Feeling nervous or blue?

Have you ever caught yourself feeling sad or nervous for no particular reason? What do you do when you feel blue or anxious? Most people try to dig for the reason they are feeling sad or nervous, for example by asking themselves: “Am I sad because I made a mistake or didn’t pass my exam? Am I sad because I miss my loved ones or feel lonely?” or “Am I nervous because I have a lot to do and not enough time or because of the uncertainty of a situation?”

Have you noticed whether you’ve actually felt better after you’ve written down some of your thoughts or feelings or talked to someone about them?

A recent brain imaging study at UCLA has shown that “labeling emotions and talking about feelings makes us feel better”. According to this research “when you put feelings into words, you’re activating the prefrontal region of the brain and reducing the response in the amygdala.”  The amygdala is one of the regions of the brain, connected with our emotions and the fight and flight response while the prefrontal cortex has been associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences as well as processing emotions and inhibiting behavior. According to this research: “just as you hit the brake when you’re driving as you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.”

According to the same study, “mindfulness” also activates the prefrontal cortex, reducing the emotional responses to sad or anxiety provoking thoughts.

Mindfulness is a technique in which one pays attention to his or her present emotions, thoughts and body sensations, such as breathing, without passing judgment or reacting. An individual simply releases his thoughts and “lets it go.”

“One way to practice mindfulness is to  pay attention to present-moment experiences and to label your emotions by saying, for example, ‘I’m feeling angry right now’ or ‘I’m feeling a lot of stress right now’ or ‘this is joy’ or whatever the emotion is,” said Creswell, lead author of the study at UCLA.

Therefore, if you’re feeling nervous or blue, you have a lot of options.  If you’re the type that can talk to someone (a therapist or a friend) about your thoughts and feelings, do so.  If you enjoy writing, use a journal to label all of your thoughts, and feelings.  And if don’t enjoy sharing your feelings with others or writing in a journal, you can always practice “mindfulness” by observing your thoughts and feelings and labeling them without judgment.

Are you in a “conscious” romantic relationship?

Have you ever noticed couples who seem to be in a wonderful harmony together? Have you wondered what makes their relationship work? Would you like to improve your romantic relationship to the extent that you would feel in complete harmony with your partner?  By reflecting on the following secrets, you can discover new ways to improve the quality of your relationship.

Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. reveals the secrets to finding everlasting fulfillment in romantic relationships .  Dr. Hendrix  is one of the pioneers in the psychology of love relationships and ways to transform relationships into a lasting source of love and companionship.  He describes an ideal romantic relationship as a “conscious relationship” or a “passionate friendship”.

I have found that couples who somehow instinctively know and apply the following secrets, seem to have more passionate, loving, and satisfying relationships. Wouldn’t you like to take your relationship to a higher level?

Ten Characteristics of a Conscious Marriage/Relationship

1- Your love relationship has a hidden purpose: the healing of childhood wounds. In other words, you are aware of your own and your partner’s childhood wounds and you create an emotionally safe environment where you heal one another’s childhood wounds in your daily interactions.

2- You create a more accurate image of your partner. Instead of trying to fit your partner into your adolescent fantasies and expecting your partner to be your savior, you are able to see and accept your partner for who he is she really is.

3- You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner. You let go of the idea that your partner needs to read your mind and just know your needs.  You understand that communication is the key to a healthy relationship.

4- You become more intentional in your interactions. You don’t blurt out what comes to your mind and behave in ways that might be hurtful to your relationship.  You train yourself to be constructive in your relationship at all times.

5- You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own. In a healthy relationship, you let go of the fantasy of your partner as someone who is there to take care of you and you learn to focus on meeting your partner’s needs instead.

6- You embrace the dark side of your personality. When you finally take responsibility for your faults and weaknesses, you no longer have the urge to project you own negative traits onto your partner.

7- You learn new techniques to satisfy your basic needs and desires. When you stop blaming your partner for not meeting your needs or demanding that he or she would meet your needs, you are pleasantly surprised to find your partner as a wonderful resource.

8- You search within yourself for the strengths and abilities you are lacking. One reason you were attracted to your partner is that your partner had strengths and abilities that you lacked.  This gave you an illusory sense of wholeness.  By developing the strengths and traits you lack, you find an everlasting feeling of integrity and completeness.

9-  You become more aware of your drive to be loving and whole and united with the universe.  We are born with a natural ability to give and  love unconditionally.  In a healthy relationship, you are able to fulfill your potential and rediscover your original nature.

10- You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage.  Unfortunately, most people think that in order to have a successful relationship, they need to pick the right partner.  The reality is that in order to have a successful relationship, you need to be the right partner.  Instead of expecting your partner to change, take full responsibility for creating a good relationship.

The Secret of Happiness

Have you ever wondered what makes people happy? Do you consider yourself happy? Have you ever wondered how you can be happier?

Most people believe that if they had more money, more education, a better career, more love and support, or even more talent and creativity, they would be happier.  If you ask most people why they want to be rich, successful, or in a loving relationship, they would eventually confess that it is because they want to be happy.

Everyone can have a different opinion about happiness and how to be happier but wouldn’t you want to know what years of research have shown?

Sonja Lyubomirsky in “The How of Happiness” shares the results of years of scientific research regarding the secret of happiness.  Dr. Lyubomirsky dispels some popular myths regarding happiness in her book including the myth that “happiness must be found” or that “happiness lies in changing our circumstances”.  According to her research, 50 percent of happiness is genetic.  Think about your parents.  Do you consider your parents happy people? If not, don’t give up yet; there is still hope.  According to the same research, only 10 percent of happiness depends on our life circumstances.  Therefore, despite what most people think, only 10 percent of our happiness depends on whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, in a loving relationship or single.  So what determines the remainder, which is 40%?

If you were not born to a happy family and your life circumstances are not exactly as you wish them to be, here is some good news.  The same research reveals that the remaining 40% of happiness is within your power to change.  After years of scientific research into the lives of happy people, “The How of Happiness” offers the following activities as some strategies to increase your happiness.

1-   Practice expressing gratitude:  Appreciate what you have.

2-   Be positive: When you experience hardship, ask yourself these questions: What else could this mean? What’s positive about this experience? How can I learn a lesson from this experience that might help me in the future? Have I become stronger because of this experience?

3-   Don’t think too much and don’t compare yourself to others.

4-   Show acts of kindness.

5-   Invest in social connections.

6-   Develop some strategies to manage stress, hardship, and trauma.

7-  Learn to forgive yourself and others.

8-   Live in the present and increase flow experiences: Flow was a concept introduced by Csikszentmihalyi in the 1960’s as “complete absorption in what one does.” A good way to know if you are experiencing flow is when you are so absorbed in doing something that you lose track of time.

9-   Savor life’s joys: Enjoy small or everyday experiences.

10- Commit to your goals: Pick goals that are meaningful to you and commit some of your time and effort to getting closer to achieving them every week.

11- Be spiritual.

12- Take care of yourself (your mind and body).

Are you a perfectionist?

Do you feel the need to be in control?  Do people tell you that you are stubborn and inflexible?  Do you have a hard time delegating to others?  Do you enjoy making lists, schedules and plans? Do you like to be productive and hate to waste your time?  Do you pay attention to details and get nervous when things are chaotic?  Do you set strict standards and sometimes find yourself not being able to complete your tasks due to fear of failure?

If you answered “yes” to most of the above questions, you might be a perfectionist.

What is perfectionism? According to Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia,”Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that perfection can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable.”

The most pathological form of perfectionism is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) which is diagnosed when most of the following criteria are met:

-preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization, and schedules

-being very rigid and inflexible in beliefs

-showing perfectionism that interferes with completing a task

-excessive focus on being productive with time

-being very conscientious

-having inflexible morality, ethics, or values

-hoarding items that may no longer have value

-a reluctance to trust a work assignment or task to someone else for fear that one’s standards will not be met.

Now, would you like to know if your perfectionism is healthy or pathological?

The University of Texas has published an article which makes a distinction between pathological perfectionists and healthy strivers.  Which one are you?

If you find yourself relating more to the Perfectionist column, have in mind that psychotherapy (especially Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) has proven to be helpful in successfully treating this condition.

Perfectionist

Healthy Striver

Sets standards beyond reach and reason Sets high standards, but just beyond reach
Is never satisfied by anything less than perfection Enjoys process as well as outcome
Becomes dysfunctionally depressed when experiences failure and disappointment Bounces back from failure and disappointment quickly and with energy
Is preoccupied with fear of failure and disapproval––this can deplete energy levels Keeps normal anxiety and fear of failure and disapproval within bounds––uses them to create energy
Sees mistakes as evidence of unworthiness Sees mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
Becomes overly defensive when criticized Reacts positively to helpful criticism

Grief and Loss

I was recently saddened by the tragic news of the death of a beautiful young woman who left many disbelieving friends and family members behind.  Of course, I had the same reaction as many: shock, disbelief, confusion, sadness, and many other conflicting emotions. I hope this blog post will help to provide some information regarding common reactions to the trauma of losing a loved one and ways to help heal ourselves and one another.

Grief is a natural response to loss and as we all are unique individuals, we also all grieve differently.  Just remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve — although there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. For example, when you allow grief to be expressed and experienced, it has a potential for healing that eventually can strengthen and enrich your life.  Also, there is no timetable or deadline for healing.  Healing is a process that happens gradually and cannot be forced or hurried.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described “five stages of grief”  in her book “Death and Dying” published in 1969.  Most people experience these emotions following the loss of a loved one, although some may not experience any or all of these emotions or they may not experience them in order.

Five Stages of Grief

  • Denial: At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place and may withdraw from our usual social contacts.  This stage may last a few moments or longer.
  • Anger: Then we may be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt , or at the world, for letting it happen. We might be angry with ourselves for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
  • Bargaining: We may make bargains with God, asking, “If I do this, will you take away the loss?”
  • Depression: We then feel numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.
  • Acceptance: This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. We then simply accept the reality of the loss.

Most people are unprepared for grief and might experience an incredible amount of stress in response to the tragedy.  Allow yourself to go through the stages of grief and do not forget to take care of yourself.

“There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go.” – Author Unknown

My Blog

Have you ever wondered why you do or don’t have romantic love in your life? What is your definition of romantic love?  Have you ever been in love? Have you ever fallen out of love? Before you continue to read, try to define romantic love as you have experienced it.  What is your love theory?

Many psychologists have researched this topic and proposed different theories of romantic love.  For instance, psychologist Zick Rubin proposed that romantic love is made up of three elements: attachment, caring, and intimacy. Attachment is the need to receive care, approval, and physical contact with the other person. Caring involves valuing the other person’s needs and happiness as much as your own. Intimacy refers to the sharing of thoughts, desires, and feelings with the other person. 

According to psychologist Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues, there are two basic types of love: compassionate love and passionate love. Compassionate love is characterized by mutual respect, attachment, affection, and trust while Passionate love is characterized by intense emotions, sexual attraction, anxiety, and affection.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed a triangular theory of love that suggests that there are three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Different combinations of these three components result in different types of love. For example, a combination of intimacy and commitment results in compassionate love, while a combination of passion and intimacy leads to passionate love.

Regardless of your theory of romantic love, do you feel in control of whether you have romantic love in your life or not? I have noticed many people are waiting for romantic love to “find” them.  I have also noticed that these people generally wait a long time.  My clients often ask: “How can I find love?”

I believe having romantic love in your life is a choice you make on a conscious or subconscious level.  If you already have romantic love in your life, you might not remember the exact day you made a choice to love this person but I’m certain you have done it.  I think hoping to find love  is to some extent a fantasy since it essentially means you are allowing the envionment or circumstances outside you to determine your destiny. 

If you want to have romantic love in your life, what are you doing to create it? And even more importantly, are you willing to choose to love?

Please feel free to comment.