Archive of ‘Mental Health’ category

Y’all, Please Stop Judging Your Emotions!

I want to first say that the title of this post might be slightly misleading. I don’t believe it’s actually possible to STOP judging all of your emotions. But you (and I) can work towards doing it less often.

What does “judging emotions” mean?

Before I get to the how, let’s take a minute to see what it even means to judge our emotions. Personal story: I was sitting in my therapist’s office in front of my computer talking to my therapist via telehealth, and I told her about something that had made me experience a healthy dose of shame. I had made a small professional mistake, and I had been blaming myself. This is where it gets interesting: While sharing this with my therapist, I said, “I feel so stupid for feeling ashamed of something I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed of.” And, because my therapist is incredible, she gave me a look that had all kinds of compassion in it.

You might ask, “what’s wrong with judging my emotions?” And, because I’m a therapist, I’ll first say that nothing is “wrong” about it. BUT here’s what happens when you do: you’re telling yourself that it’s not okay to feel emotions. You’re telling yourself that, for example, you’re stupid for feeling shame, rather than realizing that you’re human for feeling shame. And we can (and probably) do this with a myriad of other emotions.

Feeling bad about yourself for getting angry? That’s judging. 

Thinking you shouldn’t cry when you’re experiencing something sad? That’s judging.

Ever tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel disappointed? Still judging. 

Here’s a nice tip: if you’re saying “should” or “shouldn’t” about your emotions, you’re probably judging them. 

And I don’t want to get too “meta” here, but it’s turtles all the way down. If you feel embarrassed about feeling super excited whenever a BTS song comes on, try not to judge the embarrassment. And then try not to judge the excitement! 

Now we can get to the how

Awareness is KEY. The biggest and best thing you can do to work on this is to recognize a) that you do it (because you’re human, and humans do this…unless, of course, you’re a robot, in which case: which squares have bicycles in it?), and b) when you do it. When you do it can be tricky to figure out. For this, you might want to talk to a close friend or therapist, or journal, or meditate. Everyone has their own way of learning about themselves, so you do you. 

Here’s some prompts to get you started: 

  • How do I feel about the last time I felt [insert emotion here]?
  • Which emotions were/are expressed in my family? Which ones weren’t/aren’t?
  • What do I think others think about me when I’m feeling [emotion]?

And just in case you’re having a hard time thinking of specific emotions, here are a few commonly judged emotions: anger, joy, guilt, shame, sadness, grief.

Now that I’m aware of some of the judgments I place on my emotions, how do I stop doing it? 

First, and this is important, you don’t have to do anything else. Just being aware will probably get you to stop judging 60% of your emotions (I just made that statistic up; please don’t quote me on that. It’s going to be different for everyone). But, if you want to continue doing the work, here are some tips:

Tip #1

Remind yourself routinely (e.g. in the mornings, when you take a shower, when you’re in your car, whatever works for you, but don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed with emotions to do this) that it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. Tell yourself, “I’m angry, and that’s okay.” Or for bonus points, you can say, “I love my anger.” That last one might be really difficult, so be gentle with yourself if it doesn’t come easy.

Tip #2

Another way you can work on this is to make a list of a certain number (say, 5) emotions you had each day or week. And then thank your body for letting you feel these emotions. Literally, “Thank you, [your name], for letting me feel guilt this week.” Feel free to journal or meditate on this too.

Emotions are human

Remember that emotions are part of the deal you made with the world (or God, or Spirit, or Universe, etc.) when you were created. You don’t get to be human and not have emotions. ALL OF THEM. You can’t just have the “good” ones. Not only that, but the more you shove down the emotions you don’t like, the more they’re going to have control over you. You can only pretend for so long that you’re not sad, until it begins to show up somewhere else (usually as anxiety or depression, or as physical symptoms, like migraines or stomach pains). 

Once you experience your emotions without the harsh judgement you’ve been accustomed to, you might even begin to appreciate them! Your emotions all have a purpose. 

Feeling lonely? That’s a reminder to reach out to a close person. 

Feeling stressed? That’s a reminder to slow down. 

Anxious? That’s a reminder to be present where you are, rather than thinking about what might happen next. 

Shame? That’s a reminder to give yourself compassion.

Angry? That’s a reminder that you may need to put up or fortify a boundary. 

Bored? This one’s pretty simple: do something that feeds your creative soul! 

There is nothing wrong with ANY of our emotions. In fact, they will help us live a wonderful and meaningful life, if we only listen to them rather than judge them. 

If you want some help working through your emotions, book a free 15 minute consultation with me to see if I might be a good counselor for you.


Building A Better Mental Health Future for Our Children

We are living in an unprecedented time – not only are we facing a global pandemic that is having a profound effect on millions of people around the world, but we are also simultaneously navigating difficult issues like climate change, natural disaster, racial injustice, gender equality, political polarization, economic turbulence, war, etc.  All these factors have taken a toll on our mental health.  Mental health disorders can affect anyone; they do not discriminate based on gender, race, age, ethnicity, occupation, religion, economic class, or ethnic background.  It is very likely that each of us knows someone with a mental health challenge or has one ourselves. 

Our children have been hit particularly hard during this challenging time, with us seeing a mental health crisis in children like never before.  Mental health is just as important as physical health, which is an essential part of children’s overall health and well-being. As a therapist, I am seeing an increasing number of parents reaching out for help with their children’s mental health.  Anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-harming, internet addictions and truancy are just some of the conditions that are prevailing in young people during this mental health crisis.  Putting the well-being of our children as top priority is paramount now.  Whether you are a parent, caregiver, educator, coach, counselor or anyone who interacts with children and is genuinely interested in their overall wellness, you have the ability to influence them in a positive way. You can make a difference in their lives.

I would like to share with you five things with the acronym, “CARES”, that I believe our children really need.  With those, we can help nurture their mental health:

1. Connection with compassion

We are all social beings that have the innate need to connect.  The social distancing/isolation during the pandemic has made it very hard for us to connect with each other.  Most of our kids today connect with their phones and computers more than they connect with human beings. Research shows that this disconnection has detrimental effects on the mental health of our children.  Dr. Bruce Perry believes that connectedness has the power to counterbalance adversity:

“Human beings are social creatures, and because of that, we are neurologically designed to be in relationships with other people. When you see another person and they send a signal that you belong, or they smile and give you a gentle touch, that literally changes the physiology of your brain and body in ways that lead to a more regulated stress response system, healthier heart, healthier lungs, and literally it will influence your physical and mental health.” 

Let’s focus on building true connections with our children.  When was the last time you sat down with them to have a deep conversation that made them feel seen and heard?  When was the last time you played or created something together?  Giving our children undivided attention and being attuned is connecting with them.  Being curious and asking questions to genuinely get inside your child’s world is connecting with them.  When we connect through compassion, we begin to see things from their perspective without judgement.  Dr. Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” 

2. Acceptance and authenticity

Dr. Alfred Adler teaches us that a human being has an instinctive need to belong and feel significant.  Dr. Abraham Maslow places belongingness as the next most important need just above the physiological and safety needs in his hierarchy of needs model.  Many kids nowadays are not getting this basic need met.  As a result, they become people pleasers and do things to please others to seek approval.  They rely on external factors to define themselves.  They also act out and become defiant to get adult attention. 

So why do kids do these things?  Because they are not being accepted for who they are.  Their most important need is not being met – the need to belong.  Children need to know that they are accepted for who they are.  When children are accepted, they will have a sense of belonging which will allow them to be their authentic self.  They will see their self-worth, which then leads them to a more meaningful and fulfilled life.  Truly accepting a child means to let go of our own expectations of who we want the child to be and embrace who the child really is. 

3. Resilience and responsibility

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks or failures.  It is a skill that can be learned and practiced.  Many parents like to teach their kids how to win, but I think it is more important to teach them how to fail and get back up.  Allowing our kids to accept failure as part of learning and growing is one way to teach them resilience.  Do not rush to rescue them from moments of struggle or you will deprive them of opportunity to build their resilience muscles.  Another way to help kids develop resilience is by teaching them responsibility and allowing them to contribute to the family and society.  This not only allows them to have a sense of significance, but also allows them to see how capable they are.  

4. Encouragement and empathy

Oftentimes, we tend to criticize our children and focus on the negatives rather than the positives.  When all our children hear from us is how incapable they are and how much they are doing things incorrectly, they will feel discouraged.  It is important for children to know that we all make mistakes.  Let’s model self-acceptance and self-love even when we make mistakes.  Being encouraged and supported builds self-worth and self-confidence.  Alongside encouragement is empathy. Children need to hear encouraging words that come from a place of empathy. 

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”

– Dr. Alfred Adler.

5. Safety and support

Providing a secure environment for children to grow and develop is very important for both their physical and mental health.   According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is one of the most basic human needs for motivation.  Safety does not only refer to physical safety but emotional safety as well.  We want to provide a safe environment for our children to freely express their emotions.  It is important for parents to talk to their children about feelings.  Dr. Daniel Seigel said:

“Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully.”  

Our goal is to be their anchor so that they feel safe to come to us when the outside world appears to be scary and unsafe to them.  When children have a secure base, they will be more likely to have the courage to explore the world. 

Life is full of unpredictable challenges.  Let’s prepare our kids for whatever lies ahead by fostering their mental health and well-being.  Now more than ever, our children need our support.  Let’s focus on building a better mental health future for our children. 

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

– C.S. Lewis

The Giftcurse of Grief

Fall is often associated with grief. Celtic tradition has built rituals around the recognition that the veil is thinner this time of year. There is a cultural multiple-discovery of rituals during this specific season, one chosen to honor the dead and ancestors’ past, as well as to pay homage to grief itself. The Aztecs had a ritual that pre-dated and inspired Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, and the holiday continues to include Catholic influence around All Saints Day. Celts had Samhain, the Romans, Feralia; South Koreans celebrate in September during Paju. The Hungry Ghost Festival occurs a bit earlier in China, in August. 

This varied, yet overlapping ritual space that both honors and mourns is generally aligned during a time of the season where leaves die, fall, and reintegrate back into the earth’s biosphere. This fall, of 2021, grief seems particularly potent, with many of us either deeply exhaling, or holding our breath, after a long 20 months of pandemic living of varying scales. Many have experienced losses of magnitude and cadence that are out of the ordinary for this last eon. Grief has been experienced in both direct and indirect ways, as shared worry, depression, anxiety, insomnia, even studied as collective shifts in dreamlife.

It is this time of year where clients cite dreams that feel vibrant and potent, some report wanting to sleep more (daylight savings weirdness does not help this, does it?) And seasonally, grief seems more at the surface than in other months. Grief is often described by those experiencing it as a fog, a film, a visible haze that separates or delineates. CS Lewis defined grief as “a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me” after the death of his wife. Somatically, grief can show up in the head, gut, and chest. Grief can physically feel heavy. This is even noted in our idiomatic expressions of the blues, depression, sadness, loss. I feel down, it reduced me to tears, I have a lump in my throat, I am holding my breath. Unprocessed grief can compound and show up as a malaise, a depression, at times it can mirror PTSD symptomology. The DSM 5-TR has created a new diagnostic path for prolonged grief (Prolonged Grief Disorder) to give credence to the impacts an elongated, or multiple-event grief process, has on the brain and body, including sleep disturbance, substance use, and immune functioning. This addition is timely, and necessary, to witness the incredibly demanding time in which we are living.

James Hollis has described grief, or one of the giftcurses of it, as a “mythological disorientation.” At times when we encounter a loss, an earthquake in our senses of selves, the narratives we have built or lived under without question can be aptly rocked by grief and its preceding events. A false self, born under the desires of the family of origin, untapped unconscious material, or just the waves of societal norming might now be proven as outmoded based on what the more concrete situation of grief has unveiled. Therein lies the opportunity. Rather than attach yourself to the other common idiomatic mechanism we humans tend to pursue with grief: get over it; this invitation is instead to sit in it, move through it, let yourself be rocked, create some room for the ferns that grow from the char.

Here are some meditations and considerations on how you might sit with, experience, honor, express, or otherwise cool down from grief:

Stay With It

I adore Tara Brach and have gotten the chance to experience her silent meditation retreats. I often use one of my favorite tools of hers, RAIN, with clients and with myself- here is a 20-minute meditation that features this tool.

Breathe With and Through It

Try alternating nostril breathing (hold left nostril closed, inhale through the right; clamp right nostril and exhale through the left; switch/repeat) which can calm the mind and reduce stress.

Or box breathing which activates the parasympathetic nervous system – exhale for 4 seconds, pause at the bottom for 4 seconds holding your lungs empty, inhaling for 4 seconds, pause at the top, holding the air in your lungs before repeating the pattern.

Create a Ritual Space

Take a page from the aforementioned ritual book and create a space for offering. This could be a section of a table, a shelf, truly anywhere you’d like to place objects, visual reminders, remnants, and notes to a person, a pet, a part of self, a season in your life that has passed.

Open Your Chest

When we are cold we tend to turn inward, when we are grief-stricken we do the same. Doing chest- and heart-opening stretches and poses can help regulate breathing and offer a somatic pull of energy into a space we may be unconsciously holding or tightening.

Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

If you work with me you know I am obsessed with this wild gut-to-brain neural circuit. Here’s a video from the @the.holistic.psychologist demonstrating just one vagal stimulation pressure point.

Cool Off From It

Distraction can be a defense, but it can also be a great tool when grief turns to overwhelm. Get grounded and go for a walk, listen to a favorite album, draw, paint, dance the feeling out of your body.


1 2 3 4 5 6 34