Tidal Wave of Feelings

People often seek therapy to get support dealing with emotions, or more specifically, uncomfortable emotions, such as fear, anger, or sadness. It is not uncommon to want these emotions to be stopped, shut-off, or taken away. However, such a goal is ultimately impossible as emotions are an inherent part of human experience and play an important role in our overall functioning as they help us navigate the world. Although they are not always pleasant, we can learn to better recognize, understand, and manage our responses to emotions in healthy ways.  

Generally, emotions can be viewed as messengers or signals that encourage us to engage in various behaviors. Such behaviors are most often automatic and adaptive.  For example, fear is a basic response to danger and signals us to take action to protect ourselves or others. Similar things can be said about sadness as a natural response to an uncontrollable situation, loss, or disappointment. Sadness may signal us to withdrawal, regroup, and seek or elicit support.  

Although similar functions or signals can be described for all core emotions, it is often difficult to identify how our emotions can be useful or how we can interpret and react to our emotions in ways that are helpful. It is not uncommon to experience emotions as a tidal wave of feelings and sensations. However, we can break down this wave into three components, consisting of thoughts, behaviors, and physiological responses.  

Breaking our emotional waves down can be useful in helpful us understand, react, and manage our emotions more effectively. However, many of us have had limited education and experience understanding our emotions or practice managing and responding to difficult emotions. The good news is that we can always improve upon our emotional intelligence. Monitoring our emotions is a great place to start. Next time you feel a strong wave, take time to ask the following three questions:

 Key questions for monitoring emotions

What am I feeling? (What is the physiological response or sensation?)

What am I thinking?

What am I doing?

For example, you might find yourself feeling anxious, sad, agitated, and stressed when you call your partner and they sound upset. You might think they are unhappy or think “they are mad at me,” or “I’m not a good partner,” or “I’m a failure,” or “I will never be in a happy relationship.” The behavior might be to try and fix any perceived problems for your partner or work hard to clean up your apartment and make a nice dinner. Alternatively, you might find yourself ruminating about your role in the relationship or getting upset and pacing around endlessly.

You can take this a step further and practice monitoring what triggered your emotional experience, your response (physiological/ feelings, thoughts, behaviors), and finally the consequences, which might include things such as stress, arguments, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, self-blame or doubt.  

Emotional experiences evolve out of a process of interaction amongst thoughts, physical sensations or feelings, and behaviors, all of which impact the intensity, frequency, and duration of our emotional experience and play a role in developing symptoms or maladaptive coping behaviors. As you practice monitoring this process you can begin to make your emotional experiences more conscious and perhaps gain a better understanding of the ways your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors occur and interact. Increased awareness and understanding can allow for more freedom to observe this process, question our automatic thoughts, and alter our behaviors in ways that are more intentional and less driven by a tidal wave of emotion. In other words – we can learn to surf.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Check out our new animated video “Embracing Each Moment in Times of Transition” – https://youtu.be/GGR56AH-azo

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Trusting Yourself

“If we fall, we don’t need self-recrimination or blame or anger – we need a reawakening of our intention and a willingness to re-commit, to be whole-hearted once again.” – Sharon Salzberg

Self-doubt is a mental preoccupation involving indecision, uncertainty, and lack of confidence. It can cause us to hesitate and become stuck reviewing past mistakes and worrying about repeating past failures. It can cause us to question our emotions, doubt our abilities, and even lose sight of who we are and what we value. Ultimately, self-doubt can lead us away from our goals and prevent us from coming to trust in our deepest experience.    

In contrast, self-trust is the experience and knowledge that we can take care of our needs and survive setbacks. It means that we can trust our feelings and listen to ourselves as we navigate a world of contradictory opinions and pressures to succeed. Self-trust grows stronger as we connect with our inherent worth and develop the knowledge that we will be kind to ourselves no matter what setbacks we face.

One way to promote self-trust is to work on developing greater self-compassion as this allows for us to look more openly at our experience without fear of self-criticism. Noticing your inner critic and working to change this voice is a useful place to start. We can recognize the ways we speak to ourselves and notice any thoughts that involve criticism or judgement. As we become more aware of this critical voice, we can begin to reshape it into a voice of self-compassion.

A second step involves practice living in the present. If we are constantly shifting to past mistakes or regrets, we will never be fully present to allow for self-trust to grow stronger. Likewise, if we are fearful of future suffering due to mistakes, we will likely be distracted from the present as we cycle through dreaded outcomes or uncertainties. We must remain present to connect with our feelings and listen more deeply to ourselves just as we would be present and listen to a best friend.   

Reference points for developing self-trust

Be aware of your thoughts and feelings and express them to others.

Practice being understanding toward yourself when you make a mistake. 

Follow your personal standards and ethics. 

Keep the commitments you make to yourself.

Make decisions and behave in ways that align with your personal values. 

Be aware and acknowledge when you need to care for yourself. 

Trust that you can survive mistakes.

Surround yourself with people who support you rather than cause you to doubt yourself or question your abilities.  

Become increasingly clear on what you want and pursue your goals. 

Stand up for yourself and your views.

Take time to do things just for yourself.  

Trusting ourselves and our experiences does not mean that we will be certain, or that we will be right, or even that we will not fail. At its core, trusting ourselves involves knowing that we will not give up on ourselves and that we are worthy of love despite our imperfections or past failures. When we can begin to listen more deeply to ourselves and act as our own trusted friend, we can resume our journey on a path that is uniquely our own with renewed confidence in ourselves and our actions.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Imposter Syndrome

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” –Albert Einstein

“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.” –Denis Waitley

Have you ever felt like you were just pretending to be a capable adult? Do you ever find yourself wondering if you are good enough at your job? Maybe you have even questioned why you were hired in the first place? Perhaps it was all an accident? Have you ever worried that you will someday be discovered as some sort of imposter?   

If you have had these experiences, you are not alone. In fact, one study found that 7 out of 10 adults have experienced times when they have felt like an imposter. Despite ample evidence that we are successful, many of us hold false beliefs that we are not as capable or smart as other people think. This experience is commonly referred to as imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome has been defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual believes that their own accomplishments came about because of having been lucky or having manipulated other people’s impression of them, rather than through hard work or inherent ability.  

Additional signs that we might be experiencing imposter syndrome include dismissing compliments as social niceties, attributing success to luck or good fortune, and consistently feeling unprepared and undertrained. Likewise, if you find yourself minimizing positive feedback, distrusting others, overpreparing and avoiding tasks due to a fear of failure, you are likely being impacted by imposter syndrome.   

Some of us are more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome. Approximately 30 percent of high achieving individuals frequently experience imposter syndrome as well as those of us who struggle with perfectionism. In other words, those of us who experience a need to constantly perform at 100 percent are more likely to feel incompetent and anxious when performing below this peak level.

Personality and early childhood also play a role. Individuals with certain personality traits, such as those of us higher on the personality factor neuroticism (a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feeling) are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. Furthermore, early childhood experiences of intense parental and social pressure about academics or other related achievements can also drive imposter syndrome later in life.  

Lastly, it is important to recognize and acknowledge how minority status within our environment, whether related to gender or gender identity, race or ethnicity, ability status, or socio-economic background can contribute to imposter syndrome. In such cases, it is often important to reflect on the role you have in the environment or group and how you can act in ways that promote equity and inclusion.  

Tips for reducing Imposter Syndrome

Normalize the experience. Remember that up to 70% of adults experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

Remind yourself that smart, high-achieving people often struggle with imposter syndrome. Actual imposters don’t tend to have these feelings.  

Avoid comparisons with others. Focus on evaluating your own achievements and growth instead of comparing them against the achievements of others.

Remember that we often learn and grow the most from making mistakes.  

Set realistic goals and recognize your accomplishments.  

Separate feelings from the facts. Just because you think certain things doesn’t mean they are true. 

Label your cognitive distortions and any negative self-talk that contributes to imposter syndrome.

Be aware of your need for external validation and work to develop less reliance on the approval of others. 

Set limits and avoid overworking or overpreparing.

When you do experience a setback, practice reacting in a healthier manner with self-compassion and understanding, rather than criticism and self-blame.  

Encourage yourself. 

Remind yourself that you know more than you think you do.

Remind yourself that you are far more than any single achievement or setback.

Remember nobody is perfect.  

Imposter syndrome is very common. Most of us likely experience or have experienced imposter syndrome at some point. It also commonly comes and goes as we experience varying degrees of success and failure or when we take on new roles and begin new jobs.  

Recognizing our own experiences of imposter syndrome can help liberate us from the paralyzing self-doubt and limiting dependance on external validation that can inhibit our sense of freedom, confidence, and well-being. Recognizing imposter syndrome in others can also allow for greater empathy, understanding, and opportunities to give support in ways that help us grow stronger as a community and as a society. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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It’s Good to be Kind

According to her book description, it all began with a simple experiment designed to establish the relationship between high cholesterol and heart health in rabbits. The experiment found that kindness, in the form of nurturing post-doc who pet and spoke to the lab rabbits as she fed them, made the difference between a heart attack and a healthy heart. In her 2020 book, The Rabbit Effect, psychiatrist Dr. Kelli Harding explains how the rabbits were just the beginning of a much larger story. In fact, new research shows how kindness, along with love, friendship, and community can have a remarkable impact on our health and well-being. 

Kindness is sometimes overplayed in popular culture and perhaps dismissed as a simple social nicety as we admonish, “be kind to one another.” Yet, kindness is a well-researched ingredient for well-being. Acts of kindness help us to feel grateful, empathetic, and compassionate, while promoting a stronger sense of belonging and community feeling. 

Kindness has numerous benefits for our mental and physical health. Acts of kindness signal the brain to release serotonin and dopamine or “feel good neurotransmitters,” as well as endorphins, which in turn can decrease pain and better regulate our mood.  

Research has also shown that when an individual is kind to another, the brain’s reward center is activated, resulting in a “helper’s high.”  In this way, kindness can become self-reinforcing with one small act of kindness motivating further acts of kindness and inspiring those around us to act accordingly. In addition, acts of kindness have been shown to release oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” which increases self-esteem and promotes connection. 

However, before we can be kind to others, we must first be kind to ourselves. In today’s fast-paced, high-pressure world, we may find ourselves skipping meals, missing breaks, neglecting our sleep, and forgetting to take time away to have fun and relax. Yet, it is nearly impossible to care for others when we have little energy left ourselves or when our needs go unmet. Therefore, it is essential to begin by showing kindness to ourselves and take time to reflect on how our own needs are being met.

Ideas for Practicing Kindness

Learn your partner’s “love language,” and then use it.

Compliment a friend or coworker.

Notice someone who seems lonely and invite them to join you.

Let someone who wants to help you, help.

Pick up trash.

Surprise someone with a small gift.

Take a half day off or give your staff a half day off.

Send a loved one a letter instead of a text.

Call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while.

Engage in active listening and refrain from giving advice.

Donate to a homeless shelter or volunteer your time at a charity.

Tell others when they are appreciated.

Take cookies to your office.

Help a neighbor with groceries.

Leave a generous tip.

Help others with small chores. 

Hold a door for someone.

Let someone into your lane while driving. 

Pay for the order behind you in the drive thru.

Take a neighbor’s garbage bins to or from the curb.

Share silence with someone.

Why is kindness even more important today? Well, many of us may struggle with our own fears and anxiety as we transition back to a post-pandemic lifestyle. Practicing kindness towards others allows for us to focus our attention outside of ourselves, thinking of others rather than ruminating on our fears or becoming overwhelmed by inner discomfort. 

Ultimately, practicing kindness during this time of transition can be an effective way to help ourselves and others as we promote community feeling and connection. In the end, kindness is an essential concept for maintaining personal health and wellbeing as well as the health and wellbeing of our communities.   

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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“How Does This Work?” Post-Pandemic Social Readjustment

As the total number of Americans with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine closes in on 50% and the CDC loosens restrictions, we are faced with unique challenges around social reengagement.

In many ways, vaccinations and reopening is a cause for excitement and new hope for life returning to normal. However, you are not alone if you are feeling anxious about returning to a world with normal levels of in-person social interactions. According to a recent poll conducted in March by the American Psychological Association, at least half of all respondents indicated they feel uneasy about readjusting to in-person interaction.    

Returning to life as we knew it before the pandemic presents many challenges. For over a year we have worked to adjust to an entirely new lifestyle. Readjusting back from such a dramatic change is no easy task. 

We have also moved into a digital world and away from the long-standing social and cultural norms that have guided our interactions for decades. When we have been around other people, we have faced the challenge of engaging with covered faces and social distance. Indeed, wearing a mask and social distancing emerged as a necessary means of remaining safe from a potentially deadly threat. The threat was a virus, but the virus was spread through contact with other people. Others became an existential threat to our existence. 

Tips for social readjustment

There are several helpful things to keep in mind as we move forward. Foremost, increased anxiety about in-person social interaction is a normal and reasonable response to a remarkably scary and uncertain circumstance. This kind of reminder can be helpful as it allows us to normalize our reactions and respond with compassion towards ourselves and others, rather than judging ourselves or denying our feelings.  

Give voice to your experiences and speak openly when you are uncertain. We have never been here before. Therefore, it can be helpful to normalize uncertainty or awkwardness when interacting with others. Ask, “How are we going to approach this?” or “I’m not sure what we do here, what would make sense to you?” Not only does this help normalize the experience, but it also allows for collaboration and creates a shared experience by sending the message – we are in this together.  

Face your fears around social interaction when you feel reasonably safe. Given the role of avoidance in perpetuating anxiety, be mindful of unnecessary avoidance. Ask yourself if your discomfort is grounded in a real concern for your safety or if it is related more to the discomfort of adjusting back to social interactions.  

If you are concerned about being awkward, remember that social confidence is something you can develop and improve as you get more practice. Your first few social interactions are likely to be more awkward than your later interactions. Make a list of social interactions you anticipate over the next few months and start by practicing the easier or least intimidating scenarios. 

Over the past year we have been forced to attend to our social interactions in new ways, often with an overarching hypervigilance grounded in genuine fear. Despite the challenges ahead, there is good reason to believe that things will get easier with patience and compassion for yourself and your neighbors.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Always Arriving: Embracing Each Moment in Times of Transition

Transitions are often filled with mixed emotions. Sometimes transitions are by choice, but many times we are not given a choice. People handle transitions and change in all kinds of ways.

Depending on the nature of the transition, you may feel anxious and experience self-doubt or feel angry and confused. In some cases, you may feel excited and look to celebrate the transition. In other cases, you may feel slightly numb or disconnected as you approach a transition and find yourself doing all kinds of things to distract yourself from dealing with the change that is about to occur. 

The stress we can experience during a time of transition is often linked to a flood of emotions and a strong underlying current of resistance. Most of us resist transitions and change because they involve moving into unfamiliar territory with unpredictable emotions. Change can be so difficult that many people perpetuate unhealthy behaviors or relationships because doing something differently is experienced (consciously or unconsciously) as more difficult than changing the status quo. 

One of the more helpful things you can do during a transition is to remain open to your feelings and allow yourself to experience whatever comes up for you.

Mindfulness is extremely beneficial during times of transition. Curiosity in particular can be helpful as it encourages us to stay open to the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that arise in any given moment and allow our understanding to unfold. Fear and uncertainty are difficult, but they can become more manageable as we notice the subtleties of our experience and open ourselves to the complexity that resides beyond the initial layer of anxiety and fear.  

In reality, we are always arriving. It might seem radical at first, but we are always in a state of transition and with each breath we transition to the next moment. If we take a step back and approach our lives as an ongoing experience of emergence, we might be less intimidated by change. Likewise, if we consider all of our emotions as reminders that we are truly alive, we might experience greater freedom and less of a need to fight against fear and uncertainty. With an attitude of acceptance and curiosity we can practice moving forward moment-by-moment.  From this moment to the next.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Disrupting the Cycle of Avoidance Coping

Procrastination, self-isolation, wishful thinking, passive aggressive behavior, and alcohol use. Sound familiar? These behaviors are all common examples of avoidance coping. When we are engaged in this common form of maladaptive coping, we are not directly addressing our problems, interpersonal conflicts, or difficult emotions. Rather, we are disengaging and distracting ourselves so that we might feel better in the short-term, only to suffer more in the long-term.    

The temporary relief we experience through avoidance coping leads to further stress and anxiety by negatively reinforcing avoidant behavior and leading to more avoidance. Before long, we can find ourselves trapped in a cycle of ongoing avoidance and increasing distress.  

Understanding reinforcement is very helpful for understanding the cycle of avoidance coping.

Generally, reinforcement is anything that makes a behavior more likely to reoccur. Negative reinforcement involves the removal of something negative as a means of reinforcement. In the case of avoidance coping, we are removing our immediate anxiety or emotional distress through avoidance, thereby negatively reinforcing avoidant behavior. 

Now that we understand reinforcement, we can begin to examine our avoidance coping and the role of negative reinforcement in perpetuating the avoidance cycle.

However, before considering how you engage avoidance coping, it important to note that there is a time for healthy distraction. When we find ourselves overwhelmed or when there are no apparent solutions to a problem, we often need a break to reset and take care of ourselves. Likewise, stress relief strategies like relaxation techniques should not be mistaken for avoidance. These are subtle, yet important distinctions, as the goal of these activities is to help calm your nervous system or take a necessary break so that you can more effectively deal with challenges. 

Step 1: Recognize

Avoidance coping is not always easy to recognize. Take a moment to consider the ways in which you may be avoiding people, places, or other activities.

What are some of your typical behaviors or habits when you feel anxious or distressed?  

What are some things you do when you are anxious or uncertain in your relationships?  

In what ways are your choices influenced by avoidance? 

It is often easier to see how we engage in avoidance coping with large life-changing decisions or with specific types of challenges such as interpersonal conflicts.  However, in addition to the larger or more obvious challenges we face, it is also helpful to examine the smaller ways we use avoidance coping in our daily life.  

Sometimes avoidance coping is disguised as a preference. For example, we may avoid a social gathering because we don’t like the food menu or decide that we prefer email while avoiding a more direct discussion of a challenging topic.  

At other times we may make small compromises or subtle choices to reduce our distress without being aware of the ways that these choices negatively reinforce our avoidance. For example, should I sleep in versus get up to exercise or should I return a phone call to a friend versus watching television. Although small, these decisions can impact our quality of life and feed into avoidance coping.    

Step 2: Strengthen cognitive coping skills 

Practice identifying your automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions. Automatic thoughts are the thoughts most connected to our immediate feelings and reactions. Cognitive distortions or biases are negative thinking patterns that best describe the nature of our automatic thoughts. Common distortions include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, should statements, jumping to conclusions, personalization, and emotional reasoning. 

Think of your thoughts as a talk radio station and turn up the volume. Notice what thoughts automatically come to your mind when you are experiencing a strong emotion. Choose a cognitive distortion to label your pattern of automatic thoughts.

Labeling automatic thoughts typically allows for you to step outside of your thought process and observe your thoughts from the perspective of a participant observer. This slows down automatic thoughts and allows for space to consider alternative thoughts and behaviors.  

Consider the evidence for and against your automatic thoughts or conclusions. How accurate are these thoughts? How can you soften your thoughts to make them less extreme? Even if your feared outcome occurs, how will you feel in a week, a month, or a year from now? Remember the bigger picture. Remember that thoughts are not facts.

Step 3: Practice grounding skills 

Deep breathing – Breathing techniques can be one of the most practical and easily accessible ways of reducing stress in the moment as they can be used at almost any point throughout the day. Practice taking a slow deep breath from your abdomen and silently count to five. Next, hold your breath for a moment and again count silently count to five. Finally, exhale slowly as you silently count to five one more time. 

Five senses grounding – Use your five senses to ground yourself in the present. Notice five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can touch.  

Step 4: Seek social support

Avoiding social support or asking for help is extremely common. Yet, most people appreciate the opportunity to be supportive, so it is wise to let go of any worries that you might be a bother if you reach out for support. In fact, other people usually benefit from providing support and connecting with others in this way.

Everyone experiences difficulties at some point. Therefore, it is also helpful to let go of any thoughts that suggest your concerns are insignificant or that you are somehow incapable or weak. Social support is an essential human need. Ultimately, reaching out to connect with others benefits everyone and helps us all grow stronger together. 

Step 5: Approach Coping

Once we are aware of avoidance coping in our lives and we are better equipped to use coping skills and seek support, we can feel more empowered to make different decisions and move toward challenges. We can also feel better equipped to manage any difficult emotions or anxiety that arises when we face a challenge or conflict.

Turn toward something you typically avoid. Rather than criticism, try to respond to yourself with kindness and approach your reactions with curiosity. When we open ourselves up to vulnerability, personal growth and authentic human connection will follow. Ultimately, even small changes in our avoidance can readily add up to significant improvements in our self-confidence and quality of life. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Channeling Your Inner Tortoise: Slowing Down to Reduce Stress

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” 

-Lao Tzu

Rushing can increase stress, interfere with meaningful communication, and reduce our capacity for pleasure and enjoyment. Although rushing is sometimes inevitable, constant pressure to rush from one thing to the next leads to chronic stress and burnout. Both our physical and mental health can begin to suffer as a result. Slowing down can significantly reduce our stress and lead to greater resilience and overall well-being.   

Practices for slowing down:

Consciously slow down your activity level by 25 percent. Bring your full attention to the pace of your actions. Notice when you are moving at 100 percent and intentionally slow down to 75 percent. Notice how it feels to move more gently and intentionally. 

Set aside additional time to complete a task. If you think you will need an hour to go grocery shopping, set aside two hours and allow yourself to approach the task at your leisure. Give yourself ample time to avoid feeling rushed. Take longer than necessary and ignore your watch.  

Give your phone a break. Practice resisting the urge to get on your phone for a few minutes each day or give your phone a time out. When you are waiting in line, riding an elevator, or eating lunch, try to resist the urge to take out your phone and start looking through email or social media. Attempt to sit with any feelings of impatience or boredom and resist the impulse to distract or engage in more work. Take a moment to relax your body and allow your stress to dissipate.  

Get Bored. Stepping away from complex tasks or social media and sitting around quietly or gazing out of the window actually allows more space for creativity. You might also consider finding several more mundane tasks and allowing yourself to embrace feelings of boredom as a way to slow down and sit with whatever thoughts and emotions arise. As you expand your capacity to sit with boredom, you may find that it not only gets easier, but that it can be enjoyable as you get a mental break from the stress of more demanding tasks.  

Momentary Connections. Slow down long enough to momentarily connect in a deeper way with everyone you meet. Imagine what it might be like to be in their shoes. Look them in the eyes and wish them a good day. Share a kind word of encouragement or a friendly smile.  

Mindful eating. Take time to eat more mindfully. Focus your attention on the food you are eating and slow down your pace. Notice the tastes and textures of your food. Add something enjoyable to your lunch and slow down again to pause and savor the tasty treat.  

Acting “as if.”  Acting “as if” is a powerful Adlerian and cognitive constructivist therapy intervention that can be applied to your daily life. Think about somebody you know who always seems calm and centered. You might also think of role model, favorite author, or spiritual leader. After bringing this person to mind and thinking about the way they approach the world, act as if you are this person. Pretend you are auditioning for a movie to play this person and give your best performance. Acting “as if” can begin to shift your thoughts, behaviors, perceptions, and emotions in a new direction of calm. 

Notice your environment. Slow down long enough to take note of a few things in your environment. Noticing sounds is a good place to start. Pause and sit silently for a moment while you note the sounds in your environment. Noticing light, reflections, and shadows are also fun and interesting ways to slow down and engage more intentionally as you ground yourself in your environment. 

Breathe from your diaphragm. Place your hand on your stomach and notice as it rises up and down slightly as you breathe. This practice slows down breathing and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system that produces a calm and relaxed state.  

Use imagery to connect with a calm and relaxing place. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite vacation spot, such as a warm sunny beach, calm lake, or a treasured hiking trail. Imagine all of the sights and sounds as well as the feeling of the warm sun and soft breeze. Allow yourself to relax and rest here in your imagination for a few minutes. 

Everyday Mindfulness. We can practice everyday mindfulness by bringing our attention more fully to the present moment and focusing on our senses in the here-and-now while completing everyday tasks. Much like mindful eating, you might try practicing mindfulness while taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Bring your attention to the warm and calming sensations of the water on your skin, the smell of the soap or shampoo, or the taste of the toothpaste. 

Take time to reflect. Start a gratitude journal or practice sharing your gratitude and appreciation with others at the end of a long day.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Using Behavioral Activation to Improve Your Mood

It is not uncommon to skip or cancel plans because we are feeling down or unmotivated. It is also not uncommon for us to wait to feel better or feel more motivated before taking action. Although canceling plans to focus on taking care of ourselves is sometimes the right decision, avoiding activities that can help us stay active and socially engaged can hinder our ability to bounce back from a period of low mood.  

Behavioral activation is a well-researched intervention commonly integrated as part of the treatment strategy for depression. When we experience symptoms such as loss of motivation, decreased pleasure or enjoyment, or feelings of worthlessness; we are often much less likely to engage in activities we typically enjoy. Although this might initially provide relief, continued avoidance of such activities often leads to a worsening of our mood, increased anxiety, and feeling more disconnected from others. Behavioral activation helps to disrupt this cycle of avoidance by helping us create a road map with goals for increasing our engagement in meaningful and pleasurable activities.   

Determining which activities to increase is often the first step. Activity tracking and monitoring is one helpful place to start, particularly if you are uncertain about which activities will be most beneficial for you. Start by recording what you do every hour and rate your mood on a scale from 0-10, with “0” indicating low mood and “10” indicating good mood. After tracking and rating your actives, you can select which activities resulted in an improved mood. Some behaviors, such as exercise, can typically be used right away as we already know this to be helpful to most people.

In addition to monitoring our activities and rating our mood, we can also explore our values to determine what leaves us feeling more connected to meaning and purpose in our lives. For example, you may value health and therefore find meaning through fitness and nutrition, or you may value family and find meaning though planning and engaging in activities as a family. You may value other things such as  community, social justice, spirituality, or the arts. Focusing on activities that align with your values is likely to be beneficial.  

In addition to values, it is important to consider what brings you pleasure. Although there can be overlap, pleasurable activities are often done for inherent enjoyment and satisfaction. Create a short list of the activates that bring you pleasure and use this to help guide your behavioral activation plan.  

The second step is to select a few of the activities from your list and incorporate these into your daily or weekly routine. In setting goals, it is important to be realistic. Therefore, it is usually best to start with 2-3 of the easiest activities to increase the likelihood of your follow through. Consider any barriers that might arise and make a plan or schedule to remind yourself of your goals. If you are struggling, very simple or small activities are the best places to start. In some cases, you may simply engage more frequently in your current pleasurable activities and use mindfulness to connect more intentionally.

It is also helpful to pay attention to your mindset and self-talk. This strategy will be less helpful if you are unnecessarily critical of yourself or judgmental about your efforts. Practice self-compassion and avoid being discouraged if you do not complete your goals or if the experience is less helpful than you had hoped. Remind yourself that it is often not just one activity or experience, but a collection of positive experiences and pleasurable activities over time that is most impactful.   

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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Befriending Our Emotions

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

-Jon Kabat-Zinn

Take a moment and recall the last time you felt a strong emotion. What do you remember? What did your body feel like? What thoughts came to mind? What did you feel like doing? What did you do? Pause and close your eyes for a few moments to reflect on these questions.   

It is common to try and get rid of our feelings, particularly when we experience strong emotions of sadness, anger or fear. However, trying to get rid of emotions can actually make them more distressing and difficult to manage. Befriending our emotions through mindfulness as well as skills aimed at fostering emotional intelligence (i.e., recognizing, labeling and expressing emotions) are both helpful practices for engaging more effectively in our emotional lives. 

Emotions are important. Foremost, emotions communicate important information to us and to others. For example, anger may tell us we have been mistreated or sadness may tell us we have lost something important or need support. Emotions also assist us in organizing our experiences and actions. Again, fear may organize us to confront a wrongdoer or sadness may allow us to withdraw from busy activities so that we can have space to grieve. Experiencing painful emotions can also help us empathize with others and sharing vulnerabilities fosters closer relationships. Emotions also provide color to our lives as we experience moments of joy or feel proud of our accomplishments. In either case, both “positive” and “negative” emotions are important. Understanding and engaging with our emotional life is ultimately a significant strength.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a helpful way for us to practice befriending our emotions. Just as we practice being mindful of our breath or the sights and sounds in our environment, we can also practice being mindful of our emotions. 

We can practice being more mindful of our emotions as we experience them or by taking note of our emotions and practicing being present and connecting with our emotional experiences at a later time. We can also practice monitoring when we become self-critical. In both cases, the increased awareness and self-compassion that accompanies mindfulness practice will be useful for better understanding what our emotions are telling us and responding to our emotions in ways that are more intentional.

Practicing mindfulness of emotions is often challenging as judgement or criticism is likely to arise or we might struggle to remain present with intense or upsetting emotions. It is helpful to remember that the most important part of this practice is simply turning toward and becoming more aware of your emotions.

Emotional Intelligence 

As we become more aware or mindful of our emotions, we can use the five RULER skills developed by Dr. Marc Brackett, Ph.D., to regularly check-in with our emotions throughout the day, label our emotions, and express how we are feeling:

Recognize: How am I feeling? Cues from our bodies (posture, energy level, breathing, and heart rate) can help us identify feelings. 

Understand: What happened that led me to feel this way? As feelings change throughout the day, think about the possible causes of these feelings. Identifying the things (people, thoughts, and events) that lead to uncomfortable feelings can help us both manage and anticipate them in order to prepare an effective response. 

Label: What word best describes how I am feeling? Although there are more than 2,000 emotion words in the English language, most of us use a very limited number of words to describe how we are feeling. The primary or basic emotions include sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust. However, there many words we can use to label our emotions. A brief internet search will provide more options and you might consider printing a list to practice labeling.

Express: How can I express appropriately what I am feeling for this time and place? There are many ways to express each of our feelings. For example, many descriptions for sad, such as lonely, heartbroken, disappointed, hopeless, unhappy, troubled, or miserable.  

Regulate: What can I do to maintain my feeling (if I want to continue feeling this way) or shift my feeling (if I do not want to continue feeling this way)? Having short-term strategies (taking deep breaths or stepping back to allow distance) to manage emotions in the moment as well as long-term strategies (reframing negative experiences or seeking social support) to manage emotions over time is an important part of emotion regulation. 

Emotions are not a sign of weakness. They are not here to hurt us, nor are they the cause of our hurt. It is our reactions to our emotions through self-criticism and blame, or our harmful behaviors toward ourselves or others, that causes pain and suffering. If we are able to befriend our emotions and welcome them with compassion into our lives, we might find ourselves situated at a place of greater insight and freedom as we greet each new friend with a receptive heart.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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