absolutely certain about, because our brains do not filter out false or unhealthy thoughts. When our emotional, fixed mind conflicts with reality, we can become very distressed. We may feel devastated, hopeless, or enraged, and think that there is no alternative perspective. In these conflicts with reality, reality will always win, every time. Reality does not care what we think about it, so we may as well take that deep breath, step back, and seek a healthier way to look at things.
This is not about complacency or turning a negative into a positive; it's about seeking the healthiest way we can look at things that are out of our control. It is the path to constructive mental clarity. Acceptance does not prevent us from being optimistic, proactive, or from problem-solving. Acknowledging a challenge or disability, does not erase gifts or strengths. Acceptance helps clear out unhelpful negativity, resistance which fuels sadness, anxiety, frustration, or hopelessness. It enables us to live in the context of whatever challenges may be present.
4. Be kind and encouraging to yourself and to your child. Things are difficult enough without being a harsh critic in your own head. Is it your intention to be a loving parent? If you would like to do things differently next time, keep learning, planning, and growing. Instead of telling yourself, “I really messed up,” try saying, “Although that was disappointing, I can keep trying to improve things.” Acknowledge that your parenting situation is difficult and challenging, and that you are not alone. We all make mistakes. Since this is a fact, we may as well try to look at it in the healthiest way possible, and turn it into a lesson.
Is it your child’s intention to “be bad”? No, they are doing the best they can as well – no matter what they are doing. Your child doesn't want to be in trouble or for you to be upset with them. They may feel overwhelmed with their emotions and be unable to express them appropriately. Responding to your child with kindness and encouragement sends a healthy, rational message which acknowledges mistakes are part of being human, and we can always keep trying to learn and improve.
5. Practice empathy. Think of a time when someone may have been annoyed with you for being upset, telling you to calm down. Was that helpful? Or is it preferable to be met with empathy, with an offer to listen, or words of encouragement. “Tell me about it. We’ll try to find a way through this.” Emotional well-being is not about the absence of emotional pain; it is about managing the inevitable emotional pain that is part of being human.
I often hear people call their emotions stupid or ridiculous. Emotions do not respond well to dismissal or stuffing; they tend to keep poking at you until you acknowledge them. Being self-validating or empathic means noticing the emotion that is already there, accepting its presence without judgment, even befriending it. This will allow us to have our feelings, and work through them, instead of throwing fuel on the fire.
Seeing our children overwhelmed with emotions can be extremely difficult for a parent. This is one of those times, when we may not be aware that our reactions are unhelpful. Time to once again, step back, take that deep breath. If your parenting goal is for your child to be able to manage emotions, start by helping identify the emotion so that the child can have the emotion, instead of the emotion having the child. Once it is acknowledged, we can move towards nonjudgmental acceptance and calming.
One of my go-to mantras is, "I am responsible for my effort, not the result." It's important to recognize that we can continually strive to improve our parenting strategies, however there are factors that we have 0% control of. The only thing we can control, is our focus and our perspective.
6. Know that you have a right and a responsibility to practice self-care. Parents often have a false belief that sounds something like, “I can’t do things for myself because I have to sacrifice everything for my kids!” It is actually healthier for your children to experience some disappointment and to manage it then to have every perceived need met. It is also healthier for you to model self-care for your children. Everything you model for your children adds a tint to their lens of perception. Your children are more likely to practice self-care and self-kindness in their future, if they are exposed to the concept by you.
7. Tune into the love you have for your child. It may feel hard to do sometimes, and that’s OK. My grandfather used to say, “Even when I’m mad at you, I’m mad about you.” I remember feeling very guilty when I admitted to my mother that I felt like putting my hyperactive tornado child “through the wall”. Her response was to laugh, and to say, “Marsha, I have some news for you…” Apparently she had experienced similar thoughts decades ago about me. We will have conflicting thoughts and feelings; the healthy thing to do, is to nonjudgmentally strive to balance them. Your child can be angry at you, and still love you, just as you can be angry with your child, and love them. It's all good. Take that deep breath, step back, and think about the deeply rooted love that exists within you for your child. It is always there to tune into, like a gem in your heart that will help you find that balance when you turn your attention towards it.
8. Use your tools and skills every day. Unused tools become rusty. Integrate some of the strategies that work for you into your daily life instead of waiting to be overwhelmed. Develop some healthy self-talk that you practice each day, so that you are creating and strengthening new thought patterns. It won’t take any extra time or energy to use healthy self-talk as passwords such as, “take a deep breath” and “relax your muscles,” or to practice mindful eating and mindful walking, to give your mind a break, to experience moments in time as they occur, and to be present and awake for yourself and for your child.
Marsha Mandel, LMHC has a private practice in Cornwall, NY, where she provides individual counseling as well as groups for parents of children with special needs. Visit www.mandelcounseling.com for further information.
Learning Cognitive Behavioral Therapy skills can be empowering and life-changing. These skills help identify and change the thought patterns that negative feelings and behaviors are rooted in. Old negative patterns of behaviors, reactions, and interactions fade when we change the underlying beliefs that are sustaining them. This can lead to growth in self-awareness that positively impacts every aspect of our lives.
To improve functioning or performance of our physical bodies, we seek to change habits, learn new exercises, engage in new activities, or perhaps seek a trainer, coach, or physical therapist. If we do not turn our focus towards the problem, identify the need for change, and decide to take action, things will remain the same and mistakes and lessons will be repeated.
The brain is like any other organ in that it can have issues that interfere with its functioning. Just like the rest of the body, repeated unhealthy habits lead to problems. In the brain, these can be problems in thinking that have developed over time. Just like our other organs, when we see problems in functioning, we look for the root and seek change or treatment to improve the quality of our lives. A problem in functioning with the brain can easily be seen in problems with emotions, behaviors, and relationships. We can get to the roots of many of these problems by thinking in different ways. This starts with turning our attention towards our own thinking.
CBT helps identify problems with thoughts that have caused or contributed to problems in life. Problems with thoughts do not mean a person is "crazy" or defective in any way; it means somewhere along our journey, we have learned and repeated thought patterns that are unhealthy for us. We have developed our own personal, unique lens of perception that we see things through. In a sense, our brains have been wired this way, so it becomes the way we operate. Thankfully, we can rewire our own brains by identifying, practicing, and repeating healthier and more rational thought patterns that help develop a new lens of perception. To develop this new, healthier outlook, we need to learn about our mental mistakes and then learn to modify them.
When we start the process of changing any habit, including unhealthy, negative thinking habits, the discomfort can lead us to believe that we are literally unable to do so, and we may start telling ourselves, "I can't do this." We will act as if this is true and give up when this happens. Unhealthy habits, including unhealthy thinking habits, become comfortable and may feel natural. We may tell ourselves, "This is just the way I am." The rational, healthier, more accurate view of a bad habit, may sound something like, "Even though I've struggled with this for a long time, in reality, change is actually possible. I'll try and find new ways of thinking and doing things to improve the quality of my life." If you decide this is true, but sounds strange and feels weird to think, it's because it hasn’t been practiced or repeated enough.
Finding our own encouraging thoughts and practicing them are the first steps to changing and breaking free from those habitual, comfortable, and self-sabotaging thoughts that we have inadvertently allowed to reside in our brains. New and healthier thoughts become natural through practice, increase positivity, and ultimately lead to an improved quality of life.
Click here for more information about CBT.
Many people set a new year's resolution with the hope of starting a new habit, discontinuing some old ones, or just setting some brand new goals for a new year. The words and focus we choose for this commitment are more important than we might think.
We brainwash ourselves with our thoughts and the language we choose.
Here are some ways to make it easier for our words and attention to help us reach our goals:
Change language from negative to positive.
Negatively stated goals can sound like, "I do not want to smoke," "I do not want to overeat," or "I'm not going to lose my temper this year." The problem with stating goals this way is we lose half of our brain power with the word "not". The language part of our brains understands what this means, but the visual part has no idea what to do with the word not - so it just leaves it out. Here's an example: Do not think of a pink elephant. Too late. The visual part or our brain has already created an image of the pink elephant. What does "not smoking", "not overeating", or "not losing my temper" look like in my mind? It looks like smoking, overeating, and losing my temper. The visual cortex just loses the word not, and we find ourselves inadvertently triggered to do the very thing we are trying to avoid!
It's easy to get around this by using our words to create new, healthier images of the changes we want to make. For example, instead of, "I'm not going to smoke," say, "If I have the urge to smoke, I'll breathe some fresh air, drink some cold water, and stretch." Now we have a healthy image linked to the urge to smoke. Instead of saying, "I do not want to overeat," try saying, "If I get the urge to keep eating, I will wait ten minutes, see if I'm hungry, and if so, I'll eat something healthy." If you want to "not" lose your temper, try saying, "If I am feeling angry, I'll remember that I want to keep myself calm." We can see ourselves making these changes, and tap into more of our brain power.
Move from stagnation to motivation with a shift of focus.
Many times we find ourselves dwelling on things we would like to change or leave behind. That keeps our focus on negativity, like staring at a door that we don't want to go through. The problem with this is that it leaves us stuck, motionless, killing our motivation. People can and do remain stuck for long periods of time.
If you have been feeling stuck, it's likely that your focus is stuck, keeping you dwelling on the negatives, squashing hope and optimism. To get unstuck, first visualize another door you would like to move towards, and ask yourself what steps you can take to move in that direction.
Our minds were built to wander, and often return to old thought pathways. Bringing your attention to your thoughts, or using mindfulness to be present in the here and now, will help you notice your focus shifting back to negativity. If this happens, just shift your attention back to the door you want to move towards and the way you would like to be.
The parts of ourselves we would like to develop are there; they just need our attention to grow. The more we do this, the easier and more natural it becomes.
Using visualization to think and see what you want more of in your life helps you
break free from negativity, and makes your goals more easily attainable.
I remember my father telling me years ago that it takes two to argue. I didn't quite believe him at the time because it seemed as if some people could argue with a brick wall. Only after studying and practicing CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) did I realize that he was right.
Although it sometimes feels as if we get pulled into arguments by others stating their views as if they're facts, this is not true. We do get pulled into arguments, but it is an inside job. The forces pulling us into an argument are not other people; our own beliefs do the pulling. It may sound unbelievable - I know that's how I reacted to this concept initially. The good news is that understanding this helps us figure out how to stop allowing it and to keep the peace with others who seem to be pushing our buttons. We can all learn how to do this, and keep the peace during the holidays.
Argument outcomes can vary from those that settle down and lead to greater understanding, to those that escalate to the point of bitterness, anger, and resentment. Still other arguments end with people agreeing to disagree. The evidence is clear that disagreements and arguments can go in many directions. What is often unclear, are the factors that lead to these different outcomes.
No one person is always right, or is always argumentative. There is no one person who comes out on the top or bottom of every disagreement. So, what causes arguments to escalate? People often point to the more obvious, observable factors such as stubbornness, sarcasm, not letting things go, raising voices and insults. But what causes these? Why do we insist on another person agreeing with us?
There are two irrational beliefs that play some part in this. One is that we can actually make another person agree with us. We may believe that if we argue just one more point, get a little bit louder, or pull others in to support our view, that we can impose control on the mind of another person. But is this possible? Can we reach into another person's mind and put our opinions in it? Even if it is a fact? The answer of course, is no. People believe what they believe. Even if we pull out a dictionary or research that proves our point, another person's beliefs about it, are their own; we cannot touch them. We may be able to have a civil discussion and plant some seeds that the other person may decide to either discard or nourish, but even if we are 100% certain and have tons of evidence to back it up, we can't control what is in another person's mind.
The other belief that can lead us to pull ourselves into arguments is that not only can we make the other person agree or understand our point, but that we have to. The more a person insists on arguing and imposing his or her view on others, and "making" them understand, the stronger this belief is. When we believe things are critical for whatever reason, that we need to do something, we feel and act as if it's true. Our brains don't filter out false beliefs on their own. But we can use CBT skills to do it ourselves.
So, what do people believe when they are not only able to walk away from an argument, but are able to feel at peace doing this? With CBT we know about the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We know that they are typically aligned. So if we are walking away and feeling at peace about it, our thoughts might include the following:
No matter how strongly I feel about this, I cannot force others to agree.
I can share my view and hope they understand.
If they disagree, continuing to argue my point will only escalate conflict.
I would like to keep the peace between us.
Others have a right to their views, just as I have a right to mine.
I can tolerate them having a different belief than mine.
I only want them to agree, I do not need them to agree.
If these thoughts seem unnatural to you, that's OK. We have repeated and practiced everything we have learned that has become familiar and natural to us - the same is true with thoughts and thought patterns. If you have a habit of getting pulled into disagreements and arguments, the pathways of believing you can and must change others' beliefs are strong. For any CBT skills to be effective, we have to practice them. Try practicing and elaborating on the rational, healthy thoughts above, add some of your own, and keep in mind the goal of keeping the peace. If you feel another person is trying to pull you in, remember, they can't. And thank goodness for that.
The holiday season starts with a gift that can be lost in a frenzy of planning, shopping, cooking, and gatherings with friends and family. Giving thanks, or expressing gratitude, is a powerful antidote to all forms of negativity. Focusing on positive aspects of life has been found to decrease depression, anxiety, and aches and pains. It improves the quality of sleep, and increases energy and motivation. Studies have found that gratitude even affects metabolism and stress levels. Thanksgiving reminds us to give thanks, which in return gives us the gift of improving our minds, bodies, and our quality of life.
One of the wonderful things about gratitude is we can practice it anywhere, at any time. Any amount of practice helps, and it's a skill we can build. Many people have heard of writing daily in a gratitude journal, or sending thank you cards to express gratitude. Here are some additional less familiar strategies that can be very helpful:
Turn a "Have To" into a "Get To"
Whatever it is that we feel we have to do, reframing it as a "get to do" changes everything. It does not change the reality - but that's not what we need to do. We just need to shift our perspective, which shifts our mood, starting a domino effect of positivity, instead of negativity. I heard about this a few years ago and have been using it ever since. For example, when I'm walking my dog in the freezing cold, instead of thinking of it as a miserable chore, "BRRR! I'm freezing! I can't stand this! Hurry up!" I think, "This is what it feels like to be alive!" This completely shifts my perspective from feeling pressured and uncomfortable, to being grateful for my dog and to feel the air. The coldness brings my focus to gratitude for being alive, instead of focusing on feeling discomfort, and the activity is no longer a chore.
Turn a Hardship into an Opportunity
Choosing to view a situation that is challenging as an opportunity to grow our skills helps shift from feeling powerless to feeling empowered. It is a self-talk strategy to use when feeling defeated or overwhelmed - a tool that calls upon our rational part which knows that adversity can lead to growing stronger. From sitting in traffic, choosing to focus on growing the skill of patience instead of allowing feelings of anger to build, to being caught in a disagreement, choosing to grow the skill of respecting others' points of view instead of allowing intolerance and frustration to fester, there are many opportunities to use this perspective if we choose to.
In addition to these, there are all of the daily moments that are really OK and which we can choose to be thankful for, taking our focus off of problems we may be distressing ourselves about. No matter what is going on in our lives, there is a half-full or silver-lining perspective available if we remember to look for it. We can wish for a Happy Thanksgiving, as well as for Giving Thanks which can make us Happy!
We could always use another strategy for shifting our attention. Our thoughts, as well as related feelings and actions, are determined by our focus, our mental spotlight. At times, we aren't even aware of thoughts brewing in the back of our minds, and we may find ourselves unexpectedly in a rut that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Our mental spotlight has become hijacked.
We can proactively displace negativity by cultivating a goal-oriented perspective in everyday life, in everything we do. This is living from the inside, out and here are some ways to get started:
ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION
Shifting to a healthier focus can start with a very simple question. Throughout the day, asking, "What is it that I would like to do here?" pulls us back into a sense of purpose. Asking this question helps us return our attention to what we want to do and helps us break out of negativity. Unhealthy thinking patterns which are often about the past, the future, other people, or situations out of our control can derail us and take us off-track. Our minds were made to wander. Whether it's about self-care, relationships, completing a chore, or tackling a big job, remembering the goal in the moment helps us direct our mental spotlight and our energy. Being mindful of your goal generates constructive focus on the here-and-now.
FOCUS ON YOUR EFFORT, NOT THE RESULT
One of my favorite mantras is, "I am only responsible for my effort, not the result." Focusing on effort helps to act with energy and purpose. Putting forth effort is an active, constructive expression of hope, which allows for any outcome. Conversely, expecting a specific result could lead to disappointment. Focusing on expectations is an irrational attempt to impose our will on the future.
ADD IN SOME GOOD HUMOR AND SELF-COMPASSION
When we focus on our goals and efforts, noticing frustration helps us uncover unhealthy, unhelpful, and unnecessary self-judgment. We may unknowingly be a bully in our own heads, making things more difficult for no reason. The antidote for this is keeping a sense of humor, rejecting harshness and self-criticism, and turning consciously towards self-compassion. Committing to being a kind, encouraging, and reassuring friend to ourselves makes much more sense, and is entirely doable when we are thinking about our thinking.
On most days I hear at least one person say that they feel alone, that no one truly understands them or their situation, or that they feel "different" from others. How is it that so many people feel the same way, yet so many people feel alone? It's a paradox of being human.
It is impossible for any of us to experience exactly what another person experiences. Paths may cross, but each of us walks alone on our unique life journey. We can only try to imagine what another person's life is like. We can be close, but we can never be inside another person's mind, and no one will ever join us in ours. Being alone in our very own mind, body, perceptions, interpretations, and inner world is paradoxically, a shared experience. We are each alone in our personal experiences of living, but we are all on a solitary journey, together.
Thankfully, we have the ability to turn our attention to thoughts that help us feel connected if we choose to. If we look for similarities with others, we will find them. We can mindfully note our thoughts, to notice thoughts of comparison, judgment, or criticism towards ourselves and others, and then purposefully shift our focus to curiosity, acceptance, and empathy. We can recognize differences as being just part of the picture, putting them in the perspective of being a reflection of our uniqueness, instead of putting up walls.
Recognizing our mutual human experience of being alone can conversely allow us to tune in to common humanity. We can decrease judgment of others and of ourselves. We can let go of both blame and guilt. We can be forgiving, compassionate, and self-compassionate. There is no reason to bring ourselves or others down, because despite our differences, we are all in this personhood thing, together.
Erasing painful images from the past, replacing them with positive images, finding solutions from within through a process we typically only access during sleep... It sounds unbelievable, but ART is officially an evidence-based practice, recognized by NREPP, the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, to be an effective psychotherapy for PTSD, depression, stress, and personal resilience. ART was also classified as a promising therapy for symptoms of phobia, panic, anxiety, sleep and wake disorders, disruptive and antisocial behaviors, general functioning and well-being.
And it can work in 1 - 5 sessions.
I didn't believe it either. I heard about this in a meeting on Trauma Informed Care last year - some new therapy that erases painful images. I looked it up online and was both amazed and skeptical. Could this be possible? I watched the founder Laney Rosenzweig's TEDx Talk. I watched a news clip about a veteran whose PTSD was cured in one session, and more videos from individuals who reported similar success. After checking out the Accelerated Resolution Therapy website, I found myself registering for the Basic training in March. In 3 days with Laney and a group of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, I had learned about the science behind ART, both experienced and administered it, and remained amazed, yet still in disbelief.
I started using ART immediately with clients who had painful memories with distressing images, emotions, and sensations. As each of these clients reported weeks after the ART sessions, that they could not find the images even if they tried, I had no choice but to accept that this therapy works and it works fast. They had the facts, but lost the pain. After completing the Advanced and Enhanced ART trainings in early September, I am very excited to be offering ART to clients in my practice.
An eye-movement therapy that erases images sounds strange and unbelievable. There are many scholarly articles and studies available about it, but I'd like to answer some typical questions here.
What do eye movements have to do with anything?
Eye-movement therapies have actually been around for decades. One of the current theories is that the eye-movements replicate what occurs naturally in the REM (Rapid Eye-Movement) stage of sleep. In this stage, we have increased brain activity, dreams, eye-movements, and relaxed muscles. When people awake after REM sleep, their thoughts are more loosely associated - this accounts for the surprising metaphors, symbolism, and mixture of many parts of our experiences in dreams. Doing these eye-movements with the guidance of a trained therapist allows the brain to access a process which is typically not available when we are awake. This bilateral integration from the eye-movements is powerful, calming, and elicits natural, simple problem-solving.
How can memories be changed?
Most people know that memories are not reliable. This is why witnesses to the same event see things differently, and why memories change over time. When we are recalling, we are actually reconstructing. The process of recalling involves changes in the brain - new proteins synthesizing, neuronal (brain cell) changes in structure. This means that it is actually new and different each time. When we recall, there is a window of reconsolidation, during which our memories themselves are more vulnerable to change.
How can images, emotions, and facts be separated in a memory?
We used to think that a memory was stored in one place and fixed. It is not only changeable, but one memory is actually stored in multiple parts of the brain. Images are stored in the part of the brain that processes what we see. Sounds, smells, tastes, and touch sensations are each stored in specialized areas. So are emotions and internal sensations like that feeling in your gut or your throat, or tingling, or tension. Emotions and sensations are more closely linked to images in the deep, more primitive parts of our brains. Eye-movements that occur with dreaming and that are used with ART, have an effect on these parts in order to process emotions and sensations. Facts are stored in the more advanced parts and are not affected by ART. Over time, our reactions to memories may change; ART allows us to do this very quickly.
What does this have to do with phobias, anxiety, or depression?
In order to survive, we have to remember fear - so that we learn to be afraid of dangerous things. If a person develops a fear of spiders, the memory of the fear is recalled at the sight of a spider. Processing the memory with ART, removes the fear associated with the image of the spider. Other emotions or mood states such as anxiety or depression, are strongly associated with images and memory. Processing memories that may be at the root of this distress with ART, helps to separate the facts from the distress.
If you are curious, I encourage you to look at some of the links above to find out more about it. You can find an ART therapist near you, or if you are near Cornwall, NY, you can contact me for more information.