Mental Wellness and Self Improvement Blog
If you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, (OCD) and you are experiencing difficulty in getting yourself to adapt healthier behaviors in your life, there are no easy solutions. However, there is a solution, the solution is three part, defining what the problematic behavior is and picking an alternative and healthier behavior, understanding the genesis of the problematic behavior and learning and practicing how to get past your difficult emotions so you can practice your new behavior.
Defining what the problem is.
Let’s say you have a ritual with touching door knobs three times before entering any room. This is a problematic behavior because it is an oddity and people around you are bound to notice. Furthermore, the stressful urge that pushes you to engage in this behavior puts you in an anxious and stressful mood any time you enter any room, especially a room with a person or persons that you are required to engage with. Furthermore, it is also problematic as the obsession with performing this ritual prevents you from being present with others. So it stands to reason that the solution for this problem would be the opposite of what you are doing which would be two part, first that you no longer go through the awkward ritual of touching door knobs three times before you enter any room. Secondly, that you relive yourself from the strong mental urges to engage in such a ritual.
Understanding the Genesis of the problem.
From my experience in treating obsessive compulsive disorders, a commonality is usually a stressful childhood. The sufferer’s childhood was either blatantly abusive, such as physical abuse or covertly abusive, such as emotional abuse. Usually when someone suffering from OCD or any other type of mental health issues insists that they had a great childhood, they often will immediately contradict themselves in reporting on stories and experiences that the average person would consider to be terrible. Regardless, when an adult or child is chronically exposed to a stressful situation for which they lack the cognitive skills to properly address, the consequence that follows is usually the development of some type of mental health illness. Clinical evidence of this can be attributed to a research study where University of Berkeley researches showed that chronic exposure to stress leads to long term changes in the brain which the researches argue predisposes people to mental illness. Regardless, from a place of understanding and forgiveness, it is beneficial to explore any and all past traumas, big and small and understand how they have shaped you and influenced your problematic behaviors.
Practicing how to get past your difficult emotions.
So now you have defined what the problematic behavior is, and you have successfully explored how you came about developing this maladaptive behavior, there remains one major problem. This problem is getting past your strong urges and feelings of anxiety to engage in the problematic behavior in this first place. OCD is the result of brain damage, primarily to the basal ganglia. While biological infections have been known to cause damage to the basal ganglia, a common cause for such a damage would be atypical neurological wiring. Such atypical wiring can be attributed how a person lacking the cognitive skills to deal with a prolonged stressful situation, adapts with unhealthy behaviors which work in the short term.
A good example would be learning to read others for signs of anger, irritation or moodiness. This leads to a belief fallacy that the person can control others based on their astute observations of others and it also leads to an underdevelopment in assertiveness skills, in which the person unintentionally recreates familial stress in their lives by walking on egg shells around others and getting into personal relationships with difficult people. In most cases, people who suffer from OCD report a false feeling of having control over the situation when they engage in their rituals.
Regardless, having become armed with the knowledge of how their daily behavior influences their neurological wiring, most suffers from OCD become motivated towards practicing their alternative and desired behavior in response to emotional urges to engages in old rituals. For best results I would recommend OCD suffers to work with an experienced cognitive behavioral therapist.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
The number one obstacle for people accomplishing any measure of change in their lives is the belief that they should be comfortable. The problem with always feeling comfortable is that it takes away your will to strive for any measure of accomplishment, in getting your needs and values met. When you are comfortable, you no longer have a sense of urgency to address challenges in your life and make the necessary changes. This is not to suggest that you must always be in a state of urgency to accomplish change in your life, but it does mean that if there any changes you want to make in your life, it is a mistake to wait to get to a state of comfort before you begin practicing change. If you wait to get to a place of comfort, you will simply revert back to old behaviors.
Feelings of discomfort are actually an evolution advantage; in that they motivate us towards taking action. For example, a hungry stomach will motivate you to get some food for yourself, however if you are surrounded by delicious junk food which influences your health for the worse, once you have satisfied your hunger with the junk food, you become less motivated towards acquiring and preparing for yourself healthier foods that will benefit your health. This is because the latter is more time consuming and requires significant effort.
In order to exercise the change, you need in your life, you will need to adopt a mindset where you come to appreciate all feelings and sensations as helpful. This means that even when you experience feelings of discomfort, you come to see these feelings as messages from your brain and body. These messages can be about things either going your way or things not going your way. When greeted with feelings that communicate any measure or severity of discomfort, ask yourself why you feel this way and then make a commitment to attend to the message without seeking to alleviate yourself from the discomfort. Often times this commitment can be made in writings. Over time, you will become more tolerable of uncomfortable feelings and more skilled at attending to the daily challenges in your life which require you to exercise change.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
It is not uncommon for me to run into a potential client who is seeking to change a detrimental habit. The habit can range anywhere from issues with procrastination to substance abuse. In the process of gathering more information from the client. I encounter a pattern of unhealthy thinking and behaving that is prevalent in all areas of the clients’ life.
Upon bringing this to the attention of the client, I receive a response that the only thing he or she wants to work on is changing the specific habit they complained about, and nothing else. Well, this is a problem, because everything about us is interwoven. This means that while we are working on cognitive strategies to change thoughts and behaviors regarding the identified behavior, the client continues to engage in his established pattern of thinking and behaving in other areas of his life, which only reinforces the bad habit he wants to change.
The idea that we can departmentalize our behaviors is a misunderstanding, A misunderstanding because some people experience significant success in some areas of their lives than other areas of their lives. The simple reason for this is because in the areas they have experienced more success, they invested more time. Regardless, if you are experiencing negative consequences due to chronic detrimental behavior you engage in, it is based on your mindset, or simply put, an unhealthy mindset you adhere to. This means that for people who struggle with unhealthy behaviors, while simultaneously experiencing success in another area of their life, then they have experienced that success in spite of their unhealthy mindset. Furthermore, in the absence of the identified unhealthy mindset, they would achieve even more success in the area or areas they are already excelling in.
Ultimately, the ability to identify a need to change, and the preference to cherry pick what type of change will occur, is a primitive instinct. Meaning that we want to experience positive changes in our lives with little cost or sacrifice.
It is also important to note, that for those who embrace focusing on the whole versus the parts, the process of changing your entire life is counter intuitive in that you only focus on your mindset and become cognizant on when and how you practice change in all areas of your life.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
I recently came across an article regarding a neuroscientific intervention for sleep paralysis. What I find fascinating about the article is the heavy reliance of mindfulness and meditation the neuroscientist prescribes for sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis occurs when you find yourself awake but unable to move. This lack of movement can last from several seconds to a few minutes as the sufferers’ experience sheer terror and agony in their inability to move their bodies. In some cases, people who suffer from sleep paralysis also experience hallucinations, most commonly reported is a shadowy presence in the bedroom.
The four steps for regaining control of one’s body during sleep paralysis are:
- Reappraisal of the meaning of the attack
- Psychological and emotional distancing
- Inward focused-attention
- Muscle relaxation
Step 1, “reappraisal of the meaning of the attack” is another way of saying that you should give the attack another label. The idea of waking up from sleep without the ability to move is so terrifying for most people that some sufferers develop extreme anxiety about going to sleep in the first place. For some people they spend the entire experience of their paralysis in a state of fright until they are able to move again. This leads to learned dread and a host of other issues. By relabeling the paralysis, you begin to experience a shift in your perception of what’s going on. For example, if you found yourself in this situation, you could tell yourself that you are experiencing a phenomenon that occurs in 20% of the population and is temporary.
Step 2, “psychological and emotional distancing” means that you should practice adopting an objective view of the situation. Since you have already told yourself that this is something 20% of population already experiences and is temporary, you should readily observe that your feelings of fright and panic are understandable but irrational.
Step 3, “inward focused-attention” this means that you should practice positive thinking. The author of the article recommends focusing on a loved one or a positive event. I would recommend you envisioning yourself getting out of bed and walking about. A mindset that can help with this vision is to inform yourself that while your mind is awake, your brain and your body haven’t yet received the signal to awake and move and are merely playing catch up. So soon you will be out of the bed and walking about.
Step 4, “muscle relaxation” from what clients who have struggled with sleep paralysis have told me, while they may not be able to move, they discover that there are aspects of their body that they can still control, such as their breathing and their ability to flex certain muscle groups. As tempting as it may be, forcing yourself to move only worsens the experience. Instead you are recommended to practice easy breathing and relax your muscles, by doing this you are adopting an attitude of acceptance towards the entire situation, which reduces the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack during the paralysis and shortens the duration of the paralysis.
The more people are able to successfully practice these steps during sleep paralysis, the less dread and anxiety they will have about sleeping, which in all likelihood will reduce the frequencies of the sleep paralysis.
This is the link to the article.
Ugo is a therapistand professional life coach.
“A friend of mine was learning how to swim, when he suddenly felt he was starting to drown. He began splashing wildly about when his instructor told him to stand up. Much to my friend’s relief and embarrassment, he discovered he was okay.”
Anxiety is based on primal fear, and primal fear is based on the idea of not having enough. Not having enough of your basic needs met and perishing before you reach a ripe age, not having not enough social support and being vulnerable, and the list could go on. The point is that when we are struggling with anxiety our mindset operates on the idea of scarcity. When we think from a place of scarcity, we are fearful, we are timid, we are excessively selfish, we are desperate and hurried in our decision making. The mind of the anxious person is irrational, like the story of my friend learning how to swim and pessimistic, picture yourself at noon in the middle of any desert during the summer months with less than a quarter of warm water left in your canteen.
The anxious person does not take any risk, because he operates from a place of what he might lose as opposed to what he might gain. This leads to a self fulfilling prophesy, where like the unfortunate hiker in the middle of the desert, the anxious person is careful about not exerting too much energy, least they might end up losing the little they have left.
By now the answer may have become obvious to you, to rid anxiety visualize yourself having enough of what you need. So once my friend learned that he was in the shallow end, he exercised more courage in his swimming lessons. So in essence, his level of safety was enough. Or you can also practice imaging yourself as a hiker with enough water to last you to the next well or tap.
How the mental practice of visualizing yourself easily getting your needs met, is not enough. This is because people who struggle with anxiety, have experienced anxiety for most of their lives. This means that for most of their lives, their brains have become wired to think in regards to scarcity. So they have become habituated to thinking in regards to timidity, desperation and primitive survival instincts. The good news is that our brains are malleable, meaning that it is never too late to learn new ways of thinking and doing.
There are cognitive behavioral strategies you can learn and implement which would make your practice of visual exercises fruitful. Here’s one, start small. Visualize yourself engaging in a small challenge, which you have passively dreaded due, to your perception of the risk to reward ratio, or your lack of confidence in yourself. Create a plan to follow through with this small challenge in which you create a narrative which consists of the best possible scenario and outcome for this challenge. Then when you are done engage in the challenge.
The mere process of your creating a plan for the challenge, rewires your brain to how you see the situation and increases your motivation to make you overcoming this challenge a reality. It is not uncommon for people to experience some emotional difficulty when practicing this exercise. These are usually due to past traumas. If you are experience difficulty completing this exercise due to difficult feelings you can’t get past, a therapist can help you process these difficult feelings and get you back on track.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a professional life coach.
The key attribute towards anger management is your ability to be emotionally resilient. Emotional resiliency means your ability to experience intense negative and anger provoking feelings with an attitude of receptiveness. As opposed to an attitude of re-activity where any experience of discomfort is met with an immediate action geared towards relieving a person’s self from feelings of discomfort.
Most people reading this would perceive reactivity to be an overt overreaction to feeling upset, such as screaming or resorting to physical aggression. While they would be right in their perception, reactivity is often very subtle and seldom recognized as reactivity even by the person being reactive.
An example would be a person feeling hurt and another person’s actions, quietly resolving to resort to retaliation through passive aggressive tactics. Another example would be a person feeling hurt by disappointment and quietly resorting to a place a shame. These subtle types of reactivity often result into the person engaging in some form of behavior that results in detrimental consequences for themselves and sometimes others around them.
In previous posts, I have discussed that the primary trigger for anger is a set of irrational expectations in regards to people, places and things. Therefore, emotional resiliency would mean that in order to be able to manage difficult feelings, all expectations in regards to how you want objective reality to be, have to abandoned. Instead you will find that your experiences with negative feelings would be easier to manage and receive if you replaced your expectations of people, places and things with preferences.
With preferences, you will find that yourself becoming more flexible and tolerant towards situations not going your way. This does not mean that you will become a doormat and habitually take abuse, instead it means that after receiving your difficult feelings, you are better able to set your difficult feelings to the side and engage in problem solving from a place of clarity.
The process of emotional resiliency is easier said than done, but it is a rewarding process.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach
It is not uncommon for people to go through a period of difficulty in their lives, in which they find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings. They habitually ruminate about what could go wrong in their lives and what is currently going wrong in their lives, with no resolution in sight. A common symptom of this vicious cycle is poor sleep, this is because the brain remains active well into the night ruminating over anxious thoughts, preventing the anxious person from getting a good night’s sleep.
In this post I shall detail a three step process on how to bring an end to your anxious thoughts.
The first step is to write down your anxious thoughts on a piece of paper. This might be problematic since if you have multiple anxious thoughts competing for space in your mind. The solution to this is to start with one thought, usually the most pressing one. By writing down the anxious thoughts on paper, it helps you to put things into proper perspective, and removes the factor of becoming easily overwhelmed.
Now that you have your most pressing anxious thoughts on paper, write down the most realistic worst case scenarios for that anxious thought. It is best to limit your worst case scenarios to three. So take for example, in your place of work, your supervisor just announced that the company will be downsizing, and to make matters more worrisome a few of your coworkers have already been laid off. Your primary anxiety maybe your fear of losing your job. While your worst case scenario may by that you will lose your ability to support yourself and perhaps a family. The problem with ruminating over your fear of losing your job along with your ability to support yourself is that it will negatively affect your ability to fall asleep at night. If you fall into a pattern of getting by on less sleep than you are used to, your cognitive abilities and your body’s ability to produce energy will become impaired. Which may lead to your worst fears coming true due to reduced performance on your job.
The second step is to accept this problem as a part of your reality. Fundamentally this is the most challenging step in the process, as most people have hidden beliefs which dictate that they either “should not” suffer or are “above” suffering. One method of coming to place of acceptance with your situation is to write down on a piece of paper the following statement: “I accept this situation as is, this is my challenge and this is currently where I belong.”
Once you write this statement down, take ten slow breaths, breathing in through your nostrils and slowly exhaling through your mouth. Then pay attention to how you feel about the words you have just written down. If you find yourself still experiencing difficulty coming to a place of peace with these words, then you will probably benefit from working with a therapist to address what your core beliefs about challenges are.
If you find yourself feeling more peaceful with the primary thought which provoked feelings of anxiety for you, then you are ready to benefit from the next step.
Step three is about exploring solutions to your challenges. Notice the language has changed from anxious thoughts to challenges. This change will be seamless in your mind once you come to a place of acceptance about your worrisome thoughts. Now that you have written down your thought along with your worst fears and you have come to accept this as a proper part of your reality, exploring potential solutions is something that occurs spontaneously in your mind. In my professional experience, clients who come to a genuine place of acceptance with the challenges they experience will often come up with reasonable solutions on their own.
For example, reasonable solutions for the possibility of being laid off, is to review your spending habits, cut back on frivolous expenses, while beginning the process of exploring other job opportunities. It is amazing how clear our thinking becomes when we transition from a place of anxiety to a place of genuine calmness. Also, even if you are having a difficult time coming up with some solutions to what you are going through, it is important to remember that there exist people who have experienced the same types of challenges you have experienced before and subsequently found effective solutions to these challenges.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
So you have heard this many times before, when reporting about someone’s hostile interactions with you, you are advised not to take it personally. It’s good advice but how do you get there? As social, thinking and feeling beings, when we interact with others we come to seek feedback that mirrors our desires in the conversation. This leads to frustration when in return for our engagement in a conversation we receive hostile words and gestures.
The best way to understand this phenomenon is to visit this site and have a conversation with the Artificial Intelligence software called A.L.I.C.E. Having a conversation with the free to use A.I can be very frustrating if you came to the site with big expectations. By the third line into the conversation the A.I goes completely off topic, and then doesn’t return back to the conversation at hand. When you try to steer the conversation on a particular direction, the A.I responds to you as if this were the topic you both agreed to discuss. At times, the A.I might respond to you with provocative words like, “Whoa!” or insulting statements like, “You are an idiot.”
A similar phenomenon takes place with hostile people, you are engaged in what you determined initially to be a friendly conversation, or perhaps a routine conversation, and you are greeted with hostility. Your initially response might be confusion and anger, at which point you seek retaliation. Regardless of how you choose to respond, keep in mind that your intentions going into that conversation were never the same as the hostile person’s intentions. You intended for a peaceful conversation, and they intended for a hostile confrontation. It really isn’t personal, they were looking to have a hostile encounter with someone, anyone. So then it becomes irrational for you to take hostility personally. In some cases, the hostile person may insist that their hostility towards you is based on something about you that they find offensive. Even if the hostile person believes this, the truth is they were seeking out a hostile confrontation. It was never about you, you just happened to be someone who became available as a target. Furthermore, what keeps the hostile encounter going is your continued input. You working very hard to have a peaceful conversation, while the other person puts in half the effort into provoking you.
Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way in not taking things personal. The solution is simple, you disengage. If you are dealing with someone you have to deal with, you use verbal judo to throw them mentally off balance, state your boundaries and then disengage.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Our feelings serve to draw our attention to messages. These messages can be good, bad or indifferent. The intensity of the feelings serves as a call to how urgent we should attend to these messages. An analogy would be the mistaken act of burning your thumb on a hot stove, while cooking. The intense pain you would feel from this incident would be the nerve endings in your thumb, calling your attention to the fact that you are cooking your thumb. This would lead to you instinctively taking your thumb away from the hot stove, examine the damage and seek immediate relief from the pain. So in this analogy the pain would represent the feeling with the message being the burnt thumb.
To further expand on this analogy, the feeling of pain was a sensation produced by the properly functioning nervous system in response to a part of the body being exposed to excessive heat that was resulting in damage to that part of the body. So in essence the feeling was internally generated as a result of the incident. Given a similar analogy with the difference being a non working nervous system, there would be no pain which would most likely lead to permanent injury.
When you experience psychological feelings, it is a result of a proper functioning neurological network in response to a specific stimulus or stimuli. Feelings whether joy, sadness, indifference or rage exist to draw our attention to a message. The more intense the feeling is, or the more emotionally aroused you are the more urgent the message is. So if you receive good news, like the birth of a new family member, you would most likely experience feelings of joy. Your feelings of joy would draw your attention to the message that something important and good just took place in your life. Same thing if you go to work on Monday and you were let go, you would surely experience negative feelings which would draw your attention to something unpleasant and serious taking place in your life.
We generate our own feelings, as a result of the interaction between our beliefs and our experiences. So it sends a self defeating message when we hold others accountable for our feelings. The only way for another person to hurt us is to visit physical pain upon our person hood, however as far as hurt feelings are concerned, we simply experience pain when we perceive things are not going our way.
When we focus on the fallacy regarding how others hurt our feelings, we fail to attend to the message our feelings are sending to us and we emotionally regress to the mindset of infants, where there is a strong expectation that our feelings are supposed to be attended to by someone else. In this mindset we risk further exposing ourselves to more hurt, pain and shame which leads to a vicious circle.
The answer is unconditional acceptance of self with positive regard. You accept yourself unconditionally simply because you exist. Doing so allows you to get past difficult feelings and examine the messages they are trying to convey.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and professional life coach.