Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: 5 Tips to Survive a Bad Day

Bad days happen.

Can three more trite but true words exist together in one sentence anywhere in the world?

Bad days happen to good people. They happen to bad people. They happen to bugs (FWAP!), animals (POW!), and even electronic equipment (*#&$ DVD player – SMACK!)

Yup. Bad days happen. But sometimes, a bad day well spent can also turn into one of the best days of your life.

Why would I say a crazy thing like this? Quite simply because bad days are often good days in disguise. Bad days give us the courage to see the important things we would otherwise not notice. Bad days can also serve to point out the necessary obvious we have been trying too hard not to notice.

Perhaps most importantly, bad days remind us that in all things, balance trumps both good and evil. Too much sugar, we decay. Too much salt, we shrivel. But with a proper balance of each, we begin to grow, to find empowerment through humility, to become wise.

In 2006, the musical artist Daniel Powter became a near-household name when he wrote and recorded what has become his greatest hit to date, the mega best-selling song “Bad Day”. Why was the song so popular? Not because of the admittedly charming video (a glimpse into the lives of two young people – a gal and a guy – who are having their own ‘sliding doors’ bad day experiences).

Not even because of the talent of the songwriter-performer, which is clearly robust.

The reason that “Bad Day” raced up the charts in the United States and around the world is because the song confirms what each one of us secretly hopes is true but can’t quite be sure of without more visible proof – that bad days do not happen to only us.

Knowing that bad days happen to other people too can be reassuring.

Knowing we did not necessarily do anything “wrong” to cause a bad day can be calming as well.

However, no matter how reassuring or calming this information may be, how popular a song by the same name might appear to be for all of us equally, or how wonderful our personal bad days may appear in hindsight, it is no joke that they can be challenging to live through in the moments when they are happening. In fact, one of the keys to benefitting from a bad day is being able to survive it with enough of you intact to be able to revisit it again later to glean the valuable information you need to move forward.

So for this blog post, I thought I would share with you my five favorite tips for surviving a bad day. Try them out and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Tip One: Listen to the song “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter and feel the peace and ease spread through your body at the sheer compassion in the lyrics. You had a bad day – are having a bad day. That is all that is happening. You will get through it – and quite likely will emerge stronger, more courageous, more grateful, and wiser than you were before (p.s. for extra credit watch the video and draw your own graffiti along with the two main characters!)

Tip Two: Figure out what you need that you are having trouble giving yourself. Do you need to cry? To laugh? To feel TOTALLY sorry for yourself? To do something TOTALLY self-indulgent (big or small)? Do you need to talk? To take a nap? To sit in the sun and soak up some vitamin D? If (fill in the blanks – aka items on your to-do list for the day) was optional, how would you comfort yourself RIGHT NOW? Pick at least one and preferably all of the things on your list and just start doing them.

Tip Three: DO NOT PANIC. I repeat – do not panic. It is just a bad day. You’ve had one before, and you will have one again. Take ALL the pressure off – yes, I mean right now.  You may not produce anything but carbon dioxide all day long. But just think – that too is an accomplishment! Later on you can tell your nieces, your grandkids, a stranger, “Let me tell you about the day I accomplished absolutely nothing. It was fabulous, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.” Then realize it now and get to work doing a really great job of accomplishing nothing.

Tip Four: If you can’t get out of work/school/volunteering/etc., be sure to alert others who may be affected by your inability to focus/concentrate/produce/string a sentence together/etc. Not only will you get healthy doses of sympathy from some quarters, and possibly entertaining stories that will make you laugh in spite of yourself from others, but you may also get some much-needed respite from demands and requests. Share appropriately, of course (the boss is on a “need to know” basis) but if there are potential sympaticos in your sphere of influence who are in a position of being able to lighten your load a bit until the black clouds pass, call in your turn to have a bad day. You can always return the favor later.

Tip Five: Be kind – VERY kind – to you. Period. (This is non-negotiable.)

If you have experienced that the number of “bad days” have begun to outweigh the number of good days in your life as of late, you may want to consider connecting with supportive professionals who can help you to say “no” to past hurts, limitations, and painful memories and “yes” to the full and wonderful life you cannot help but dream about. If this describes you, I want to invite you to explore everything that Southlake Counseling has to offer. Our highly skilled and compassionate professional staff has more than two decades of expertise with helping people just like you to take wisdom from the bad days to fuel the good. Please visit us at www.southlakecounseling.com

Be Well,

Kimberly

 

Your Weekly Meditation: Life is Like a Bowl of Jello

Life is like a bowl of jello.

Taking Forrest Gump’s famous chocolate analogy a step further, life as it is most closely resembles a bowl of jello. We are constantly trying to steady our footing, hunting around for solid ground. But the moment we find it, it shifts again. Rather than continuing to struggle to change how life is, the beneficial approach here is to relax into the experience of walking on jello, learning to laugh softly at life’s jiggles and wiggles and bumps, and maybe even enjoying the excitement of never knowing what will happen next!

This week I resolve to: Reconnect to the pure joy I had as a small child, when I could spend hours chasing those jiggly jello cubes around the bowl, anticipating the moment I might finally catch one and – gulp!

 

DBT: Finding the Purpose…

Do things happen for a reason? Or is everything left to chance? Are there random occurrences? Does karma exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do things happen that just don’t seem fair? How am I supposed to see the silver lining when I suffer? How do I withstand what seems to be pointless pain?

I lost someone close to me last Fall. Not to death – he’s still here on earth. We just wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. I lost him from my everyday life. One morning after it occurred, I found myself overcome with grief as endless questions circled around my mind: “why should I have to endure this pain? Yes, there were so many good memories and I genuinely enjoyed all our time spent together. But were those memories – those good times – were they worth this pain? What was the point?”

Throughout my life, I’ve only allowed myself to become interested in partners with whom I could see a future. While I did see the possibility of some sort of prolonged exchange with him, what was the point of our interactions if we would end up very simply and sadly saying goodbye?

I continued to watch the thoughts swirl: “I should have never gotten involved. I should’ve turned back when I had doubts. I should’ve known.” The thoughts triggered embarrassment, which triggered more thoughts: “you were naïve again. You didn’t listen to your gut. You do this every time – when will you learn?!” The sadness and guilt deepened. I became awash in a sea of discontent, embarrassment, and frustration. All for what?! Why was I allowing these negative thoughts to consume and berate me? It was if they entered my psyche with baseball bats and crowbars and immediately went to work defacing my self-esteem.

Then, I remembered something helpful to me. It was almost as if a voice from beyond whispered into my ear, “find the purpose…” Ever since I began having intimate relationships it’s been difficult for me to let go of partners when the relationships end. It’s possibly one of the only areas in my life in which I experience a genuine repulsion to change. While I’m with someone, we develop a bond, a beautiful friendship. When the time comes for the relationship to end, I often hear myself protesting, “you mean I’m not only going to lose a partner but I’m going to lose one of my best friends too?!” So, a trick I learned along the way [of life], was to believe that everyone with whom I was in a relationship had come into my life to teach me something, to assist me in my personal growth, which would ultimately lead to a more wholesome life experience – a life experience I could then more efficiently share with a loved one down the road.

I ran through my list of past partners, noticing each of their unique purposes: to know the purest type of love, to trust more deeply, to be more adventurous, to appreciate the importance of maturity, to live a life free from substances, to be silly and laugh often, to take care of one’s mind and body. So what was his? I asked myself freely what was his purpose and the answer came almost immediately: to allow me the time and space to develop a comfort in being myself.

Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, has developed several helpful skills for cultivating the ability to tolerate distressing situations, one of which includes finding/creating a purpose. She notes that research has shown that creating a purpose for a difficult situation, even if the situation seems to be so blatantly wrong, can assist anyone in better managing the emotions associated with the event and in effectively navigating through it. Some situations we’ll encounter in life will seem outlandishly unfair, unjust, or wrong; however, we still have the power to find a purpose in it, whether it be something so concise as: developing patience, making one stronger, or giving one to the ability to connect with another in a similar situation down the road.

After realizing what I perceived to be the purpose in losing my friend, that crisp Fall morning, I felt a calm come over me. When at first I felt deep sadness in losing him, upon finding the purpose I felt as if perhaps I was still on the right path. So, next time you find yourself in a situation that sparks painful thoughts and emotions, see if you can find a purpose, a tiny light softly shimmering in a black hole of grief. Breathe deeply, be kind to yourself, and grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: V is for Validation, Part Two

This week we continue our series on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

BPD is a brain-based emotion regulation disorder that affects an estimated 18 million Americans. Usually appearing first in early adulthood, by the time BPD is accurately diagnosed, many close relationships may already be irreparably damaged or destroyed.

In our last post, I introduced you to one of the most powerful techniques loved ones can use to facilitate improved relationships with a BPD sufferer. The technique is called Validation, and in this post I will introduce the basics of how Validation works and how to use it.

Validation works by making approval of, appreciation for, and understanding of the BPD sufferer a priority over any other message that may be conveyed. Basically, validation is a technique that softens the delivery of a message without changing its content overly much.

Using Validation challenges the loved one of a BPD sufferer to find a way to stand in their shoes, understand what their world is like, and communicate from that place of empathy and understanding. In a sense, imagining that you have the same symptoms and imagining how communications might affect you in that case paves the way for Validation to have its positive effect.

Its usefulness in managing BPD aside, Validation is a powerful technique in its own right. Whether an individual suffers from BPD or not, Validation is still an important part of any trusted connection, and loved ones can draw from their own positive experiences of receiving Validation to use the technique with a BPD loved one. The difference between a non-BPD and a BPD individual’s experience of receiving Validation is one of magnitude of the need for it, rather than the necessity of receiving it.

One Validation exercise that can be extremely helpful is what Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and creator of DBT tools such as Validation, calls the “Validation Sandwich”.

Understanding how the Validation Sandwich works can streamline communications between a BPD sufferer and his or her loved ones.

When employing the Validation Sandwich to express preferences or feedback that have the potential to provoke an extreme reaction in someone with BPD, DBT experts guide loved ones to place validating statements before and after the potentially distressing communication.

In this way, the individual with BPD hears and takes in that they are seen, heard, known, and supported right from the start, and as a result they become more willing and able to hear out difficult communications with less fear of abandonment or rejection.

DBT-trained experts guide loved ones to become more acutely aware of areas where the BPD individual is behaving in responsible, emotionally sound, and healthy ways, and to make validating those behaviors a priority in any communication, whether light or more serious. Validation is not meant to sugar-coat the acting out of the symptoms of BPD, but rather to reinforce the visible signs of recovery progress.

Validation lets the BPD sufferer know that their efforts are noticed and applauded, and that there is genuine care and affection for the person, even if there is less tolerance for the behaviors as they occur. In this way, slowly but surely, the balance shifts to create a more trusting, stable foundation for future communications to occur.

Another popular Validation technique is known by its acronym – GIVE. GIVE stands for Gentle, Interested, Validating, and Easy in manner. Practicing GIVE reigns in a loved one’s propensity towards fighting fire with fire (by reacting in kind to a BPD-based outburst) and instead teaches a more effective way of fighting fire – with cooling, calming water. With GIVE, attacks or outbursts are met with gentleness and an even demeanor, with empathy and understanding, with the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff in behavioral expression, and with an easefulness that comes from sincerely believing that BPD is a treatable disorder and that the BPD sufferer has what it takes to recover.

GIVE, like other Validation techniques, is very affirming and reassuring to the individual with BPD, and has an equal effect on loved ones when they see that Validation truly does open up new lines of communication in previously strained relationships.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from symptoms that appear to be related to Borderline Personality Disorder, don’t wait! Seek help right away as BPD can be life threatening. At Southlake Counseling, our staff has received extensive training from DBT Founder Dr. Linehan’s Behavioral Tech Institute. We have more than two decades of experience successfully treating BPD through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. We also offer supportive DBT-based skills-building groups for family, loved ones, and friends of BPD sufferers. These groups instruct loved ones in DBT techniques such as Validation and much, much more. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well,

Kimberly

 

 

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: V is for Validation, Part One

This month we continue our exploration of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and its effect on BPD sufferers and their families.

As you may recall from last month’s posts, May was Borderline Personality Month. BPD is now known to be a brain-based emotion regulation disorder that often begins to arise in early adulthood and affects more women than men. The disorder manifests in a devastating emotional sensitivity that makes it difficult for some and impossible for others to maintain the type of close, nurturing, mutually supportive relationships that make life feel worth living.

This explains why, out of the 18 million Americans who have BPD, 10 percent will commit suicide before adequate diagnosis and treatment is offered. Additionally, current statistics state that 33 percent of all youth who commit suicide are found posthumously to have displayed symptoms characteristic of BPD that went undiagnosed.

In my work as Program Director with Southlake Counseling, I have seen firsthand how a lack of knowledge, lack of or improper diagnosis, and inadequate or improper care can lead to the tragic loss of a loved one who has BPD, and the unnecessary total breakdown of family systems. I say unnecessary, because there are some practical, accessible skills that loved ones of a BPD sufferer can begin to employ right now to ease the tension in their relationships and restore valued connections.

In this post, I would like to introduce one such technique: Validation.

Validation is a term that was first employed in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which is a therapeutic method designed by Dr. Marsha Linehan specifically to treat BPD. Validation is a DBT-based technique that is carefully designed to counteract the natural emotional response nearly every important communication has the potential to evoke in a BPD sufferer.

In the normal world of a person with BPD, their brain is not wired as sensitively to relational cues as a non-BPD individual’s brain is. So it is much easier for a BPD sufferer to feel invalidated or rejected by even a mundane or routine interaction with a loved one.

Validation is a direct counter to the BPD individual’s assumption that every communication is invalidating until proven otherwise. The rage, the suicidal actions, the emotional outbursts, the self-harming behaviors, the expressed fearfulness and the impulse control issues all stem from a feeling of being rejected, abandoned or invalidated by a person who holds an important role in the BPD individual’s life.

Learning how to successfully communicate with a loved one who has BPD is based upon understanding their inner emotional landscape and working with rather than against their BPD-influenced perception of relationships and events. Using Validation promotes that awareness and understanding, and opens up the door to better communications between the BPD sufferer and those who share their life.

In our next post, we will explore how to use Validation to facilitate communications with a BPD sufferer. So stay tuned!

If you or someone you care about is suffering from symptoms that appear to be related to Borderline Personality Disorder, don’t wait! Seek help right away as BPD can be life threatening. At Southlake Counseling, our staff has received extensive training from Dr. Linehan’s Behavioral Tech Institute. We have more than two decades of experience successfully treating BPD through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. We also offer supportive DBT-based skills-building groups for family, loved ones, and friends of BPD sufferers. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well,

Kimberly

 

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: May is National BPD Awareness Month

This month, we recognize the power of education and awareness efforts to save lives.

In 2008, May was designated as National Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month by the U.S. House of Representatives. H. Res 1005, spearheaded by Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), passed unanimously when put to a vote, and this year we celebrate the 4th year of ongoing awareness and education efforts by committed researchers and survivors to better serve affected individuals and their loved ones.

Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD as it is commonly called, affects an estimated 18 million Americans. Approximately 10 percent of BPD sufferers will commit suicide before adequate treatment is provided. 33 percent of youth who commit suicide have displayed prior symptoms associated with BPD.

When BPD first begins to rear its head in early adulthood, this brain-based psychiatric illness can have devastating results. Loved ones watch, first with puzzlement and later with fear and hopelessness, as their loved one begins to exhibit the severe emotional instability that characterizes BPD.

As BPD progresses, rageful outbursts, recurrent attempts at self-harm and suicide, extreme fear of abandonment (imagined or real), impulse control issues, and severe relational chaos become the norm rather than the exception. In the wake of the interpersonal devastation BPD causes, loved ones of a BPD-affected individual often feel unable to cope.

The good news is, there are several national organizations that are now actively engaged in year-round initiatives to connect BPD-affected individuals and their loved ones with sources of hope, inspiration, treatment, and ongoing support.

The National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD) has posted information about the history of National Borderline Personality Month and ideas for how to share information about BPD in your community.

Activist Tammy Green, herself a survivor of BPD, serves as a spokesperson for the NEA-BPD and urges BPD sufferers and their families not to retreat into silence and secrecy, but to reach out, speak out, and connect with others who may be able to offer support and assistance. As Tammy states in her article “BPD 2.0 – The Next Wave”:

Onward my friends. We are in this together. And what a wonderful ride it is, if only we will allow it. There is much to celebrate, and much to do.

For survivors like Tammy, it is all too clear how critical education and awareness-building actions are for sustaining affected individuals and their families through the often deadly progression of the disease. She urges affected individuals and their loved ones to educate themselves about the disease, and then pass what they have learned on to others as well.

This month, in recognition of the powerful impact awareness and education can have in the lives of those who suffer, consider sharing information about BPD in your community. I encourage you to use the NEA-BPD literature, posted on their website, to inform others about how BPD develops and progresses, and current recommended treatment programs that can help.

The NEA-BPD offers a wealth of printable and downloadable posters, graphics, and handouts that you can share both with your online social network and in your local community.  Consider accessing the following resources to share information about National BPD Awareness Month this month:

The McLean Hospital BPD Family Guidelines flyer is a comprehensive 11-page lifesaver for families of BPD-affected individuals.

The BPD Fact Sheet gives the latest statistics and initiatives underway to better support BPD-affected individuals and their families.

The BPD Brief offers a comprehensive overview of the origins, symptoms, and current treatment options.

The BPD Awareness Month Flyer is designed to reach out to those who are suffering in secrecy and silence with a message of hope.

Most importantly, if you or someone you love is suffering with BPD, or is displaying symptoms frequently associated with the onset of BPD, do not wait. I encourage you to contact one of the following national organizations for information about BPD support and treatment resources in your area:

National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI): http://www.nami.org/

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): http://www.nimh.nih.gov/

National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD): http://www.borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com/

And if you live in or near Davidson, North Carolina, visit www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more about our specialized BPD treatment programs. At the Southlake Center, we offer a full course of individual and group Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) options for BPD-affected individuals and their families.

Be Well,

Kimberly

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Good News – BPD Brains ARE Different!

This month marks the 4th anniversary of May as National Borderline Personality Awareness Month.

Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is a serious psychiatric illness which affects an estimated six percent of the population – approximately 18 million Americans. BPD is an excruciatingly painful emotional dysregulation disorder that can be both debilitating and deadly.

Affected individuals frequently first begin showing signs of the illness in early adulthood, often suffering for five years or longer before an accurate diagnosis is made. In that time period, BPD sufferers are 400 times more likely to commit suicide than non-affected peers. Affected individuals often cycle in and out of psychiatric care centers, encountering blame, shame, and stigma instead of the knowledgeable treatment BPD demands and deserves.

Symptoms of BPD include recurrent suicidal urges or attempts, chronic emotional instability, relational chaos, intense and persistent fear of abandonment (real or imagined), impulse control issues, rageful outbursts, and self-harm. While some BPD-affected individuals are able to function well in certain areas of life, others are unable to hold down a job or maintain basic relational connections.  Medical professionals estimate that as many as one in five out of every patients admitted to psychiatric care centers are suffering from undiagnosed BPD.

With these statistics, it is clear that much work remains to be done to better understand the origins and development of BPD, and what type of treatment most effectively assists affected individuals with recovery.

What is already known is that BPD is often passed from parent to child, with a nearly 70 percent likelihood that an affected person has had a parent who also suffered from the illness.

What has not been understood to date is whether or not there are true grounds for treating BPD as a brain-based illness, but recent studies at Baylor College of Medicine and The Mount Sinai Medical Center are now changing that.

In 2008, Baylor College of Medicine conducted a first-of-its-kind research study that aimed to identify whether the brains of BPD-affected individuals function differently than the brains of non-affected peers. This study paired a BPD-affected individual with a non-affected partner to play a game of trust. Researchers used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans to measure how the brains of BPD-affected individuals processed emotional and relational cues from their non-affected partners as the game progressed.

To do this, Baylor research scientists measured blood flow to the anterior insula of the brain, the region that is thought to be responsible for sending up a “red flag” that something is wrong.  As the games of trust progressed, fMRI scans showed that when trust was broken, the anterior insula in the brains of non-affected individuals would register increased blood flow. No such activity was measured in the brains of BPD-affected game players, which for scientists was a clear signal that BPD sufferers do not process relational cues with the same acuity and intensity as non-affected peers.

The outcome of the Baylor study showed that BPD-affected individuals lacked the basic ability to pick up on social cues from their non-affected partners. Scientists now believe this difference in brain function is responsible for the persistent and often pervasive relational instability which BPD sufferers exhibit.

In a second study conducted just one year later in 2009 at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, research scientists snapped into place yet another piece of the brain-based puzzle that is BPD. In the Mount Sinai study, researchers set out to discover why BPD-affected individuals experienced chronic inability to self-regulate emotions. Paired against a control group of non-affected peers, 19 BPD sufferers viewed a series of pleasant and disturbing images, and researchers used fMRI scans to measure blood flow to the amygdala, or emotion processing center of the brain. When BPD-affected participants viewed the disturbing images, blood flow to their amygdala far outpaced amygdala responses of their non-affected control group peers.

Mount Sinai researchers are using this information to better understand the origin of the extreme emotional reactions BPD sufferers often display. The hope is that in the future, this information can be used to target medications and treatments to better serve the recovery needs of BPD-affected individuals.

Both the Baylor and the Mount Sinai studies offer good news to BPD-affected individuals and their loved ones. With now conclusive evidence that brain-based differences exist between BPD sufferers and non-affected individuals, a new and hopeful horizon for better treatment options for BPD sufferers is coming into view.

To read more about the Baylor study: CLICK HERE

To read more about the Mount Sinai study: CLICK HERE

If you or someone you love is suffering from BPD, or if you have or observe in a loved one symptoms that match those outlined in this post, I urge you to contact Southlake Counseling today for assistance in recovering from this painful but very treatable disease. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well,

Kimberly

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Resisting the Urge to Surf

Surf? You probably saw the title to this week’s Monday Motivator and thought, “What does surfing have to do with a blog about recovery, health, and wellness?”

Not much, if we are talking about the kind of surfing that comes with an oblong flat board, sleek black wetsuit, and a bank of high, toasty waves.

But when it comes to facilitating a continuity of wellness that exhibits consistent restraint in the face of compulsive, urge-like addictive tendencies, we can learn a lot from surfing.

“Urge surfing” is a term coined by Alan Marlatt, director of the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center. The technique was developed by Marlatt to combat the “abstinence-violation effect,” or the feeling of internal powerlessness we get after we have transgressed against our self-imposed health or wellness standards. Once we have crossed that internal line over into following our urges instead of exhibiting restraint, Marlatt explains, we may feel an intense discouragement and reason that our course is already set, so we might as well continue down the damage path rather than correcting our course.

This, as you might imagine, not only feels awful, but has fairly unpleasant effects upon our lives and in our relationships.

In Marlatt’s many years of experience as one of the leading authorities on preventing relapse, how we relate to our lapses is the primary contributing factor as to whether we will engage in further urge-type behaviors.

To combat the downward spiral that the abstinence-violation effect induces, Marlatt suggests a healthy and consistent application of “urge surfing.”  Urge surfing refers to an effective relapse prevention technique we can use to “ride out” the relatively brief span of time in which our urges feel powerful enough to potentially overtake us.

Urges, Marlatt explains, are like waves. They roll in, and then they roll out again. Most urges arise and subside within a thirty minute time period. So if we learn how to “ride out” the urge without resisting, judging, or otherwise jumping on the urge bandwagon, it will eventually subside naturally with no undue ill effects.

When practicing urge surfing, Marlatt teaches, we do not fight with our urges. Fighting with our urges gives them additional power and potency in our awareness, which just makes it that much harder for us to resist them.

So instead, we just observe them, like a surfer would observe a wave that he or she did not want to catch. Eventually, the wave would unfurl itself completely and dissolve back into the ocean, leaving us with calm seas in its wake.

So the next time you feel the temptation to engage with urge-related thoughts that have the potential to lead to relapse behaviors, follow these simple steps to try urge surfing instead:

  1. Simply observe the urge as it arises. Tell yourself, “There is no harm or judgment in acknowledging that I am feeling an urge. It is just a wave. I will watch but not act.”
  2. Pay attention to your breath as an aid to keeping a big-picture perspective. This helps you avoid the tendency to develop “urge tunnel vision,” which focuses your awareness so intensely on the urge that it begins to feel unstoppable and overwhelming.
  3. Notice the types of thoughts you are having around the urge…for instance, “Wow I sure would love to (fill-in-the-blank) right now. Boy that would feel/taste/etc good. Hmmm. Yes. I sure wish I could do/say/experience (fill-in-the-blank)right now. Yup. Very interesting.” Keep observing and notice how your own experience of having the urge shifts and changes in intensity, focus, and duration as the wave continues to roll in and then right by you.
  4. Instead of fearing the sensation of the urge and of the consequences should you choose to follow it, maintain an objective, scientific, “research” mindset. Study the urge as if you were a scientist noting down observations so you could write up a report about it later. If it helps, pretend it is not your urge, but someone else’s urge that you are documenting.
  5. As the urge subsides, be prepared to journal about your findings. Note especially how the craving eventually subsided and how the experience of watching and observing the urge was different from the experience of fighting with, resisting, or attempting to ignore the presence of the urge.
  6. Be sure to congratulate and celebrate yourself for trying on a new approach to your urges!

Urge surfing is a powerful, empirically-supported relapse prevention technique that has helped many individuals change their relationship with their urges to smoke, binge eat, use substances, drink, and other self-damaging, unhealthy behaviors. Marlatt encourages first time urge surfing practitioners to remember that learning any new skill is like learning to ride a bicycle – we are bound to fall off a few times as we learn. But as we continue to persevere, the skill feels more natural and innate, and slowly but surely urge surfing becomes part of our repertoire of trusted tools we can use to reclaim the health and balance in our daily lives.

If you are struggling to relate in healthy and life-affirming ways to the presence of your urges, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate, skilled professional staff is well-versed in Mindfulness techniques like urge surfing. We know what it feels like to confront a significant life challenge such as relapse in a recovery or health program, and we have supported many individuals to make lasting positive changes in their relationship with their bodies, minds, relationships, and environments. Contact us today to learn more about how urge surfing and Mindfulness can be an aid and a support to you in saying “no” to urges and “yes” to wellness and balance in 2011 and beyond!

Be Well,

Kimberly


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Out with the Old, in with the New

Well, it is just about over. The wonderful, the horrible, the forgettable and the memorable, all are about to be bundled up and tucked away for another year.

And that is when it hits you.


The New Year. It is almost here.

Oh boy. Here we go again. Another set of resolutions. Another New Year’s diet (after all, more than seventy percent of women nationally resolve to lose weight each New Year, and you don’t plan to be the only one still clunking around in her size-larger holiday wardrobe come next July.)

Another whole year to (take your pick) dread/look forward to.

You would really like to look forward to the New Year, but you have so many regrets. You don’t feel done with this year yet. All those resolutions you made last New Year’s, and here is a new New Year staring you down, and you still haven’t finished last year’s list yet!

What to do?

The good news is, you have spent the last several months studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in a group study setting, and you are learning a lot from the four DBT principles about how to stay present for your life as it is, and how to choose peace over chaos.

You wonder if you can use the four DBT principles in this situation as well – it is a big situation, with a whole year’s worth of joys and regrets attached to it – but maybe DBT can help you sort it out.

First, you start by observing mindfulness through practicing radical acceptance – the total, unresisting acceptance of what is. You observe to yourself that today, the New Year has not yet arrived, but you are aware that it soon will. You observe that your mind is telling you there is lots of unfinished business to attend to – business you will never finish before this year ends and the next one begins. You notice that your mind is kicking up a whole pile of “should haves” and “ought tos” that it thinks you need to pay attention to.

You then decide not to care. You can’t control any of that. Today, your job is to live in the present moment, with what is. You remind yourself that what happened even one moment ago is no longer within your control…and that what happens in the next moment is not yet within your control….but what happens in THIS moment IS in your control. You decide that in this moment, you choose acceptance. Peace. Focus. Baby steps. Small steps forward.

You start to feel better.

But then your mind kicks up another round of thoughts, and this time your emotions go haywire. You are feeling, well, everything! Sadness. Rage. Loss. Grief. Hope. Excitement. Anticipation. Resentment. Fear. You remember that the DBT principle of emotion regulation has taught you to maintain objectivity by naming each emotion and witnessing it before choosing whether or not to engage in it. You catalog your emotions, but then choose to allow them to continue on by after you have given them names…like clouds making their way across the blue winter sky.

Simultaneously with this process, you are practicing the DBT principle of distress tolerance, as you use your skills in emotion regulation to name and then release your feelings rather than hanging on and becoming overwhelmed by them. With your newfound skill in distress tolerance, you simply allow the day’s events and emotions to unfold, focusing on the moment, remembering the bigger picture, and refraining from getting unnecessarily caught up in the temporary ebbs and flows of daily life. You are also, slowly but surely, releasing the present year’s old unfinished baggage by recognizing it, accepting it, then releasing it – as you do so, you are realizing that in the very acknowledgement of each stressor also comes its release.

Finally, you bring your new skills together in interpersonal effectiveness, interacting with yourself and others with respect, hopefulness, a degree of detachment, and yet the assertiveness to include yourself and your needs in the mix of any interaction you are having. You feel a burgeoning respect for yourself – no, this past year did not go perfectly according to plan, but yes, it did go, and yes, you are managing just fine in releasing what is unfinished and accepting a new gift of a whole year of life, love, and new experiences yet ahead.

You are proud of yourself. You are ready for the New Year. You are looking forward to today, and also to what lies ahead. And in this, the final, unexpected gift of the holiday season, you discover that you have turned your biggest holiday woe of all into an even bigger New Year’s wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy New Year!

Kimberly



Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Treating Yourself During the Holidays

When you think of the word “holidays,” the vision that comes to mind is of treats.

Specifically, holiday treats.

Specifically, those marshmallow chocolate sprinkled things your mother always makes….the ones with the mint centers and gooey tops.

And the peppermint ice cream with hot fudge that your family always has as a Christmas evening tradition. And the spicy-sweet popcorn mix with extra real butter for the night you watch “Twas the Night before Christmas” with all the kids. And the annual community-wide block party with the neighbor’s homemade fudge, and the home-fried doughnuts, and the…..

Your mouth is watering already. You have been SO good all year long…. for just such a season as this. While you can already see the New Year (and the New Year’s diet) looming, that dread can be put off for a month or so yet. You tell yourself that you will tackle the diet when you get to it.

To be honest, you are aware that you tend to indulge to excess during the holidays, to the point where you have an extra set of clothes waiting in the wings – all a size larger – and you dread New Year’s Day, when you have to squirm your way into something extra-tight to go to your annual family get together.

You’re just not sure what to do about it. Just the thought – not to mention the sight – of all those holiday treats, and you seem to lose all self control.

But this year, you have a new bag of tricks up your sleeve. You have been studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and your group leader has told you that using the four principles of DBT might help you.

Your goal is to maintain better self-control during the holidays, but balance that with a less restrictive, treat-aversive attitude throughout the rest of the year. Your group leader thinks that with some balance year-round, and a bit more willingness to indulge in treats here and there throughout the rest of the year, you won’t be as prone to excess when the holidays roll around.

You sure hope she is right!

You start by practicing mindfulness. As your table fills up with holiday goodies each night, you simply observe, with radical acceptance of what is, that they are maintaining a presence there. You feel that familiar craving deep in your abdomen. You witness yourself imagining how each treat will taste.

From there, you notice the frustration arising within you. You want all of the treats! Now! You feel stress – which ones should you start with? How many of each? What if you overindulge again and feel guilty like you did last year? You use your new emotion regulation technique to name each emotion as it arises – not engaging, but simply naming. Frustration. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Guilt. Shame.

As the emotions present themselves and you give them names, you are simultaneously practicing distress tolerance – the ability to stand in the presence of strong emotions without allowing them to overtake you. You accept that these are today’s events, like them or not, accept them or not. You choose to learn from (if not like) them, and to accept them by reminding yourself that you are stronger and wiser than any temporary disturbance that you may happen upon in the course of a day.

Finally, you use your newfound interpersonal regulation skills to remind yourself that food treats are not the only way you can reward and treat yourself. You can brew yourself a lovely warm cup of tea. You can invite a loved one for a brisk walk and watch the snowflakes fall while the moon shines above. You can pop in a good movie that you love to laugh at. You can draw a bath…or turn in early to get a few extra winks of sleep. You can read a favorite book or snuggle with your spouse.

In this way, you begin to relate to yourself as a whole being rather than as an emotion-driven stomach, and slowly, those cravings in your abdomen begin to unclench you and leave you in peace….turning a longstanding holiday woe into a true miraculous wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly