Category Archives: strategies for self-care

Turning poison into medicine: Psychology and Buddhism

What’s the worst problem you have right now?

Many people are struggling with where to work, live, be; loss of home, job, business, and livelihood. Dreams. They may have watched savings diminish, prospects wither, doors close. They may be forced to address serious health problems and illness, of self and beloved others. Even without the sociopolitical landscape, it has been rightly described as an exhausting, daunting, and never ending year for most.

From the Buddhist perspective, all people are endowed with the innate ability to create value out of any situation, no matter how awful or tragic. Unlike the naive adage or idea that every cloud has a silver lining—that something positive can always be found in everything negative—the principle of changing poison into medicine explains that we can transform even the most unsettling tragedy into something that leaves us with more resources and tools. It acknowledges, integrates, and requires a face down with pain and grief.

What is your poison?
We tend to label any event “bad” that makes us suffer, feel lingering loss, and seems unsolvable. It feels like it leaves a demarcation or brand on our soul skin. It hurts.

Two concepts:
The significance of any event changes depending on the circumstances surrounding it.
The significance of any event changes depending on what we decide to do next.
The process of changing poison into medicine begins when we approach difficult experiences as an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and to strengthen and develop our courage and compassion. This does not at all invalidate or minimize the deep pain that we have experienced.

Instead, it’s an impetus for change.

How to make poison into medicine
Stages of Grieving
The five stages of grief aren’t restricted to the loss of loved ones. These stages, in general, are ones we ALL go through when attempting to process something deeply painful.

The stages are:
When something bad first happens, we may be unable to process what is going on, and it can feel unreal or impossible to believe. You need time to unpack it. And there is no statute of limitations on that time.

The pain of being in your situation and sense of injustice/unfairness may take over.

You might get lost in “what if” and “if only” statements.

You start to realize that there’s no easy way out of this, which may make you feel sad, heartbroken, and hopeless.

You begin to understand the situation, and accept that it’s happened/happening to you.

Other ways to transform poison into medicine
You learn to forgive
Bad situations can be eye-openers when it comes to forgiveness. You realize: You forgive other people for what they’ve done. Moreover, you understand that they are complex individuals and that there are two sides to every story. You forgive yourself for “allowing” this to happen. Plus, you either realize it isn’t your fault, or you find the parts that are your fault and learn from them.

You become your own best friend. 
In some cases, the worst situation means feeling totally on your own. It’s a terrible feeling, but it can still teach you new things and change your life.

When you only have yourself to rely on, you have two choices. You can continue to be cruel to yourself, thus removing your only form of support. Or you can be kind to yourself, bolstering your support, so you thrive. Becoming your own best friend, and treating yourself the way you’d treat someone you care about, is a hugely positive step forward in personal development. It means that, even when you’re totally alone, you’ll be fine, because you still have yourself. [Also see: The Power of the Self Hug].

With this clarity, you can better see:
The support of your friends or family
The evidence of your strength
The fact that you can learn from this bad situation

You find out what you cannot control. And what you can.

There are many things in life you cannot control, and these may be the things that led to these “worst” situations. But what about the things that you can control?

The concept of taking control over certain life events and circumstances is known as self-efficacy, and it can prevent things from spiraling out of your grasp altogether.
So take control of the small things.

You can start by:
Rearranging the furniture in your home
Personalizing your work and leisure space
Taking up a new hobby
Changing your usual routine
Reaching out to friends. And making new ones.
Trying a new style: Fashion, social, work mode, aesthetic.

You realize that you can overcome stuff
If there’s one thing a bad situation can do, it’s to show you your inner strength. Think about all the terrible circumstances you’ve gotten through and how you’ve managed to emerge unscathed.
I have patients make a list of everything accomplished, not just the ubiquitous to do list. They are often astounded at what they’ve managed to do.

You learn to ask for help
You can’t do everything on your own. Or, if you can, it may not be the healthiest or most positive way to go about it. It’s okay to need help, and it’s okay to ask for help. Other people can provide you with different perspectives that you may not be able to see.

Here are some ways you can ask for help:
Reach out to a friend, mentor, or family member
Seek help from a therapist or counselor
Find support groups, whether online or in-person
Talk to someone you trust for advice
Ask for a deadline extension from a teacher, boss, or client, if needed
Learning to ask for help can dramatically change your life. This doesn’t mean you stop being self-reliant. It means you become secure enough in yourself that you’re comfortable seeking assistance when you need it. You learn to practice positive coping mechanisms, in the face of difficult events.

A few examples of positive coping mechanisms are:
Exercise (even simple, gentle kinds)
Expressions through art, like writing, painting, dance, or singing
Watching movies or shows
Reading books
Pampering yourself with a self-care day
Time spent in nature
We are natural alchemists, and life is our Laboratory.
Taking the poison and making it into medicine = gold.

How to ask for help without feeling weird

‘I Have Your Back’

Reaching out for support is a skill we’re somehow expected to know, yet it’s never taught and rarely modeled for us. When you need help -no matter the kind of help you need, or the person you need it from -to simply state “Can you help me?” can be fraught with tension.

A seemingly simple request for help can bring huge implications with it. You may have been raised in a family where asking for help, or letting others know that you need support, was considered a sign of weakness and was frowned upon for suggesting a lack of privacy regarding personal difficulties.

Asking family members, colleagues, friends, community, and partners for help may reflect a larger cultural dynamic of communication and give-and-take.

Saying, “Can you help me?” speaks powerfully to an instinctive desire to be of service to other people and to receive reciprocal attention. But “Can you help me?” also makes you vulnerable.

What I say to patients: please practice asking for help.
For many, it’s a new activity, and it feels rusty, like anything novel.  Yet, so many people have recently lost their livelihood, had physical health problems, financial hardship, and even loss of home and identity. More than ever, asking for help is an art form that we need. As a society, we don’t always have the experience to ask for help. In my belief, that needs to change, but requires self compassion and practice.

Where to start:
1. Make a list of what you need help with: particular errands, chores, some cooking, walking the dog, getting food or groceries, yard work, job recommendations, assistance with letter or email writing, changing filters, moving furniture, tech support, maybe even a shoulder to cry on.

2. Write down the names of friends, colleagues, and relatives who have offered to help in the past.

3. Match people with tasks based on their interests, their strengths, their time flexibility and your comfort level with them, given the intimacy of the particular task. One friend may really enjoy cooking, another may check in on you via regular texts, another might upgrade your computer, or walk your dog.

4. Pick just one thing off the list and contact the person you’ve chosen. Be direct. See the next few points, below.

5. I always talk about timing and dosage. If you’re not sure whether or not it is a good time, just ask. You can say, “I’ve love to ask for your help with something. Is there a time that’s good for you to talk?”

6. Don’t be defensive. Instead, say what you can’t do.
Instead of saying, “I need to add a few graphic elements for a major key point power point presentation, say, “I’m concerned a few of my slides for my seminar look terrible.” You don’t have to emphasize how ‘important’ you are. Just ask for the help that you need.

7. Show respect. Without actually saying it, you’ve already said, “You know more than I do.” You’ve said, “You can do what I can’t.” You’ve said, “You have experience (or talent or knowledge) that I don’t have.”

Learning is not diminishing yourself.

8. Show trust. You’re vulnerable. You admitted to a weakness.And you’ve shown the other person that you trust them with that knowledge. You’ve already said, “I trust you.”

9. Show you’re willing to listen. Instead of saying exactly how the other person should help you, you give them the freedom to decide.

By showing you respect and trust other people and by giving them the latitude to freely share their expertise or knowledge, you don’t just get the help you think you want. You get more.

10. Be grateful. Acknowledge the help you received. Even though you might feel embarrassed that you needed help, don’t pretend like it never happened. Directly acknowledge that you appreciate what the other person did for you.

11. Be sincere. When someone is helping you, it’s okay to be a little bit vulnerable. The other person might appreciate knowing that they are genuinely helping you during a difficult time.

12. Gain credibility by helping others. People will be more likely to agree to help you if you have been known to help others. Build a reputation as a helpful person. You will draw others to you who share that same sentiment.

The Science of Compassion

In my doctoral studies, I had the honor of working on a research study on conjugal bereavement with Dr. Dacher Keltner. Dr. Keltner, in addition to prolific work in a wide range of areas, has developed the science of compassion and empathy into a multidisciplinary field. In short, the study I co-authored found that in a study of individuals who had lost a long-term partner, and who ultimately showed greater psychological health over a five-year span after the loss, were those who received ongoing empathy and social support in response to their vulnerability, as the primary variable related to mental health and adjustment.

(Bonanno, G. A., Siddique, H. I., Keltner, D., & Horowitz, M. J. (1996). Correlates and consequences of dispositional repression and self-deception following the loss of a spouse. The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC).

Dr. Keltner runs a compassion-based research studies program at UC Berkeley. He writes prolifically about the importance of compassion for psychological health, social justice, and even the survival of our species.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or new age-y, neuropsychologists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting a deeper evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to care for other people.

Compassion makes us feel good: Compassionate action activates pleasure circuits in the brain, and compassion training programs, even very brief ones, strengthen brain circuits for pleasure and reward and lead to lasting increases in self-reported happiness.

Being compassionate—tuning in to other people in a kind and loving manner—can reduce risk of heart disease by boosting the positive effects of the Vagus Nerve, which helps to slow our heart rate. A recent study found that people who have a greater level of empathy live 9 to 10 years longer than others, controlling for other factors. 

One compassion training program at Stanford has found that it makes people more resilient to stress; it lowers stress hormones in the blood and saliva and strengthens the immune response. Compassion training may also help us worry less and be more open to our own and others’ negative emotions. In short, people who are more compassionate tend to be less avoidant of the range of emotions.

Compassion could improve our mental health: One research review found that practicing compassion meditation improved participants’ emotional life, positive thinking, relationships, and empathy. Brain scans during loving-kindness meditation, which directs compassion toward suffering, suggest that, on average, compassionate people are happier.

Practicing compassion could make us more altruistic. In turn, it may also help us overcome empathic distress and become more resilient in the face of others’ suffering. Too often, we hear people say, I can’t watch the news because it’s just too much for me. Instead, the practice of compassion makes people more able to tolerate the pain of others, and yet provide support.

Compassion helps make caring parents: Brain scans show that when people experience compassion, their brains activate in neural systems known to support parental nurturance and other caregiving behaviors.

Compassion helps us be better friends and partners: Compassionate people are more optimistic, forgiving, and supportive when communicating with others.

Compassion helps make better doctors: Medical students who train in compassion feel less depressed and lonely, and avoid the typical declines in compassion that sometimes happen during medical school.

Employees who receive more compassion in their workplace see themselves, their co-workers, and their organization in a more positive light, report feeling more positive emotions like joy and contentment, and are more committed to their jobs. A compassionate workplace culture is linked to less burnout, greater teamwork, and higher job satisfaction.

Compassionate people are more socially adept, making them less vulnerable to loneliness; loneliness has been shown to cause stress and harm the immune system.

Compassion is contagious. According to Dr. Keltner’s “the greater good project”, based out of UC Berkeley, compassionate behavior rubs off on other people.

Is Crying Healthy?

Client: please teach me how not to cry.
Me: what would happen if you did?
Him: it’s not acceptable. 

Crying is a natural response humans have to a range of emotions, including sadness, grief, joy, anger, and frustration. It is not unusual to cry, and both sexes cry more than many people may assume. In the United States, women reportedly cry an average of 3.5 times per month and men cry an average of 1.9 times a month. This is likely to be under reported. According to neuropsychology, there are a number of benefits to being able to shed tears.

It can have a soothing effect
Self-soothing is when people regulate their own emotions, calm themselves, and learn to reduce their own distress. A 2014 study found that crying may have a direct, self-soothing effect- crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps people relax. Crying doesn’t only happen in response to something sad. Sometimes people cry when they are moved, happy, scared, angry, or stressed. It may help to restore emotional homeostasis- your body’s way to recover from experiencing strong emotion.

It helps ameliorate pain
Crying for long periods of time actually releases oxytocin and endorphins. These natural feel-good chemicals can help ease both physical and emotional pain. Oxytocin can give you a sense of calm or well-being. It’s another example of how crying is a self-soothing action.

It may help people receive support from others
As well as helping people self-soothe, crying can help people get support from others around them. When I was an undergraduate, I did developmental psychology research at a pediatric ward, observing the behaviors of premature babies. The actual crying of the babies elicited a caring and attachment based response in most caregivers. 

Enhances mood
Crying may help lift people’s spirits and make them feel better. As well as relieving pain, oxytocin and endorphins can help improve mood. This is why they are often known as “feel good” chemicals.

Releases toxins and relieves stress
When humans cry in response to stress, their tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals. Research indicates that crying could reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, such as cortisol, which could, in turn, reduce stress.

Crying aids sleep
A preliminary study in 2015 found that crying can help babies sleep better. Whether crying has the same sleep-enhancing effect on adults is yet to be comprehensively researched. There might be something to the old adage of crying yourself to sleep. 

Fights bacteria
Crying helps to kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme, that is a natural cleanser. A 2011 study found that lysozyme in tears has significant antimicrobial properties.

Improves vision
Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help to keep the eyes moist and prevent mucous membranes from drying out. The lubricating effect of basal tears helps people to see more clearly. When the membranes dry out, vision can become blurry. Crying actually helps with clarity. 

Use cautious in a sentence

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

Please be careful, be safe. These words have become our default farewell, replacing have a nice day. How does being careful differ from being cautious? It’s a familiar question in my line of work. The difference between cautious and careful in my opinion is that cautious is an emotion, a fear based emotion mostly. Being careful is an ACTION; it is things you can do, like gathering data, getting additional input, studying experts, analyzing, checking your locks, wearing a mask.

Natural selection rewards the cautious. At the slightest hint of danger, most animals scurry for safety – only in human beings and the higher primates – does curiosity overcome caution to any great extent. (See Fight/Flight/Flow, Dr. H. Siddique, in press, 2021).

It’s not always that easy to uncover and address our fears. Obviously, I’m an advocate for good psychotherapy – for regular work with someone who can accompany us through our dark thoughts and help us get to the other side of many. At times, fear may cloud our vision. It clouds our judgement and can paralyze the very responsiveness we would need in a real emergency. None of us can really do much with fear – it’s there and feels stuck there. Sometimes it feels like something actually stuck in our throats or stomachs. We go around and around in this enclosed track of fear. There’s no forward movement or further understanding. We may feel frozen.

I frequently work with kids with being cautious (fear base) versus careful (action base). Being a kid is already a pretty scary and vulnerable position. Children are primed to pick up on and absorb fears of all kinds, from the darkness under the bed to frightening imaginings of someone entering their home at night. As adults, parents, and mental health professionals, we help our young folks distinguish between caution and carefulness. Quite often, I see kids who have a highly anxious parent, and their own baseline anxiety, not surprisingly, is much higher than their peers’. When your baseline is set higher, you are easily overloaded when additional stressors rear their heads.

In counseling/therapy, treatment for fearfulness or overcautiousness consists of not just relaxation strategies, but action oriented thoughts, self statements, rituals of safety and self soothing, and healthy self-care. Behaviors create new pathways that diminish existing fears.

(Picture credit, from “where the wild things are”, by Maurice Sendak, a primer in caution versus carefulness.I highly recommend it for children of all ages, five through 90.)

The Neuropsychology of Self Compassion: thoughts for 2021.

A growing body of research suggests that self-compassion is strongly associated with psychological health. One of the most consistent findings in the literature is that greater self-compassion is linked to less anxiety and depression (Neff, 2003; Pauley & McPherson, 2010).

There are physiological reasons underlying this association. Neuropsychological research has found that individuals trained therapeutically to increase feelings of self-compassion had reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also appeared to increase heart-rate variability, which is associated with a greater ability to self-soothe when stressed. In other studies, self-compassionate people have been found to worry less than those who lack self-compassion, are less perfectionistic, and tend to experience fewer negative emotions. However, they are also LESS likely to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions and are more willing to acknowledge their negative emotions as valid and important.

For the purpose of this article, although I realize there is a wide range of writing and discussion on this topic, I define self compassion as having three primary components:

  • Self-kindness, or refraining from harsh criticism of the self.
  • Sense of connection to the world and others, or the fact that all people are imperfect and all people experience pain.
  • Mindfulness, or maintaining intentional awareness of experiences, even those that are painful, rather than either minimizing/ignoring or exaggerating their effect.

There is also evidence that intentionally cultivating self-compassion stimulates parts of the brain associated with generalized compassion. Using fMRI technology, neuropsychologists found that instructing individuals to be more self-compassionate was associated with neuronal activity similar to what occurs when feelings of empathy for others are evoked. This research would suggest that the tendency to respond to suffering with caring concern is a general process applied to both oneself and others, so that self-compassion is “contagious”, so to speak. From the perspective of psychology, building the capacity to hold suffering in compassionate awareness facilitates the ability to extend compassion to multiple targets: the self, others, and all sentient beings (see Sharon Salzburg, 1997)

Self compassion and mental health
Self-compassion is also often confused with or linked to self-esteem, but the two differ: While self-esteem focuses on favorable self-evaluation, particularly for achievements, self-compassion is a form of self-acceptance, even in the face of failure. This emotion represents a shift away from being the best toward simply being the person one is. A person who scores high on measures of self-compassion might accept failures. Self-compassion does not depend on either social comparisons or one’s sense of personal success; rather, recognition and acceptance of one’s flaws often leads to growth and personal development in a way that self-esteem does not. A lack of compassion for the self can play a role in mental health conditions, especially anxiety and depression.

How to increase self compassion
It may be helpful to frame self-criticism as a critique that might be given to a friend. If the words are too harsh for a loved one, then they are likely also too harsh for the self. In general, people tend to be more accepting of the flaws of others than they are of their own. I always ask patients who are speaking about themselves in self-deprecatory terms, would you speak to your friend or a loved one like that?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, (MBCT), developed from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based meditation, is meant to increase self-awareness and thus can positively influence levels of self-compassion. The goal of this therapy is for those in treatment to become increasingly able to see themselves separately from the negative thoughts and moods they might experience. In MBCT, the process of healing includes the interjection of positive thoughts in response to a negative mood, but not denying the negative feelings, so those who experience a sense of lowness after focusing on their mistakes and flaws can often come to accept themselves more readily as a whole person.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff developed a self-compassion scale to help people measure whether their own self-compassion is low, moderate, or high. She also developed several exercises that help enhance self-compassion, including writing a letter to oneself, from the point of view of a compassionate friend, every day for a week. Journaling or otherwise writing about personal imperfections and inadequacies can also help increase mindfulness, and when combined with changes in techniques of personal criticism, this practice can also positively influence the development of self-compassion.

Last, but far from least, a self-care routine is also essential, as the meeting of personal needs can increase ability and energy to effectively care for and support others. When personal wellness declines, negative feelings might often be directed toward the self, and this can also make it more difficult to feel compassion for others.

Also see: Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First.

How to reset

“Add something new to the mix.” If you’ve ever been in my office, you’ve heard me say this.  It takes approximately 60 days to start to lay down new neural pathways, which come from consistent practice of a new behavior.

Growth involves changing behaviors—and in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking (or “rewire” your brain). Neuropsychologists find that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “trying not to do it,” in effect just strengthens an undesired behavior. When you try NOT to think of something, you actually have to think about that thing in order to not think about it.

Change requires creating new neural pathways from NEW thinking.

Many people assume willpower is a character trait that you’re born with, or innately lack. I frequently work with teenagers and young adults. When they make supposedly bad decisions, I often hear parents say to their kids, ‘why did you do that, where was your willpower’?

But research suggests that it is more complex: It can be trained, but it also relies on mental resources, self care, and energy, and can become depleted if overused. Researcher and psychologist, Dr. Roy Baumeister, has spent years studying how people regulate emotions, resist temptation, break bad habits, and perform up to their potential; and why they often fail to do so. Among his conclusions: Each person’s supply of willpower is limited. And, as the ‘power’ aspect of willpower implies, it’s a form of energy. It gets depleted when you use it.

So new habits depend on the basic energy supply that a person needs for all other acts of daily self-control, problem-solving, and decision-making. In short, eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, reading, writing, learning, trying new things, having a strong social group, and caring for others are the fuel that is required for change. I call this fuel the foundation. With it, you build new roads and pathways; infrastructure.

People often view resolutions or intentions as short-term goals to be achieved. So if they don’t quit that bad habit or lose that weight in a short period of time, they become demotivated and often quit trying. Change requires uploading a new program in your subconscious. It can include deceptively simple actions. Go for a walk. Engage with a buddy who has similar goals to keep each other accountable. Put greens on your grocery list. Finish that online course or certification. Clean out your closets. Edit your contacts.


Also see Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength- August 28, 2012, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney.

The psychology of negative people

You walk into the restaurant, dressed to the nines, for a girls’ night out. Your friends greet you warmly, except for one. She points at your sleeve: “You look like you put your arm down in something. You have a big stain.“

In my work, I often hear about negative people in the lives of my patients, and the impact they may have.

Some characteristics of negativity that appear frequently in sessions:
Judgmentalism, or the tendency to imbue negative motivations to others’ innocent actions. (Complaining that you didn’t answer their email or text right away, so you must not care, or you are lazy or careless).

Demanding nature: Although negative people are often not judgmental about their own abilities or flaws, they put pressure on others to act in a certain way.

Pessimism, or the tendency to believe that the future is bleak; for example, negative people can more readily think of ways in which any activity or event can go badly.

Risk aversion, especially in social settings. This leads to reluctance to divulge any personal or meaningful information, ultimately leading to boring conversations and superficial relationships.

Lack of interest in others: negative people are often fixated on their own lives and needs. If you ask them questions about even their closest friends and relatives lives, children, problems, and successes, they are often unable to respond.

The need to control others: negative people are inflexible, and believe that things should be done a certain way. When others deviate from this path, they are often derided or minimized.

Not being able to deviate from routine: negative people tend to limit their options and choices to whatever they’ve done in the past, rather than opening their minds to the range of possibilities available.

They are rarely loving: They struggle to see the good in other people, so it is difficult to be loving and supportive of anyone.

They rarely apologize: Even when confronted with evidence that they were incorrect, or have hurt someone’s feelings, they have a deep conviction that they are right.

Their phone is silent: they are rarely contacted by friends or family members. People tend to start avoiding negative people after a series of less than joyful experiences.

What Causes Negativity?
– How they were raised.
If someone is exposed to negativity or constant criticism early on in their lives, they may mirror that behavior. Children raised in an environment where criticism, pessimism, doom and gloom, and negativity are common will end up having that mapped into their developing brains as typical behavior. This may result in a patterned way of thinking and behaving and becomes how you respond to your environment. If they remain unaware of this pattern of behavior, and think of it as normal, it is likely it will take root, while others who are able to recognize it can make a conscious effort to change the behavior.

-It is a habit.
Old habits die hard and negativity is a strong one. When negativity is a habit it becomes an automated response that becomes an unconscious response to a situation. For anyone to change any ingrained behavior they have to recognize it is a problem and be committed to the outcome.

– They were taught not to try new things or take risks.
They may have been told repeatedly as a child to be careful, to rest, to not get too tired. They may have been warned against learning a new skill—like Scuba diving or horseback riding—because “it’s too dangerous.”

– They may have been taught that certain behaviors bring shame or embarrassment.
For example, they may have been told not to tell neighbors, family friends, or even family members about failures or mistakes. Likewise, they may have being routinely exposed to negative judgments about other people (“I can’t believe the neighbors don’t keep up their yard. It makes the whole street look terrible”).

-Interpretation of life.
Good and bad things happen to everyone. If your interpretation of life is that bad things usually happen, life isn’t fair, I am unlucky, my sister was the pretty one or the smart one, etc., chances are you have a negative interpretation of life which will show up in the way you talk and behave.

-It feels good.
Almost everyone vents at some point or another. We need to get things off our chest and this is healthy. Habitually negative people repeat the same venting experience over and over with multiple people, sometimes telling the same story several times. They may repeat the same litany of complaints about a person, partner, friend, or family member, not allowing the person to even make corrections or amends.There is a difference between venting and staying tethered to a situation. Repeated venting keeps us tethered to the negative emotions of the experience and does not provide any type of release.

-Low self-esteem.
Some people complain about others to feel better about themselves or their lives, or they require constant validation from other people. They may complain that people are ungrateful if they are not thanked profusely for everything they may have done for that person. If you can bring down the value of other people through negative comments, it has a temporary effect of lifting someone up. From German, the term Schadenfreude is a complex emotion where, rather than feeling empathy or sympathy, one takes pleasure from watching someone’s mistakes or misfortune.

See also: Nine Tips for Dealing Calmly with Criticism

Families and Holidays – How to Navigate.

While holidays and family get togethers, virtual or in real life, can be very joyful, may have treasured rituals and traditions, and bring people together from their busy lives, they can also be pitfalls for potential hurt.

Have realistic expectations
As refreshing as it would be if your father didn’t criticize your outfit this year, or your mother didn’t mention your weight, they probably will. Don’t expect people to change when they have behaved in the same way for years. Having expectations can lead to feelings of upset.

Keep potentially upsetting topics off-limits
Politics and religion are obvious, but people also bring up sensitive subjects without thinking about how they might affect others. “Are you ever going to get married?” Or “ when are you going to have a baby?” may seem harmless, but more likely than not, it will strike a nerve. Plan to keep conversation conflict-free by avoiding potentially sensitive topics, or simply ask what’s new and take it from there.

Set your emotions aside. Except empathy.
Put your emotions aside when talking to older family members about racism or current policy/events – remember that you are changing the worldview they have been surviving by. Without them, we would not be having the discussion.

Relatives who rehash old arguments or bring up past mistakes.
Unfortunately, there’s something about families coming together around the holidays that sometimes seems to make people eager to bring up old hurts, arguments, and mistakes. Try to move to another topic, but if they continue, you can firmly say, “I’m not talking about that, there are so many things to talk about.“

Become a Participant Observer
Psychologists use a research technique called participant observation, meaning that they join groups of people in order to watch and report on whatever those people do. Observe family members as if you’re collecting data for a research study. Almost any group activity is interesting when you’re planning to describe it later as an observer.
Accept that the only thing you can control is your reaction
You can’t stop people from bringing up controversial or hurtful subjects or asking rude questions, but you can monitor and modify your own reactions. No one can force you to engage in a negative conversation.

Don’t drink too much
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Some people become aggressive or argumentative when they’ve had too much to drink. Avoid people who have had too much to drink, and don’t engage in arguments.

Be active
It’s difficult to be drawn into an argument when engrossed in an activity that requires concentration, physical activity, or laughter. Play a game, go for a walk, or watch an engrossing holiday movie.

Practice gratitude
Take a time-out and think about all you have to be grateful for: a delicious meal, a warm home, good health, a close friend, your sweet companion animals, or a sunny day. Anxiety can be diminished by focusing on the things we enjoy and value.

Bring or have a happy reminder
Looking at a favorite photograph, a funny or encouraging text from a friend, or anything else that makes you smile can go a long way toward relieving stress.

Take a deep breath, or ten
Can’t physically leave a stressful situation? You can always focus on your breathing. Take ten slow, deep breaths, focusing on breathing in and out. Deep belly breathing has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever.

It’s helpful to follow up on family events by debriefing with someone you love. If your brother really “gets” you, call him after a family dinner you’ve both survived. If you don’t trust anyone who shares a shred of your DNA, report to a friend or therapist. When you are able to discuss hurtful, awkward, or just plain awful exchanges with another person who loves and accepts you, it helps to take the sting out.

The Tenderness Ritual

Anxiety, both chronic and acute, is one of the biggest concerns I address in my practice. One of the most frequent questions I receive from clients is how to relax and self-soothe between sessions. I have written several articles for my blog and other sources about strategies I have developed or refined, including the #RelaxationKit, #GuidedVisualization, #MindfulnessMeditation, the #WorryHour, #StreamofConsciousness, and #EarthGrounding.

Recently, I have developed a gentle technique, which is not to be used in acute situations or crisis, but can provide cumulative soothing if practiced on a regular basis. What would you do if you had a fractious child? You would soothe them by touch, tone of voice, reassurance, perhaps movement (rocking).

The tenderness ritual involves deliberate soothing, combining mindfulness using our senses and self compassion, at least once per week. I ask my clients to schedule it purposefully, not try to squeeze it in “if they have time.”

The olfactory bulb is one of the structures of the limbic system and a very ancient part of the brain. The legendary neuroscientist, Eric Kandel, studied the effects of scent on memory functioning. He found a very powerful connection between smells and memory. The limbic system is also concerned with translating sensory data from the neo-cortex (the thinking brain) into action. When a familiar or beloved scent hits our brain, it immediately activates the limbic system. Find a scented candle, incense (you can get smokeless), or home fragrance that appeals to you.

Invest in a soft blanket that you love. Wrap yourself up.

Listen to music that is soothing. Often, something that does not have lyrics is less stimulating. Personal preferences matter, but you don’t want something that’s going to make you get up and dance. That’s another form of therapy.

Sip your favorite tea, broth, or soup. Hot beverages soothe your throat, and any possible congestion, of course.  But what gives the hot drink an advantage in the tenderness ritual is that taste is enhanced by heat. The taste receptors that pick up sweet, bitter and umami flavors send a stronger electrical signal to the brain when food or drink is warmer.

No social media or YouTube. Instead, look through a beautiful book, look at photographs from a vacation that you treasured, scroll through nature scenes, go to a virtual art gallery, even the ubiquitous baby animal pictures and videos have been correlated with a drop in stress.

Stretch gently, massage your neck and shoulders (can use a roller for this), tense and relax your muscles.


Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.