Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Managing the Emotional Thermostat

By Rachel Baker

Self-care and coping are terms that get thrown around quite a bit. They are often presented as interchangeable, but, lo and behold, these two types of activities serve us in very different ways. In the most basic terms, self-care serves as a nurturing, preventative measure, whereas coping skills assist us in the heat of a triggering moment.
Let’s use a metaphor to illustrate this point. Imagine that you are a house. Your house has a physical body--the walls, roof, windows, and doors. Your house also has an internal emotional life, in this case, the temperature inside. We each have a unique temperature (emotional) range at which we feel comfortable. So how do we keep our houses in that comfortable zone?

You guessed it, self-care and coping! Self-care is all of the daily, weekly, monthly maintenance work you do on your house to make sure it has the capacity to stay in that comfortable temperature (emotional) range. You make sure that your windows and doors close securely to keep out the elements. You insulate your house. You set your thermostat to a comfy 72 degrees.

Self-care is the stuff that feels good and is good for us. Activities like spending time with loved ones, eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, seeing a therapist, going to the doctor, joyfully moving our bodies, spending time in nature, making art, gardening, seeing a play, reading a good book, or anything else that brings a smile to our face is self-care. These activities keep our physical body and internal emotional life capable of maintaining our healthy, comfortable range.

OK, back to our house metaphor. Now imagine that all of a sudden, your AC unit breaks down in the middle of a heatwave. Time for coping skills! You might close your curtains, turn off all of the lights, and get out your backup fans.

Coping skills are the methods we use to deal with stressful situations. When our emotional thermostat shoots above our comfortable range and we feel angry, we might hit a punching bag, throw ice into a bathtub, take a vigorous walk (or stomp) around the block, or rip up an old phone book. When our emotional thermostat drops below our comfortable range and we feel sad or depressed, we might take a warm bath, call a friend, curl up with a good book, or listen to soothing music. After a stressful situation, coping skills help us get back to a content emotional temperature.

All in all, we need both self-care and coping skills. Following a daily or weekly self-care routine can minimize the opportunity for stressful moments. Of course, life is unpredictable. Sometimes our AC units break and we pull out our coping strategies. Self-care and coping look different for everyone. Trust your inner wisdom and start experimenting today!

Rachel Baker is a Staff Therapist at The Awakening Center who works with individuals and groups. Using a holistic approach, she strives to help clients discover a place of peace within. You can reach her at 773.929.6262 ext. 21 or at rachel.baker3523@gmail.com.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Meditation Monday: Is Intention-Setting a Setup for Judgment?

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC
In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

If you’ve ever been to a yoga or meditation class, you probably have been asked to set an intention for your practice. The idea is to create a vision for yourself—to add some agency. Meditation in particular can feel like a passive activity and setting an intention can shift this.

However, what happens when the intention becomes a distraction? And what about when you don’t “measure up” to your intention? Judgement. Self-criticism.

For some, intention-setting in meditation can shift the focus from the present to the future. It can turn the practice into a results-oriented endeavor. Which is why I like to offer my group participants an alternative.

“Take a moment to welcome yourself into your practice.”

There is a sneaky intention there—to come into the present. Whenever we welcome ourselves into a moment or activity, we orient ourselves to the present. And we take ourselves out of the sidelines. We open the door to full participation and it becomes harder to be a passive participant in our own lives.

Welcoming yourself can take a variety of forms. It might be mentally noting what you’re doing--“I’m at work now.” “I’m am talking with my friend now.” You might also observe what’s happening in your body—“My stomach has a knot.” “My palms feel tingly.”

Sometimes the story we tell ourselves about our lives can create a barrier to coming into the present moment. If we’re ruminating about what the boss thinks, focusing on the tasks at hand become even more difficult. However, acknowledging what you’re doing in that moment takes you out of your head and into your life.

So take a moment to welcome yourself into your day.

Enjoy your practice.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Meditation Monday: When the World Falls Apart

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates two weekly meditation groups at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or nancyhalltac@gmail.com

In recent weeks, I’ve had several clients express embarrassment over talking about their own feelings and problems when the world around them seems to be on fire. Suddenly, they feel that their worries are small—even insignificant.

The violence and hatred cast long and heavy shadows over everything. But this is not new. Throughout history, humans have shown that they are capable of unspeakable acts. It is an unfortunate reality of our existence. Yet, we don’t exactly know why. Evil? Psychosis?

What we do know is that people don’t cause suffering unless they’re suffering themselves. A perfectly content, accepting, and peaceful person does not decide to murder police officers or tourists.

And acknowledging this suffering does not excuse the horrific behavior. It does, however, give us a context. Which leads me back to my clients. Each person who comes into therapy or attends a group has decided to take responsibility for his or her suffering. So while the fight with a partner or struggle at work might feel petty, processing those battles helps calm the discontent that poisons the world around us.

Many find reflecting on the world’s events can help them realize their own problems are manageable. But we can also be good at using these crises to dismiss ourselves. “People are suffering in Syria—who cares about my body image issues?”

Unfortunately, suffering is not a zero-sum game—there is plenty to go around. But there is also plenty of healing, kindness, and peace to go around too. While your pain might feel small—it isn’t. And each step toward healing yourself heals the world.

Enjoy your practice.