My Blog

Feelings: real, but not always true…

 

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Kassidy’s first day of camp/daycare!

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me and perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve thought about me, but the truth is I think of you all nearly every day. I begin my day motivated to write a blog entry and then by the time Kassidy (now 18 months) goes down for a nap in the afternoon other things suddenly seem more important. But today is the day. We are having quite an intense afternoon thunderstorm here in “sunny” South Florida(for those in California who have never experienced a southeastern summer thunderstorm it includes torrential downpour, flash flooding, thunder so booming my lights rattle and lightening that looks so close I fear we will go up in flames). In other words, it’s a perfect day to write.

In January, I began working at a treatment center treating eating disorders as well as various mental health issues for both adults and adolescents. I lead a variety of groups including yoga, mindfulness, expressive movement & art, process and meal support.

Most of my clients there have attempted suicide or have a loved one who has attempted or died from suicide. 

I recently learned that Kate Spade & Anthony Bourdain died as a result of suicide. I don’t know their personal stories, but I do know that, like my clients, they were struggling and hurting so badly that dying felt better than living with emotional pain.

This past year, I too, have experienced a great deal of heartache and emotional pain.  I have felt depressed, anxious, lonely, sad, angry, frustrated, jealous, obsessive, shame, guilt, despair and most of all homesick (for a place that I didn’t fully realize how much of a home it had become for me until I left – Pleasanton, CA).

What I am learning about feelings is that the more I feed them with thoughts, the more overwhelming they get and the longer they last. When I feel guilty, then I worry. When I feel worried, then I rationalize. When I feel overly rational and intellectual, then I get frustrated. When I feel frustrated, then I get anxious. When I get anxious….you get the picture right? When we feed our feelings with thoughts, the feelings snowball and become completely overwhelming. I then find myself stuck in a prison of really challenging & difficult emotions accompanied by harmful thoughts that take me further and further down the rabbit hole of negativity.

I recently learned that an emotion (one that isn’t charged and fueled with thoughts) passes in 90 seconds. 90 seconds?!!

I’ve witnessed this statistic in all its glory with my 18 month old. When she is angry because she is not allowed to hang off of the oven door (I know I’m such a strict mom) and I try to fix her feelings, it only makes matters worse.  But when I take a deep breath, offer gentle soothing and ultimately allow her to feel the anger, it quickly passes.

Of course, we are not toddlers. But let’s face it, when are really upset, don’t we sometimes throw adult-sized temper tantrums? We may use blame, rationalization or dramatization. We may become passive-aggressive, rigid or resentful. And to make matters worse, our sophisticated brain judges what and how we feel, which only leads to feeling guiltier and more ashamed.

I am learning that there are 3 strategies that work really well for me (when I apply them) to help me cope with my emotions.

3 Strategies for Letting the Feeling Pass:

  1. Feelings are real, but not necessarily true. I am often told, “Trust Your Gut.” But the truth is, my gut does not always know what’s best for me. In fact, my gut is often riddled with anxiety and fear. These feelings of anxiety, fear and worry, while very real, are not necessarily true. When I let emotions carry me away and guide me as if a true-north compass, I am often led into the “land of overwhelm”. Instead, I am learning that my feelings, while real, are not my only navigation system.
  2. It’s okay to use distraction, sometimes. Distraction often gets a bad rap and yet the art of distraction can be very helpful for grounding oneself when an emotion is trying to take over. The balancing act, of course, is not allowing the distraction to become a habit, but rather something that helps you ground in the 90 seconds or so that the feeling is trying really hard to sabotage your well-being. I’ve found that reading, listening to audible books and podcasts are incredibly helpful to keep me grounded. When I notice I’m slipping into worry which tends to lead to obsessing, planning and more worry, I really benefit from doing something completely “off topic” from whatever it is I am ruminating on. If it seems extremely really hard to think or do anything else other than focus on your feelings, then that probably means distraction is going to be a really helpful coping skill for you. Again, I’m not saying to use distraction for long periods of time or to allow it to become your only coping skill, but reading a book, watching 20 minutes of tv, or going for a walk will provide you the opportunity to let your emotions pass without an intervention or urgent change (that you will only regret later).
  3. Acceptance, then action. It’s okay that you’re angry, frustrated, excited, ashamed, sad, worried, etc. It is completely normal to experience a variety of emotions throughout the day. When you judge yourself for feeling a particular way, you only keep yourself stuck in a downward spiral. Instead, practice offering yourself an affirmation “It’s okay that I am feeling (x). I am okay even when I feel (x).”  When our only focus becomes accepting how we are feeling, the intensity of the feeling reduces fairly quickly. I have learned that when I experience an urgent need to act, fix, change or manage, it means I am reacting to an uncomfortable feeling by trying to escape, stuff or eliminate it. This knee-jerk reaction usually leaves me back-peddling out of regret, trying to change the change.  At other times, I’m left to clean up the emotional aftermath of my intense need to “do something”, which is usually feeling downright lousy. This is not to say that we never take action. Rather, we respond to our emotions with acceptance and once our more intense emotions have passed, we find ourselves with a clearer mind, a more open heart, a quieter body. It is from this space, that we can truly tap into our deep inner knowing, our body’s wisdom. This wisdom is not loud, it is not urgent, it is not overcome with anxiety or fear. It is also not excited or hyper. It is steady and yet flexible (just like our yoga poses – sthira/steady & sukha/ease).  Dropping into our body’s wisdom is anything but instant gratification. We get here through practicing awareness and acceptance fully & completely, no skipping ahead. Once we have taken the time needed to ride the natural wave of our emotions, coming down from the crest, then and only then can we take action that is satisfying.

I would absolutely love to hear from you and find out how you’re doing! What tools and techniques help you ground while your emotions are taking you on a surfing extravaganza?

If you are struggling with intense, difficult and overwhelming emotions and you’ve been thinking about reaching out for support – PLEASE DO IT NOW!  For crisis line help, Text HOME to 741741 in the US.  SUPPORT IS OUT THERE!

Register Now – BodyWisdom: A Guide to Eating & Living Intuitively

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My Blog

Eating is Messy

Eating – it’s something we have to do to survive and yet it often becomes so complicated. I remember when I started teaching yoga in the evenings around dinner time. I struggled with “When do I eat? Before yoga and risk feeling too full and uncomfortable in the poses? After yoga when I’m tired and just want to go to sleep?” My clients often struggle with when to eat as their busy daily schedule doesn’t always permit them to eat when they are hungry. When should I eat if I can’t eat when I’m hungry? 

The complexity of food timing often means that we eat when we are, in fact, NOT hungry.

Or worse – we eat for comfort, support, connection, love, healing…

As mindful & intuitive eating practices become more well-known and accepted, I fear the term “emotional eating” has become villainized. Intuitive eating encourages us to honor our hunger with food and honor our feelings without food. These are fantastic guidelines and, when possible, are quite beneficial in breaking a restrict/binge cycle.  Lately, however, I find myself cringing when I hear or read about the faultiness of emotional eating & and the rewards of mindful & intuitive eating. Often the promise is still steeped in the diet mentality. It reads something like this: If you follow this “wellness program”  you will feel better and “may” lose weight (but of course that’s not the goal because we don’t promote weight loss because we are a wellness program). Ah, sneaky sneaky.

The complexity of knowing when & why to eat only became more apparent for me when I had my baby girl, Kassidy (now 11 months!).  She is a strictly breast-fed baby (refused to take a bottle) and she seemed to nurse 24/7 for the first 3 months. The more I reached out to moms in real life, (not the internet) I discovered I wasn’t alone – most newborns nurse nearly constantly. But she can’t possibly be hungry ALL THE TIME?! As a new mom, I was now responsible for not only figuring out if I was hungry and when to eat, but now I had to figure out if my baby was hungry and when to feed her. I soon realized how completely defenseless this baby was and that I held all the power. If I deemed that she couldn’t possibly be hungry because she just ate, I would fight to find other ways to soothe, comfort, love and connect with her.  Sometimes it worked. Sometimes she kept crying for what felt like hours (but was probably 10 minutes) until I nursed her. She was doing the unthinkable, the forbidden – emotionally eating.

My baby spent nearly the first 8 months of her life emotionally eating. Of course, she was receiving necessary calories for growth, but most of the time she wanted the comfort, love, support and connection that accompanied nursing. (I strongly believe bottle fed babies have the same emotional attachment, but I don’t have personal experience). There are certainly “experts” who would argue that after 3 months (or even younger) that a baby should only eat for nutrients, but I think most would agree that a baby needing food for comfort is “normal” and “acceptable”.

I can’t help but wonder then, why is it okay for food to also provide love, soothing, comfort and connection in addition to nutrition when we are babies, but not as we get older? Why is emotional eating getting such a bad rap? The message we get from an early age is that it’s bad to eat for reasons other than hunger. When we “catch” ourselves emotionally eating, we are ashamed so we numb out and typically eat more than we would have to begin with because the guilt is overwhelming.

What if emotional eating could ALSO be mindful and intuitive? What if we didn’t have to choose between being emotional, mindful or intuitive?

GUIDELINES FOR BEING AN EMOTIONAL, MINDFUL & INTUITIVE EATER WITHOUT SHAME & GUILT
1) HONOR YOUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL HUNGER – Sometimes we aren’t physically hungry, but we still want food. Sometimes we are able to recognize that we are bored, so we engage in an activity or we are tired, so we sleep. BUT sometimes even when we aren’t physically hunger, we still really want to eat. If you aren’t physically hungry, but you want to eat, can you stay in the present moment and identify what it is that you are feeling without judgement?
2) ONCE YOU’VE IDENTIFIED WHAT YOU ARE FEELING, STAY HONEST WITH YOURSELF – Perhaps you are able to identify that you feel frustrated and you want to eat pretzels. You know you aren’t physically hungry for pretzels, but you still really want pretzels. Instead of denying yourself pretzels, give yourself full permission to eat the pretzels because you are frustrated. You may even say out loud “I am eating pretzels because I am feeling frustrated” or “I feel frustrated, I want pretzels”. This is so important because you aren’t checking out, numbing out, or using food as a weapon. You are staying present with what you are feeling and being intentional in your choice to eat. Stay connected to the part of you that is needing something. If you are eating brownies because you are sad and need to feel loved – stay connected to the part of you that needs to feel loved and acknowledge it fully.
3) CONTINUE TO OFFER YOURSELF PERMISSION, COMPASSION AND ACCEPTANCE – Remind yourself that eating while NOT hungry is okay. Eating isn’t destructive – denying that you are eating and denying your feelings is destructive.  You deserve love, compassion and acceptance. You have permission to eat whatever you want without fear. Sometimes a bubble bath, a hug, a walk, a call to a friend is exactly what we need when we are experiencing difficult emotions. But the honest truth is sometimes the answer is food. Notice when you give yourself permission to have whatever you want, if it’s easier to stay present with what you are feeling – whatever you are feeling in that moment. Continue to offer yourself compassion and acceptance, and you may find you are free from shame and guilt, thus allowing yourself to avoid a binge/restrict cycle.
Eating is complex. Eating is complicated. Eating is messy. But it is also joyful, pleasurable, fun, soothing, comforting & nourishing for the body and soul. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to eat. Eating isn’t a punishment nor is it punishable. Our relationships to food are emotional – let’s not pretend that they aren’t and then be surprised when we eat for comfort.  You are an emotional being – there will be times when you eat for some reason other than hunger. Practice patience, kindness and acceptance and you will find exactly what you are hungering for physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

PS I am currently offering a free BodyWisdom Coaching Session. Contact me to set up your free session – sessions are done over the phone so you can live anywhere!