Learning to Love

As a clinical psychologist in New York City for the better part of the last decade I am acutely aware of the number of people presenting for treatment with “relationship issues.” Indeed, more often than not people come into my office and cite dating (“I never choose the ‘right’ people”), marriage (“things used to be so different between us”), divorce (“I worry about the impact on our kids”), family (“I can’t stand the people I live with”), heartbreak (“why does it still hurt so much”), feeling disconnected from their partner (“we used to talk all the time – now I feel as though we barely even communicate”), and, of course, love (“this pain [love loss] feels unbearable”) as primary reasons for their distress. Individuals present with their unique concerns and dilemmas despite the common themes inherent in each person’s narrative. This makes so much sense, as relationships are quite possibly (and certainly in this writer’s opinion – along with other, much smarter people) the most important thing we create in our time on this earth. After all, without relationships there is no love.

 

Love is a loaded word and an even weightier experience – as it can simultaneously be the source of both immense joy and indescribable pain. Why is it that love seems to cut so deeply in both directions? Well, we must consider that love is a complex concept that predates most experiences and has evolved over centuries. Love is a concept that is fluid and ever-changing, and it is one of the few concepts in this world in which the more one attempts to describe it the further away one gets from grasping and fully understanding it (like trying to hold tightly to a fistful of sand only to helplessly watch the individual grains slip through the cracks in your fingers). Some say that love is wild and cannot be tamed. Love has been the muse to many artists, the inspiration to countless singers/songwriters, and in some cases even the cause of war. Within our centuries on this planet, love may have proven to be the most elusive of human experiences. It’s no wonder then, that it has been the central concern to those in distress and often at the epicenter of both bliss and misery for so many.

 

When “relationship issues” or “love” is the reported concern upon meeting a client, I by no means act as if I am some sort of expert on the topic (no Casanova ‘round here); however, I am able to call upon the wise words of those who have been able to provide some solace and guidance to anyone hurt by relationships and pained by love. Thich Nhat Hanh, Bob Marley, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Drew, John Hughes, scores of poets, and countless others have all been kind enough to share their wisdom on the topic. My personal Love guru (and the wisdom I find myself sharing the most with my clients) happens to come from my favorite author – the whimsical and masterful Tom Robbins.

 

When the topic of dating or love comes up in conversation I find myself returning to the words of his most well-known novels in the hopes of providing a raft of salvation to those feeling lost in the sea of love (heartbreak and betrayal being the tidal waves and riptides in the vast ocean of human experience). The following quotes offer readers some insight into how one can create love and feel love’s immense power.

 

“We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.” — Tom Robbins – Still Life with Woodpecker

 

How many of us have spent time searching for Prince Charming/Princess Perfect? How many of us have missed out on meaningful relationships that were right in front of us because we were looking for the BBD (Bigger, Better Deal)? How many of us have infused hurtful, self-critical meaning into situations that did not work out as we had hoped? I know I’m guilty of it – just read through the margins of my high school notebooks, which are riddled with words of heartbreak and self-invalidation (“If I were only … then so-and-so would like me”). Why do we do this to ourselves? Do we really think there’s someone out there who is “perfect” for us? How would we even know when that person entered our life? It’s not as though they wear a sign alerting us to their existence. Thus, as Tom Robbins highlights for us, it may be prudent to have the mindset of “creating the perfect love,” and recognizing what you can contribute to that equation – whether with your current partner and/or with the next person to enter your life that makes you feel the way you would like to feel.

 

Which brings me to my second of Tom Robbins’ quotes:

 

“The highest function of love is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.” — Jitterbug Perfume

 

I view these words as a guide for how one may hope to feel when he/she/they enters into a deeply meaningful relationship where love is felt and can be cultivated. This holds true for romantic and platonic relationships alike, as feeling heard, important, respected, validated, “unique and irreplaceable” are such key ingredients to building a lasting, loving, significant relationship.

 

I leave you with the following words: when feeling crushed under a wave of heartbreak and pain, trust and respect yourself, listen to your inner wisdom, and, if still feeling lost, pick up a Tom Robbins’ novel and enjoy his whimsical means of infusing levity into the weighty concept of love.

 

 

By Jason Weingarten, Psy.D.

Clinical Psychologist

 

Fun Ways to Beat Stress

Fun Ways to Beat Stress

Sounds too simple?

You may be surprised but many psychotherapists often recommend pleasurable activities as a way of coping with low mood or stressful life events. Pleasurable activities provide more opportunities to feel pleasurable feelings (rather than feelings of anxiety and depression) and can be a great way to establish to break negative cycles or establish positive routines.

Here are some ideas to start off with:

  • Find out about something you’re curious
  • Read a book or watch a movie
  • Take a brisk walk
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Get a massage
  • Cook a meal
  • Play a game
  • Dance
  • Play with a pet
  • Take a yoga class
  • Go to a comedy club
  • Go to a museum
  • Take a nap
  • Wear an outfit that makes you feel good
  • Meet a friend
  • Journal your thoughts in the wayForward thought log

 

Obstacles to Fun

Stress and anxiety impact self-esteem, and not for the better. When you’re upset or anxious, you don’t have such positive thoughts about yourself. Some “maladaptive” or negative thoughts may be:

  • I’m useless
  • I don’t deserve to have fun
  • If anything, I deserve punishment
  • I’m not productive as it is — so I don’t have time for fun stuff

Remember these thoughts are not reality based. wayForward can help you become aware of these thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.

10 quick tips to beat everyday stress

10 quick tips to beat everyday stress

Let’s admit it. Life can be stressful. Jobs, relationships, family, and even a trip to the grocery store can be stressful. And when life demands pile up, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by even the smallest trigger.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), chronic stress can take a severe emotional toll and can be debilitating both psychologically and physically. Research has linked stress to illnesses such as heart disease, depression, and obesity. While stress is commonly experienced by the majority of Americans, only 33% have discussed ways of coping with health care providers.

There are simple things you can do to reduce your stress levels, both in the short-term and long-term. Here are some ideas to help tackle stress right now:

1. Breathe. Seriously! Many people inadvertently hold their breath when they’re stressed. Take five minutes, close your eyes, and only focus on the sound of your breath.

2. Take a hot bath. Stress can be emotional and physical. By changing our body’s physical state into a more relaxed one, we can also improve our emotional state.

3. Organize your closet or room. Shift your focus and still be productive. Organizing something also gives our mind a sense of control and mastery.

4. Go for a walk or jog. Changing the general atmosphere or scenery can change our perspective, giving our mind something different to process.

5. Call a friend or family member and talk about what’s bothering you. Research shows that social support is key to coping with stress.

6. Sit down and write a list of 25 good things about your life. Developing gratitude is important in building perspective and ultimately managing stress.

7. Read a book/magazine or watch a movie. While avoidance is not a long term solution, it can definitely be useful in the short term.

8. Talk to your religious leader/advisor and seek spiritual support.

9. Eat something. Many people skip meals when they’re stressed. Maybe your body is hungry and you can’t tell because of stress-induced “butterflies” in your stomach.

10. Explore wayForward relaxation techniques and practice exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Anxiety: Friend or Foe?

Anxiety: Friend or Foe?

Author: Ruby M, LMSW, MBA, Coach

Everyone I have ever met has felt anxiety at some point in their lives. Small children often feel anxiety when they are separated from a parent. Adults feel anxiety before giving a speech or going for an interview. In some cases, their anxiety can help them to prepare for the interview or rehearse the speech in advance – leading to a positive outcome. However, in other cases their anxiety might prevent them from doing well on the interview or speech. How can you tell what is normal, healthy anxiety versus anxiety that is problematic?

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, problematic anxiety can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work and relationships (Reference: NIMH). Among US adults, 18% suffer from an anxiety disorder annually and 29% will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime (See our anxiety facts blog). There are several types of anxiety disorders, but the primary symptom of problematic anxiety centers around irrational, excessive dread or fear that interferes with daily activities.

One of the most common forms of anxiety is social anxiety or social phobia. Social anxiety is characterized by:

  • Fear of being around or talking to other people
  • Fear of being judged by others
  • Feeling self-conscious around other people
  • Staying away from other people
  • Worrying for weeks or days prior to an event where there will be other people
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Shaking, sweating or blushing when around others

For those with social anxiety, every day events can cause uncalled for anxiety which interferes with daily functioning. Today, networking is one of the most important ways to get ahead at the workplace. Imagine how avoiding after work outings or holiday parties due to feelings of anxiety can effect career progress. Imagine sitting in a classroom and knowing the answer to a question, but not raising your hand for fear of judgement. Anxiety may be easy to ignore initially because the symptoms are rarely life threatening, but anxiety can have a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day quality of life.

The good news is that problematic anxiety can be treated. One of the key evidenced based treatment approaches for anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals identify harmful patterns of thinking that spiral into negative feelings and behaviors that, in turn, reinforce the original thought pattern in a vicious circle.

Let’s take a closer look at how this cycle might manifest itself through the story of Kate (actual name changed). Kate was bullied at school starting at a young age for reasons only 9-year-olds may know. As she grew up, Kate learned to avoid people she didn’t know for fear of being bullied. She assumed something was wrong with her and mostly kept to herself. As she grew older, Kate did not attend social gatherings or approach people for fear of rejection. Kate was rarely invited to parties and did not have many friends. Kate often looked at the handful of people she spoke with and the small number of events she was invited to as proof of her social impairments. “I wonder why I don’t have many friends; there must be something wrong with me”. This caused Kate to feel sad and anxious and further retreat from others in a vicious cycle. Now, let’s apply CBT to this situation:

 

Thoughts

Thoughts

Kate’s thought that there is something wrong with her originated from a young age when Kate was bullied in school (perhaps for being a good student).

Thoughts

Feelings

When Kate thinks this way, she feels inadequate, sad and anxious.

Thoughts

Actions

These feelings cause Kate to further isolate from others and avoid social situations – this is the action.

As a result, Kate continues to lack friendships or to be invited to social events. Using CBT, we can identify how Kate’s thoughts, feelings and actions reinforce each other. By challenging her thought patterns, CBT can help Kate to change her thoughts, feelings, and actions in a way that promotes positive outcomes.

Can CBT help you overcome anxiety? To find out, try wayForward app for free here. You’ll be guided through CBT techniques to help you manage and reduce anxiety associated with relationships, interviews, public speaking and social gatherings.

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