In Curiosity of Grief

by Catherine DeAngelis
InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pueblo Blessing
*Nancy Wood

Hold on to what is good
Even if it is a handful of earth
Hold on to what you believe
Even if it is a tree that stands by itself
Hold on to what you must do
Even if it is a long way from here
Hold on to life
Even if it is easier to let go
Hold on to my hand
Even if I have gone away from you.

Grief is a complex matter bringing us deep sorrow; above all, when caused by the death of someone we know and love. It comes to us suddenly, accidentally, traumatically, tragically and sometimes expectantly or prematurely. We learn as part of our natural life we will undergo grief of different kinds then that related to a physical death. Respectively, a loss is a cause of emotional inner conflict while coming to terms with someone or something we love or attached to taken away from us. The bereavement occurs and we mourn as we begin the getting through toward our healing.

As we age, at some point, we will realize it is inherent we all die. As sharp as this might sound, what a part of life to grasp no matter how much we are aware and vibrantly we live. At this bend, it is where we innately pick up as we go and carry on with grief. It will present itself to us no matter how much we protect ourselves. More, it is here where we do not isolate. We open up, encircled by a community coming together in this time of discord. Now it is at this place, we can believe it is possible our suffering will lessen and we will carry on.

Teenage girl praying outdoors at twilight. Shallow DOF.

Looking for comfort during time of grief is personal for each of us from a child, older youth to adult, seniors and vulnerable seniors. We need the coping skills to endure. We may find ourselves suddenly called upon to serve as a guide or a mentor to the young or old during this time of discomfort.

Grief is a word synonymous with many emotions: anger, sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair and from mourning, mournfulness to lamentation and more. To help make sense of it, we may describe it as an emotional reaction to the loss, compared to bereavement, which is an emotional event, and mourning is the process toward healing.  During these times, the lead emotion we most feel is anger.

Anger is a legitimate and a normal healthy emotion that comes to alert us we have an inner conflict to manage and decide if we need some backing to help us gain a footing during these days.  Open to Hope Foundation® is a non-profit foundation with its mission for helping people find hope after loss and offer a free webinar on understanding anger.

A death of loved one of the most traumatizing is when someone takes his or her own life. For surviving family members and friends, it is not easy to accept this suicide. A sense of anger and deep shame transpires. Along with this, family members may feel guilt and blame themselves, or covertly made to feel liable for being unaware of the signs that led to the taking of one’s own life. The subject of suicide is taboo in many cultures. Religiously and publicly unacknowledged, honestly making the cause of death of the loved one unknown. Families needing solace instead feel shame during their grieving and bereavement and familial mourning occurs in isolation.

When we have experienced grief, we are better able not to be overcome by it as we allow ourselves to continue with the bereavement and accept the time of mourning. As we become the bereaved, we inevitably face sadness. Sadness is the unhappiness we feel around this time of grief and the emotion in which we express our sorrow over the loss.

InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotionsSadMan

Grief of Another Kind

During our lifetime, we suffer losses that have nothing to do with death as we more commonly know it, and yet find it hard to cope due to situations that challenge us and to give us pain. We are unable to explain what is happening to us, but we are hurting. If it is hard to explain, our emotions are likely reminding us we are upset due to what is going on in our life to create a huge shift from our normal routine.

When no one died, we are alive, but human as we are there are reasons we might have for grief due to losses of another kind:

  • Life-changing or life-threatening illness
  • Loss of a healthy childhood
  • Aging/retirement
  • Children going off to college
  • Move to another country/refugee status
  • Divorce/loss of in-laws, familiar friends and home
  • Friends distancing, breaking up, arguing, or outgrown one another
  • Loss of spiritual connection, life objective or dream that didn’t shape up to what we had hoped
  • Developing a disability
  • Financial loss
  • Job loss/fired/career transitions
  • Loss of a beloved pet-companion

Grief, Bereavement and Mourning

While the terms grief and bereavement are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to loss. Grief is a natural response to loss and with it comes various stages. Whatever time is given to the process of bereavement can vary on how close we are to the person who died, and if the death was an anticipated loss.

Additionally, mourning is by way of how we adapt and cope with the loss. Many cultural customs, rituals, and even society’s rule commands how our mourning is influenced. When a death takes place, we want to express our needs. We accept words of condolences as support at a time when life appears to us confusing and fragmented we feel emotionally numb and out-of-place unknowingly, while we contend with the reality we are grieving a loss.

Vulnerability is an emotion during this time that makes its presence known in us. It is vital we are honest as much as it is possible even if it is not easy to understand. We are struggling with what in unknown to us, about how we feel, our fears, what we need or even how to go about asking for what it is we do need. Instead, we center on barely coping and stave off unhealthy habits we think soothe the unexplainable pain we are feeling. Sudden addictions may arise such as emotional eating or bingeing, added use of prescription medicine, alcohol or gambling. These dependencies are emotional fixes for a while, however to postpone the inevitable, emotional pain may likely appear again in the distant future due to unresolved grief from a past loss. Grief counsellors or support groups or both will benefit us at this time.

Hand ReachingHow can we give all that we have and move through with our basic living?

  • We will cope day-by-day with the belief time will heal – we can accept things will be rough for a while.
  • We will eventually feel better — might not be today, tomorrow, but soon.
  • We reach for backing to aid us with the unfamiliar ground we stand on until we feel it is doable to live through this and accept the personal changes that comes with it.
  • We work hard every day to look after ourselves.
  • We may resist and be unrealistic by doing too much or think we are able to do as much as we used to before the loss.
  • We will find time difficult and need to give ourselves the pause needed from the usual activities so we may gain momentum of living with a another kind of memory.
  • We promise we will not go it alone, we will reach out and seek comfort in the people we know we be there for us.

The Stages and Phases 

Many grief theorists who have studied grief presented either similar, comparative or opposing views on the stages and phases of what we may go through during our grieving.  Erich Lindemann is a psychiatrist who in the late 40s developed his grief theory developing a grief work model. From the model he surmises the bereaved has to accept grief as an adaptive response and to take to heart, we are not the person who has died, but our beloved who has died. He also agrees death will change the bereaved from the point of death forward. The pain of this initially hurts terribly. Yet his belief is to adapt and see grief as not the adapting to a loss, but the emotion or the emotions around the loss we are getting through.

We never know as a family member, friend, or acquaintance, when the right time is to approach the knowing of what to do to show support. Intentions are to help ease the pain of the loss during mourning.  However careful we tread, we want to make sure to place an offering of care and present ourselves with astuteness and higher sensitivity than usual. MP900227519

The bereaved will experience cognitive confusion and their ability to concentrate is lessened. Many may experience anxiety, disorganization, or pre-occupation about something. The behaviors we witness from the bereaved are sadness, withdrawal, a crying or constant weepiness. Sometimes hostility surfaces and usually erupts in anger rejecting thoughts a loved one has died.

Grief theorist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross known for the 5-stages and phases of grief and David Kessler, grief expert, explain denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are part of healing phase. They remind us at times, people in grief and bereavement will often show more stages, justly showing us, our grief is as individual as we are. Though our emotions are unexplainable at times, we are vulnerable. The stages represent the responses to the loss. There are many tools available to aid in these stages that block us in our healing and may need to seek counselling or group therapy to guide us forward.

Having compassion is the best way to go. We start by asking permission and genuine concern for the bereaved suffering. We can try in our way to relieve the hurt, however try as we may, it must come with the bereaved having openness to this. If such as, you recommend a book or a piece of healing music as a kind gesture— should I go ahead and ask.  Of course, do this by making sure it is with heartfelt consideration. We may offer can we meet to chat about the book or the piece of music when it is more proper. Awareness and attention to the receptiveness of our actions negative response maybe minimized as we go about this with careful intention and timing.

Getting Through and Healing

InCuriosityofGriefOutofPocketEmotionsMan2

The healing process is not linear and more than a simple “getting over a loss.” To say to the bereaved, getting over it will sound dismissive to them, and their process of healing in their loss is unimportant. It can pose meaningless stressors, as if simply asking to step over a bucket of water in their way and get on with it.

Taking care of ourselves is the best option no matter how uncomfortable grief feels.

If the grief becomes too difficult and suicidal thoughts start to surface in our mind, tell someone, and immediately go to hospital emergency – opting out of life is not an option.  Getting through a loss, we need to go through and get out on the other side and continue walking no matter how messy it feels along the way.  Imagine surgical sutures or stitches when removed. What remains is a scar. We are not the same person we were before the loss and will be reminded often how much has changed. We can only move toward acceptance and healing is allowed to take its own course. In tow during this journey we go with loving compassion to our bereaved and ourselves.

The Harvard Medical School reports, “If prayer hearten or sustains you, set aside time for it. Read spiritual texts that you find comforting, attend services, and share your circumstances with a religious leader who can help place the death in the context of your faith. Gardening or communing with nature, which offers many opportunities to observe the rhythms of life and death in the natural world, is also soothing to some people. So, too, is meditation or yoga.”

Some suggested teachings follow by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, author, educator, and grief counsellor, known for his inspirational messages for people who are grieving, taken from Grieving Person’s Bill of Rights by Wolfelt:

  • No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do.
  • You have the right to talk about your grief.
  • You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  • You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
  • You have the right to experience grief “attacks.”
  • You have the right to make use of ritual.
  • You have the right to search for meaning.
  • You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  • You have the right to treasure your memories.
  • You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Hope and Resiliency

Dedicated belief and a stronger tDSC_7463 (1)han usual support system in place, will bring us hope and emotional reconciliation to the inevitable – we are resilient!

Resiliency comes to us not only by way of healing from the love of a beloved we’ve lost to death, but as well loss can happen too for the family, who have left their country upon escaping war, persecution, or natural disaster, as well moving beyond hope and toward resilience.  Here is where being able to adjust in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or tremendous stressors can exist.

If we feel we must bounce back from pain quicker than we think, opening up our mind and heart and showing kinder than usual personal and community care, the road to healing is less isolating, painful and a sense of belongingness exists for all of us

Pueblo Blessing previously published in Many Winters: Poetry and Prose of the Pueblos by Nancy C. Wood, Doubleday, 1974

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Happiness of the Heart

by Mary Cook, MA, Psychology 
Addictions Treatment Counselor
(Contributing Writer)

Photo Terrance ChangePhoto: Terence Chang


True happiness comes from the heart, not the mind.

Our mind typically judges, compares, and places conditions on happiness, pointing out what’s wrong or missing even in the best of circumstances. In the midst of a wondrous experience, for example, the mind may remind us that a certain person is not present to share the wonder, and thus happiness is diminished. Yet the mind tells us that when we receive abundant gratification of a desire, we’ll be happy. It might be success, sex, money, power, leisure time, a partner, alcohol, food, or other drugs.

When we’re chasing after happiness, we’re also running away from problems, trauma, shame, loss, and pain. And the mind tells us that these troubles will continue or reoccur at any moment.

So we’d better capture and control the objects of our happiness. Addictions and compulsions are practiced with the intent to distract us from pain and stress and artificially induce euphoria or relief. This keeps the false self dominant rather than the spiritual self. This separation from an active conscious relationship with our Higher Power means that no amount of anything we desire can lead to true happiness, for we have disconnected from the source of pure love, truth, and joy. Only unhappiness comes from this illusion of separation. Fear and attempts to control and possess what we desire, removes the very possibility of happiness.

Real happiness is not dependent upon anything. It is our true nature.

We can see it in young children before we teach them otherwise. They amuse and entertain themselves. They are sensitive and empathic. They love without fear, biases, and prejudices. They experience joy watching a caterpillar, looking at ribbons of light coming through the trees, playing with dad’s fingers, babbling to mom, and jumping up and down. Young children can experience more happiness from a box than the gift within it. A box after all, can be a hat, a boat, a drum, or a house.

Young children can remind us of what we have forgotten.

Happiness is right now, it’s free, it’s within us, it gives and shares, it’s outside of time, space, distance, and conditions. It’s creative, uplifting, and contagious. Having a sense of lightness, playfulness and humor about ourselves and life, contributes to heartfelt happiness and reconnects us to our true selves, others and life. It also gives us resilience, adaptability, hope, courage, and strength in times of trouble.

Happiness arises from relaxing and surrendering mental focus, and allowing our hearts to open and expand for no reason.

In this place we can remember that we were created whole and holy and that we are interconnected with all of life. Correct bowing places the heart higher than the head. Rather than our minds’ aspirations, it is humility and faith that leads us to our highest happiness. Feeling united with a healthy, loving Higher Power allows us to experience the power within our heart. A bedridden patient in pain can forget his suffering when a beloved child visits. All of a sudden we’re not sick when someone needs us. An arthritic man, unable to move, can lose all symptoms of disease when playing the piano because of his happiness in doing so. A petite, frail mother can lift heavy objects off her child to save her in an accident. Spontaneous acts of heroism, altruism, and love spring from the heart, whereas the mind would say this is impossible or problematic.

Allowing our attention to be in the present moment appreciating what exists right now, counting our blessings, being in loving service, enjoying nature, music, art, people, animals, and seeing beauty around us, is happiness.

We can have a daily practice of identifying and surrendering to our Higher Power our small minded selfishness, harmfulness, willfulness and defensiveness, and ask for divine will to work through us. We can hold compassionate space for suffering and painful emotions to be expressed and released. We can begin this process by feeling compassion for ourselves and loved ones. We can accept our ignorance and transgressions, and honor our desire for redemption and transformation. Then we can practice feeling compassion and acceptance for strangers and for those who are harmful in the world, believing that goodness exists in the soul despite human expression. In most situations as adults, safe boundaries, straightforward assertiveness, and healthy behaviors on our part suffice to protect us from those who might harm us. Forgiveness is an emotion of the heart that releases trapped toxic energies within us, creating greater space for serenity, freedom, and joy. This is a rejuvenating practice and additionally helpful in placing more positive energy into the world.

It is vital to demonstrate principles that reinforce our spiritual nature, and to strengthen our faith when we are feeling lost and confused.

We experience an even higher level and depth of happiness when we’re able to identify what goodness and joy exists in difficult circumstances, what opportunities for growth, character development, unselfish demonstrations of love, spiritual evolution and unity with the God of our understanding are present in trials and tribulations.

Long ago I visited a poor village and asked the elder if he was happy with his life. He replied that yes, he was very happy. In some years, he explained, there is abundant food and no children die. And so we sing, dance and rejoice. In other years there is not enough to eat, and sickness and death visit us. In those years our love expands, we become closer and give our hearts to one another, for that is all we have. So, yes, we are very happy all the time. This village elder was abundantly rich with happiness of the heart, and this is a magnificent model for all of us.

 


Mary Cook  is the author of “Grace Lost and Found: From Addictions and Compulsions to Satisfaction and Serenity”  She has a Master’s degree in psychology and is a certified addictions treatment counselor in private practice in Los Angeles, California. She has 42 years of clinical and teaching experience.

Visit Mary Cook’s website for more articles or go to Amazon to purchase her book.

 

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Self-Compassion to Improve Emotional Health

by Gemma Charles
Freelance Writer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing Self-Compassion to Improve Emotional Health

Many of us are raised to analyse our flaws, to compare ourselves to others, and to constantly find ourselves lacking. We are taught that we should feel ashamed of our failings and that being as good as you can be isn’t always good enough. Unfortunately, developing this kind of self-criticism during childhood can have a dramatic impact on self-esteem in adulthood and can also have a negative impact on levels of emotional health and well-being. However, the good news is that it is possible to overcome these kinds of negative mental attitudes and to develop self-compassion: to be kinder to yourself, and stop judging yourself so negatively.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is a relatively new concept that is often presented together with mindfulness but, in reality, it is an incredibly simple one: show the same compassion that you do to others to yourself.

Dr. Kristin Neff, the founder of selfcompassion.org, has written several books on the topic, defines self-compassion as “acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

Self-compassion is a learnable skill. If you find that you are being overly critical of yourself then you can stop and instead show yourself some kindness. Effectively, self-compassion is about cutting yourself some slack and relying on yourself for comfort when you need it.

Boost Your Levels of Self-Compassion

If you’ve experienced a setback, made a mistake, or are simply finding everyday life a challenge right now then there are plenty of ways that you can boost your levels of self-compassion to maintain your levels of emotional health. Individuals with high levels of self-compassion have been shown to have a much lower prevalence of depression and anxiety: being kind to yourself can help to protect your mental health. It is possible to make small physical changes to your daily routine that may help you to boost your levels of self-compassion: nourish your body by taking time out to make a healthy snack or meal, revitalise your body by laying down to have a rest, and physically stimulate your body by enjoying a massage. You could even massage your own hands or neck, if you don’t enjoy physical contact with others at moments of stress. All of these techniques will improve how you feel physically, which in turn can help to give your self-compassion a huge boost.

Compassion and Mindfulness

Other techniques that have been shown to boost individual levels of self-compassion include practicing mindfulness (there is a strong and proven link between compassion and mindfulness), and regularly taking time out of your day to give yourself some encouragement. We are often much kinder and more supportive of others than we are of ourselves. Think about what you would say to a good friend or family member who was having a bad day, had made a mistake, or was struggling with their self-esteem: frame that same message to yourself and give yourself a compassionate and nurturing pep talk and accept that nobody is perfect and that it is a mistake to aim for perfection or to compare yourself to others. Simply being you is enough.

The Science Behind Self-Compassion

Skeptical about how simply being kinder to yourself can improve your emotional health? Self-compassion has been proven to be beneficial to physical well-being . In fact, a study in the Psychoneuroendocrinology journal revealed that regularly demonstrating self-compassion lead to a reduction in the body’s cortisol levels: Cortisol is more commonly known as the “stress hormone.” As well as reducing your stress levels, practicing self-compassion was also shown to promote both the production and release of Oxytocin, a chemical that is widely known to increase happiness levels and decrease anxiety. Being self-compassionate doesn’t mean accepting mediocrity or not striving to be the best you can be. However, we all make mistakes and we all have failures: self-compassion encourages us to accept this and then let those failures go, so that we can move on with our life and continue to build positive mental health.

 

About Gemma Charles. Previous to starting a career as a freelance writer, Gemma worked for many years in business and finance. When she became a mother, she turned to writing to support her life, and now she pens articles on diverse topics from news and current affairs to pieces on money matters and emotional well-being. 

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Stop Self-Bullying

Catherine DeAngelis

Belongingness is the quality or state of being, an essential or important part of something – we all need to have a sense of belonging.

 

That intense need for belonging in family, with friends, at work, school, in cultural communities, can bellow out like an emotional titanic in our brain. This need brings a sinking feeling we are drowning because somehow, we got it in our head, we are nerdsdifferent or just don’t fit in. We become isolated.

We malign ourselves with words like “I am weird,” “I am born under a bad sign,” or “black sheep of the family.”  It doesn’t end there. It gets worse for many of us. That deep-seated pain is buried yet we have recall of the time that kid hollered “hey spider face.” What we used to be called during school recess in grade 5 by an all-pervading cliché bully does not have to be a recurring self-punishment.

Some of us take the “fight or flight response ” when these emotions arise in us – at holiday time, birthdays, family or other social gatherings. Anxiety permeates our flesh.  Those undealt with emotions surface to remind us the pain hasn’t gone away.

Emotional Pain

Emotional pain can create a kind of electric surge in us that we apply a self-criticism that we are not good enough. We have given ourselves the same treatment we may have been exposed to and continue the pitter-patter of thoughts in the mind. A take-over happens and the same thoughts repeat giving us the same lie handed down to us – over and over.

When do we become responsible for these feelings or emotions that arise from this all mighty thing we call name-calling, whether it came at us from the past or still present today?

We know who the name-caller is most of the times, but when it comes to ourselves, who can we blame?

How many of us have this bully-self that is a name-caller often creating havoc in our thoughts doing the same kind of personal damage that psychologists claim do to a bullied child?

We attach personal name-calling of another nature to ourselves, no different from what we battled in our school yard or for some, our parents, siblings, teachers who may have intentionally or unintentionally thrown stones, at our already fragmented self.

Sense of Belonging

We could be at any age range. Our desperate yet silent need for belongingness steals our right to trust we are who we are right here right now. We belong inside and out of our skin; we feel betrayed by a lie given to us somewhere, at sometime, in our lives.

Just as there is zero-tolerance for behavioral disturbances for bullying, victimization and standing by during bullying – this approach can be given the same respect to our internal messaging. How long do we stand and continue to bully ourselves without doing a darn thing about it? It strips self-esteem and tears at our confidence to create a concrete barrier to our success.

What was the lie is something we can ask ourselves? It is the lie that can fester and remind us we are supposed to be somebody more than what we are, because somewhere we were told we didn’t measure up. So what!

Simple it seems that the truth is a matter of consequence for we judge ourselves too harshly when we are unable to uncover the monster that looms underneath these trapped emotions — we plainly feel we are “damaged goods.”

On Being Human

Jean Vanier’s vision of belonging is described best in his book, Becoming Human,My vision is that belonging should be at the heart of a fundamental discovery: that we all belong to a common humanity, the human race. We may be rooted in a specific family and culture but we come to this earth to open up to others, to serve them and receive the gifts they bring to us, as well as to all of humanity.”

We can stop our self-bullying by reminding ourselves, those negative self-deprecating words in our head are a lie, and thoughts, they lie to us. Isn’t it time to stop belittling and devaluing ourselves?

More important than the need to be loved is the need to belong – for some of us it is an affirmation we need, over and over again, to kick out the old messages and replace the messages with new ones.

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”  ― Jean VanierCommunity And Growth.

Resources

Click here for a helpful resource on how to switch from negative to positive self-talk

 

 

 

 

Some SELF Affirmations

  • Fall in love at first sight with you every day – replace self-bullying, hurtful words with positive ones – weave them into a personal mantra like “I am energetic, healthy, physically and emotionally fit.”
  • Be mindful – let your eyes meet you in the morning and make it an instant attraction of SELF. Do this every day until it is natural part of you. Loving self is not bad, it is number one to bringing others to loving us more.
  • Allow love to happen – anywhere, anytime!
  • Find help – getting stuck in negative thought patterns can hinder you in your life in many aspects – don’t go it alone — ask for help – all kinds of talk therapies and support services are available – explore solutions.
  • Giving up is not an option – call 911 or visit closest hospital emergency in your area if ever self-talk takes you to a hopeless state.

No matter what, give a shout out “I am not damaged goods, and I too belong here.” Make you matter – affirm the positives, find ways to reverse belittling self-talk. When you get stuck in the negative thought streams, be accountable – know that we are all part of a common humanity – the human race.

Editor’s Note: this post was originally published August 23, 2013 and has been updated.

 

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Finding Resiliency…

”Children with dogs” 1932 by Tadeusz Makowski

The following are the four basic attachment styles.  Please keep in mind that these descriptions are very general; not everyone will have all these characteristics. Attachment styles are relatively fluid and can change slightly depending on your partner’s own attachment style.

Secure – These individuals usually grew up in a supportive environment where parents were consistently responsive to their needs. People who are securely attached are generally comfortable with being open about themselves, asking for help, and allowing others to lean on them at an emotional level. They have a positive outlook on life, are comfortable with closeness, and seek physical and/or emotional intimacy with minimal fear of being rejected or overwhelmed. Securely attached individuals are generally consistent and reliable in their behaviors toward their partner. They tend to include their partner in decisions that could affect their relationship.

Dismissive-avoidant – Also referred to as “insecure-avoidant,” children usually develop this attachment style when their primary caregivers are not responsive to or are even rejecting of their needs. Children learn to pull away emotionally as a way to avoid feelings of rejection. As adults, they become uncomfortable with emotional openness and may even deny to themselves their need for intimate relationships. They place high value on independence and autonomy and develop techniques to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and defend themselves from a perceived threat to their “independence.” These techniques include, but are not limited to: shutting down; not saying “I love you” even though their behaviors indicate that they do (i.e., mixed messages); keeping secrets to maintain some semblance of independence. These coping techniques end up becoming detrimental to their adult relationships.

Fearful-avoidant – Also referred to as “disorganized-disoriented” in some literature, children who have developed this style may have been exposed to prolonged abuse and/or neglect. Primary caregivers are the people children often turn to as a source of comfort and support. In a situation involving abuse, these primary caregivers are also a source of hurt. These children grow up to become adults who fear intimacy within their relationships but also fear not having close relationships in their lives. They recognize the value of relationships and have a strong desire for them, but often have a difficult time trusting others. As a result, they avoid being emotionally open with others for fear of being hurt and rejected.

Anxious-preoccupied – Sometimes referred to as “insecure-ambivalent,” children develop this form of attachment usually when their parents have been inconsistent with their responses to them. At times, these parents exhibit nurturing, caring, and attentive behaviors. Other times they can be cold, rejecting, or emotionally detached. As a result, the children don’t know what to expect. They become adults who desire a lot of connection within their relationships, sometimes to the point of being “clingy.” They are highly aware of any slight changes in the relationship. These changes, however minute, can significantly increase this individual’s anxiety. As a result, he or she will focus energy on increasing connection with that partner. Individuals who have this attachment style needs more validation and approval than the other attachment styles.

Neural pathways developed from childhood traumatic experiences help shape how we respond to others and adults often find themselves repeating the same behaviors and patterns throughout their lives. This is not meant to place blame on parents for the types of relationships you have as adults. Although parents play an important role in setting that foundation, you as an adult have the ability to create changes for yourself and your behaviors within any relationship.

Steps Toward Change

Increased awareness can help you take those first steps towards change. By developing a better understanding of how your early childhood experiences have helped shape your attachment style and its connection to your present style of interactions, you can improve your relationships as an adult. This awareness can then help you move towards developing a more securely attached relationship with those around you. 

References:

McLeod, S. (2008). Mary Ainsworth. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/mary-ainsworth.html

Ogden, P., & Fisher, J. (2015). Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Van Der Kolk, B.A. (1989). The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma: Re-Enactment, Revictimization, and Masochism. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 389-411.

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Cerebral Palsy and Emotional Health

 

by Alex Diaz-Granados
Chief Editor
cerebralpalsyguidance.com

 

What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?

Cerebral Palsy is one of the most common disabilities of childhood, but it is also without a cure and persists into adulthood. Caused by brain damage at a very early age, cerebral palsy affects muscles, movement, coordination, and posture. It can also cause a number of complications, from hearing loss to intellectual disabilities. A child with cerebral palsy is also at risk for emotional and behavioral challenges.

Emotional Challenges and Their Causes

Researchers have found that children living with cerebral palsy are more likely to struggle with emotional and behavioral challenges than their peers. This may be explained as a direct result of the brain damage that caused the child to have cerebral palsy, but there may also be other factors at play. For instance, a child with cerebral palsy often looks and moves different from his peers. This can lead to poor self-esteem and low self-confidence, but also inappropriate behavioral responses due to frustration and embarrassment.

Children with cerebral palsy are also likely to feel more isolated and tend not to be included by their peers. They are also at a greater risk for being bullied, which can take a hugely negative toll on emotional health, even triggering depression or anxiety disorders. Finally, parents of these children are likely to experience more stress and parental stress correlates with emotional problems in their children.

Coping with Emotional Difficulties

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that cannot be cured. There are many treatments and interventions, though, that can help and make a real difference in children’s lives. For some of these children, there may be something physical that underlies behavioral or emotional outbursts. Pain, for instance, is common with cerebral palsy, but it can be managed or treated with medications, surgery, physical therapy, and other strategies.

Children living with cerebral palsy and struggling emotionally can also benefit from treatments that directly address those issues. Behavioral therapy, social therapy, recreational and play therapy, and even psychotherapy with older children, can all help a child learn to manage, cope with, and change negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

Also crucial in helping children cope with the difficult emotions of living with cerebral palsy is the strong support of parents and other people close to them. When parents model and teach good emotional health strategies, such as talking about feelings, expressing emotions in healthy ways, and socializing appropriately, their children will be more likely to learn and develop those skills too.

Cerebral palsy is a disability that a child has to live with for the rest of his or her life. Childhood is the perfect time to learn how to cope with the emotional challenges that come with living with this disorder. And when a child does learn those healthy coping strategies, parents can ensure that their child will grow up to be a healthy and happy adult.

Alex Diaz-Granados is the chief editor for the blog at cerebralpalsyguidance.com. His life with cerebral palsy began in early March of 1963, born eight weeks before his due date. As a result, he suffered irreversible damage to the motor control center of his brain and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy some months later. Despite this, he has overcome many physical and emotional obstacles and is now a freelance writer for Examiner.com.

He is also the author of Save Me the Aisle Seat:The Good, the Bad and the Really Bad Movies: Selected Reviews by an Online Film Reviewer, as well as the co-writer of an unproduced screenplay with actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. He represents the cerebralpalsyguidance.com website because he believes in their mission of providing quality cerebral palsy information and assistance to families in need. For more information on vital guidance and assistant to parents of a child with Cerebral Palsy — Visit this link.

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Shame, Shame…

Catherine DeAngelis “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before – more sorry, more aware of my own … Continue reading

Improving Emotional Health

Strategies and Tips for Good Mental Health

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal Ph.D.
Last updated: May 2016 (Reprinted with permission)

Improving Emotional Health

People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their emotions and their behavior. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. But just as it requires effort to build or maintain physical health, so it is with mental and emotional health. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefiting all aspects of your life, including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life.

What is mental health or emotional health?

Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties.

Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Similarly, not feeling bad is not the same as feeling good. While some people may not have negative feelings, they still need to do things that make them feel positive in order to achieve mental and emotional health.

People who are mentally and emotionally healthy have:

  • A sense of contentment
  • A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun
  • The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity
  • A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships
  • The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change
  • A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
  • The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships
  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem
  • These positive characteristics of mental and emotional health allow you to participate in life to the fullest extent possible through productive, meaningful activities and strong relationships. These positive characteristics also help you cope when faced with life’s challenges and stresses.

The role of resilience in mental and emotional health

Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never going through bad times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress.

The difference is that people with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally healthy have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and creative in bad times as well as good. One of the key factors in resilience is the ability to balance stress and your emotions.

The capacity to recognize your emotions and express them appropriately helps you avoid getting stuck in depression, anxiety, or other negative mood states. Another key factor is having a strong support network. Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience in tough times.

Physical health is connected to mental and emotional health

Taking care of your body is a powerful first step towards mental and emotional health. The mind and the body are linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. For example, exercise not only strengthens our heart and lungs, but also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that energize us and lift our mood.

The activities you engage in, and the daily choices you make, affect the way you feel physically and emotionally.

Ladies working out

  • Get enough rest. To have good mental and emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body. That includes getting enough sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally.
  • Learn about good nutrition and practice it. The subject of nutrition is complicated and not always easy to put into practice. But the more you learn about what you eat and how it affects your energy and mood, the better you can feel.
  • Exercise to relieve stress and lift your mood. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going on a short walk. To get the most mental health benefits, aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise per day.
  • Get a dose of sunlight every day. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun per day. This can be done while exercising, gardening, or socializing.
  • Limit alcohol and avoid cigarettes and other drugs. These are stimulants that may unnaturally make you feel good in the short term, but have long-term negative consequences for mood and emotional health.

Improve mental and emotional health by taking care of yourself

In order to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Don’t let stress and negative emotions build up. Try to maintain a balance between your daily responsibilities and the things you enjoy. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better prepared to deal with challenges if, and when, they arise.

Taking care of yourself includes pursuing activities that naturally release endorphins and contribute to feeling good. In addition to physical exercise, endorphins are also naturally released when we:

  • Do things that positively impact others. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.
  • Practice self-discipline. Self-control naturally leads to a sense of hopefulness and can help you overcome despair, helplessness, and other negative thoughts.
  • Learn or discover new things. Think of it as “intellectual candy.” Try taking an adult education class, join a book club, visit a museum, learn a new language, or simply travel somewhere new.
  • Enjoy the beauty of nature or art. Studies show that simply walking through a garden can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The same goes for strolling through a park or an art gallery, hiking, admiring architecture, or sitting on a beach.
  • Manage your stress levels. Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you bring things back into balance.
  • Limit unhealthy mental habits like worrying. Try to avoid becoming absorbed by repetitive mental habits—negative thoughts about yourself and the world that suck up time, drain your energy, and trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression.

More tips and strategies for taking care of yourself:

  • Appeal to your senses. Stay calm and energized by appealing to the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Listen to music that lifts your mood, place flowers where you will see and smell them, massage your hands and feet, or sip a warm drink.
  • Engage in meaningful, creative work. Do things that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you get paid for it—things like gardening, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, or building something in your workshop.
  • Get a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There is no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
  • Make leisure time a priority. Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.
  • Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for.Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.

Everyone is different; not all things will be equally beneficial to all people. Some people feel better relaxing and slowing down while others need more activity and more excitement or stimulation to feel better. The important thing is to find activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost.

Supportive relationships: The foundation of emotional health

No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and be your best. Humans are social creatures with an emotional need for relationships and positive connections to others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.

Social interaction—specifically talking to someone else about your problems—can also help to reduce stress. The key is to find a supportive relationship with someone who is a “good listener”—someone you can talk to regularly, preferably face-to-face, who will listen to you without a pre-existing agenda for how you should think or feel. A good listener will listen to the feelings behind your words, and won’t interrupt or judge or criticize you. The best way to find a good listener? Be a good listener yourself. Develop a friendship with someone you can talk to regularly, and then listen and support each other.

Tips and strategies for connecting to others:

  • Get out from behind your TV or computer screen. Screens have their place but they will never have the same effect as an expression of interest or a reassuring touch. Communication is a largely nonverbal experience that requires you to be in direct contact with other people, so don’t neglect your real-world relationships in favor of virtual interaction.
  • Spend time daily, face-to-face, with people you like. Make spending time with people you enjoy a priority. Choose friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who are upbeat, positive, and interested in you. Take time to inquire about people you meet during the day that you like.
  • Volunteer. Doing something that helps others has a beneficial effect on how you feel about yourself. The meaning and purpose you find in helping others will enrich and expand your life. There is no limit to the individual and group volunteer opportunities you can explore. Schools, churches, nonprofits, and charitable organization of all sorts depend on volunteers for their survival.
  • Be a joiner. Join networking, social action, conservation, and special interest groups that meet on a regular basis. These groups offer wonderful opportunities for finding people with common interests—people you like being with who are potential friends.

Risk factors for mental and emotional problems

Your mental and emotional health has been and will continue to be shaped by your experiences. Early childhood experiences are especially significant. Genetic and biological factors can also play a role, but these too can be changed by experience.

Risk factors that can compromise mental and emotional health:

  • Poor connection or attachment to your primary caretaker early in life. Feeling lonely, isolated, unsafe, confused, or abused as an infant or young child.
  • Traumas or serious losses, especially early in life. Death of a parent or other traumatic experiences such as war or hospitalization.
  • Learned helplessness. Negative experiences that lead to a belief that you’re helpless and that you have little control over the situations in your life.
  • Illness, especially when it’s chronic, disabling, or isolates you from others.
  • Side effects of medications, especially in older people who may be taking a variety of medications.
  • Substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse can both cause mental health problems and make preexisting mental or emotional problems worse.

Whatever internal or external factors have shaped your mental and emotional health, it’s never too late to make changes that will improve your psychological well-being. Risk factors can be counteracted with protective factors, like strong relationships, a healthy lifestyle, and coping strategies for managing stress and negative emotions.

When to seek professional help for emotional problems

If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and you still don’t feel good—then it’s time to seek professional help. Because we are so socially attuned, input from a knowledgeable, caring professional can motivate us to do things for ourselves that we were not able to do on our own.


Red flag feelings and behaviors that may require immediate attention

  • Inability to sleep
  • Feeling down, hopeless, or helpless most of the time
  • Concentration problems that are interfering with your work or home life
  • Using nicotine, food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with difficult emotions
  • Negative or self-destructive thoughts or fears that you can’t control
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you identify with any of these red flag symptoms, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional.

If you want your relationships to be more satisfying, fulfilling, and supportive, FEELING LOVED can help. Read: Feeling Loved: The Science of Nurturing Meaningful Connections and Building Lasting Happiness 2015

 

Resources and references


The Road to Resilience
– Guide to resilience, including ten ways to build your resilience, how to learn from your past, and how to stay flexible. (American Psychological Association)

Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health – Learn how emotions affect your health and what you can do to improve your emotional health. (American Academy of Family Physicians)

Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health – Defines good emotional health, describes how stress affects emotions, and offers tips for avoiding problems. (American Academy of Family Physicians)

Making and Keeping Friends: A Self-Help Guide – Offers practical advice and tips on developing supportive friendships. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

What Every Child Needs for Good Mental Health – Parenting advice on how to provide the love, security, and boundaries every child needs for mental and emotional health. (Mental Health America)

Download Meditations – Download or stream a dozen free meditation recordings to help you cope with life’s inevitable hurdles. Comes with handouts. (Sitting Together)

Emotional Health – Written for college students, with special sections on adjusting to college life, how relationships factor in, and why it’s important to reduce stress. (Princeton University)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: May 2016.

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On Being Stuck!

by Catherine DeAngelis

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When you are thinking to yourself you are falling into an emotional abyss and you just don’t know how to stop spiraling downward! Is it that tyrant inside your head controlling your thinking that you don’t know what to do forcing you into a shut-down mode and paralyzing you from living the fullness of life?

Being stuck sucks because it is that silent oppressor that can cause depression, emotional outbursts, insomnia, indecision, procrastination, and addictive behaviors such as smoking, too much sex (not enough), drugs, alcohol, food, and exercise to spending or gambling compulsively!

What is it you use as a conduit to be in control of, or in distraction from, being stuck?

When you get stuck in the negative thought streams, find out what it is you can do. Make yourself accountable. Be responsible! Blaming others for your inaction only fuels the pain and it takes you further into this ineptness and inability to move forward.

The best way to unstuck yourself is to open up to the realization that it is okay to ask for help. Watch the taboo mind-set and avoid “what, me, I don’t need any help – I can help myself!”

Is it the stuff in your head that you think should or could or is not being done to lighten the pressures of having to do everything needed to be done right now at  this moment? The repetitive negative thinking pattern only gets you into a state of nervous agitation.

Think about what is getting in the way.  Stress might just be the first thing that deters you or makes you feel like you are knee-deep in mud. Think about your own stress level, your own health, and help yourself. Think about what are the stressors in your life. If you don’t spend time thinking about how to relieve that kind of stress, you will be stuck and those around you may have no idea what is wrong and then who will give you the love and care that you need?

Many think finding help is a sign of weakness or defeat!  Stay away from the shame or embarrassment. To admit that you are experiencing impact to your emotional and mental well-being is crucial. Seeking guidance and support meets your courage head on and makes self-awareness a start to pulling yourself out the kind of “mental sludge” that’s got you going like Whirling Dervishes!

Do what you can to make sure you are eating well, keeping physically active, and managing your stress ensures your brain will be healthy.  Check out this source if you don’t know where to start eatrightontario.ca.

Getting stuck in negative thought patterns can hinder you in your life in many aspects – don’t go it alone — ask for help. There are all kinds of talk therapies and support services available to explore solutions – if you don’t know where to start read about the resources available to you to get you on track and living life you are responsible for and deserve!

Get out of your way and make YOU matter! Affirm the positives, find ways to reverse the self-deprecation. Tools are available that work to halt the ongoing belittling or undervaluing of yourself.

Resources to Keep You On Track…

There are many sources available, able to give you answers and found within your community from life coach, psychologist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist to group supports, family practitioners or community services in your neighbourhood.

Overall most of us look to trusted family members and close friends or spiritual members of the community to give us the love, support and understanding we need. Take the path of support and lead yourself into being uplifted and out of the state of “going nowhere fast.”

Many communities have information centres that produce lists of available services which you can view at social service agencies or public libraries. Other sources of information include books about specific problems, also available at your public library or local bookstore and films, videos and audio tapes, courses and workshops offered through community centres, secondary schools, colleges and universities..

More Information: Canadian Mental Health AssociationMental Health America or Global Mental Health.

Contact Catherine DeAngelis certified master coach practitioner and founder of Out of Pocket Emotions  to ask about a complimentary offer for individual life coaching session – we promise to answer any specific questions you might have – please write info@catherinedeangelis.com  or call 416 246 0025.

 

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Emotional Eating

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal Ph.D.
Last updated: August 2015 
(Reprinted with permission)

How to Recognize and Stop Emotional Eating

We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or as a reward. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. It usually makes you feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating. Learning to recognize your emotional eating triggers is the first step to breaking free from food cravings and compulsive overeating, and changing the habits that have sabotaged your diets in the past.

Understanding emotional eating

If you’ve ever made room for dessert even though you’re already full or dove into a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, you’ve experienced emotional eating. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach.

Using food from time to time as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re upset, angry, lonely, stressed, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.

Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you consumed. You beat yourself for messing up and not having more willpower. Compounding the problem, you stop learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you have a harder and harder time controlling your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings.

Are you an emotional eater?

  • Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
  • Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
  • Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
  • Do you reward yourself with food?
  • Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
  • Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
  • Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?

The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger

Before you can break free from the cycle of emotional eating, you first need to learn how to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. This can be trickier than it sounds, especially if you regularly use food to deal with your feelings.

Emotional hunger can be powerful. As a result, it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for that can help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).

Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves fatty foods or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.

Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.

Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.

Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.

Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.

Emotional hunger vs. Physical hunger
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. Physical hunger comes on gradually.
Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly. Physical hunger can wait.
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. Physical hunger is open to options–lots of things sound good.
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach. Physical hunger stops when you’re full.
Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame. Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.

Stop emotional eating TIP 1: Identify your triggers

People eat for many different reasons. The first step in putting a stop to emotional eating is identifying your personal triggers. What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food?

Keep in mind that while most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event.

Common causes of emotional eating

Stress – Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? It’s not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, it leads to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.

Stuffing emotions – Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While you’re numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the emotions you’d rather not feel.

Boredom or feelings of emptiness – Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life? You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.

Childhood habits – Think back to your childhood memories of food. Did your parents reward good behavior with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got a good report card, or serve you sweets when you were feeling sad? These emotionally-based childhood eating habits often carry over into adulthood. Or perhaps some of your eating is driven by nostalgia—for cherishes memories of grilling burgers in the backyard with your dad, baking and eating cookies with your mom, or gathering around the table with your extended family for a home-cooked pasta dinner.

Social influences – Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group.

Keep an emotional eating diary- You probably recognized yourself in at least a few of the previous descriptions. But even so, you’ll want to get even more specific. One of the best ways to identify the patterns behind your emotional eating is to keep track with a food and mood diary.

Every time you overeat or feel compelled to reach for your version of comfort food Kryptonite, take a moment to figure out what triggered the urge. If you backtrack, you’ll usually find an upsetting event that kicked of the emotional eating cycle. Write it all down in your food and mood diary: what you ate (or wanted to eat), what happened to upset you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterward.

Over time, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Maybe you always end up gorging yourself after spending time with a critical friend. Or perhaps you stress eat whenever you’re on a deadline or when you attend family functions. Once you identify your emotional eating triggers, the next step is identifying healthier ways to feed your feelings.

Stop emotional eating TIP 2:

Find other ways to feed your feelingsIf you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for very long. Diets so often fail because they offer logical nutritional advice, as if the only thing keeping you from eating right is knowledge. But that kind of advice only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. It doesn’t work when emotions hijack the process, demanding an immediate payoff with food.

In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.

Alternatives to emotional eating

If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.

If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.

If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.

If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).

Stop emotional eating TIP 3: Pause when cravings hit

Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about. You feel an almost unbearable tension that demands to be fed, right now! Because you’ve tried to resist in the past and failed, you believe that your willpower just isn’t up to snuff. But the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think.

Take 5 before you give in to a craving

As mentioned earlier, emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.

All you have to do is put off eating for five minutes, or if five minutes seems unmanageable, start with one minute. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in to the craving; remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait. While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.

Learn to accept your feelings—even the bad ones

While it may seem that the core problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually stems from feeling powerless over your emotions. You don’t feel capable of dealing with your feelings head on, so you avoid them with food.

Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention. To do this you need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This can enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger emotional eating.

What’s more, your life will be richer when you open yourself up emotionally. Our feelings are a window into our interior world. They help us understand and discover our deepest desires and fears, our current frustrations, and the things that will make us happy.

Stop emotional eating TIP 4:

Support yourself with healthy lifestyle habits When you’re physically strong, relaxed, and well rested, you’re better able to handle the curveballs that life inevitably throws your way. But when you’re already exhausted and overwhelmed, any little hiccup has the potential to send you off the rails and straight toward the refrigerator. Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without emotional eating.

Make daily exercise a priority. Physical activity does wonders for your mood and your energy levels, and it’s also a powerful stress reducer.

Make time for relaxation. Give yourself permission to take at least 30 minutes every day to relax, decompress, and unwind. This is your time to take a break from your responsibilities and recharge your batteries.

Connect with others. Don’t underestimate the importance of close relationships and social activities. Spending time with positive people who enhance your life will help protect you from the negative effects of stress.

How sleep affects cravings and weight gain

Ever noticed how when you’re short on sleep you crave foods that give you a quick energy boost? There’s a good reason for that. Lack of sleep has a direct link to stress, overeating, and weight gain.

There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends signals to the brain when you are full. However, when don’t get the sleep you need, your ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite so you want more food than normal, and your leptin levels go down, meaning you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating.

So, the more sleep you skip, the more food your body will crave.As well as making it harder to fight food cravings, feeling tired can also increase your stress levels, leading to yet more emotional eating.To control your appetite and reduce food cravings, try to get plenty of rest—about eight hours of quality sleep every night.

More help for emotional eating

Diet and Weight Loss Help Center: By developing healthy lifestyle habits and relieving emotional problems without the use of food, you can achieve weight loss success.

Emotional eating help

Healthy Weight Loss & Dieting: How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off
Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress
Easy Ways to Start Exercising: Making Exercise a Fun Part of Your Everyday Life
Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief: Finding the Relaxation Exercises That Work for You
How to Sleep Better: Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Stress Relief in the Moment: Using Your Senses to Quickly Change Your Response to Stress

Resources and references

Free Emotional Eating Diagnostic – A tool developed by emotional eating specialist Roger Gould, M.D., that will convey whether you are an emotional eater or not. (ShrinkYourself)
Weight Loss: Gain Control of Emotional Eating – Find out how emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts and get tips to regain control of your eating habits. (Mayo Clinic)
Emotional Eating – Covers emotional eating, the difference between physical and emotional hunger, and ways to break the cycle of emotional eating. (The Nemours Foundation)
Do Food Cravings Reflect Your Feelings? – According to weight-loss specialist Linda Spangle, people’s food choices tend to correlate to the type of emotions they’re experiencing. Learn how to identify those feelings and find alternative solutions to eating. (WebMD)
Study Offers Clues to Emotional Eating – Learn about a 2011 study that demonstrates how sugar and fat feed our emotions on a physiological level. (CNN Health)

 

With Sincere Gratitude to the Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal Ph.D.
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