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Suicide Awareness

So many times, too many times, I have heard a mental health professional encourage a person with suicidal thoughts to remember they are not alone. I always cringe at this prompt. Unfortunately, that’s the exact critical point, when we feel so despondent and in pain, we can’t remember we are not alone. 

Even for someone that is acutely aware of suicide, like me due to the nature of my daily work, suicide awareness week is still a chance to reflect. I am reflecting on how many times in my personal and professional life I have been touched by suicide. Reflecting on how deeply I wish none of us were touched. Reflecting on how often I ask someone, “when was the last time you wanted to die” and the answer is, “I do at this moment.”  

It is painful how painful life is. It is painful that some lives are so full of pain and sorrow. It is painful that so many among us feel that there is no other choice but to end the pain and suffering.

In this suicide awareness week, let us decide to reach out and build a connection with those who have too much pain and not enough support. Each of us reach out to someone. Connection sometimes feels like an option to someone that has nothing and no one. We can be that for someone else, and sometimes that is enough. It can’t be up to them to remember they are not alone – it is up to us to remind them – as we would want to be done for us.  

As a culture, it is not enough to simply individually reach out to our suffering community members. We, as a community, have to reduce the stigma of mental health challenges and – more specifically – suicidal thoughts and feelings. It must become our collective mission to speak more openly about mental health, as a continuum rather than a label. To save lives and increase wellbeing –  we each must do our part to speak openly and publicly about our own mental health journeys. This important responsibility falls, especially, on those of us in positions of power and privilege. This uncovering will make us all safer because it is only a matter of time before every one of us as part of this predictably painful life goes through a phase of suffering. 

  1. Suicidality is not an us and them thing. We all suffer and at different levels at different times.  
  2. Suicidality has nothing to do with weakness or strength and everything to do with connection and choices.
  3. We must reduce stigma individually, as families and systems, and fully as a culture to save lives.
  4. We must shift our understanding of suicidality as it is on the continuum of mental health that we are all on.
  5. We must increase kindness to others and check ins. People use the strangest justifications for determining their worth when they are in pain. Something we perceive as small can mean everything to another if they are suffering, both positively and negatively.  
  6. We must teach our kids what to do when they feel low for the purposes of training self-soothing as recovery is a part of life and needs to be practiced in small doses starting early to build resiliency.

Anxiety management on re-entering

Over the last several months, I have been observing an upward trend in folks reaching out for support around management of anxiety. Historically, anxiety and depression have always been the two most common reasons for self-referral for therapy.¹ However, recently, anxiety has seen an even greater uptick in requests for therapy.

Anxiety has been more present, more palpable, and less acceptable2 for many of us as the world re-opens. At the height of the pandemic, we were already worried about death & dying, illness, lack of resources, finances, racial justice issues, political concerns, stability, relationship sustainability, rules/guidelines, other’s integrity, and our ability to survive. Now we are carrying that experience of deepened worry with us as we try to re-enter the world. A world where many of us had functioned without these existential worries previously due to privilege or luck – With these new existential worries, we feel nervous.

You might see anxiety in yourself when:

  • Going into a restaurant or grocery store for the first time, and no one is wearing a mask.  
  • Friends ask you to socialize with them or ask you to resume some of your community responsibilities. 
  •  Your loved ones or partner seems unphased by nervousness and trepidation and you feel worried about being worried.  
  • Your child’s daycare informs you that your child has a runny nose and then is not allowed at school. 

You might be nervous about all of these experiences and more.

This is expected and EXTREMELY NORMAL right now. Countless people are reaching out wanting to talk about how nervous and frightened they feel and how frustrating that anxiety is given we have been waiting for this phase for more than a year.  

There are reasons for this anxiety, and it is valid. Our brains try to survive perceived threats when they feel shock and unfamiliarity. That is what has kept us surviving through uncertain, dangerous, and unprecedented times. It is also the mechanisms that make us feel unsafe when we are resuming our “normal”lives, even though at one point our lives were always full of the elements we can begin to enjoy again.

This phase may not be comfortable or feel pleasurable, but we are going to survive it.  Rest assured – it is a phase – and something else will come next. If we care for ourselves through adversity we grow and develop from it. That we know and our brains can be certain of.

  1. Understand that we are passing through an experience and the sooner we recognize it will change, we will progress.
  2. Be available to internal experiences of nervousness, fear, anxiety, and panic.  Those feelings tell us something about ourselves and the moment.
  3. Be prepared to feel discomfort in situations you believe you should be comfortable.  Anxiety does not function the way we believe it should, that’s what makes us nervous.
  4. Be kind to yourself.  The fastest way to increasing our anxiety is by telling ourselves we should not be anxious.
  5. Get help from others that understand.  Express to those that you feel emotionally safe around how you are feeling and be open to them checking in on you.
  6. Take breaths at the peaks and valleys of anxiety.  We have to remember these are moments not lifestyles and the best way for our bodies to remember that is to inhale/exhale thoughtfully.  


  1. (Side note, from my perspective, those anxiety/depression experiences are often related to experiences of psychological trauma and if we work on the trauma we work on the anxiety/depression)
  2. Anxiety is 100% acceptable, BUT the anxiety we are feeling FEELS less acceptable because many of us have been looking forward to the re-opening. We have not been preparing ourselves for how hard it will be. We have been focusing on how good it will feel. Anxiety is more prevalent but for those of us who have believed throughout the entire pandemic that re-emergence will solve everything, having anxiety right now feels like something we are confused, shocked, and caught off guard by, making it FEEL less acceptable. The hardest part about anxiety is that it gets bigger the more we try to talk ourselves out of it. Thus placing people in uncomfortable positions because we do not feel that it is valid given we are “supposed” to feel happy and calm about re-emergence. 

A Conversation with Trauma

Onlookers have often commented, after observing me support a person in crisis, that they can’t understand how my words de-escalated the situation. There is often confusion and disbelief.  This has happened countless times. There have even been people that wondered out loud if I am hypnotizing people. The true answer is that many years of practice and learning from copious hours of de-escalation, have yielded these tools that I utilize every time.   

Speaking to people in crisis is a skill that can be acquired over years of practice (in my case), but it can also be taught. We all need to be regulated at some point, and in turn, we will all need this skill to provide to another. As a community we need to do better at de-escalating conflict rather than inciting it. We all need these skills. We need to find commonality across the divide. One of the most effective skills to do that  is by keeping communication regulated.

As you consider this, I want you to remember that the vast majority of escalation can be attached to a few feelings.  It may look like anger, but it is not.  The feelings that drive psychological crisis are fear, panic, shame, threat, and sometimes embarrassment.  These are the feelings we have to speak to.  As you might imagine there are a few responses that never work with these feelings: judgment, patronization, authority, condescension, shock, disgust, and opposing fear.

To soothe the crisis, we have to talk to the psychological trauma that usually takes the form of fear, shame, threat, panic, and embarrassment.  The only way to talk to the trauma is to recognize and then quiet it (make it smaller) for the person through validation, compassion, care, and soothing.  In my experience, even though our gut sometimes tells us to confront the trauma, there is no way for one person to talk someone in crisis out of their trauma by confrontation or conflict.  When we dismiss, invalidate, or confront, we are essentially saying to the trauma, “I can’t see you, get bigger.”  We have to “see” it, join with the trauma, stand with the trauma, get close enough to feel it, and believe in it.

Trust only grows, when the other person believes we believe them.  When trust grows,  we can challenge a person’s crisis by offering an opportunity to stop being in crisis. Then and only then, can we talk to the trauma while simultaneously offering an alternative solution to the trauma, , for example, healing.  

Tips for talking to ‘Trauma’

  • Ensure that the other is feeling heard
  • Give and take in communication fairly
  • Define your own personal boundaries and put words to them
  • Do not attend to the details, this is about communication, not facts.  Care before facts.
  • Stay calm and steady, regardless
  • Take breaks when needed but agree when you will come back to the table
  • Assume the other is trying their hardest
  • Continue to weave in that you are on the same team
  • Listen closely for what the other really wants

Holiday Try Not To’s:

  • Try not to show up and just hope for the best….with no plan.
  • Try not to engage in conversations and/or topics that you know are challenging for you and for others around you.  We know what they are, we have to be better at disengaging or walking away.
  • Try not to have high expectations that the experience will correct or make up for past holiday experiences that were less than.
  • Try not to control how other people behave around you during the holidays.  
  • Try not to forget to breathe
  • Try not to forget to take time before, during, and after the holiday experience to regulate your feelings.  It is much easier to make good choices and stick to a plan when we are feeling calm enough, focused enough, joyful enough.
  • Try not to spend the holiday making other people feel good, focusing on other peoples needs, ensuring others’ joy.
  • Try not to stay in a conversation, feeling, experience or moment in the holiday that you know is not serving you.  Take a step back, even if just for a moment.
  • Try not to forget to hydrate, rest before and after the holiday, and stay fueled.
  • Try not to overuse any substances like sugar, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, prescriptions medicine.
  • Try not to do it alone.  Everyone needs help sometimes, and holidays are no different, we need to choose our “buddy” who will help us through it.

This post will not be titled, “holiday don’ts”. When we tell ourselves NOT to do something that we have always done, sometimes it creates additional pressure and disappointment when we fail to achieve change. We want to, instead, have a perspective of reducing the choices that are not serving us and diminishing the patterns that we no longer need rather than zero tolerance.  That way, we can incrementally move toward change rather than having unreasonable expectations and dashed hopes.  

The conversation then becomes, “holiday try not to’s”.  Holidays, regardless of which and when, can bring about big feelings in us.  Those big feelings are normative and natural when placed in an environment where our past family patterns prevail.  There are many other reasons the holidays can bring about big feelings.  Sometimes topics can come up that arise differing perspectives on emotional stances like religion, culture, money, relationships, politics, and charged decisions.  The holidays are also a time that we have high expectations for positive experiences combined with nostalgia and sentimentality which sometimes is a recipe for disappointment.  

To successfully navigate this landscape, dotted with emotional landmines, we want to plan ahead and strategize.  The following list is longer than I usually create for a blog bullet point summary, but I am doing that on purpose.  I want you to have A LOT of different possibilities to choose from, as many of them will not work for you.  We have to practice and try new things to determine what the right unique and individualized plan is for each of us.Remember, this is hard work and we need to have a reasonable expectation for incremental and phased change rather than perfection.  Holidays would not show up as challenging for most of us if there was not substance to the adversity.  First and foremost, as we try out new strategies and solutions, we need to be extra kind and compassionate to ourselves as learning is much easier when we manage our expectations.

Some of us work better trying to avoid engaging in patterned behavior rather than trying to do something new – read how below:

Holiday Do’s:

  • Take breaks throughout the experience, even if it is just shutting your eyes and taking a breath, leaving the room for a minute or two, or sitting quietly.
  • Manage your expectations before, during, and after the holiday about the experience.
  • Create your own joy and let it spread rather than wishing others would be joyful.
  • Determine before the holiday which topics you want to engage in and which you don’t.  Come up with a plan of what to do when the topics come up that you are not going to engage in.
  • Know who your buddy/buddies are in the experience so you can reach out for support and help, if you need to.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Achieve good rest before the holiday experience.
  • Moderate substances that serve you and abstain from substances that you know will not be supportive of your success.
  • Remember that our senses are always gathering information and we need to smell, taste, touch, hear, and see positive elements to make our environment healthy and pleasurable.
  • Remember that holidays can be something we didn’t think they were going to be, but that might also be an opportunity for goodness. 

Many times in my work with clients, they ask me about the holidays. The holidays, whatever and whenever your celebration occurs, can be difficult as they often bring up feelings that are deep and hibernating. It is important to plan for this and strategize, because if left to its own devices, our brains prefer familiarity rather than change and we can readily slip into old patterns. To prevent this automatic regression, we have to plan, strategize, rehearse, and come up with contingency plans to enact if we feel like we are sliding.

Remember, some of us work better trying to achieve something rather than trying not to do something.  Some of us work better trying to avoid engaging in patterned behavior rather than trying to do something new (use the link below, if the latter is you). Some of us need to have both plans for the best opportunity for success.

For those of us that need a plan for how to do something different, the most useful and important tool for changing behavior is being kind to ourselves while we are doing the work. It is far easier to change behavior and learn from experiences if we are being kind to ourselves throughout the process.

In the list below, I will include some of the tools and strategies that I am working on this year. Some of the strategies my clients have shared with me throughout the years, some I hope to work on next year, and some I wish my loved ones would work on.

Some of us work better trying to avoid engaging in patterned behavior rather than trying to do something new – read how below:


When I am instructing breath work, there is a phrase I often use on the exhale, “and on your next exhale, letting go of anything that is not serving you.” The exhale is a metaphor for releasing and surrendering the experiences and feelings that we no longer need. The planning we need to do is how we can actively and intentionally release our experiences and feelings when we can let them go.

Releasing is a process by which we make space and energy for the tools that are more effective. For example, when our friends say they have other plans or are already busy, we let the pattern go of feeling neglected or abandoned and practice a new pattern of feeling happy for them that they have full lives.  For example, when we feel big feelings about something that happens at work, we actively and intentionally let those feelings go rather than going home to pour a larger than usual glass of wine.

Exhaling happens naturally and automatically, releasing and surrendering does not.  We need to plan for how this best happens for us, what environment, what tools, what people best facilitate our letting go.  We need to complete this active and intentional planning process when we feel strong and secure, rested and rejuvenated, with energy and calm.  This planning process doesn’t happen easily when we are already experiencing stress or escalation. Yes, we need a trigger to activate our plan of letting go, but our plan of letting go needs to be in our back pocket and ready in waiting.

Currently, I am working on using music and my commute to exhale (let go). I am understanding that music speaks to my soul and I have designed playlists for certain experiences of letting go. The drive helps too.  I am also in the process of planning for moments of activation and trigger at work by looking ahead at my schedule and seeing what meetings and experiences are coming toward me that will be activating. When I find them, I build a small cushion around them to prepare, but more importantly to let go afterwards. 

This letting go (exhaling) process looks differently for all of us. We are rhythmic people. We need a pattern in order to feel better. Our brain is soothed by familiarity and sameness and can calm by practicing a letting go process that we have engaged in over time. Our brain is not built to let go of stressors or experience automatically but rather we need to engage in a thoughtful plan of release and surrender.

  1. This process of planning is never a waste of time. It is always valuable to prepare for the next stressor and how to let go of the experience in the most effective way.
  2. We will not always hit the mark.  Even when we plan, we may sometimes miss the target. In these situations grace and compassion are the most important self-care interventions.
  3. We are not built for letting go, so we need to create a plan to implement as releasing is not an automatic.
  4. Our brain loves and craves rhythm and routine and familiarity. Once we create a plan, we need to practice it over and over again to make it stick.


We know that the practice of breathing can calm, invigorate, soothe, and ground us. Breathing is a tool. It is also a metaphor. Inhaling is a process by which we bring life force into our being. Although this process is an automatic response that our physiology continues to take care of for us, nourishing ourselves in other ways must become intentional.  

We need to generate a practice for ourselves that is unique and individualized to fill up, pour into, and refill ourselves. This is because life is depleting, especially right now… for most of us. The drawing in of resources is an action/plan to address the constant putting out of energy, time, love, and care for those around us. The alternative to pre-planning and then executing an individualized care plan for times of energy depletion is that eventually our body takes over and shuts us down when we have given too much over too long a period of time with no refill.

Inhaling reminds us that we must draw in and not just give out.  

We all need to bring in. We all need to inhale, figuratively, and metaphorically. This bringing-in is to build our energy reserves, build internal self-trust, create self-esteem, soothe personal tender spots, and show up for ourselves. These skills are the same as the ones that giving out energy does for all those we care about.

The bringing in and nourishing needs to be a plan that satisfies many different buckets of fulfillment, emotional, physical, spiritual, community, environmental, psychological. When it feels challenging to know how to build our own plan, we can look toward these buckets and dig deeper to figure out solutions.  We have to ask ourselves the hard questions and find the hard answers.  How do I feel more spiritually filled? How do I plan to care for my emotions when they grow big? What will build the sense of community and belonging in me?

The hardest piece in building a plan for drawing resources and energy is implementing the plan.  To ease implementation challenges, we want to make our inhaling (drawing in resources) plan as specific and applicable as possible. Think of small victories rather than shifting perspectives or patterns. Think micro movements rather than changing a lifestyle. Think increases or decreases rather than zero tolerance.

Personally, I have started to join a few social activities that send my brain messages that I have a community. I began to take time to walk outside and enjoy the weather and stop to take pictures of beautiful natural experiences so I can review them when I need to remember the beauty of the earth around me. I have begun to honor more when I am disappointed (a feeling I have always ignored and pushed through). I have even begun to lift a few weights here and there.

When building an inhaling plan, remember this:
  1. Drawing-in is not a plan to fix everything overnight. It is a plan for replenishing and nourishing that can be implemented when we are able to practice permission for self-care.
  2. When we are skilled at taking care of others, all we need to do for ourselves is apply those same skills to ourselves by first practicing the piece of the plan that allows us to acknowledge our own needs and humanity.
  3. This is a process over time, not a product.
  4. We need to nourish in all the buckets, psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, natural, environmental, community.
  5. The most important aspect to this purposeful and intentional plan of self-care and filling up is grace and compassion for ourselves throughout. This is new for some of us and will be challenging.

Dealing with Disappointment

We just can’t always get what we want. That is a natural occurrence of being human, and for some of us that is the majority of our life and for others the minority of our life. For most of us, we are somewhere in between, where we sometimes achieve or receive what we want, and sometimes we don’t.  

Many of my clients come to me, not with the initial disappointment, but the maladaptive/unhealthy way they have coped with that disappointment and the consequences of those choices. One of my favorite tools to work with little children on is how to deal with disappointment, because it will serve them, their loved ones, and our community for the rest of their lives. Once we wrangle disappointment in a healthy manner, we can face humanity and the adversity that goes along with it, in a much stronger, more effective way.

Disappointment makes us want to react, quickly. To squash the feeling, so we don’t have to feel it. Some of us drink alcohol, some of us exercise excessively, some of us lash out, some of us freeze and become immobile with disappointment. In my experience, if there is no plan for how to cope with disappointment, we do the fastest, most convenient, rapid eradication of feelings. There has to be a plan in preparation for our next moment of disappointment, because it is coming, life always presents us with that, we can be certain.

Our plan should include a moment of validation first. Without validating for ourselves we are disappointed, sometimes we skip to reaction because we quickly try to avoid dealing with feeling badly so we make it disappear and tell ourselves we are “fine”. It makes sense why this would feel like the most effective choice, except we can’t actually make it disappear, it just gets dismissed (for a finite period of time, only to return again and compile).

After we validate by acknowledging how we feel, we have to take some time to reflect. It doesn’t have to be a long “sitting in the feeling” sort of reflection, it can be fairly brief. We need to ask ourselves, 

“What happened?”  “Why do I feel disappointed?”  “Where am I feeling it?”  

Once we have that information we will be much better at applying the right tools in our plan to cope.

After we answer those questions for ourselves, then we are ready to use our brains to think about the plan we have created for disappointment, response, and readiness. 

“What tools do I know work?”  “Which tools do I have access to?”  “Which can I apply to alleviate my feeling of disappointment?”  “Can I activate my plan to soothe myself or invigorate myself to solve?”  “What will my plan do?”  

Once we have thought through this evaluation, we can begin to actually respond and react.  

Then we want to apply a strategy and see what happens.  

“How does it change our disappointment?”  “What do I feel and where in my body?”  “How’s my level of disappointment?”  “What do I need to do next…sit for a while in this to see what occurs or add a next level of application?”

Lastly, we need to monitor. Disappointment is a fickle feeling. It feels like it is gone and then it crops up again at the most inopportune times. It feels like we dealt with it, and then it doesn’t. Disappointment feels like we are in charge and then, with no rhyme or reason, we are not at all. To combat this, we need to monitor ourselves. Take our own temperature and see when we are most vulnerable to being disappointed or re-disappointed. If we can get in front of the feeling, it is always easier to manage, and disappointment is not different.

Finding A Trusted Person

For a large portion of my life, I believed I had to make relationships work with those that wanted to be in a relationship with me. Family, friends, acquaintances, they chose me and I adjusted, adapted, and accommodated to their needs to make myself amenable. Then I met my best friend. She was one of my roommates freshman year in college and looking back, she was the best part of those 4 years and remains the main reason I think I ended up at that school. I remember knowing, as soon as I looked into her eyes, she was trustworthy.

It is hard to remember how I knew that, it has been so long. That first glance, though, mattered very little in the actual formation of trust. That took time, meltdowns, celebrations, heartbreak, deep talks, and life in general; over and over again. She always has and will always continue to show up when I need her. Even when I don’t, I know that in every cell of my being – I can trust her with my secrets, my needs, my guilt, and my shame, with my heart.

I chose her and then I didn’t choose again for a very long time. I allowed others to choose me, over and over again and that way of choosing left me with a string of people that I couldn’t trust. My heart was speaking to me about what I wanted and needed and I wasn’t listening. My aunt told me, “the most important element to a person you choose is kindness”, and I didn’t listen.  I just wanted to be chosen so much more than I wanted to be honest and I couldn’t trust anyone I was close to, that I eventually lost trust in myself.

Then, one day (about the same time I had my own children) I realized I was surrounded by people that had chosen me and few of them truly cared for my well being. This was a hard day. I realized I needed to look for kindness first and I went back to how hard it was at some moments to build a strong relationship with my best friend. There were days when I thought I needed her more than she needed me. There were days when I over shared and worried about my own vulnerability. There were days when I had to share decisions and choices with her which made me believe she would love me less. Hard days, worth every single moment.

Trust is something that another person earns by caring for us in the hardest moments. I started building a friend group that I vetted and could trust. I started interacting less with those around me that broke my trust. I began setting firm boundaries when someone crossed a line with my preferences and limits. I started using my voice about relationships, needs, connection, and my own flaws to see how others cared for me.

What came out of this experiment is a circle of women that show up for me over and over again. Yes, they are my friends, but even more, they are my trusted team. That experience taught me how to choose wisely those that I keep close, which in turn is teaching me how to show my children how to choose wisely. We have ongoing dialogue about who we keep close. Do they love us?  Do they care about our hearts? We are on our way to overturning the lessons I learned as young person. Everyone needs a best friend like mine. Everyone needs a team. The hardest part is that each of us have to create these relationships by working furiously hard at trusting ourselves first.

Tips to finding a trusted person or group for you:

  1. Make a list of attributes you want in another person.
  2. Make a list of boundaries that cannot be crossed by someone you allow close.
  3. Be honest with yourself about who you have let close to you.  Be even more honest.
  4. Speak your truth, especially about the people around you.
  5. Get out of something if it is hurting you, deal with the heartbreak of having made that choice.  It is worse to stay than to feel.
  6. Imagine your crew/team and find them.  At all costs.  Find them, because they will make your life.

Emotion Regulation

The second most challenging aspect of feeling and emotion as a human, after identification, is the art and craft of regulating our emotions as individuals, families, and systems. I tell my clients that this is an art because it takes a lifetime of effort and work to master the craft for ourselves, our family and our organizations.

Not only does it take a lifetime, but it needs to start as a process and objective just as soon as we can muster the motivation and dedication to address it. Best case scenario is that young children learn emotion regulation as they learn language, but many do not.

Once we start the process, regulating becomes our own relationship with ourselves that is deep, authentic, and transparent. A relationship with regulating our emotions, is a relationship that we can trust to perform no matter what we face in lifes’ challenges.

Emotions are difficult to regulate, to say the least. I have been working on feelings with thousands of people, my entire career, and I am here to say, “Emotions are incredibly difficult to manage.”  However, emotions can be coped with but it is never without effort and dedication. We have to spend the time, learn ourselves, agree to the work, and continuously place the effort where it needs to be; learning our own individual process of feeling our feelings and coping with them.

Regulating starts with identification (read my blog about Emotional Identification) and after identifying what we are feeling, the next step is figuring out what to do about our emotions. This is the part that becomes increasingly tricky if we have been through a lot of psychological trauma because the brain defines for itself the right way (the best survival mechanism) to respond to big feelings. We have to avoid the patterned response to big feelings if we have a traumatic history (distraction, dissociation, addiction etc.) as these patterned responses only lead to delays and increased emotions. There is no way around emotions, only a way through them.

When figuring out how to manage our own emotions, we have to identify them adequately and effectively, first. Then we have to apply a strategy. All of us do different things when we feel emotions.  Some of us activate, some shut down, some freeze, some fight. Adequately and effectively identifying emotion is not the only step. Identification is not necessarily a fool proof mechanism but a possibility and opportunity to learn what works for us. When we are feeling big feelings, we have to “try on“ new tools and strategies because what the world and society says is going to work for us, doesn’t always.

Some strategies on how to manage our own emotions after identification:

  • Some people I work with need connection and belonging after identifying their feelings, to regulate themselves. 
  • Some people need distraction to slowly regulate. 
  • Some people need achievement to push through. 
  • Some people need movement.  
  • Some people need nourishment, whether that be food, drink, music, smell etc. 

We are all different in how we feel feelings, how we identify them, how we process them, how we deal with them. This is wonderful and human. Acknowledging this is part of the regulation process.

Before regulating emotions one must identify the emotions. Learn how with my blog, Emotional Identifications.

Tips on working towards regulating emotions:

  1.  Understand that regulation can only come after accurate and effective identification.
  2. This, regulation of emotion, is a lifetime of work, not an experience.  We are always doing the preparatory work for the next big thing life brings us, and always doing the restorative work from the things that came before.  
  3. No one can do this for us.  We can do it in partnership, in therapy, in psychological safety with another, but no one can tell us how to do it.  We have to work on this for and with ourselves.
  4. Regulation is about trying on new skills and strategies as an attempt to learn about our needs and become our best selves.
  5. When we are “trying on new strategies” we want to be thinking about possibilities for our minds, bodies, and spirits as the most effective and healing strategies.

Emotion Identification

Have you reached a point where you feel flooded and overwhelmed by emotion? Whether that be sadness (depression), worry (anxiety), or fatigue (hyper vigilance or obsessiveness). There is a wide range of feelings that someone could be experiencing at any one point in time and part of the work in recovery, coaching, and therapy is helping sort out what feelings they are having.

This can be a hard process when we have been living with a mish- mash of emotions, life challenges, familial coping strategies such as stuffing or denying, and not taking the time to identify the feelings because we feel too much. This process of undoing (after we already have reached a point where we feel too much emotion to bare) can be incredibly arduous and painful.

Many times in coaching, consultancy, and therapy the first steps of the process with an individual, family, or system must be identifying the emotions and feelings they are overwhelmed or consumed by. This identification process is profoundly important as it is the beginning of figuring out the next steps in recovery, healing, or resolving, what can be done. Not only is it an incredibly important phase, I believe it is the most challenging, as often people and organizations are coming to therapy or consultancy after years of patterns. The second most challenging part of coping with emotions, is figuring out what to do about them, which my Emotional Regulation blog speaks to.

One of the reasons emotion identification is so difficult for us is because for most of us, feelings start out small. They grow over time, whether that be hours or days or years. We don’t always notice what is happening to us, or for us, within our emotional life in time to prevent them or intervene when they are small (which is the easiest and most effective intervention). One of the most important parts or emotion identification is understanding what we individually look like when we are starting to feel sad, lonely, worried, fatigued rather than when we feel completely consumed by the feeling.

Our feeling are all unique to ourselves but here are some examples of common and shared experience for certain emotions:

  • A very common symptom of anxiety (depending on what culture we were raised in) is tightness in our chest
  • One of the common symptoms of depression (considering what culture we were raised in) is lack of motivation.

If we can identify what we look like when we are experiencing emotion, we can identify them early.  

An important and integral part of identification is allowing space and time to experience the feeling or emotion. Stillness and sitting with the feeling, will help all of us identify sooner what we are feeling by looking inward and finding the symptoms. We need space and time (stillness and sitting with the feeling) because if we are distracted we can miss the clues and data that suggest to us what is happening.

The final piece to identification is self-compassion and validation. If we are not careful, we will miss the elements of the feeling because it is not ok with us to be feeling it. To identify, we must be ok with what we find there. To identify, we must understand that we as humans feel feelings, there is a unique range for each of us, our families and our systems, that we have no control over whether we feel feelings or not. We must know we only have control over whether we see them, acknowledge them, and identify them.

The second most challenging part of coping with emotions, figuring out what to do about them. Learn how with my second blog, Emotional Regulation.

Tips on working towards identifying emotion:

  1. Learn from ourselves and the front end of our unique experience of emotions that have similar and shared experiences. 
  2. Provide ourselves stillness and quiet to identify how we are feeling, sitting with the emotion without distracting ourselves will provide the best identification.
  3. Accept, acknowledge, validate and be compassionate toward our own human experience as individuals, families and systems.  
  4. Be kind to ourselves.  Understand that emotion is how we achieve growth, development, and actualization and we have to go through it, there is no way around it.  

The Biggest actions

Very often, people think the “best next step” for creating a life they love is to change huge parts and pieces of the life they have. These huge parts and pieces of unhappiness may be the easiest to feel and see, but they are not always the most achievable way of making lifestyle change.

Many times, people will come to me and say they need therapy because of big dissatisfiers like, “I chose the wrong profession, or I am not happy in my marriage, or I am completely exhausted by my life”.  Clients don’t often come to therapy until one of these huge desires to change rises up from deeply within them. These pieces of life – when they are missing – are a very powerful motivator.  

I am honored when someone finds me and says they want to change their life through working through large adjustments. I know from my own life experience, and those that I serve, these fundamental pillars of happiness and joy need to be worked through, AND we have to be strategic because sometimes making big changes can create an experience of feeling paralyzed.

Even though these big changes sometimes speak to us the loudest and so we know them the best and are easily recognizable, they are hard to change rapidly. Very often we have set up a structure in our life to keep these dissatisfiers in place. These are patterns built over a long period of time, so sometimes we have to start with where we are most motivated (the big things in our life that scream to us to be moved) and we have to recognize the amount of work that will come with that change.

There are several categories of big actions that can be taken that make people feel less depleted, lonely, frightened, angry and under motivated. The best place to start in making big changes are in one of those categories, which over a long period of time drive us either to wellbeing or misery.

  1. The wrong kind of nourishment over a long period of time.
  2. The wrong kind of sensory stimulation compiled over a long period of time
  3. Not enough rest over a long period of time
  4. No movement for an extended period of time
  5. Not enough fulfillment in relationships/connection over time.

When we are attempting to make change through big actions to adjust the above categories in our life: 

For example: Say I have a client that wants to change careers.  

Tips for making big changes:

  1. Understand that big change takes big work over big time.
  2. Be kind to yourself as very often the patterns we have created are not all our own doing.
  3. Push forward, the reward on these changes are life changing and worth every second of tension.
  4. Remember, when making changes for your wellbeing, it will feel hard because these patterns run deep.
  5. Make sure you are breaking down the bigger tasks into chunks.  

The Smallest Actions

Our society has created a narrative that in order to feel well, we need to change enormous aspects of oneself. My individual clients feel this pressure when they first come to me, stating they need to make enormous lifestyle alterations (find a different job, a different relationship, lose a lot of weight, and become more motivated) to feel the change. As systems, these clients also feel this pressure stating; we have to change our organizational culture and make our employees perform and produce more.  

These lofty goals are wonderful, but the truth is, large goals often result in no change at all. We know that when we are working on changing our life, we have to start with the smallest actions. Those tiny adjustments need to be compiled and built on to create longer and longer experiences of joy and pleasure. This elongation of our positive experience is what starts to create a different sense of wellness. We have to fight the urge to believe the best answer is large changes. Large changes is one way, albeit the most difficult way, but it is just one way.

The smallest changes are actually far more attainable. Stacked together, they create a pattern of self-soothing and self-care. When we start to think about where to make small changes, we want to be thinking about the most rapid ways to recover from emotional stress, tension, hurt, and depletion.  Those ways include nourishment (everything we take in), sensory (everything else we take in), rest (everything we do to rejuvenate our energy), movement (everything we do to move) relationships (everything we do to feel connected), focus (everything we do to regain clarity).  

Although these are the buckets that we can choose from, when we add small actions, they need to be small, brief, easily accessible, convenient, rapid, available and practiced.

  1. When thinking about the smallest actions, break down the buckets to specific and brief inserts.
  2. Try on a lot of different possibilities.
  3. Be creative, but monitor how you feel throughout so you can determine what is good for you.
  4. Try the things a couple times before you decide they are not for you.
  5. Listen when other people are talking to their small actions they take.  Consider them as possibilities.
  6. Be gentle with yourself as you practice and learn yourself and your needs.