Feel like you struggle to regulate yourself? Can’t seem to find a way to calm down when things are tough. Just Breathe … and here’s why.
Take 5 long breaths in and slow your exhale. Begin your count on the exhale and it will automatically slow your inhale. This equals about 30 seconds of deep breathing, which engages the relaxation response through your endocrine system. This response counteracts the stress response and they cannot exist at the same time.
Your breath controls your mind. It does this by impacting your heart rate, known as heart rate variability. As you breathe you are changing and shifting your nervous system between parasympathetic (rest/digest) and sympathetic (fight/flight) all day long. By taking control of your breath, you take control of your heart rate, when you do this your brain gets the signal that things are ok.
This builds self confidence by allowing you choices in each moment. Over time you learn that you have skills to figure things out, even when you do not like any of the choices in front of you.
Choices allow you to respond rather than react, thus you are more regulated in every interaction throughout your day, doing just what is needed in each moment. No more, no less.
Want 2019 to be the best ever? Then you have to self-regulate and take responsibility for your experiences. So many of us want to have wonderful times, yet are not proactive in our daily routines. As a result, we are not ready for whatever life has in store for us. We are tired, feel “heavy” and lethargic, put ourselves and others down with negative comments/thoughts, and feel bored in our life. We call it stress or overwhelm, because we can not seem to check everything off our to do list or accomplish all we are dreaming of after getting lost in the daily grind of getting through the day. Instead just floating from event to event as though we have no control in the process of creating our life.
To be successful in life we have to stop playing the victim of our circumstances and instead play the master. We have to become self regulated, taking full responsibility for the activities that help us maintain that balance. People who learn to self regulate are more successful in many areas of their lives – from work to relationships to feeling more happy everyday.
Self regulation is the ability to stay connected to your experience giving just what is needed in each moment while meeting the moment accurately. We do this by practicing activities that help us stay focused on healthy relationships and interactions.
“Self–regulation can be defined in various ways. In the most basic sense, it involves controlling one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. More specifically, emotional self–regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses”.
In order to create the best interactions possible in any given situation you have to be able to think. This means your brain (notably the pre-frontal cortex) has to stay fully online. You need the centers of the brain known as executive functioning to help you plan, predict, and respond appropriately. However they will go offline if your emotions are too strong. Emotions are just information and intelligence telling you about your environment and how to respond to it. They are quicker than cognitions and therefore the brain uses them to inform your thinking. When your emotions are overwhelming your brain cannot regulate well and you’ll react rather than respond to what is going on around you. Often the responses are based on old patterns of learning and may not be appropriate in the current relationship, be it with your partner or the customer service rep on the phone. When we do not handle situations well in the moment we often feel shame and guilt, which contribute to a cycle of self destructive behaviors and actions that blow up the very relationships we want/need to be supportive. We have to keep ourselves in check if we are going to have healthy relationships.
When you think about creating healthy relationships it starts with a healthy relationship with yourself. Taking care of others includes taking care of yourself first. I cannot engage well with you if I cannot engage well with me. To do this begin by determining what you need to feel you best.
How much sleep do you need?
What foods give you the most energy?
How much and what kinds of exercise leave you feeling blissed out and ready for anything?
As you determine what you need to be your best self, you begin to meet the needs of others too. You become better at noticing where they are and what they truly want and need in the present moment. You become better at reflecting those needs back to them and this helps you create stronger more authentic connections.
These deeper connections are something we all crave. They actually help us build our brain structures, increase our immune response, and live longer. These brain structures help us engage more thoroughly in everything from learning to experiences to rest thus creating a more vibrant and full life. As we create a more rich daily experience we create more authentic interaction with any given experience.
I know this video looks at teaching children in the classroom … but it’s good for all of us
As we deepen our practices of what keeps us well, we meet the challenges of our life with grace. For example if I have taken care of myself and I am feeling grounded – no physical illness, I am not hungry, I am well rested, I have energy, and feel physically strong – I will be able to handle more of life’s little stressors. As I competently deal with the little stressors I am “clearing my plate” so things do not pile up and become “big fucking deals”.
At this level of engagement, things flow and relationships grow deeper. I am taking care of me so my health is better and I am stronger for everything I need and want. Everyday.
Fall is here! Beautiful weather, gorgeous trees, crisp clean air – at least for most of us. Many of us love it. Some of us hate it. Many of us use it as a signal to turn inward, to slow down, to hibernate. For others it means dark, cold, lonely days. As a psychologist, I tend to see the latter this time of year.
No matter which camp you are in, here are 13 things you can do to keep your spirits up this winter:
Accept your feelings about winter coming. Acceptance of our current predicament allows us space for choice about it, no matter what it is, even if I hate my current predicament. Acceptance of it will get me out of it a lot faster. Acceptance doesn’t mean you agree, condone, or want the current reality. All it means is you acknowledge this is what is truly going on in this moment.
Make a pros and cons list – what do you like and not like about the season? From here you can build up thing you like and work with what you do not like.
Take stock of your Pros & Cons list. What can you use to help you? Even if you have nothing good to say about winter, we can reframe what you wrote. Trapped inside can become: trying new indoor spaces, time to rearrange your furniture, or making small steps to get outside a little bit at a time.
Make a plan to tackle dark days and loneliness now. Find out what local organizations offer for connection and outings during the winter. As you collect these items, put them on your calendar so you have things to look forward to moving into winter AND commit to going to them no matter what.
Get moving. As an exercise scientist who turned psychologist, I am amazed at how many people do not use their body to treat their moods. You were born into a body to move it. When we don’t move, our energy gets low and we tend to try using calories to increase it. Hello weight gain – see #8 below. Instead move. I don’t care if your pushups are against the wall and your squats land you on the couch, just start moving. This is another great place to try a new activity in the winter – check out the Rec center in your area – being in a warm pool is pretty nice when it’s snowing outside. See #3.
Find some beach oriented guided meditations. For those of you longing for a cabin fever get away – you don’t have to spend a dime. Take a mental vacation. The power of the mind is great. Just think about a succulent, bright yellow, juicy, aromatic, zesty, lemon. How many of you salivated? Do not underestimate your mind’s ability to transport you and create a different experience once you decide to focus. Next blizzard, cozy up, plug your earphones in, close your eyes and take a 20 minute beach vacation in the comfort of your own home.
Get a new blanket (try a weighted one), sweater, bathrobe, slippers, hat, or scarf. If you’re like me, you get cold easy and being cold is not fun. If it’s cold you hate, make sure you have gear. I’m known for wearing long johns and hats in my house all winter long. Make sure you have items so you can be cozy and warm. Layer it up. Get a fake fire app on your phone, TV, computer if you don’t have the option for a fireplace in your home. Why you ask? See #6 above … fake fire or not, you’ll be surprised at your mind’s abilities to create an experience for you if you let it.
Take a look at your diet. Many of us do not eat for mental health. We eat foods that actually leave us feeling depleted, low in energy and overall SAD (standard American diet). Eating for mental health includes eating a variety of foods, especially leafy greens. This gives the body the base nutrients it needs to start making the neurotransmitters you need to enjoy contentment, joy, pleasure, and ease. Look at your diet now, get to the farmers market and see what folks have preserved that you can take home and enjoy all winter long. Get with a nutritionist to review your diet and make sure you are getting what you need. In the winter we tend to want heavier foods. Look through cookbooks and find some items that look appealing to you and commit to making a new recipe every week or so. Again, this helps you be proactive and plan for things you are looking forward to. If you don’t like to cook, enlist someone to do it for you, take a class, or find a few local restaurants to sample over the season. See #’s 9 & 10 below.
Connect with friends and family now. Let them know winter is hard for you and you need some extra support getting and staying in touch during the long dark days. Set up reoccurring dates: game nights, lunch, and movie time. See #4 to remind yourself why you want to start scheduling now.
Some of you are saying what if I don’t have family or friends I can connect with? Again, see #4 above. Look around your community for options that interest you, even if you don’t know anyone yet, which I know is hard. Some of you may need to take an additional step, get into therapy, join a group around a task or activity you think you might like, reach out to an online community. Be open to trying and give it a real shot. Many give new groups one or two times and quit because it’s uncomfortable. It will be uncomfortable at first. I do not mean to be flippant about the difficulties that surround finding and making friends, however we have to start somewhere. Although many of us feel alone, if we are willing to be gentle with ourselves and open to trying new things we can make some sort of connection to help hold us through. Some of us need to be kind to ourselves and others. Work to have compassion for the humanness in all. People will say things you don’t like, do things you may think are weird, and may struggle to connect with you the same way you struggle to connect with them. Give them a break, remember you are there to connect and ask yourself how can you show up to support this person? When you shift the focus from yourself you’ll be surprised at how different your experience is. Again, it may be time for some therapy if you are overwhelmed and confused by this concept. If people aren’t your thing look into volunteering with animals. You will get the benefit of needing be outside a bit – see #3.
Take up a new hobby. Find something that’s healthy for you and commit to learning. Get curious and stay open, even if it’s a bit difficult or boring at first. By staying curious you access your pre-frontal cortex, this part of you, helps you stay in the moment, judge, plan, and respond rather than react. By committing and giving it a real shot, you teach yourself about perseverance and grit. When you have grit you increase confidence. When you increase confidence in yourself, things get a little brighter.
Take stock of your thoughts. Do not underestimate your ability to change your mind and impact your environment. Remember that lemon? Did you salivate again? If lemons don’t do it for you, how about a crunchy pickle? You can hate winter all you want, but the more you tell yourself you hate it, the more you will. If moving to “I love winter” is too much just go neutral in your comments “it is winter” without the heavy judgment and anger that accompanies hate and dislike. Move away from the emotional content of your statements and just be objective about your situation. So many of us remain trapped in the prison of our minds (about all sorts of things) because we refuse to give up our story about it. We refuse to look at it from a different perspective and change our mind about it. Doesn’t mean you have to like it, agree with it, or want it, just means you have to accept as it is, see #1. Acceptance gives you power back. Acceptance allows you to truly examine and decide what you want to do about it. Hard part of changing your mind … you have to be the one to do the work and be uncomfortable. No one can fix the way you think about things for you. You have to do the work.
Commit to yourself! No one else can fix this for you. Living in Durango we cannot, not have winter at your house. By being proactive and putting a few things in place ahead of time you can have a different experience this winter. By noticing the way you talk to yourself and if you set yourself up to learn how to shift your focus and manipulate your perception of your environment you stand a better chance at tolerating what you don’t like.
To be effective with ourselves and our teams we must recognize that motivation comes from within, but is first inspired. So rather than chase motivation we must find inspiration. If we are leading a team of people we must look to inspire rather than motivate. If we are working with ourselves we have to figure out what inspires us today. Inspiration is more powerful because once inspired the motivation wells up inside and spills out in joy as we complete the goal, even when the task is difficult.
It was years ago that I learned this distinction. I had a client who was motivated to let go of heroine, however that is a difficult task. He was intelligent, energetic, and had supportive resources available to him, and he still could not let the drug go. One day he looked at me exasperated and said “I need to be inspired. I need to feel inspiration about living this life and I don’t. I am motivated to quit using, but without inspiration I cannot find the missing piece”. We started discussing motivation and inspiration differently that day. I have carried that discussion with me since. I started looking at inspiration in my own life and noticing when motivation felt easy and when it felt forced. When it was easy, it was always inspired.
Now the trick is to find inspiration … and then stay inspired. I can be inspired by lots of things, but they will not sustain me because inspiration moves. Thus, I must work to build inspiration everyday. I must cultivate the practices that build inspiration and I must practice them regularly. This is where people get tripped up. They get inspired in short bursts, do not have a plan or practices to sustain, then get discouraged. So what are the practices that sustain and cultivate inspiration? Well, that depends.
We are each unique and individual. Stop right now and look around your environment. What do your senses land on that draws your attention? Is is a sound, color, breeze, smell, taste, something you are touching? Our senses lead the way and draw us to what we find interesting.
As we begin the practice of cultivating our awareness we become more sensitive to what we enjoy. So many are too busy to notice. We are distracted. We rush from point A to point B and do not notice the way the sun glints off the roof of our neighbor’s house in the frosted morning. We spend time in our own head, with our to do list running fast and furious, and do not hear the new indie music in the back ground at the coffee shop with the unique sound. We sit down to rest, but use substances to finish the relaxation piece we can’t seem to figure out on our own. Instead of finding peace in the quiet we listen to the judgmental commentary lashing out in our heads. To find inspiration we can act on, we must slow down and notice. Follow the practice below to begin the process of noticing, slowing down, and engaging with your environment to find what inspires you.
Take a deep breath
Take another one
Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground …
The other points of contact your body has …
Take another deep breath
Close your eyes and listen …
Keep them closed and feel – what does your skin pick up? …
Open your eyes and notice what draws your attention …
Refrain from judgment, just notice
See if you can find something beautiful in your surroundings …
Then get curious about it, look, listen, feel deeper into the experience of noticing it …
Breathe and repeat
When you feel complete, breathe and wiggle your fingers and your toes. Begin to bring your awareness to your outer body and allow information to come to you, just being aware of your surroundings. Determine if you need to journal about what you found, what inspired you, where your attention was drawn. Maybe you need to draw, move, make a sound. Do whatever feels right to solidify your learning. When you feel ready move on, do the next step of your day.
Do this everyday, more than a few times. Take 2 minutes and notice what is around you. You’ll start to see patterns in what you like, what inspires you, and what brings peace to your moment. Notice why that item draws your attention, is it brighter, more colorful, more lyrical? What does your body feel like when you notice it? Breathe and pay deep attention to it.
From here, you can fill your surroundings with music, art, tactile items, that you find beautiful. Find Pinterest boards and blogs to check in with when you need a little inspiration. Then begin to build items, spaces, places that fit your goals. For example, if I need early morning motivation to workout, I am going to look at my Pinterest workout board to find inspiration. Suddenly my 5:45am spin class seems like a gift, not an interruption to my sleep, for I found inspiration and it created authentic motivation. Now I want to do the things I know help me be my best self. String enough of these moments together and your life becomes embodied inspiration.
And as always, if you are struggling you can schedule a 15 min Q&A appointment to see if it’s time to give yourself the gift of therapy. When else can you talk about yourself for an hour with someone trained to deeply listen to your core, not just the story you tell yourself.