Man, I love the work that I do. Truly. And recently a woman who I work with in my Boulder psychotherapy practice reminded me of this once again. What this phenomenal woman reminded me of is this: Emotional pain is excruciating, but even depression that keeps someone in a place of deep despair for much of a lifetime can be shifted. Not easily, of course, but with hard work, commitment, insight, and hope, heaviness can be lifted and emotional health recovered.
I’d like to share her list with you of the ten things that she has realized are important for her to feel well. Ten things she says that she learned in my office, but ten things that, truthfully, she has discovered on her own.
1. Pay attention to physical health and symptom reduction.
Like so many others, Lisa* spent years in doctors offices seeking help for what she believed to by physical illness. Emotional pain can be stored in the body and identified initially as physical ailments that seem ongoing. When insomnia, body pain, and other physical distractions seem unexplainable and chronic, depression and/or anxiety may be the cause. Lisa spent much of her life seeking help for these issues but now realizes that the cause of many of them was her emotional stress and depression. What she has found is that when she takes care of herself physically (through sleep, nutrition, exercise, and breath) she feels better emotionally. And, as she recovers from her depression she feels less physical pain and discomfort.
2. Acknowledge, defend, and obtain wants and needs.
Lisa is not unlike so many others who have been motivated by the shoulds in life. Lisa has been so accustomed to this that it took some time for her to recognize what her own wants and needs are outside of the shoulds placed on her by others. When Lisa was able to listen carefully to her own internally driven wants and needs, she found that she not only accessed important instincts but she also was more likely to achieve her goals. She has found that there is often a need to speak up for herself in this area and she has learned to be her own advocate regardless of the expectations of others.
3. Self-monitor and self-soothe.
Lisa learned the importance of listening for changes in the way she feels. What she found is that when she is able to notice shifts in body tension, her thought processes, and her reactions to things she is able to catch her rising stress early enough to stop it in its tracks. Lisa has found deep breathing to be an especially helpful tool, along with other coping strategies for emotional health such as taking a break, exercise, and getting outdoors.
4. Accept emotional turbulence and understanding that suffering is temporary.
As a child, Lisa was not allowed to feel anything other than happiness. Struggle (especially fear, sadness, and anger) was not welcome in her household. Because of this, Lisa had learned to dread the negative emotions that are experienced in life. Each time that she experienced even “normal” amounts of distress, she was catapulted into a deep dark hole that she felt she could not get out of. Through our work together, Lisa learned that emotional turbulence is a normal part of being human, and that if she is able to let go of the need to change or deny it, her suffering is temporary. This awareness has lifted the additional layer of stress and self-judgment that she often felt whenever she experienced anything other than happiness. This has made the suffering that she does experience from time to time more tolerable.
5. Have self-compassion and non-judgment.
Along with the above, Lisa has learned to understand the devastating impact that self-judgment has had on her well-being. As she learned to understand why she has felt the way she has with compassion and empathy for herself, her confidence and acceptance of herself has grown immensely. [Read more...]