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Posted on October 11th, 2018 in Communication, Relationships by

There always seems to be at least one person in our lives with whom we don’t feel we can share our true thoughts and feelings about. There can be several reasons for this. Maybe we want to be liked. Maybe we’re embarrassed, or we’re simply afraid of what might happen if we tell them. If you were to confront the person or people with whom you have an issue, just imagine how this would free up space in your brain to think about other things.

There are three ways in which people often communicate that are NOT effective. One is not saying anything and letting resentments build. This is called being passive. Another is aggressive communication. This might seem obvious, but aggression doesn’t really do anything for us either, except maybe land us in jail. Aggression can take the form of verbal or physical violence. Trying to control someone else is never the answer, nor should this be an option.

Another is being passive-aggressive. Although passive-aggression might spark memories of high school girls, the truth is we all communicate in passive-aggressive ways at some point or another by accident or on purpose. For example, not inviting that one person to a get-together because he said something at the last gathering that made you feel stupid. Making a pot of coffee after you’ve repeatedly asked your spouse to do this chore and she hasn’t followed through. Telling your supervisor all the frustrations you’ve experienced towards a coworker without confronting the coworker first. These examples are extremely easy traps to fall into, and engaging in passive-aggressive behavior only ignores the real issue, leads to resentment, and reinforces our lack of solving our problems effectively.

I get it. Communicating openly with others is hard. It’s scary. And no, I’m not perfect at it either. I talk about communication on a daily basis in my practice. There’s one thing in particular that communicating openly solves: Resolution. The truth might hurt, catch us by surprise, feel warm and fuzzy, or downright scary; but talking openly with those in our lives allows us to have authentic relationships based on sharing our true selves.

Assertive communication is the way to communicate openly with those in your life with respect while also respecting your own goals and values. This healthy communication is calm and fair while both parties listen to what each other has to say without interruptions or blaming. It requires understanding. Resolution may be reached on the first try, or it might take several times of going back and forth. If you incorporate healthy communicating into your life I would expect you to notice a reduction in anger, resentment, grudges, and betterment in your overall well-being. Your relationships will become more authentic and trustworthy. You will find that at first communication is hard, but with practice, it becomes more and more like second nature. If you are looking for help on your journey to better communication and healthier relationships, please contact me at sarah@nullnorthsidementalhealth.com.


Posted on March 29th, 2017 in Mindfulness by

Mindfulness is one of the four core skills introduced in a highly effective type of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT incorporates the Eastern practice of mindful meditation into talk therapy. The combination of practicing mindful meditation and evaluating negative thought patterns can significantly increase relaxation and help one cope with strong emotions.

So what exactly is mindfulness and how do we become more mindful? Being mindful is a state of mind that can be achieved with regular practice. Mindfulness is the act of simply observing our thoughts and feelings without imposing judgement on those thoughts or feelings such that they are “good” or “bad”. Let’s be honest, to refrain from judging and criticizing our own thoughts and feelings is a hard feat to conquer. We judge ourselves constantly throughout the day; therefore, it will understandably take a fair amount of practice and time to eventually master this art.
Another component of mindfulness is to accept that we experience positive, negative, and neutral emotions and continue to live in the present moment regardless of how uncomfortable an emotion we’re experiencing. When we feel strong emotions such as anxiety or depression, naturally the inclination is to get rid of the overwhelming feeling. When approaching our emotions mindfully, however, uncomfortable emotions aren’t pushed away but rather experienced in the moment until they eventually fade away. No one has a panic attack that lasts forever!

Here’s how to start your mindful meditation: Identify a time of day that you can set aside 5 minutes to yourself. If this time doesn’t present itself immediately, don’t worry. If you need to tell your kids, roommates, or whoever is in your general vicinity to give you some alone time go right ahead! Putting aside time for yourself is important! Once you are alone in a peaceful, quiet place begin to focus on your breathing. Your breath serves as an anchor throughout this exercise. When you notice your thoughts beginning to wander, return your thoughts back to your breath and remember that you are living in this moment and no other. This is the time you become an observer of your thoughts, you are not your thoughts themselves. During this mindful meditation, there are several ways to remain in the moment. Here are some examples:

  1. Imagery
    To help ease any physical tension or anxiety, imagine a scene you find peaceful. For myself, I find peace in imagining a thick forest in the middle of autumn with a stream running through it. For others a peaceful image could be lying on a beach watching the ocean waves, or lying in a field of tall grasses watching the clouds drift by in the sky. Choose whichever scene appeals to you and please, be creative!
  2. Self-talk
    This part relates back to our tendency to be critical and judge ourselves. When you notice yourself thinking negative thoughts (for example: “this exercise is dumb”; “this will never work”; “I haven’t been able to relax before, therefore, I won’t be able to relax now”), notice and observe these thoughts, but then let them go.
  3. Body-mind connectionBe sure to check in with your physical self. Do you feel tension anywhere in your body? Do you tend to carry stress in your neck, shoulders, or hands? If you notice that a particular part of your body is more tense, use your breath as a tool. When you breathe in slowly and deeply, imagine that you are inhaling relaxation into that part of your body, and then, as you exhale, let go of that tension. Repeat this process as many times as you need to until your feel the tension in that part of your body melt away.

Once you’ve mastered the skill of mindfulness feel free to use it whenever and wherever! Since being mindful is a state of mind, you can access this state of mind in all kinds of situations – before a presentation, when driving in your car on your way to work, at a dinner party, when drinking your morning coffee, etc. Use this skill on a regular basis to reduce stress and increase relaxation in your life.