Currently, over on LinkedIn, one of the discussion groups is having a pretty rockin’ debate about the “proper” decor for a therapist’s office. The comments range all over the map, from “stark, bare, and business-like,” to “looks like my living room,” and everything in between.
This is actually an important point …and guess what? There’s been some research done. Since the primary element in effective therapy is the therapeutic relationship, it stands to reason that the next most important element would be the environment. So, here we have the research and I am chuffed to know my office fits right in with the findings. Dim lighting, comfort, and safety are the the hallmarks of more client self-disclosure, and overall participation in the therapy. So here’s my office… feel free to drop in talk to me.
My friend Anna-Lou is an amazing bundle of everything Tigger would be if he were a grrrrrrl. Or maybe, Anna-Lou just channels the spirit of Tigger on the way to wherever she is going. We live very far apart and I read her posts and see her in my mind’s eye gracefully flitting, book(s) in hand, from one shiny thing to another, scattering a frothy mess of feather bits, sparkles, and paint splots. (Anna-Lou will snicker. I said “gracefully flitting” instead of what she really does.)
All this and ambition, too. How groovy.
We have known for hundreds of years through behavioural observation that emotions appear to be contagious, but these conclusions were only based on patterns of behaviour.
Recently, that’s been changing. With the advent of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), scientists have been able to see how the brain lights up in response to emotional stimuli, positive or negative, and in the process, have been able to observe changes in the brain’s response to external emotional influence.
There are two primary processes at work – focus, and scan, which have very different functions. When we are focused on problem solving, the “Task Positive Network” which is part of Executive Function, engages, and our brain process is almost completely cognitive. In other words, we’re thinking. The brain suppresses other “unnecessary” functions in favour of quick processing, creativity, and hyper-focus. In other words, when this Task Positive Network is engaged, the brain blocks out social/emotional processing. When interacting with people, we use a different part of the brain, the Default Mode Network. We scan; looking for verbal and non-verbal cues that will allow us to gauge the other’s emotional state. We have the ability to “tune in” to people, offering an appropriate social and emotional response to what we pick up.
Practically speaking, we have an unconscious tendency to end up mirroring the mood of the dominant individual in our immediate sphere. Apparently, these changes happen
at the speed of light very rapidly and mostly at a subconscious at the neural synapse level. We aren’t aware of the change in frequency in brain activity that happens neurologically as we make the shift. If you think about it, you can probably come up with an example of a time when you felt that emotional shift – from positive to negative (or vice versa) after an encounter with someone. We even have language that expresses that experience; “He was a real downer.” “I always feel good after I’ve had coffee with her.” We might not be able to point to a specific action the other person did, nevertheless we experience an internal shift in feeling.
This is where mindfulness – as opposed to mindlessness – becomes key. Mindfulness is so much more than just “paying attention.” It is being aware of both the external circumstances and, simultaneously, of our own internal landscape.
Why does any of this matter? Because when we live mindlessly, we are at the emotional mercy of the strongest mood we encounter. It is also a sad truth that we are more likely to be swayed by a negative mood than a positive one. Our mood might pick up a little if we’re with a particularly sunny friend, but we are much more likely to feel flattened by someone’s downer mood. Now neuroscience has begun to compile a body of data indicating that living on autopilot can mean life is much more difficult than it has to be.
Here are some things that help us manage our own emotions in any context:
- Selfcare: When we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sick, we are much more easily influenced by the moods of others. At the same time, we are also more likely to be negative to begin with if we have not had enough sleep, or not pursued some emotionally and psychologically renewing activity recently. Take care of yourself, first. Check out Selfcare on Pinterest
- Learn & Practice mindfulness: Don’t live on autopilot. Pay attention to your own inner responses to your external environment. Question your responses by choosing to tune in to the automatic self talk that is constantly running in the background of the mind. It’s there for everyone – I mean everyone – and those repetitious, under-the-radar thoughts compel a reaction before we have a chance to choose a response. Mindfulness is a cultivated habit.
- Journal: In some form, process what’s actually IN your head. I often suggest “morning pages” to my clients (Check out The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for instructions) but any form of reflection will work. Do a vlog like Jake Sully in Avatar; look up art journaling on Pinterest and try it; take five minutes a day to record an audio file on your smartphone. Think over the day, and work through the times/occasions when your inner landscape was impacted by the external situation. Do this consistently for at least 30 days, then go back and review. You will be surprised at what you learn about yourself. Journaling ideas
- Focus on “Positive Emotional Attractors” – this is not just some sort of spizzy, think-yourself-happy exercise. Research supports the contention that focusing on strengths (as opposed to weaknesses), practicing empathy, and consciously monitoring and managing stress levels has a beneficial payoff through increased creativity, internal resilience, and self-motivation. Cultivating gratitude (as a bonus, check out www.unstuck.com – a gloriously helpful place to explore. There’s even an app)
When we focus on what is going right, mindfully cultivate a habit of gratitude, and look for ways to compassionately connect with our fellow human beings, life seems easier …and we all want that.
Self-care. A hot button topic these days. Why? I think because the world is slowly realizing that in the quest for happiness one cannot ignore the need for self-love. And the reality is that taking care of yourself is absolutely necessary and the furthest thing from being selfish or rude. Now, I’m preaching to myself here because I have all but forgotten myself since having children and working for a living. But I am getting on the train and trying to figure out my self-care routine. I’m starting with three things and wanted to share them with you.
I think that the number one thing you can do to take care of yourself is to sleep well. Sleeping recharges your body and your brain. Sleep is a beautiful thing…when it’s easy and there’s lots of it happening! For a few years now I have been having a terrible time getting to sleep, and so have created a habit of staying up late watching Netflix because I don’t want to go to bed and lay there frustrated.
In response to my self-induced sleep deprivation, my fiance introduced me to white noise. I was skeptical at first because traditionally for me, I enjoy total silence when trying to sleep and have been known to rip the batteries out of a ticking clock at night. The white noise was exactly what I needed. Sleep came quickly and it was actually restful. So here’s my first self-care suggestion – download an app and try it. There are tons that are free, and even more that are paid. I like an app called White Noise Free – this is the icon: . It has lots of options for sounds, timers and best of all it’s free!
Another thing you can do is meditate. For me, meditation has never carried any weight because I didn’t understand it. And I still don’t fully but what I do know is that there is a lot of merit in taking the time to stop and think or clear your mind. Meditation comes in many forms and disciplines.
“a life of meditation”synonyms: contemplation, thought, thinking, musing, pondering, consideration, reflection, deliberation, rumination, brooding, reverie, brown study, concentration.
There’s yoga, deep breathing and colouring to name a few. Colouring has recently gained a lot of popularity with Zentagle® books and adult colouring books flying off the shelves at Chapters and Amazon. There is something incredibly relaxing about putting colour to paper and having something new when you’re done. For some it clears their mind, and for others it allows them to solve a problem. Either of those things can be considered self-care and for that reason, meditation through colouring is my second self-care suggestion. Pinterest is full of patterns with step by step instructions on how to create Zentagles®. Many other sites online have downloadable colouring pages, and book stores have beautiful adult colouring books. Check it out and see if it helps you!
The last suggestion for self-care that I have for you is journalling. There are numerous benefits to writing or recording your thoughts once a day which include problem solving, stress reduction and increased self-esteem. Another benefit is the ability to look back and see inside your past self. A journal can have many forms in today’s world and you might have to try a few before you find the one that works for you. Some people record their thoughts through video, some through pen to paper writing and now there are journalling apps. One that I’ve discovered is called Journey – this is the app icon: . This app lets me make a picture diary which is great for my visually-driven self.
I’ve only just found this app so there’s one entry so far, but I am excited about the process and being able to put my thoughts down instantly with a picture to remind myself how I was feeling at that moment.
In the end, self-care is a personal activity and what works for me might not work for you. The good thing is that a great self-care plan just needs to have 1 thing. Something that you enjoy. Take a minute and think about this: If you had an hour of free time, what would you do? When I ask myself this question the answer is to go to the library and read. Sometimes that isn’t possible and so I will be able to use colouring or journalling in place of library time.
What things do you do for self-care? If you are drawing a blank, check out our Pinterest board on Self-Care for ideas.