Roses are Red but you are feeling Blue on Valentine’s Day…

blue-roses-wallpaper-9Are you alone on Valentine’s Day and feeling sad? Did you recently end a relationship and the thought of being alone tempts you to call your ex partner?  Perhaps you have been single for a while now and feel hopeless about ever finding love. If this is your current situation then this blog is for you. Grab some chocolate and keep reading…

People are driven to satisfy basic human needs. According to William Glasser (founder of Reality Therapy and Choice Theory), one of the basic needs we strive to fulfill is the need for Love and Belonging.  So why wouldn’t you want to find that special someone who makes you smile, sweeps you off your feet and gives you attention and affection? It’s perfectly natural to feel a bit sad seeing everyone flaunt their romance on this day.  It’s understandable, however, not exactly rational.  Love that has true commitment, respect, affection, passion and compatibility can be wonderful. But let’s retain some perspective here. Dear reader, there will be more Valentine’s Days to come. If you don’t have someone to love today, it does not mean you will Never find someone. Remember that not every relationship you see around you is some Nicholas Sparks novel type of love (and if it is, it’s probably not going to end well anyway. This is a joke, of course, since most of his novels end tragically) and Valentine’s Day is just another day on the calendar; it does not show what the relationship is truly like on a daily basis.

1) There is tremendous pressure from our society not to be single. If internalized, the most challenging pressure to find someone comes from within you. Being single somehow implies that you need someone to “complete” you.  This is unhealthy and can lead to codependency traits. Be a whole person with interests, hobbies and healthy standards of what a good relationship should be. You can then find another person to add value to your life, not expect him/her to complete parts of you that you think are missing.

2) You are not alone on Valentine’s Day. There are plenty of single men/women out there. Some are waiting for you to get out there and meet them. Be open to taking chances and letting love find you. You attract what you are. So like yourself (why wouldn’t you? You are an amazing person I bet!) and be in love with your life. Love will then come your way.

3) Grass isn’t greener on the other side. This is not to put down other relationships but rather gain the awareness that often times people are with their partners for the wrong reasons. And not everything that shines on Valentine’s Day is gold. Some people are with their partners out of fear of being alone. Some confuse other needs with love (please note: lust is just lust, it is not love. Fears of being alone and needing someone to just be there is not love. Chemistry does not necessarily mean compatibility. Staying with someone because you share finances, children, etc. but not truly valuing  that person is not love. Being unfaithful but in a relationship isn’t love. Being abusive in any way but needing to have that person in your life isn’t love. Expecting your partner to fulfill your childhood needs that weren’t met is not love. Manipulating, convincing, forcing, tricking someone into being with you isn’t love, for love is given freely and cannot be forced if you want it to be true).

4) So you are feeling lonely. Let’s call it how it is. You wish you could spend Valentine’s Day doing something romantic with a partner. That’s normal. But it’s a feeling. Feelings come and go. They may feel unpleasant but they can’t harm you. Have you considered that people in relationships can feel lonely too (despite the presence of another person)? Not all people who are single are lonely. And not all people in relationships are happy.

5) You’d rather be with someone than alone on this day. Dear reader, let me ask you this: is it better being with someone who isn’t emotionally available, someone you know in your heart is not right for you, isn’t treating you right, decreases your sense of self-worth , makes you sad and angry, is hot and cold with you emotionally, doesn’t appreciate you, is only with you out of convenience, etc.? Does that sound like love to you? Most likely not.  So if you find yourself in a bad relationship don’t be afraid to leave.  Your so called “love” is what’s standing in the way of finding true love.  You will be one step closer to finding love if you are single than if you are in a bad relationship but refuse to leave.

6) You miss someone. You are tempted to contact your ex partner. You remember the person you loved once and all the feelings come rushing back. You idealize the relationship now even though it was far from perfect.  It is normal to miss someone who wasn’t right for you. Often times it is the image in your mind of what your relationship should have been that makes you sad. Other times, it is the fear of not finding anyone else like him/her. Your ex is not the last man/woman on earth. In fact, most likely, he/she is an ex for a reason and the possibility of finding someone who will treat you the same is very likely. But you don’t want that. You want a better relationship. So “delete” that person from your life. Simplify your life, subtract the unnecessary.  Gain the awareness that by missing him/her you are simply letting your emotions override your reasoning.

7) What else is Valentine’s Day about? It’s not only about presents, dinners, cards and pressure to find someone then plan a great date. Saint Valentine performed weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. According to some legends, he also healed the daughter of his jailer. He wrote her a letter signed “your valentine” as a farewell before his execution. It’s a beautiful legend and a reminder of true love being out there. Worth celebrating whether you are single or not, right? It’s also a reminder to give your love to someone worthy.  Think of some ways to celebrate with you friends. You are simply celebrating what Love is for you, you are celebrating being alive and having the ability to love and be loved one day. Plan ahead of time if you know this holiday makes you sad. This may be a good time to pamper yourself.

I wish you to find a good relationship that’s healthy, stable and is governed with respect, commitment and honesty. And if you are single, I wish you to have the courage to wait for the love you deserve.  But until then, I hope you give yourself the respect and love you deserve.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”-Buddha

Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness? photo

We often hear others say “be in the present”, “stay in the now”, “ be in the moment.” What does that mean? What they are suggesting is to be aware of what is happening to you, around you and within you in the present time. That is mindfulness. It is the ability to be aware of your physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and actions-in the present moment-without trying to change, analyze or criticize anything.

Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, however, it’s been practiced and taught throughout the years in many world religions. Mindfulness is used to help individuals with various health conditions. It is used in yoga. Mindfulness is used in different types of psychotherapy. Practicing mindfulness can decrease stress, improve sleep, decrease anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is used to help individuals struggling with trauma, substance abuse, eating disorders, etc. However, everyone can benefit from becoming more mindful.

How to know when you are NOT being Mindful?

Are you thinking about the past? Analyzing past situations, wishing things were different? Are you worried about the future? Are you imagining scenarios in your mind of what could go wrong? Getting lost in your fears? Do you find yourself walking somewhere and you don’t even realize how you got there? You walk into your room to get something but forget why you went there in the first place? You are at a social gathering but find yourself thinking about something else? You walk while looking at your phone and don’t notice the weather and people around you? Most people are not truly  in the present most of the time. Their minds are occupied with solving problems, thinking about their fears, analyzing situations and worrying about the future. They are present physically, but not mentally. Instead, they are stuck in the past or in the future.

Tips on how to become more Mindful.

1) Increase awareness. During the day we do many activities on autopilot, without paying any attention. For example, walking somewhere and not even realizing how you got there. One way to become more mindful is by trying to notice more of what’s going on around you while doing your regular activities. Next time, make it a point to notice several things you hadn’t noticed before while walking to your destination.

2) Focus on your senses. Pay attention to your senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Example: slow down and actually enjoy your lunch, pay attention to how it smells and tastes. Pay attention to what sounds you can hear in the morning as you open your eyes. Focus on how the water feels on your skin as you wash your hands, etc. As you focus on these activities, try to notice as many details as possible.

3) Observe your breath. If you are having difficulties doing so, tell yourself “now I am going to breathe in and breathe out.” This will help you focus your mind on the actual breathing.

4) Let the thoughts come and go. Take 5 minutes to write down any thoughts that you may have. Write them down as they pop into your mind. Don’t worry if it makes sense, if it’s irrelevant or silly. Instead of trying to solve any problems that may come up in your thoughts, let them just come, and as you write them, let them go. Don’t get stuck on them. Your mind will wander, that’s ok. Gently bring your attention back to the task. Realizing that your mind has wandered and bringing it back to the present is already being in the now. We can have thousands of thoughts throughout the day, however, you don’t have to get stuck on every single one of them. You actually have a say in what you allow your mind to focus on. You dismiss the unwanted thoughts not by trying to control them (if I tell you not to think about a huge pink elephant right now, I bet that’s the first thing you will think about. So don’t force yourself not to think about something). Instead, accept your thoughts and allow yourself to deal with them later (unless, perhaps there is an immediate solution to your problem at this very moment? Can you do something to make the situation better right now? If so, do it. But if not, then why worry? Know the difference between what you can and cannot control. Take a deep breath and let it go.)

5) Pick a time to practice mindfulness daily. It takes time to learn these skills, to “retrain” your mind not to get carried away with every thought that pops into your mind. Perhaps you can use the time you drink coffee or tea as the time to practice mindfulness? Perhaps you can start practicing yoga several times a week? Go for a walk every morning?

6) Avoid multitasking and start single-tasking. Most people multitask hoping to get more done. However, due to your attention being divided, it takes longer to complete tasks and you are more likely to make mistakes. Additionally, it can make you more tired. Instead, focus on one activity at a time. Write a list of things you need to accomplish, then cross them out as you complete them, one thing at a time. If you are eating, just eat. If you are out with your partner, use that time to spend quality time by giving him/her your undivided attention. If you are showering, use that time to shower and relax. There’s a Zen proverb that says “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” Whatever activity you may do next time, try to focus only on that; slow down and become aware of every action.

7) Don’t avoid negativity. Accept it. The goal of mindfulness isn’t to constantly be happy. Instead, it’s about learning to accept any given moment without any resistance. Remember that to see the light you need to first know what darkness is. By accepting both negative and positive emotions, you are creating a balance, an inner feeling of peace.

8) Spend time in nature. Being outdoors can refresh you and give you some quality alone time. It can reduce stress, increase energy and attention. It’s a great coping skill for self care. Practice yoga, go for a hike, go to the beach, go to the park and get closer to “nature.” When outdoors, try to notice everything around you using your senses (what do you see? what do you hear? etc).

9) Decrease the “noise” around you. Turn the TV off, put your phone away. Make a point never to start or end the day checking email, keep your phone away from you when you sleep or when you are spending time with your loved ones. Too much screen time keeps people from truly connecting with others.

10) Name your emotions. Know the difference between emotions and thoughts. When you start feeling a certain way, try to name your emotion with one word (ask yourself what are you feeling?) Emotions (joy, anger, frustration, sadness, etc.) can be described with one word. If you find yourself explaining what you feel in a sentence, you are most likely stating what you are “thinking”. Once you name your emotion, allow yourself to feel it in the present without any judgement. Practice naming your emotions as they come up. Allow yourself to accept them and let them go without trying to “fix” anything.

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” -Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now.

 

GRIEF AND LOSS

photoHave you lost someone dear to you recently? Perhaps a long time ago your life changed due to a loss of someone or something special to you, and you are still unable to return to your normal way of functioning. Are the holidays a painful reminder of your loss instead of a joyful time? If your answer is yes, then this blog entry is for you. I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry you are in pain. I hope you find this blog entry helpful.

Grief is an intense feeling of sadness that occurs after experiencing loss. The most common cause of grief is the loss of a close person. However, feelings of grief can be triggered by other events. For instance, end of a relationship, suffering a serious injury, loss of a pet, or losing a part of you that defined your identity can also trigger feelings of grief. No matter how big or small your loss to someone else, what you are experiencing is valid. You are not alone in what you are going through. Most people go through grief at one point in their life. Please see my links and resources for additional support. There is no right or wrong way for an individual to go through the feelings of grief. However, there is no shortcut to feeling happy again either. A mentor and a professor I had the privilege to learn so much from explained the process of going through grief as “having to swim through ice cold water to get to the shore” or “walk through fire.” Understandably, you may want to find a shortcut and go around it (hence, doing things to numb the pain and avoid it, such as denying and minimizing the loss, using drugs and alcohol, isolating, etc.) but the only way to come out of it is to actually go through it; to go through all the unpleasant feelings; to swim though the ice cold water; to walk through that fire.

Depending on the type of loss you experienced, the length of the healing process and your reactions may differ. The healing process of bereavement is a personal experience, however, several stages are known to exist. According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. (suggested reading: “On Death and Dying”) there are five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Please note that you may not experience these stages in this particular order. Additionally, you may not go through every single stage.

1) Denial 

In a state of shock following a loss, an individual may feel numb, unable to accept  reality. This is a defense mechanism designed to protect one from the reality that is too difficult to accept at that moment. In time, the denial will diminish and the individual can then process their feelings.

2) Anger

Anger can be directed to those who have passed away, creating feelings of guilt at the same time. Anger can be directed towards a higher power for allowing such a tragedy to occur. It can be directed towards friends and family members. What is the purpose of anger, you may ask? Well, temporarily, it may give one a sense of control. Being “out of control” and not having a solid ground to stand on can be emotionally devastating. Anger can also be an easier (more acceptable) emotion to express than hurt and sadness, which require vulnerability.

3) Bargaining 

The purpose of bargaining is to obtain a sense of hope. This too, is a method to regain a sense of control. It is a normal reaction to feeling hopeless. An individual may find themselves making promises to behave differently, stop doing certain things and start doing other things. Pleas can be directed to individuals in one’s life or to one’s God.

4) Depression

Once an individual accepts that there is nothing he/she can do to change the situation, depression develops. At this time symptoms of depression occur such as crying spells, difficulties concentrating, sleep and appetite disturbances, feelings of hopelessness and sadness. These feelings are an important factor in helping individuals heal.

5) Acceptance

Accepting a death of a loved one can take a long time. However, in time reality is accepted. The person will still feel various emotions when thinking about the loss, but he/she will be ready to embrace the idea of participating in life again. Acceptance does not mean forgetting the loss or recovering from it completely. It simply is a start of healing, creating a “new normal.”

Please note that there are various factors affecting the experience of grief. Support system availability, finances, cultural background, expected vs. sudden loss, and age are all factors influencing this process. For instance, young children may not comprehend the meaning of loss due to their developmental level. (Suggested reading: “Talking with children about loss” by Maria Trozzi.)

Suggested Coping Skills for Grief and Loss

1) Support System 

Allow others to help you. Let people in. Help can include helping you prepare meals, take care of your children, chores, assist with funeral arrangements, or going for a walk and providing you with a space to breathe and process your feelings. Sometimes just having a caring person can help tremendously. If you don’t have a support system, joining a support group may be helpful. (See links and resources provided on my website.)

2) Self-Care

Self-care is very important. People experience grief differently. Allow yourself to heal by giving yourself time. You will feel many different emotions. Allow them to come and go, without getting stuck on them. Journal your thoughts, go for walks, see a therapist. Don’t put pressure on yourself to take care of everything. You may not be able to be as functional as before following a loss. This is temporary. Simplify your life, take a break from your expectations.

3) Plan Ahead

Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries can be difficult when you are grieving. Often times, they can remain painful years following the loss. Planning ahead can be helpful. Decide which holiday traditions you are comfortable keeping. It’s ok to let go of some. Decide who you’d like to be with on those days and where. Reach out to your support system and inform them of your plans. Understand that holidays and other days that used to be special will be difficult emotionally, but there can still be times of joy and love. And if you find yourself enjoying the moment, allow yourself to feel something positive without feeling guilty.

4) Spirituality/Religious Beliefs

If you have spiritual beliefs or follow a religion, you may find it helpful to find comfort in it. Praying, going to church, meditating, talking to others at your church or temple can increase your sense of hope and belonging.

5) Create symbolic traditions to honor your loved one’s memory

Creating new ways to remember your loved one can be very therapeutic. Some examples can include visiting their favorite place, volunteering at a charity your loved one would have supported, making their favorite meal and remembering the happy times you shared, planting a tree in their name, etc. The goal of such activities is to preserve their memories in a meaningful and soothing way for you.

6) Avoid Self Medicating with Drugs and Alcohol

When in emotional pain, you may feel tempted to numb your feelings, escape from your problems, find a shortcut to feeling “happy” again. Often times, alcohol and drugs (including misusing prescription medications) is used to achieve this. Unfortunately, it only serves as a band-aid that temporarily makes you feel good but causes more problems afterwards. As mentioned before, the only way to heal is to actually go through the unpleasant feelings without numbing them.

7) Express Yourself

You may be tempted to isolate and keep your feeling bottled up inside. Keeping feelings buried inside only brings more pain. Talk. Reach out to others. Consider talking to a therapist or joining a support group. In order to heal, feelings need to come out. If not expressed, they will manifest in other ways, such as health or behavioral problems.

 “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”

― William ShakespeareMacbeth

Positively Grateful

photoDear reader,

     I’d like to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, for my first blog entry I thought it would be fitting to discuss benefits of being grateful and positive. Every year on Thanksgiving people start considering what they are thankful for in life. However, the very next day (called Black Friday sales) some individuals don’t mind cutting people off in traffic, pushing and shoving others to get to that flat screen TV that’s on sale.

     What if I told you that there are many benefits to being thankful daily? Being happier in the long run being the best one of them. So why reserve being grateful only for Thanksgiving? I understand that sometimes it is difficult to see the bright side of the situation. I understand that sometimes it is also difficult to find things to be thankful for. However, no matter how negative or desperate life situations may seem, if we insist on locating the positives, we will surely find them. Often times, we may find them only in retrospect. Our brains are wired to search for negatives in life, constantly being on alert for possible dangers. This goes back to our primitive need for survival. For this very reason, it may be difficult for us to retrain ourselves to look for positives and be thankful. We tend to focus more on our problems; somehow this gives us the false feeling of safety of being prepared should bad things happen. However, almost like a self- fulfilling prophecy, bad things happen anyway. What would happen if we used all of our energy that we use to focus on negative aspects of our life to focus on the positives instead?

     In order for life to get better, change is needed. The direction your life will take can depend on what you choose to focus on. What do you find yourself focusing on the most? Author and positive psychology expert, Shawn Achor who won many teaching awards at Harvard University, and has done research in fifty countries, states that if we want to change our lives, we must first change our reality. Let’s think about that for a second, dear reader. Are you able to recognize that there are alternative perceptions in any given situation? There may be a valuable gift in your suffering, something you will later be grateful for. Can you find the good in every ending and look forward to a new beginning? Can you recognize a lesson in every mistake and be excited for the second chance life will give you? Can you recognize your own strength in difficult situations? Not closing your eyes to the negatives, but rather acknowledging them and then searching for the silver lining? Shawn Achor refers to this as “positive genius.” It’s the ability to see the negatives in your life and the world, but also recognize your ability to do something about them and notice the positives. So let me ask you this: what is your role in your own happiness?

     Losada Line (research findings by mathematician Marcial Losada and University of North Carolina psychologist Barbara Frederickson) state that 3:1 is the ratio at which people feel happier. In other words, you need to have three positive thoughts to every negative thought. Interestingly enough, psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman has found that for romantic relationships, a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences is needed to maintain a good relationship (uh oh, start complimenting your partner!) As you can see, focusing on what we value about ourselves, what we are thankful for in our life and in our partner, increases our ability to be happy. Additionally, it can assist you in being present and living in the here and now, rather than worrying about possible problems in the future, sabotaging yourself with negative thoughts in your mind, or thinking about the past or things you cannot control or change.

     In order to change our way of thinking and start noticing the positives, we need to make small changes. Shawn Achor suggests writing down three things you are grateful for each day for 21 days (called the 21 Day Challenge). Additionally, you can journal one positive experience a day to retrain your brain to search for positives, rather than being task oriented. Showing gratitude to others can also improve your psychological well being. For example, sending a quick email in the morning praising or thanking someone will not only increase your social support, but positive feelings as well.

     You may find it difficult being thankful for what you have currently. Perhaps you desire to have A, B, C and believe that only after you obtain that you will be happy. In reality, once you get A, B, C, you will desire D, E, F. There is never a perfect time to be happy. That time is now. Happiness is a state of being, not a destination. Appreciating what you have in life now, no matter how small, will only bring more happiness into your life. Enjoying the small pleasures of life and being thankful for them will help you stay in the present (instead of thinking about the past or the future.) Being thankful for the things your partner does for you will only make him/her want to do those things more. You can be thankful for anything ranging from people in your life, to the sunny weather you enjoy, your ability to do something well, or your loyal pet. The key is to notice as many  positive aspects of your life as possible.

     Dear reader, I’d like to end my blog entry with a quote by Thornton Wilder who said, “we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” I hope you come alive with such moments, enjoying the gift that each day is (called the present). I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. And I am thankful that you took the time to read my blog entry.

Anna Aslanian, LMFT

Individual, Couples & Family Therapy