A Peaceful Life’s Blog

My Discovery of How Mindfulness Reduces Stress

mindfulness tips

Mindfulness Reduces Stress, but I Wasn’t Sold

If you’ve ever heard of mindfulness, you might know that mindfulness reduces stress. You might assume that therapists are experts in mindfulness.  I will admit when I was first introduced to it, that I was not sold on how much of an impact it could actually have on my life.

When I was still in my internship, one of my responsibilities was running a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy group.  One of the core skills that I taught using this model included mindfulness. I had been exposed to mindfulness before, but never to this extent. I wasn’t convinced that just practicing a few minutes a day of something could truly make a difference in my overall stress level and ability to focus. 

Mindfulness has gained a lot of popularity recently, and it sounds like something that is meant for the yoga studio or the meditation cushion. How could simply slowing down actually put a dent in the amount of stress, worry, and overall tension in my life? Of course, in theory, I was all for it. But, I hadn’t actually practiced it.

Since I don’t ask my clients to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself, I totally immersed myself in the same exercises that I was giving them for “homework.” The more I practiced mindfulness, the more I started to really experience its benefits.

I First Tried The Easiest Mindfulness Exercise. Ever.

One of the first things that I first started practicing was paying attention to my breath.  I would spend just two minutes a day noticing how I was breathing, and would make it intentional, rather than automatic. I focused on my breath in, the rise of my chest and expansion of my stomach, and focused on the breath out. I noticed the cooler air coming in and the warmth of the exhale. I felt how my shoulders moved, and my chest expanded. I explored the sensations as if I were an alien that invaded this body and was experiencing the act of breathing for the first time.

This totally calmed down my nervous system.  I was able to slow down my thoughts. I was able to pay closer attention to what was happening in the present moment, rather than the stories I had in my head about the past or the future.  Most importantly, I was able to drown out the numerous distractions that made it hard to feel like myself. 

I decided that mindfulness was awesome.

So what exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a technique used to bring our attention to the present moment.  It calms us and reduces outside noise so that we have greater access to our intuition.  

Think about trying to tune into a radio station that has a lot of static; you can sort of hear the music, but it’s muffled, and the signal keeps going in and out.  Mindfulness can be used to fine tune our “station” so that we can fully experience our emotions, bodily sensations, and the world around us, and can better assess what we need and want.  

Being mindful has had an incredible impact on my quality of life— by increasing my ability to manage stress, growing my tolerance for experiencing uncomfortable emotions, giving me more focus on everyday activities, allowing me to fully experience happy moments, and has even helped me make better decisions!

One of the best parts of mindfulness is that it’s portable, it’s free, and it’s flexible.  You can practice mindfulness for 5 seconds or 5 hours, and there is no special equipment needed!  No one even has to know when you’re doing it.  There are also so many different ways that you can practice mindfulness; from breathing exercises, to counting, to being out in nature, to even everyday activities like driving or washing dishes. We can figure out a way to integrate this practice into our lives in easy and beneficial ways. 

If you are curious about how mindfulness reduces stress and how you can harness your own power to calm your nervous system and create new possibilities, reach out for a free consultation so we can talk about how your life will change for the better.

 

Kristy Vergo, LPCC
Kristy Vergo, LPCC

Schedule a Free Consultation with Kristy

Relationship Change: I’ll Try When You Try

“I’ll become more (loving/open/etc) when I see some relationship change from my spouse.”relationship change

I get it. Really, I do.

Allow me to illustrate how this isn’t going to change anything…

There is a great parable that relates to relationship change. I have no idea if there is an original version, so if you’ve heard this and it’s slightly different drop me a comment!

In a romantic relationship, we often feel like we’d be able to make a positive change if the other person went first and gave us something to work with. Sometimes this is because we feel slighted and want them to show up a little more. Sometimes we want them to prove something, take a turn trying. Sometimes we are just exhausted or frozen, wary of trying too hard if the other person isn’t going to do anything on their part for relationship change.

Here’s the Parable

There once was a guy in a very cold little yurt up in the mountains. There was an awesome wood burning stove there, and the guy was freezing to death. The guy was really upset that the stove wasn’t warming him, and he asked the stove to warm him so that he could make it through the night.

The stove replied, “I would love to warm you, but you have to supply me with firewood. I can’t warm you if I don’t have any.”

The guy says, “Well, I can’t go out in the freezing snow to get the wood on the porch until you give me some heat!

You see where this is going. The dude froze to death. 

We rely on each other to meet our needs in the relationship, but it’s not realistic to expect your needs to be met if the other person is freezing or running on empty. Paradoxically, we have to give something even if we are running on empty or freezing.

This is the catch-22 that people find themselves in, and I always say that it’s a gradual process. We can’t just snap into fully being there for someone who isn’t there for us. And we can’t expect that from our partners. With the help of a couples therapist, you can learn how to take small steps toward relationship that actually get you somewhere, and ultimately be able to really get what you need from the relationship. If  you feel stuck in this kind of catch-22, let us help you untangle the mess so you don’t freeze!

WATCH: Why Angry Outbursts & Shut-Down Happen in Relationships

stop angry outburstsHow do you stop angry outbursts or total shut-down from happening in your relationship?

How do you repair things after there has been a total meltdown?

To most couples, it’s a mystery why seemingly small issues often result in angry outbursts, or totally tuning out and shutting down.

Dr. Sue Johnson, has released what I think is a fantastic video to help us understand in a nutshell why we can’t just have a rational conversation about anything, and how to fix that. Dr. Johnson is a renowned researcher in field of couples therapy and professional mentor to those of us who practice the science-based method for solving couples issues – Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

In the following video, you’ll see:

  1. The 5 Basic Core Moves in any love bond – the ingredients for a good loving bond, or a total angry blow-up and stone cold tune-out.

  2. Watch a couple completely derail

  3. Then watch them fix it

I love this because it’s something we all experience – that moment when the crap hits the fan, and we somehow end up in a fight or feeling totally distant, or both. Please watch and enjoy.

Love Sense Video

Another reason I love this video is that it gives you a glimpse of one of the ways that a couples therapist can help if angry outbursts are a part of your relationship. We don’t have to be stuck in always having the same end every time we even try to bring anything up. I love working with this, this is what we do. If you’d like a consultation to discuss how your relationship can be free from the trap of angry outbursts and total shut-down, hop over to our calendar and pick any time.

Is My Relationship Healthy? 8 Uncomfortable Feelings That Actually Indicate Your Relationship Is On The Right Path

Everyone knows that relationship aren’t easy. When you have discomfort in a relationship, it can signal problems, but not always. If you are is my relationship healthywondering, “Is My Relationship Healthy?” Here are 8 uncomfortable feelings that actually indicate your relationship is on the right path.  There are no universal rules, so the absence of these feelings doesn’t mean you are on the wrong path. And having these feelings also isn’t a guarantee that you are in a great relationship, either. We just need to be able to recognize things that are uncomfortable precisely because they are new and more healthy ways of relating. Confused yet?

Let’s just dig in. This isn’t exhaustive, it’s just off the top of my head. Please comment about what you would add to this list!

  1. Having the Fear of Losing Your Partner

    This is not about paranoia or clinging. But having a healthy awareness that losing your partner is a possibility, and that it would really hurt, is vital to having a healthy relationship. Much of what we do is in reaction to this fear, actually, a whole lot of what we do is. When we can see where this stuff is coming from, it means that we are in touch with what’s at stake and better able to have insight into what we are doing.

  2. Feeling Hurt By Your Partner’s Behavior

    As strange as this sounds, many people cover up feeling hurt so well that they don’t even recognize it anymore. All they feel is anger, or numb, or anything other than the vulnerable feeling of hurt. When you are able to identify this, it means you are putting your finger more directly on the dial of what’s going on. And then you can talk more directly about it. And that’s the right path to be on.

  3. Feeling Weak, Embarrassed, Lame, Needy, With Your Partner

    No one like to feel weak. When these feelings are coming from genuinely exposing your softer side, the side of you that needs love and actually tells the other person about it, then you are being vulnerable. A relationship where vulnerability is present is on the right path.

  4. Worrying About What Your Partner Thinks of Your Behavior

    In our culture, we like to give a big middle finger to what people think of us, and we don’t like to be told what to do. If you are worried about what your partner thinks of your behavior, chances are, you might be thinking about their experience of you in the relationship. Their experience of how you treat them. In a good relationship we think about what the other person might be experiencing thanks to us. If this is uncomfortable, it may mean you are looking at your own stuff more critically. Good job.

  5. Being Scared of How Close You Feel To Your Partner

    True intimacy is much deeper than sex. It’s having someone truly know you, and it opens you up to feeling very vulnerable. If this closeness feels good, warm, right, and scary in its intensity as something you’ve never felt before, you may be onto something.

  6. Not Feeling Very Independent When Things Are Tough

    We have this bootstrap mentality in our culture. If you aren’t strong on your own, you aren’t strong. You could even be (gasp!) ‘codependent.’ If you draw strength from your partner in times of need, that’s a good sign. If you are going into a stressful job interview and the thought of your loved one telling you “Good Luck” is what helps you through, then awesome. We aren’t lone wolves. Wolves themselves aren’t even Lone Wolves. It’s healthy and vital to be able to turn toward your partner for comfort.

  7. The Urge to Be Honest About What’s Happening With You

    In sensitive situations, such as with sex, being honest about what’s going on can be scary. We may want to avoid conflict or are embarrassed. The thought of saying that you aren’t turned on by what’s going on, or your feelings are hurt, can be tough. There are some areas that we tend to be conflict avoidant, and this can lead down the wrong path. If your urge to be honest about your experience overrides your fear that you’ll start a fight or say the wrong thing, this can be a good thing.

  8. Lots of Needs and Fears

    There are many things that, just like #1, can be very deep and scary. We also have deep longings in relationships. We want to know that we won’t be rejected. Ever. That we’re lovable no matter how we perform or look or whatever. That our partner deeply cares. That they won’t abandon us. These things are heavy and scary, and most people aren’t aware that they even feel this way. So if you are one of the lucky ones that can get in touch with one of these big feelings, congratulations. You could be on the right track to being able to get those needs met.

One striking thing is that the awareness of these negative or uncomfortable feelings is often a healthy sign. When you ask yourself “Is My Relationship Healthy?” you shouldn’t think that feeling some discomfort is a sign that it’s not. They are signals of needs we have. They are signals that we are stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zone into true vulnerability. The irony is that most of these can yield incredible feelings of security, contentment, warmth, stability, and trust if we know how to navigate ourselves into getting that. This is where we come in, it’s what we do. Let us know if you would like us to help you navigate through the discomfort and into the light in your relationship!

Many uncomfortable feelings could be present in a toxic way, such as in a domestically violent, emotionally abusive, or otherwise unhealthy relationship. Please seek professional assistance if you are concerned that your relationship could have these issues, and never tell yourself it’s OK to feel like crap in a relationship, because that is not true.

How Often Should We Come to Couples Counseling?

“How often should we come to couples counseling?”

On every initial phone call with a couple interested in couples counseling, I get asked this same question. I recommend weekly sessions for the first 4-6 weeks, and then re-evaluate after that. That isn’t a requirement, but there are several good reasons to consider doing this when you are wondering how often you should come to couples counseling:

    1. You want your couples therapist to get through the assessment period quickly.

      If you come to couples counseling every two weeks in the beginning, it will feel like it’s taking forever for your couples counselor to really dig in.  A good couples therapist takes the time to really understand each of you and what’s going on from a clinical perspective. And, it’s more complicated than “I yell and he shuts down.” It can take a few sessions, and at the rate of twice a month, this can feel like forever.

    2. You want to get the most out of the momentum of being new and fresh in therapy.

      Sort of like starting a new exercise routine, there can be a great motivation in the beginning of therapy that can really help you set up a strong foundation for how the rest of your couples therapy goes. If you are motivated to get in shape and only go to the gym once a month, you won’t see changes and you won’t feel committed the way that you do if you get a running start to your endeavor.

    3. Coming in less frequently may feel like you are starting over each time.

      While this is less of a concern with a therapist experienced in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, if it’s hard for each of you to remember what you talked about in the previous session, it will be hard for the therapist to help you build on any gains that were made. If so much happens in your life between sessions that you have to update the therapist on several key things before getting started, you are wasting a lot of time and money in giving the therapist a rundown of what they’ve missed in your life. Depending on how good the therapist is in directing traffic, you could be wasting a large portion of your session.

    4. Gains are deeper and more powerful when they can immediately follow from a previous experience.

      Following from the previous reason, if you are able to string your experiences together, you will be getting to the heart of the matter and sticking to it. No more sweeping things under the rug and wondering whether you’ll ever get back to resolving that one issue.

    5. You’ll be able to accurately determine whether to step down to twice a month with a perspective on how it feels to have more frequent visits.

      If stepping down is the right thing for you to do, you’ll want to know how to tell. Being able to compare what kind of progress you made at once a week with twice per month is vital to being able to accurately determine what’s best for you.

    6. My personal belief is that it makes your vulnerable to dropping out prematurely, or adds sessions to the overall number you attend.

      This isn’t backed by research, but I’ve seen it a lot and it makes total sense. Given all of the above, it’s not unreasonable to think that adding barriers to your progress could add sessions, money, and time to your journey in healing a relationship. The majority of the people I’ve seen who drop out of therapy before resolving the things that brought them in were twice per week folks. Not all of them, but enough for me to believe in a correlation. The rest of them took more sessions to graduate.

These questions are great, and they usually come from wanting to know what’s going to make you better, faster. And though money isn’t something that should drive your decisions, it’s really important. From a financial perspective, twice a month seems like it may be better, but the overall cost may be greater when you consider adding sessions and/or losing your momentum and progress in therapy and ultimately dropping out before you have lasting change. That’s probably the biggest danger, and though I can’t make these decisions for you, I’m a firm believer in people having all the info they need to make the best decision for them.

If twice per month therapy is all you can do, it will benefit you to be aware of these issues and watch for them cropping up. Communication with your couples therapist is key. Feeling stagnant in couples therapy, unmotivated, etc. are big red flags that your couples therapist can only address if it’s being talked about.

To have a free half hour consultation with one of our Denver Couples Counselors, book online here.

 

Your Spouse Always Thinks You’re Trying to Start a Fight

Your Spouse Always Thinks You're Trying to Start a FightSo, what do you do if your spouse always thinks you’re trying to start a fight?

Defensiveness can seem like a huge brick wall. It feels like you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s pretty common for one partner to complain that they have been pretty clear about their needs in the relationship, but their spouse either gets defensive or ignores them. Why is it that sometimes it feels like no matter what you say, it seems like your spouse always thinks you’re trying to start a fight?

One telltale way that I uncover what’s going on is that I’ll ask each person how they let their partner know that they need something.

Most of the time, at least one person will say something like:

“I’ve said over and over that I don’t like __________.”

“When he/she does something good, which is the opposite of how they usually act, I make sure to tell them that if they would just do more of this and not ever do that other stuff, I’d be happier.”

“I shouldn’t have to tell him/her. If he/she really cared, they’d know what to do based on how many times we’ve had this conversation.”

“I’ve told him/her that I need her to be more ________.”

Can you spot the common thread in all of these approaches? They all include criticism. Implied or outright criticism.

When you are trying to get through to your partner, if there is even a hint of criticism in there, it can turn the whole interaction sour. It’s like when I was pregnant and would sniff everything before I ate it to see if it had gone bad. My sense of smell was so keen that things just smelled bad, and it made me paranoid. If I caught a whiff of something that could be off, I couldn’t eat it. It didn’t matter if I was half way through, if others were happily chowing down, it was over.

Criticism is the same way. And over time, you start to think that everything is going to be sour, so you don’t even give it a chance. Your partner hears criticism where it isn’t. You end up stuck. 

There are often good reasons for criticism. But our actual needs in the relationship get lost in the message. Most of the time, we are trying to convey ourselves, be understood, spark change. But it backfires. It feels naked and weak to make nice when we’re hurt. Lots of times, we don’t even know we are hurting, we’re just pissed. Maybe you used to be careful about criticism and it never got you anywhere. Maybe you’re fed up. It would be understandable if you were.

So, if you are thinking that stopping criticism is easier said than done, you’d be right.

If your spouse always thinks that you are always trying to start a fight, they might shut down and not want to discuss anything at all. Or, they might get defensive and attack before you realize you are in a fight. These patterns are complicated and are never, ever down to just one person always doing this or never doing that. But, one thing is usually true – if you feel like simple requests turn into a fight, check to see how much (thinly) veiled criticism is going on there. 

If you are unsure how to get out of being defensive and communicate in a way that gets your needs met, schedule a time for us to call you. This is what we do.