Category: Mood Improvement

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability
Persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem

At times of social isolation, it remains pertinent not to neglect the extreme negative effects it has on our mental/emotional health. Despite the current focus being on physical health as the only threat to wellbeing, it remains crucial to raise awareness of how isolation may have an even stronger impact on our psyches and quality of life in the longer term. In order to understand the link between loneliness and emotional vulnerability, here are 3 signs/feelings/mood states that indicate how you may be negatively affected by a lack of social contact:

Sadness and melancholy: as we have been wired for connection and intimacy, being with others and enjoying their company makes us feel more human and alive. Even if you are an introvert, a certain level of social interaction is required to promote a sense of identity and belonging. As the human presence, voice and touch are also soothing, a friend, colleague, relative or spouse, for instance, can be a source of emotional support. When we lack that and feel lonely, however, moments of sadness tend to last longer. As the days go by and loneliness lingers, we may become hopeless, melancholic and even depressed.                 

Shame and frustration: persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem. Despite being, at times, a consequence of our own lifestyle choices and rigid beliefs about relationships, loneliness can make us feel “not good enough”, “inferior” or “less than”. Not feeling worthy of the company and love of others brings about resentment, anger and even hatred, which are felt on a deep level and are often not fully registered by the conscious mind.

Fear and desperation: feeling alone, not seen and without access to emotional connection and support may trigger the fight or flight response. That is because we also need others to feel safe.  As human beings are only able to survive and thrive in groups and with the help of other humans, complete isolation – even when seemingly coherent at times of a health crisis – may cause stress, hypervigilance and anxiety. When we are submitted to a climate of fear that seems endless, desperation sets in, which may, in turn, lead us to resort to dysfunctional, extreme and risky behaviours to regain a sense of safety and wellbeing.

As our emotional health continues to be neglected by governments, the medical community and other authorities of the health sector, it remains of the utmost importance to be creative and dedicate time and effort to personal care. If you feel lonely and emotionally vulnerable as a result of isolation, do what you can to feel connected, firstly with your inner self and then with others. There is still much you can do that respects the social distancing guidelines that will ameliorate your mood, you just need to search for what suits and complements the authentic you.

How to process emotional pain

How to process emotional pain
Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions

Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions. When we come to understand that our trauma and emotional pain remain in the body even when we try to deny them in our minds, processing them becomes a natural course to healing. If you agree with that premise but find the whole process daunting, here are four simple steps on how to process emotional pain:

1- Connect with the body without fear

If you were raised in an environment of emotional neglect like the most of us, your tendency is to repress, deny or avoid negative emotions. In order to start feeling them, move the attention inward in a mindful way. Resist the habit of attempting to distract yourself from them and connect with the negative bodily sensations deeply.

2- Ride the wave of emotion

As you start connecting with the emotional pain, you will notice it more and feel it more intensely. That is totally OK. As emotions are fleeting, they will come and then go. Trust this truth, stay with them and allow them to ebb and flow. Feeling emotional pain is not pleasant, undoubtedly, but it is manageable. As we were all wired for feeling and processing it, remind yourself that you can stand that emotional (and at times even physical) discomfort.

3- Challenge irrational thinking

Negative emotions usually follow negative thinking. Therefore, you can feel stuck in your emotional pain or extend its life by not questioning dysfunctional thinking. Because most negative thoughts are biased and irrational, they fail to explain reality objectively. Consequently, they corrupt your perspective of yourself, the world and others, triggering fear, sadness, anger and shame. When riding that negative emotion wave, ask yourself “What was I thinking just now?”, consciously question irrational thinking and identify cognitive errors.

4- Focus on the positive

After you have allowed yourself to feel, ride the emotional wave to completion and challenge negative thinking, it is time to frame the situation differently, in a more realistic and empowering fashion. Give meaning to your suffering and allow yourself to re-organise your narrative from a personal growth angle. The very fact that you had the courage to feel your emotional pain and be yourself in an authentic way is already so remarkable, that deserves your full appreciation.

Learning how to process emotional pain, as outlined above, may not be easy, but it is certainly adaptive and rewarding. As you start building a different relationship with your body and emotions, you feel more whole and connected, not only with your own self but also with life and others. Furthermore, as your emotional maturity and autonomy develop, your relationships tend to flourish and become more fulfilling. I hope you have the courage and willingness to see beyond your pain and enjoy the benefits of embracing it and fully processing it with acceptance.

Conditional wellbeing

Conditional wellbeing
Feelings of enjoyment should not only follow an act of effort or good behaviour

Do you have a habit of putting your happiness on hold until “something good” happens? Do you say to yourself, “When I buy a house/get married/have a boyfriend/girlfriend/make more money etc., then I will feel good”? If yes, you suffer from what I call conditional wellbeing. Conditional wellbeing is to make good feelings about yourself, the world and other people dependent upon external factors. This approach to life is often at the centre of much of our unhappiness, however, and general discontent. So if it is so unproductive to our emotional health, why do we do it?

I believe that our culture of delayed gratification, as well as our rigid beliefs, have great influence on how we approach our wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. As children, we are often made to believe that good feelings of enjoyment should only follow an act of effort or good behaviour. Parents use rewards to make us do what they want us to do, as in “You can have ice-cream after you have done your homework/tidy up your room”, etc. When such schemes are reinforced through consistent practice, our brains automatically create an association between work and fun, as if we were only entitled to the latter if we did the former.

Our beliefs about “happiness” and “being worthy of feeling good” also interfere with our ability to enjoy ourselves for no reason. What do you usually associate with pleasure and good moments?  Does it tend to involve free time, people and things, eating and drinking? Are you always engaged in some kind of (special) activity when you create this mental picture? If yes, your beliefs about personal wellbeing could be limiting the way you perceive and experience it, making it conditional.

Some people only allow themselves to feel enjoyment after a long day’s work, at the weekend or when away on holiday.  Without noticing, their lives become all about chasing that reward, as if they did not deserve to have it without sacrifice. You need to earn it to enjoy, right? “No pain no gain”, so they say. Those beliefs are, of course, cognitive traps. While they keep you running on that wheel like a deluded hamster, the true satisfaction of living that comes from true, uncompromised self-expression become even more far-fetched.

If you identify with the above, and would like to reconnect with a healthier sense of joy and wellbeing, I suggest the following:

1- Stop over identifying with negative feelings: have you lost touch with life’s little pleasures because you are so focused on the negative? When you only have time for the big fish, life becomes a tedious and unsatisfying waiting game. Try maximising the pleasure that comes from waking up in the morning and having that delicious cup of coffee, or refreshing shower. Anything that gives you a good feeling is worth your attention and can change your experience, moment by moment.

2- Master the art of feeling happy just for being alive: make a point of taking a few moments throughout the day to feel good about being you. To achieve that, show gratitude and appreciation to yourself mentally, while you connect with good feelings in your body. If they do not come up naturally, create them, consciously, and experience them mindfully for a couple of minutes.

3- Drop the perfectionism: challenge thinking that revolves around “If I…, I would…” and “When I…, I will…” and start valuing yourself for who you are and not who you “should have been” in an unfortunate past, or “could be” in an idealised future. The same applies to the people and material things you convinced yourself you should have in order to feel happy. Tell yourself you are worth happiness and joy, right at this moment. When you genuinely feel that way, you attract good things, effortlessly.

Why you can’t stop worrying

Why you can’t stop worrying
Just by the power of thought alone, we can activate our body’s stress response

Excessive worrying is a common problem. Most of my clients’ complaints are directly linked to the frequent occurrence of negative thoughts. While some are constantly bombarded by intrusive thoughts that make them feel ashamed or insecure, others are stuck in catastrophizing, or the habit of picturing worst-case scenarios. Regardless of its content, such dysfunctional thinking has a great impact on their mental health and quality of life. Simply put, those who worry excessively find it hard to feel good and enjoy the moment. That is because their brains are often busy anticipating supposed adversities, dangers and losses. But if worrying too much is counterproductive, why most of us struggle to make it stop?

In his brilliant book “Mind to Matter”, Church (2018) explores “The evolutionary value of negative thinking”. When we think of the bigger picture, we are able to understand how a preoccupied attitude has been central to our success as a species. If we were not able to be sensitised by fear, our limbic system or emotional brain would not mobilise us for the fight or flight response. A laid-back attitude to danger would increase our exposure to being eaten by predators, amongst other dangers. If there were fewer of us who were lucky enough to dodge death and manage to grow and procreate, our probability of thriving as a group would have been considerably reduced. A hypervigilant state of mind, or our ability to remain alert and be warned by our thoughts of the possibility of something bad happening, seems to have greatly enabled us to stay alive and become masters of our destiny.

It all makes sense, does it not? Now you know why it is so easy for you to start worrying: your evolved brain is trying to protect you! Of course, there is one caveat: its inability to differentiate between real and imaginary threats. You can literally bring yourself to a state of high fear and anxiety just by imagining something awful happening, as dying suddenly from a heart attack, even though you are in perfect health. Just by the power of thought alone, we can activate our body’s stress response and induce a change in our physiology so to prepare it to deal with a problem that does not exist. Cortisol and adrenaline, our stress hormones, flood the body and increase heart and breathing rate as well as blood pressure. While you are worrying if you have managed to charm everyone at that presentation, your survival instinct is making you feel like approval is a matter of life or death.

To find out if you are stuck on fight or flight, make a conscious effort to reconnect with your body and emotions. Hypervigilant people tend to live in their heads and neglect their physical and emotional health. As yourself, from time to time, “What are my bodily sensations and feelings saying about me at this very moment”. Muscle tension that does not get better with time, cluster headaches and unexplainable pain, for instance, are common chronic stress symptoms. While constantly checking your phone may seem like a harmless behaviour, it is also central to keeping your brain in a state of overstimulation. The practice of self-awareness will turn off the autopilot and enable you to start regaining control over yourself. Then, as you become familiar with how your life style, habits and choices affect your mind and body, be courageous and start investing in change that will bring balance and happiness into your life.

Reference:

Church, D. (2018). Mind to Matter, The Astonishing Science of how Your Brain Creates Material Reality.  Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

5 positive beliefs to boost self-esteem

5 positive beliefs to boost self-esteem
What you tell yourself in your own head has immense influence on your self-image and self-esteem

Beliefs, like words, have power. What you tell yourself in your own head has immense influence on your self-image and self-esteem. That is because behind your negative self-talk, there are always negative beliefs about yourself, the world and others fuelling a pessimistic, weak and unfavourable outlook. Beliefs are so powerful, that they can guide you towards creating a reality you have built with thought alone. So if you believe you are not fit to run for more than 5 minutes, you will not. Equally, if you decide you can do it, not only rationally but also emotionally, you will. By believing in something “emotionally”, I mean with your whole being, namely, with your mind and body.  As Lipton (2015) explains in The Biology of Belief, “Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology”.  That would explain how there are so many stories of people that defied terminal cancer diagnoses, for instance, and ended up living a much longer life. To help you start thinking and feeling better about yourself, below you will find 5 positive beliefs to boost self-esteem:

1- I matter

Even if you are currently not in a relationship or do not have many friends, you are important to others.  As a living being, you matter not only to the universe, but also to yourself and others around you, even when they do not know you. Life is precious and we all want to preserve it. Therefore, even if I have never seen you, as a fellow human being, I wish you all the best. And no, you do not have to be a therapist or a monk to think like this, since a great number of people do.

2- I am competent

Are you aware of how many skills are required of you just to read this blog article? Even if you feel depressed, in despair or heartbroken, you still have the ability and strength to wake up and face your fears every single day. It is sometimes hard being human, but we become masters of our existence already from a very early age. Remind yourself that trying is what matters, not winning.  Every time you try, you show yourself, the world and others that you are alive and connected.

3- I can stand it

You have overcome disease, bad weather, hardship and disappointments. You have been able to get up and get things done even when you felt like curling into a ball and disappearing. You have shown up even when your body felt weak. You have been there for others when you could not be there for yourself. You have felt alone and bitter, but tried to be civil and respectful to others. You have dealt with your losses the best you could, even without validation or support from others. You are resilient and can stand pain and discomfort.

4- I can trust others

Would you have got this far without the help of others? Even though some of us are quite independent, we all survive and even thrive because we work in collaboration. Relationships of all kinds are risky, because everyone that comes into it does so with a set of expectations, vulnerabilities and at least one trauma. As we are imperfect beings, we all get hurt at some stage in our lives. The good news is, as you learned above, you can stand it! If you get disappointed, you will eventually get over it, as with most things in life.

5- I am good enough

You were good enough to have come into this world. You were good enough for growth and development, regardless of the circumstances. You were good enough to make it to your age and have known the people you do. You were good enough to achieve what you have and to make something out of it. You are good enough to be alive and worth every breath you take. You are good enough and worthy of everything you still have to give to yourself, the universe and others. You are good enough because you are you, and you are unique.

If you suffer from low self-esteem and struggle to feel whole and happy, it is time you started telling your brain a different story about yourself, the world and those around you. I highly recommend writing the above beliefs down and incorporating them into your meditation practice. When you reach a calm state of mind and feel at one with your body, create imaginary scenarios in which you see yourself behaving as mentioned above. Then, connect with the positive bodily sensations these images evoke, as if you were right there and then enjoying this new way of being. Repeat the exercise on a daily basis and observe the effects it has on you emotional health.

Reference

Lipton, B. H. (2015). The Biology of Belief, Unleashing the power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. Carlsband, CA: Hay House

How to connect with negative emotions: sadness

Being raised in an environment of emotional neglect does not mean you cannot have a healthy relationship with your emotions as an adult. When you approach them with maturity, they become a natural expression of your humanity, and not a “pathology” or an inconvenience that has to be dealt with, medicated or controlled. Because emotions tell us about who we are, the moment we are currently living and how certain events and others affect us, they are a great source of self-knowledge. Moreover, self-regulation does not materialise without emotional connection, no matter how hard you try to avoid or deny the presence of your emotions, they will stay with you until you give them the attention they require to be fully processed. To help you befriend your negative emotions and increase your ability to self-soothe, the upcoming articles will cover some basic techniques on how to build an open relationship with sadness, anger and fear. Below, you will find 5 simple tips on how to connect with sadness:

How to connect with negative emotions: sadness
Sadness reminds us of what is missing in our lives that is important to us

1- Raise self-awareness

If you do not know how you are feeling right now, you will not connect with your emotions, positive or negative. For that reason, it is vital that you create the habit of checking in with yourself, every so often, to find out how you are doing. From time to time, or when you detect some kind of emotional discomfort, ask yourself, “How am I feeling?”. Then, identify when you are feeling sad and move to the next step.

2- Take a break and focus

When you notice you feel sad, go somewhere quiet and private to connect wholeheartedly with that feeling. Consciously direct your focus to your inner world, what is going through your mind and your bodily sensations. In this open and mindful state of being, there is nothing more urgent and relevant than the present moment. Stay with yourself and your feelings for a little while until you have an open channel of communication with your body.

3- Listen to the body

What is your body saying about your current emotional state? Are you feeling energetic, socially engaged and motivated, or lethargic and wanting to be alone or even isolate from others? Do you feel like you could cry, or pressure/tension in the chest and/or throat area? Is there a feeling of heaviness in your limbs and body? Connecting freely with those physical sensations, or listening to your own body, will open the channels of communication with your sadness.

4- Register your sadness’ message

Now that you have accessed your sadness, what is it telling you? One of the main roles of sadness is to grieve our losses and remind us of what is missing in our lives that is important to us. Are you missing a sense of purpose, yourself, or the company of others? If not, could you be missing someone, a good feeling or time in your past, or something you might never have experienced to the fullest, such as a true sense of community or love?

5- Let the tears flow

The quickest and most effective way to process sadness is to have a good cry.  When you feel your eyes hot with tears, just let them flow. Do not hold them back or make them stop, but let them find their way out of your body and free you of your pain. As emotional tears contain stress hormones, they are a natural means to help you regulate and restore your emotional balance.

As it is the case with all other “negative” emotions, such as fear and anger, deeply connecting with your sadness can be extremely beneficial to your emotional, psychological and physical health. Instead of fighting against it, embracing your sadness and learning from it help you redirect your focus to what you identify with and makes you feel good. If you would like to live a more fulfilling, authentic and happier life, it is vital that you replace your rigid beliefs about sadness as something to be avoided or repressed, and open your body to its wisdom and healing power.