Self-Regulation with Cookie Monster!

We all benefit from learning to regulate ourselves; whether it’s regulation of our emotions, impulses, or actions.

Within the video above, Cory Turner and Anya Kamenetz speak with Cookie Monster about a couple self-regulation skills, which include deep breathing (belly breath), distraction (discussing Dr. Zhivago), and STOP (Stop and Think).  These are also skills taught within Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and are discussed within Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Mindfulness.

Deep Breathing, or “Belly Breath” is a way to increase focus on our physical bodies and help to flip our bodies from a sympathetic nervous system reaction (fight/flight/freeze) into a parasympathetic response (rest/digest).  This allows us to calm ourselves move into a logic and rational focused mindset.  Deep Breathing is present throughout numerous coping skills (we’ll see it again with STOP).

Distraction is next up, with the focus being on directing our attention toward anything but the identified stimuli; for example chronic pain, an impulse purchase, or maybe even cookies.  Distraction can be any number of things, including in our Cookie Monster video, discussing Dr. Zhivago.  Other examples could include playing a game, completing a puzzle, listening to emotional music, or doing a grounding exercise (in DBT this is the ACCEPTS skill).

Finally we reach the STOP skill from DBT, referred to in the video briefly as “Stop and Think.”  “Simple” concept, harder to use when in our feelings.  STOP is an acronym that details the four steps of the skill.  1) Stop.  2) Take a deep breath (there’s that deep breathing again).  3) Observe (what is going on).  4) Proceed mindfully.  This is basically a way to catch ourselves, re-center our minds, and then proceed with intention rather than impulse.

Each of these skills requires practice.  While they sound simple in theory, they can be difficult to get right.  In fact, you won’t always get it right, there will be times when you act on that impulse buy, and that’s ok.  Just keep practicing!

Play is Necessary

Play is an essential part of everyone’s life and is necessary for a healthy mind and body.  Though you may feel like spending 30 minutes of creating a Minecraft fortress is a waste of time, numerous studies and researchers have shown otherwise (1).  In a general sense, playing video games (in moderation) has been shown to help with executive functioning, creativity, and persistence (2).

Whether you enjoy Candy Crush or Tetris they can be a positive (with moderation).  Each of these specific games has been shown to assist with various aspects of our mental health.  For example playing Tetris following exposure to a traumatic event can disrupt the steps that would take place to file a traumatic memory into long-term memory, decreasing the long-term effects and potential for intrusive memories.  It’s also been found that playing World of Warcraft assist individuals experiencing Autism Spectrum Disorders in building emotional comprehension (3).

Check out the video featuring Jane McGonigal below for more information on how all of this works.

And instead of But

A “simple” trick that I have many of my clients do - to begin to sit with ambiguity and to highlight the dialectics that occur within our everyday lives - is to switch the use of the word “but” to “and.”  Let me give an example.

Let’s say you’re describing a day that started out quite excellent, which then was interrupted with an inconvenience.  Many people would describe the situation in a way like this.

“Oh I was having the greatest day.  I woke up fully rested, I had an excellent cup of coffee, and my partner had taken the dog out for a walk; it was excellent.  But then I went to start the car and the battery was dead.”

When we use the word but, it negates everything that came before it.  We no longer care about that great morning, we instead are focused on the one perceived negative of the dead battery.  A more effective way of describing the situation, that allows the positives of the day to continue would be to swap “but” out for “and.”

“Oh I was having the greatest day.  I woke up fully rested, I had an excellent cup of coffee, and my partner had taken the dog out for a walk; it was excellent; And then I went to start the car and the battery was dead.”

It changes the tone of the thought we’re having and the story we’re telling both ourselves and others.  No longer is the positive discarded; instead both events are given space and it balances out a bit.

Give it a try!

The Science of Happiness

Today’s post is a podcast recommendation for The Science of Happiness, which is produced by The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. I’m posting their most recent episode below, which covers an exercise on writing yourself a self-compassion letter. Listen and hopefully enjoy!

Why Deep Breathing?

Why Deep Breathing?

Deep Breathing is often shared as a great coping skill by numerous healthcare professionals, so much so that when I mention it to someone I’m counseling it’s often met with an eye-roll. I get it. It’s been discussed and discussed and recommended and recommended, but I think it’s seldom explained as to why it’s helpful.

Expectations

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Recently I came across this wonderful illustration by @positivelypresent and it cemented my thoughts that everyone would benefit from reminding themselves of this “simple” fact.  My expectations (and yours) are not those of others.  What you expect from a situation or a person, isn’t going to match up with the expectations of that person or that situation.

And that is fine.

This is where mindfulness and non-judgmental stance (DBT) come into the picture.  By accepting people, places, events, and things as they are we will make our interactions with them run much more smoothly.  When we begin to perceive that things are going “bad” or “poor” we would benefit from taking a step back, taking a breath, and re-orienting ourselves.

3 Positives for Today

A great way to increase your optimism and sense of hope is to regularly look back at your day and note three positive experiences you had. This exercise can help begin to decrease broad generalizations when we look at our days while also redirecting our tendency to focus on the negatives (a cognitive distortion). Give it a try! Here are mine for today.

1) My hoodie, it’s keeping me warm through this cold stint.

2) Pizza. It’s Digiorno and I love it.

3) Completed some errands that I have been putting off.