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Use Art to Soothe Emotions

Next time you feel stressed out, instead of talking about it, try drawing about it.  What?  Yes.  Get out some crayons or chalk pastels, or markers and find some blank paper to draw on.

Sit down and relax by breathing in very deeply 3 or 4 times.  With each breath, pay attention to your stomach as it rises and falls with each breath.  After your deep breaths, allow yourself to feel (pay attention to) your feelings.  See if you can label the feeling (nervous, fearful, sad, frustrated, etc) and then do a scan of your body.  Where in your body do you feel the emotions activating a physical response?  Perhaps a tightening of the shoulders or chest?  It is different for everyone.

Next, see if you can imagine a color for each feeling.  For example, the nervous feeling may create a pit in your stomach which might seem brown or a dark green.  Then see if you can imagine a shape, texture or an image that goes along with that brown/green nervousness.

Open your eyes and draw what you visualized.  You can draw the shapes, colors or images you saw or you can draw the parts of your body that were affected.  The  mere act of drawing your feelings allows your mind/body system to re-process them as you are expressing them in a new way.

Happy drawing!

Love Thy Neighbor – Who is My Neighbor?

Love Thy Neighbor – Who is My Neighbor? 

There is a famous verse in the Bible that tells us, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.  When we ask the question “who is my neighbor and why should I love them?” the Bible also has an answer – it is clear after taking the whole of the Bible within context that we are to consider everyone around us our neighbor (yes that means our relatives too) and we are to love them as we would love our own self.

How do we do this?  How do we love people that might push all our buttons and trigger out the worst of emotions in us around the Thanksgiving table?  Be conscious of the fact that everyone around your table is human and that means they are imperfect, flawed and probably hurting over one thing or another.  Siblings that treated each other horribly as they grew up can slip back into the same dynamics when gathered around the table.  Parents that never seemed to approve of you or what you do trigger feelings of inadequacy and hurt.

It can be helpful to just begin to shift your perspective of them as “your neighbor” here on earth, your fellow pilgrams on this journey called life.  When you understand that hurt people (hurt as adjective) hurt people (hurt as verb), it helps to take the personal sting out of less than positive interactions.

To read some of the applicable scriptures see:  Matthew 22:35-40, Luke 10: 25-37

Change Thoughts – Change Feelings

Change Thoughts – Change Feelings 

If you were to slow down your thoughts and really hear them as they trickle through your brain, you might hear things like, “Uncle Fred is an opinionated jerk” or “Aunt Betty always sucks the joy out of the room by talking about her aches and pains”.  You might hear really negative thoughts about yourself too, “I’m such a ditz – why did I just say that?  I’m sure everyone in the room is thinking about what an airhead I must be,”  or “I can’t let anyone see how sad and isolated I feel this Thanksgiving – I have to put on a happy face or no one will ever want to be around me again.”  Perhaps you can relate to some of these or something similar.

This year, why not arm yourself with some positive thoughts with which  to replace these negative ones?  Something like, “Uncle Fred sure enjoys stating his opinions emphatically – I guess he really feels like he needs to be heard,” or “Aunt Betty must feel like it helps her to talk about her aches and pains, but I don’t have to let it steal my joy”.  When dealing with your negative self-thoughts try “Even though I didn’t mean to say that, I am human and I’m sure everyone in the room can relate to that,” or “Its okay to show  both my positive feelings and my vulnerable feelings regardless of other’s reactions – I can be authentic and know that I’m okay.”

Cognitive Therapy teaches us to recognize our negative thought patterns and replace them with more effective thoughts.  Some examples of thought distortions are as follows:

1.  All-or-Nothing Thinking: John recently applied for a promotion in his firm. The job went to another employee with more experience. John wanted this job badly and now feels that he will never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in his career.

2.  Overgeneralization: Linda is lonely and often spends most of her time at home. Her friends sometimes ask her to come out for dinner and meet new people. Linda feels that that is it useless to try to meet people. No one really could like her. People are all mean and superficial anyway.

3.  Mental Filter: Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, a kind gentleman waves her to go ahead of him as she merges into traffic. Later in her trip, another driver cuts her off. She grumbles to herself that there are nothing but rude and insensitive people in her city.

4.  Disqualifying the Positive: Rhonda just had her portrait made. Her friend tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the compliment by saying that the photographer must have touched up the picture. She never looks that good in real life, she thinks.

5.  Jumping to Conclusions: Chuck is waiting for his date at a restaurant. She’s now 20 minutes late. Chuck laments to himself that he must have done something wrong and now she has stood him up. Meanwhile, across town, his date is stuck in traffic.

6.  Magnification and Minimization: Scott is playing football. He bungles a play that he’s been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better; the touchdown was just dumb luck.

7.  Emotional Reasoning: Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. She feels that it’s hopeless to even try to clean.

8.  Should Statements: David is sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing, thinking, “With how much I’m paying him, he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration.” He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.

9.  Labeling and Mislabeling: Donna just cheated on her diet. I’m a fat, lazy pig, she thinks.

10. Personalization: Jean’s son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. She feels that it’s all her fault that he isn’t studying.

There you are at the Thanksgiving table and all your family members sit around you – slow down your thoughts, really examine them and root out any cognitive distortions.  Change your thoughts – Change your feelings – Enjoy your relatives at Thanksgiving (with all their strengths and weaknesses).  Blessings! – Sherry

How to be Happy

Do you know how to be happy?  This could sound like a strange question, but too often people think happiness is something that happens TO them. Let’s stop a moment and see if we can properly define happiness.  Webster’s seems to think it is the following: “a state of well-being and contentment.”  This seems about right, but let’s talk about HOW to achieve a state of well-being and contentment.

The Apostle Paul (of the New Testament) learned to be content no matter what his circumstances.  That’s pretty amazing.  How did he do this?  Paul knew his purpose, his mission in life, and he carried it out while trusting God to completely provide for his needs.  Paul talked a lot about thinking about things that are good, righteous, truthful, and of good report so it becomes obvious that Paul knew the secret of transforming his thought-life.  If you want to read more, follow Paul on his life-journey by reading Acts, Romans, Philippians, Colossians

Groucho Marx said, “Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”  (Maybe we should call him Happy Marx instead of “Groucho”.)

The Dalai Lama believes that happiness can be achieved through compassion and training the mind.   He often emphasizes creating contentment (happiness) in the mind by thinking compassionate thoughts toward self and others as well as doing compassionate behaviors.

Most experts concur that happiness is indeed a state of mind.  But what contributes to our state of mind? As a holistic-oriented counselor, I believe that all three parts of us (mind, body, spirit) can contribute to our state of mind.  If our physical body is ailing, it affects our brain, our clarity of thought and our mood, so it behooves us to nourish our body and mind with proper foods and nutrients.  If our spiritual life is out of whack, this too impacts our whole being.  I’ll be addressing the physical components in future newsletters, so stay tuned.

For the purpose of this newsletter, let’s focus on the mind.  We know that thoughts drive our feelings and feelings drive our behaviors.  Behaviors then in turn help to create thoughts and feelings within us and thus, the loop continues around.  Ideally, we can get into a positive loop, but life sometimes deals us difficult cards.

What does it take to interrupt a negative loop?  What if your thought says, “There is no way I can get up and speak in front of this large group of people.”?  Then, we feel nervous, our voice shakes, our knees quake, we feel sick to our stomach and wouldn’t you know it – we get up to speak and feel terrible so we perceive that we performed terribly.  Then we say to ourselves, “See?  I stink – let’s not do that again,” and the phobia becomes more deeply entrenched.

Let’s see how we interrupt this loop.  Perhaps we change our thought to, “I feel nervous about speaking, but I know that I can work through the shaky voice, the quaking knees and deliver my well-thought out presentation if I have notes and cues.”  Then the behavior is that we get up and speak, we feel the nervousness, but we use our notes and speak through the fear.  This completes the feedback loop and gives our brain feedback that we can indeed do something even while we feel fearful.  Then, the next time we get up to speak, we feel a tad less nervous and it lasts just a little less longer.

Okay – so back to how to be happy.  How about giving yourself the feedback (thoughts) that happiness resides in you – your state of mind.  Then, determine right then and there to find something beautiful in that difficult moment.  Focusing on something you are grateful for or that gives your artist’s brain (yes, we are ALL artists) something beautiful to appreciate.

It may be different for you, but for me it helps to look around me in nature for nearby beauty.  If I’m feeling discouraged, or sad, or overwhelmed, I can still stop, breathe in some air, and look around for some sort of visual aid.  My visual aid might come in the form of the creamy but bright yellow petals of a nearby tulip.  It might be the crease right down the center of a leaf or a snapshot view of the blue sky behind the leafy-green branches of a tree.  See what works for you – perhaps you can find visual aids that speak happiness to you.

As you tune in to the present moment and actively seek out that which is good or beautiful – you distract yourself away from the negative thought and replace it with grateful, appreciative thoughts.  Grateful, appreciative thoughts create positive feelings and our behavior tends to follow suit.

Another approach might be smiling.  What?!!!  That’s right.  Research has found that the act (behavior) of smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, sends messages from the nerve endings in your face to your brain that say, “Oh, she is smiling, we must be happy”.  Then your brain works to create that state of happiness.  Along the same lines, doing something good for someone can stimulate happy thoughts and feelings.

If happiness is a content state of mind, then anxiety comes from a discontent state of mind, so a quick word about anxiety.  Anxiety typically comes around when we focus on thoughts about the past or the future.  When we purposefully bring ourselves back into the present moment while keeping an eye out for beauty and goodness, we banish anxiety and invite contentment.  So, the lesson from this is – STAY PRESENT.  When your thoughts wander to that bill you’re worried about paying (future), pull your thoughts back to your present moment.  Use your visual aid, your breathing, or smile, and do a behavior that provokes happiness in your brain.

Here’s one more quote I just couldn’t resist – “If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator.”             – W. Beran Wolfe

Here’s to your experimenting with creating happiness within yourself – Shalom.

The Art (and Importance) of Apologizing When, Why, and How to say ‘I’m Sorry”

The word “sorry” comes from the word “sorrow”.  To be sorry for something is to have sorrow about some wrong action we have committed.  As humans, we must develop the skill of empathizing with others’ feelings so that we don’t run roughshod all over our friends, family members, and significant others.

One way to develop empathy is to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes and to allow yourself to understand their perspective and feelings.  In relationships we should feel sorrow when the other person is hurt or offended by something we have done.  It is a sign of maturity and personal responsibility when we feel sorrow (or sorry) when we wrong a fellow human being.

Some folks do not apologize when they offend someone.  They might not have enough awareness to realize how their actions, words, or inactions are hurting their loved one.  Perhaps they see apologizing as a sign of weakness or an admission of guilt that would harm their image.

Some folks apologize too much and in the wrong way.  Perhaps they think that the words, “I’m sorry” are magical in and of themselves.  Neither extreme is helpful to the health of relationships.  Let’s explore that middle range – apologizing in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons.

Incredible healing can occur in our relationships if we take time to:

1. Take an inventory of how, when, and why (our own unresolved issues) we have wronged our friend, spouse, significant other, or family member.  This means that we become aware, either by asking the other person, or by careful (prayerful) reflection upon our actions, words, and/or inactions that could have potentially harmed the relationship.

2.   Determine if apologizing to the person you have wronged will help the situation, or possibly make things worse.  This is a good time to seek counsel from an emotionally healthy friend, mentor, or counselor to check out your thinking regarding righting this wrong.

3.  If you determine that apologizing will not further harm the relationship, then determine whether the apology should be spoken or written and when, and how it would be most healing to the relationship to deliver this communication.

4.  Keep your motives pure – you will want to work through all your emotions and thoughts in such a way that you can deliver your apology with pure motives and good intentions.  Do not use apologizing as a way to manipulate or to make someone feel guilty.

5.  Apologize with the strong desire and intent to change the harmful words, actions or inactions that caused the original hurt so you don’t use apologizing as a way to just continue to hurt someone while attempting to soothe your own conscience.

6.  Here are a few examples of verbiage that might help craft a meaningful and effective apology:

“I know that when I criticized you for your political beliefs in a harsh and judgmental way I must have offended you.  I want to apologize for the hurt I caused and let you know that the way I handled that was wrong.  Please forgive me and know that I will work to be less critical and judgmental.”
or
“Honey, I’m so sorry that I have been ignoring your needs for so long.  I was wrong and I was acting selfishly, please forgive me.”
or
“Mom and Dad, I am sorry that I rebelled against you and did things that hurt you, our family and myself during my teen years.  I hope that you will forgive me and that I can demonstrate how I have grown and changed.”
or
“Son/daughter, I hope you will forgive me for being absent while you were growing up.  I know that I robbed you of having a loving father/mother attend your events, and take an interest in you.  I want you to know that I want to try to establish a connection with you now when you are ready to forgive me.”

Sometimes, the offense is very harmful, such as an affair, lying, being abusive (verbally, physically, emotionally), a betrayal of trust.  As a counselor, I have seen some miraculous healings take place when the offender comes into awareness of the hurt they have caused and when they are able to apologize in a meaningful, thoughtful way.

There are times that an apology is not enough.  The offender may need to make amends by doing something that is symbolic of their regret and sorrow.  There are some situations where professional counseling will be needed to sort out how to re-establish trust and how to move forward after the apology.

Taming Irritability: 10 Tips

Irritability rears its ugly head when we are feeling disappointed, hurt, angry, let down, or confused.

When the new year starts, we make all kinds of plans to improve, get organized, lose weight, build our business and a part of us thinks we will have the stamina and motivation to make real progress.

Somewhere around the middle of January, reality sets in and we realize how hard it is to make changes. Then, we can get downright grumpy. Can you relate to this at all? I know I can.

As a therapist, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years about how to overcome irritability and reclaim a positive outlook. I’ll share 10 tips to overcome irritability in this article, both to remind myself and to give you some (possibly new) information to try out.

1. Tell yourself, “Even though I’m feeling_________________(negative emotion here), I forgive myself and know that this feeling shall pass. I will re-focus my attention to just one change I’d like to make and re-think my approach.”

2. Make sure you are getting plenty of Vitamin D – if you can’t get it through sunshine (January is notoriously gloomy in some climates) – talk to your doctor or nutritionist about supplementing with Vitamin D3. There is a wealth of research that shows many more people are deficient in Vitamin D (the happy vitamin) than we would suppose.

3. Stop what you are doing and list 10 things you are grateful for – out loud. Get creative – pick things that you really have to notice and think about. Example: “I’m grateful for warm showers, deep breathing, the way the sunlight glints through the crystal hanging from my rear-view mirror, the sound of my cat purring, the jokes my nine-year old told me this morning, etc.”.

4. Swap negative thoughts for more truthful thoughts. When we get irritable or down, chances are our thoughts are telling us something negative and not entirely truthful. Analyze the thoughts going through your head, and notice if there are cognitive distortions (all or nothing thinking, fortune-telling, catastrophizing, etc.) – then re-frame the thought without the distortion.

5. Breathe very deeply through the nose (important) 4 or 5 times. Breathing deeply through the nose brings cooling oxygen to the limbic system of the brain which calms the neural activity in this emotional center of the brain. As you inhale, imagine a beautiful color of blue coming in and spreading throughout your whole body and mind and as you exhale, imagine your body and mind is letting go of all stress and tension.

6. Pet your pet. Petting your cat or dog (or hamster or mouse?) has been shown to lower blood pressure, soothe nerves, and bring a sense of contentment.

7. Have you been somewhat isolated? Pick up the phone or go out and talk to someone. We need conversation, human touch, and eye-to-eye contact with people to remain healthy.

8. Smile. It sounds so simple and yet it is profound. The nerve endings in your face talk to your brain and when you smile, your brain thinks “oh, we must be happy” and then your brain seeks to make this reality.

9. Pray. Meditation, mindfulness, and prayer are all ways to connect your spirit with God’s Spirit. Prayer changes things (prayer changes us).

10. Dance. Wherever you are, you can find a spot (go into the bathroom and close the door if you must) to dance around. The activity gets blood pumping and the silliness of dancing a jig in the middle of the day can make you giggle. Giggling is the perfect antidote to irritability.

Sherry Collier is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Small Business Coach who specializes in coaching entrepreneurs about starting and/or expanding the business of their dreams. As a therapist, I understand the importance of shifting your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to overcome mental blocks, out-dated patterns, and other obstacles that stand in the way of success. Don’t stay blocked, grow yourself and grow your business.

Every business start-up needs objective feedback, ideas, support and practical tools to help them grow. Visit

http://www.creativepathtogrowth.com for more information about my services and programs that are specially designed to combine right-brained, creative processes with left-brained structure and plans to get your life and business growing in the right direction.

Resolving Conflict in Relationships

When two people are in the middle of a conflict, the limbic system of the brain becomes highly activated – which escalates irritability, anger, sadness, hurt and other emotions. For this reason, it is best to wait until both people have had some time to breathe, cool off and then come back to the “table” ready to resolve the conflict.  Sometimes a full 24 hours is needed for the individual who has been “triggered” to process and cool down.

The goal must be to really listen to each other, understand what is needed or wanted as an outcome and to be able to empathize (but not necessarily agree).  This simply is not possible for either person to do if they are emotionally triggered (limbic system highly activated) thus, giving time and space for cooling off is essential.

Once cool-off has been achieved by both parties, one person can start (for example) by saying “I feel overwhelmed when you don’t take time to help with the household chores.”  Notice the “I feel” statement.  It is important to state your emotion in an “I feel” statement rather than start with “You didn’t help with chores . . . “.  Next, pause and let the listener “active listen” that statement.

Active listening is saying back what you have heard someone say.  In this case, the listener would say, “I’m hearing you say you feel overwhelmed when I don’t help out with the chores.”

Once both parties are on the same page, they may proceed to the next phase:  making a statement of empathy.  The listener would say, “I can understand how you might feel overwhelmed when I don’t help with the chores.”  The simple act of empathizing (without necessarily agreeing) will help the speaker to feel heard and emotionally validated, which will continue to promote conflict resolution.

Now both parties are more ready to discuss possible changes (in behavior, approaches, attitudes, etc.).  In this case the speaker could ask the listener to take over two chores per week, as a way to start helping even out the workload around the house.  Remember, resolving conflict means taking on the attitude of “how can I help” and not “how can I prove that I’m right”.  Happy resolving!

Sherry Collier, LMFT, Life and Business Strategist
CEO of Creative Path to Growth Coaching and Counseling
Founder and CEO of WomenWhoThrive.com

Creative Path to Growth Counseling and Coaching
100 E. San Marcos Blvd. Suite 400
San Marcos, CA  92069
760-445-3415
www.creativepathtogrowth.com
www.creative-therapy-center.com
www.womenwhothrive.com