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  • Hey, This Is A Blog, Not A Therapy Session!

    I post insights that I have here about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and various techniques that I've used to help people. Cool as that is, you gotta make your own choices. Its no replacement for professional advice or counseling, so just bear that in mind before you go taking my advice.
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Bottle Up Your Feelings

Bottling things up. When you hear someone say this, its usually perceived negatively. After all, you can’t bottle up your emotions, right?

Well, to make this a little easier to understand, and less boring, I’ll tell you a little story that I learned from therapy school.

In order to listen to people’s problems every day, and not go insane, you have to set some sort of boundaries with your emotions. Sometimes you have to do this on the fly, because you might get a phone call from a family member or something that could throw you off your game. If you have to work with someone in the next few minutes, and you don’t have time to manage your issues at the time, you gotta figure out a way to put those problems aside and help someone.

So I created the Bottle. But its not like your usual bottle…its a special bottle.

See, this bottle allows you to manage the boloney you’re dealing with in a way that encourages you to deal with the problem before you go to sleep. It takes a bit of discipline, but if you do the technique right, it should work for you too.

So without further ado, and so you know what the heck I’m talking about, I’ll share this simple technique with you:

1. Take the issue you’re dealing with and put them in an imaginary bottle. After I wrote that, I think I sound a little crazy, but just humor me for a moment. Whatever it is you’re dealing with in the moment, take that issue and throw it in the bottle. Don’t worry, its not going to stay there too long.

2. Put it on a shelf. You’re putting the issue aside temporarily, with the purpose of going back to it when you don’t have to save the world or something. Visualizing the shelf allows you to recognize that bottling the problem is temporary. Most people skip this step, bottle the problem, and try not to think about it or try to forget it. This doesn’t work, as you need time to process the issue.

3. When you have time, take the bottle down. Take the bottle down off the shelf, open it up, and deal with the issue before it gets buried with all the other nasty stuff you may have buried in your life. If you don’t have the time, make the time to deal with these things before they affect the other areas of your life.

See! Bottling things up isn’t as bad, so long as you take whatever’s in the bottle out, and manage it at a later time. Keeping it bottled up is usually a bad idea, so you have to find time to let the issues out of the bottle.

What do you think? Can you put the issue aside and take the time to manage it? Talk to me people.

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Processing vs. Stuffing

CottonBalls

More often than not when I work with men, a common theme that I run into with them is that they have tried hard to manage their problems by “not thinking about it.” This is a pretty common idea for guys, because hey, if we don’t have to think about stuff, then we don’t have to feel any of the other girly emotions, like fear or sadness. We can just be angry, because that’s really the only Emotion we’re supposed to feel, right?

This choosing not to think about problems is what I affectionately refer to as “stuffing.”

So when guys come to me, and tell me that this is how they’ve tried stuffing their problems, they are surprised when they tell me it doesn’t work.

But why doesn’t it work? After all, thinking positively is the way to go, right? If you control your Thoughts, and choose not to think about stuff that hurts you, then it only makes sense to just stuff it so you don’t have to bother feeling that way.

Sounds good in theory, but you know what I’ve found? That most of the time, when people do this, it turns into unresolved conflict. Sometimes that unresolved conflict turns into addiction, or other negative behaviors designed to keep the negative feelings at bay. You try so hard to stuff your emotions, that eventually you run out of room.

Its as if you have a soda bottle, and you start putting cotton balls in it. You figure, “What’s one cotton ball?”, right? So then you keep putting cotton balls in there, hoping that the bottle will continue to have room for them. But eventually, you run out of room, and now you have to figure out what to do with all those cotton balls, and the ones that are coming your way.

So what can you do instead? Just a couple extra steps.

1. Decide if the issue in question is something you can change. If you can change it, great! Take initiative and do what you can to change it. Done deal.

2. If its something you can’t change, resolve that its OK that you can’t change it. Sometimes we have to let ourselves realize that we can’t change the world, and that really is OK.

3. Accept this resolution, and come to terms with it. Make the fact that you can’t change it part of your belief system. Its OK to resolve that the weather is beyond your control. Its OK to accept that you can’t control what your mother-in-law says to you about your soul patch. Accept this. Embrace it.

4. Once you’ve resolved these things, let it go. By letting the issue go, you effectively give yourself a way to let the stress of the issue loose, rather than hanging onto it, and bottling it in.

This is how I teach people to process issues. It really is better than choosing not to think about it, and even though its just a few more steps in the mix, it makes a world of difference, merely due to the choices made.

Does this sound like you? Let me know what you think.

Like The Flu, Emotions Can Be Contagious

With all the talk about the H1N1 virus, people are being more careful than they ever been about trying to stay healthy. Its at a point now where the wipe-grabbing behaviors of Adrian Monk don’t seem so out of the ordinary, when everyone is worried about getting sick. However, its a very real fear. People are getting sick, getting in contact with other people, and then those people become sick. Contagious sickness is like that.

What about emotions though? Have you ever thought about the people you spend time with? What kind of attitude do they have? Are they positive or negative and how does that affect your day? I’ll give you an example of how I “caught” an Emotional Cold.

One day my wife and I were just hanging out. It was your normal day off, and we had a ton of things we wanted to do. With a list as long as our arm, we figured the best thing to do would be to start with breakfast. So we hit our favorite pancake joint, grabbed some pacakes (you know the kind I’m talking about: strawberry syrup, whipped cream, etc.), some coffee and figured we’d be all set with our day.

Then something strange happened. We got home, and my wife was suddenly really tired. I, who is all about being flexible when it comes to days off, shrugged it off and suggested that she take a nap. Before I knew what hit me, I was right there next to her taking a nap. We woke up hours later with the sun down, and a list still as long as our arms that needed to be done.

I could have just gone and done my own thing, but I was open to her emotional state. I caught an Emotional Cold, and let it get the best of me. This has much to do with boundaries, but it also has to do with social conditioning.

See, we want to do what everyone else is doing in a group setting, even if the group setting is small. Sure, there are times when we want to go against the grain, but for the most part, as a society we value a cohesive group think, so we don’t have confrontations (because those are bad after all).

However, this can also be a good thing! Because you can make your emotional state contagious as well. Consider how you can influence someone in a positive way with your own attitude. Let me give another example, this time of someone giving a Positive Emotional Cold.

I worked with a client who’s boss would emit anxiety toward this person. As a result, my client picked up her anxious behavior and state, and it made my client more and more anxious as the days went on. We talked about setting emotional boundaries, and how her anxiety is hers, and my client’s Emotions were my client’s.

The next week, my client came in all excited, because after we had discussed setting those emotional boundaries, the boss’s anxiety stayed where it was…with the boss. My client envisioned making a protective bubble, and behind that bubble, my client was safe. Outside of that bubble, the boss did her own thing. Eventually, my client became emtionally assertive, and was able to transfer their calm state onto the boss!

So by choosing to be calm, the boss picked up on this, and started to calm down as well.

So what’s the bottom line? Here’s the breakdown:

1. People are social animals: We’re going to pick up on each other’s stuff whether we like it or not.

2. Recognize where you’re catching a cold: Decide if you want to pick up on someone else’s emotional state or not. Also, decide if you want to continue hanging with people who continue to give you an Emotional Cold.

3. Decide if you want to feel something different. You can always feel differently than those around you.

4. Do you want to be contagious? How can you pass on your state to others?

5. Should you catch a positive cold? Maybe you’re a Negative Nancy and its time you hung around people who were passing on positive Emotional Colds.

So consider how emotions can be contagious in your life. Are you a carrier or a reciever? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Boundaries and Fences: A Visual Comparison

MuseumFence

So I was meeting with a client over the course of the last week, and we ended up talking a bit about boundaries and how to apply them to her life. Much of the conversation had to do with how to set boundaries with family members and people she loves, which feels something like trying to spoon out spaghetti sauce with a fork. So we sat there and tried to define what boundaries looked like, and how we could define them a little better.

Now I hate to think that I’m anyone really inspiringly smart. I mean, there are a lot of people out there who know a whole heck of a lot more than me. But every now and then, God throws me a bone and gives me something really cool to share with people. I think this is one of those things.

When you think of boundaries, what comes to mind? Personally, I think of fences and walls. When I think of fences and walls, I think of all different shapes and sizes. If you can visualize those boundaries to look like those fences, it could be easier to set those boundaries with the people who are more likely to step all over them.

The size of the fence involves the size of the boundary. For example, there’s a small, 2 foot high wooden fence outside the parking lot of my office building. It wouldn’t take a whole lot for someone to step over this fence, right? A little effort, and the boundary doesn’t exist anymore. We can look at these boundaries like the ones we set with our significant others. We tell them that these areas are off limits, and based on our involvement with that person, we can hope that they don’t step over those boundaries. Think of them as fences that surround a flower bed, and that if the person you love doesn’t want to step on your flowers, they don’t overstep the boundary (even though they could at any time).

Now, think about fences that are chest high. You could climb over these fences and hop over to the other side, but its likely that the person who put the fence up, doesn’t want you in. The boundaries that look like this are more like clear areas that you don’t want people to overstep, and they can know right up front what the boundary is and why you have it there. So think about what kind of issues those are, and where you would set up a chest-high fence. Boundaries like these could be the punishments you set for your kids, or how long you decide you’re going to think about work after you leave for the day.

 Then there are the 10 foot high brick walls, like the ones you see at most mansions in Newport. These often have tall, spiked iron gates with vertical iron bars to prevent climbing. These boundaries are boundaries that mean business. These boundaries have a “No Trespassing” sign on them, and when you set boundaries like these, those who try to step over them should proceed with caution. Boundaries like this are areas that you don’t want to share with others, like personal details, sexual history, and the political discussions your family have at holiday dinners.

Remember, the things you can change are your boundaries, and these are things that are in your Inside World (the world of stuff you control, or your WATER). What other people do is part of the Outside World (or the world of stuff you can’t control), but telling them your boundaries and sticking to them is you way of taking charge of your life and whether or not you allow others to affect your world.

So what do your boundaries look like? How big are your fences and what do they represent?

How To Manage Financial Stress

DollarSign

So a friend of mine from college decided to do what I do for a living: help people. Only instead of helping them the way I do, he helps people get out of debt and determine if they should go into banruptcy or if there’s another way out. Personally, I think that’s pretty dang cool, especially considering the Economy we’re in.

As a result of our recognizing we have the same focus (you know, helping people) we talked about doing a bit of cross-blogging to bring home similar ideas on how to manage the same problem. Him with the finances, and me with the mental and emotional stress.

OK, so let’s assume you’ve got money problems. Heck, I’ve got money problems myself, and yet my wife somehow manages to make things work out well in the end (fortunately for me). However, when you have money problems, its all you think about. The feeling is overwhelming, and with everything that comes with money, there are also the related areas: where you live, what your family eats (or if they do at all), gas in your car, inability to find a job. All of these things contribute to feeling financially overwhelmed, and if you don’t keep your wits about you, it could affect these other areas of your life.

So here are some methods you can use to manage the stress of feeling financially overwhelmed. Bear in mind, this is to manage the stress, not the financial situation itself. They may seem like the same thing, but they’re not. How do we tell the difference? Let’s break down how your brain processes information, shall we?

See, your brain takes in information, processes it, sends it to your Core Value System. This is all the stuff you believe about what’s right and wrong with your life, and with the world. Once that information is sent there and tested, its sent to your Emotional Control Room. This takes all its cues from the Core Value System, and you start feeling whatever emotion is connected with that belief. If people charging you late fees on your card because you were 2 days past due is wrong, you may start to feel anger, or frustration.

Now that we know the process of how you start feeling something, now we can apply it to these stressors. Let’s get you out from feeling overwhelmed, to feeling like you can at least manage the emotions of your situation. Remember, sometimes you can’t change the situation, but you can change how you feel about it or how much you think about it.

1. Don’t think about these problems all the time. When you think about nothing but problems, you don’t leave room for anything else. Furthermore, you allow the feelings associated with these problems to affect other areas of your life, including how you communicate with family and friends.

2. Set aside an hour a day to think about the financial issues, and then choose to think about something else. By setting boundaries with your thought life, you get rid of the “all or nothing” attitude. You can’t not think about the financial concerns, because they are very real and affect you in a dramatic way. If you think about them all the time, this causes undue stress which can cause heart problems, anxiety and panic attacks. So we need to make time to think about it, so you can organize your thoughts, and then go about your life.

3. Live and Learn, or think about the choices you made that contributed to this financial difficulty, and see what you can do to change them. We have some influence on our financial situation. For example, my wife and I bought our house right before the housing market fell. We can’t get out of it, and we realized that we would have been better off in a lot of ways if we had stayed in our apartment and waited a year or so. Write down these mistakes, not to stress you out, but to look at them in a thoughtful way so you don’t make the same mistake again. Its like that person you dated that you thought was “the One,” but then they did something really crazy or stupid that made you run screaming. You don’t want to make the same mistake there, and you don’t want to make more bad financial mistakes that put you in the hole even deeper.

4. Use the stress to your advantage. Take an hour a day to destress (alright, I know I’m asking you to take a lot of time, but much of this takes time. And how can you have time if you don’t take time?). Sit down and write, talk to a friend, or excercise. Do something that gets your creative juices flowing, or the blood flowing, either way. All that built up stress needs a release, and some of the best music, art, and literature are made through hardship.

This is just stuff I do to manage what I have. I have to do these things myself, because if I don’t, it will show and I’ll start transferring my stress to them, and they have enough of their own.

To manage the functional element of financial stress, you might want to go to a guy who knows what he’s talking about. Check out my friend Jim Kutkowski, who is an expert in managing financial debt for people, and giving them solutions that work best for their situation. Check out his post to get the other side of managing financial hardship.

Your Impatience Could Kill You

Remember how I can’t stand big box stores because I allow them to make me sleepy? Well, yesterday I went to one, but this post isn’t about that. Its about what happened on my way over to the store.

See, I parked my car and as I crossed the lanes in the parking lot to get to the door, I saw a truck heading my way. It was going slow, mind you, and stopped for me to cross the road.

So I crossed, but I noticed something about the way I did it. I scurried over to the other side as fast as I could. You know what I realized?

I presumed that the person behind the truck was impatient.

This got me thinking: Are we really this impatient? Have we accepted impatience as part of our culture?

Take a look around you. Everyone everywhere is trying to do things faster. We have faster internet, but even that isn’t fast enough, so we upgrade to the next fastest speed (Wireless G to Wireless N and so on). We want our mobile phone internet to be faster (EDGE to 3G). We want our food to be brought to us within a certain amount of time, because waiting too long for food is unacceptable. People get impatient with their children so they yell at them. And traffic, well let’s not go there, shall we?

So what the heck happened? How did we get so caught up on being impatient?

Because somebody somewhere said that time is money. That somebody was Benjamin Franklin.

So from the inception of this great nation, our culture has been told to be impatient.

And you know what? It shows.

Take a look at relationships. People are impatient about sex, so they have it with whoever they’re interested in as soon as they can. They rush into relationships as a result, and pick up the pieces to figure out how to work through the relationship after they’ve already moved physically into an act that can both give life and death simultaneously.

Yes that’s right, sex can kill you. Oh, the odds are probably in your favor, maybe. You could get an STD, but hey, that’s not going to happen to you, right? You’re smarter than that.

It can also give life. Children are created by “accident” all the time. But hey, don’t let me tell you how to run your life. You already know how to do that, don’t you?

So people impatiently get into relationships, and then when things don’t work out so well, they impatiently get out.

You see, we as a culture expect things to go quickly and correctly the first time. How can things go well when you rush into them without thinking about them and taking your time to figure things out?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people have realized that life is too short and that its best to be as efficient as possible in order to get the most out of it.

Maybe, or maybe we’re just selfish.

So what, Jim? Another rant? Fabulous.

Here’s my point: Sit down and think about your life. Think about the time you waste watching other people’s lives on TV, and then speed your way to work to get there on time. Think about how you’re using your time, and if stressing out about being impatient is really worth it to you.

To quote Larry Winget from Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life (this is me paraphrasing), “Losers speed. Winners make enough time to get there without having to rush.”

What I’m trying to say is, being impatient gains you nothing. Stuff takes time. Deal with it. Its in the Outside World; stuff you can’t control. What you can control is how you spend your time, which is part of your WATER. If you’re sitting in traffic honking your horn at people because they don’t go the millisecond the light turns green, then you’re not controlling your time well enough. Or you’re making bad choices about your time.

Oh, and by the way, impatience leads to health risks like Hypertension and High Blood Pressure according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Apparently Hypertension is a big factor in heart disease, kidney disease, and heart failure.

So yeah, impatience can kill you.

If things aren’t going fast enough for you, then maybe you need to slow down to appreciate life and recognize where you are right now.

To quote Ferris Bueler: “Life Moves Pretty Fast. If You Don’t Stop and Look Around Once in a While, You Could Miss It.”

Am I wrong? Talk to me people.

Managing Anxiety and Depression: Being Grateful

Everything’s Amazing, and We’re Still Unhappy.

LouisCK-Conan

The guy you’re looking at above is a comedian named Louis CK, and if you click on the pic above you’ll get sent to NBC’s website, and the video that this blog is about. So go check it out and then come back (and don’t get sidetracked watching more movies  :).  )

OK, so basically Louis goes on a rant about how everything is amazing, and yet, no one is happy. Despite the fact that this show was done almost a year ago, this actually holds true for today. Think about all the stuff we have: iPhones, personal vehicles, computers, high speed internet, plane flight, and all the other ammenities we have. We’re still unhappy aren’t we. He calls this generation “the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.”

Are you in this category? I know I am from time to time. Complaining about how slow my internet is; or how long I have to wait in traffic; or how annoying my Blackberry can be from time to time. Sometimes I snap myself out of it, and realize that I actually HAVE a Blackberry, and I remember a time when I didn’t have it, and suddenly I’m thankful for it.

So how do we ensure that we’re not a bunch of spoiled idiots? By being thankful for what we have, and being patient with what’s to come. How do we do that? First, think about how much we complain about how things aren’t going our way, or how we are so annoyed with things not going as fast as we’d like. We don’t even take into account the idea that the world really doesn’t revolve around us or our time schedule. Seriously think about what you take for granted, and write them down if you have to so you can remind yourself about what you have . Bear in mind, these do not have to be materialistic…they can be family, friends, pets, and other greatness in your life.

Second, use this list to counter any thoughts of self-pity when you think about what you don’t have. Seriously, life could be so much worse for you, and sometimes you need to take these ideas into consideration in order to change your state about your life. So many times I’ve run into people with depression who had a lot, but because certain exceptions or conditions weren’t met in their life, they feel as though they’re a failure, or that life isn’t good for them. I usually encourage them to think about what they have and what’s good about their life. By changing your perception of your life, you can change your feelings about your life as well.

This isn’t anything new. The Secret goes into this kind of thing with the Law of Attraction. Now I’m not a big Law of Attraction nut, because I think you get what you get by working hard, not by asking Santa Claus for it and wishing really hard. But being grateful for what you have is an idea that’s older than that: A La Counting Your Blessings (for the Christian readers, this is along the lines of Phillipians 4:8).

I guess my bottom line is, if you can use what you have as a way to take your focus off what you don’t, then you may end up being happier in the long run. Don’t wait for someone else to make you happy, find the areas in your life that are already good, and  think about that stuff. Comment welcome.