Accepting Unwanted Emotions

Emotions: according to the dictionary, the definition of an emotion is, “a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body”.

But emotions serve us in a variety of ways.  For example, they give us valuable messages (e.g., fear in an unsafe situation), reveal how important something is to us (e.g., you have stronger emotions in your romantic relationship than you do when you’re shopping for cereal or having a casual conversation with a stranger), and prompt us to act (e.g., you stroke a partner’s face with love or turn away from spoiled food in disgust).

But the story of emotions is a bit more delicate and complex, as it isn’t simply about what we feel in response to what happens around us.  We tirelessly size up our inner world and place value judgments on it.  Depending on the circumstances we’re in and the messages we’ve received along the way about what we’re allowed to feel, emotions (or at least certain ones) may get tagged as acceptable, healthy, or reasonable, or they might get labeled as wrong, crazy, or threatening.  For instance, researchers at the University of Oxford highlighted the following categories of disapproving beliefs when it comes to painful emotions:

  • Emotions are too powerful and can’t be managed.

  • Emotions are bad and/or ridiculous.

  • Emotions are defective and make no sense.

  • Emotions are unproductive.

  • My emotions could sabotage me or other people.

  • My emotions might spread to other people and I can’t let that happen. 

What’s thorny about this is that if we have a negative outlook on our emotions, we’ve got a whole new load to carry—we’re more likely to have another negative emotion layered on top of the one we’re already experiencing.  The emotions we have about how we feel are known as meta-emotions.  For example, let’s say we see sadness as a sign of personal weakness and inadequacy.  Because of this viewpoint, we might feel shame or fear in response to our sadness.  And it’s not just uncomfortable emotions that get a bad rap.  People can feel nervous about pleasant emotions too.

Our ideas about our emotional life don’t just impact how we feel about our emotions, but the steps we take to respond to them as well.  To illustrate, let’s stay with our example of sadness.  We regard it as a signal that we’re weak and defective in some way, and this idea stirs up intense shame. The big question now: What do we do with all of this?  Considering that we’re treating sadness as intolerable and we feel ashamed of it, we’re relatively unlikely to talk about it with someone else, to be kind to ourselves in the face of it, or to allow ourselves to feel sad and see what happens.  No, instead we’re probably going to be more inclined to react to sadness in other ways, such as:

  • Mentally beating ourselves up for feeling it

  • Racking our brains over why we feel this way and why we can’t get over it and feel happy like everyone seems to feel

  • Trying to cover it up when we’re around other people

  • Self-medicating with alcohol or other substances

How we choose to respond to our emotions also has an impact on how we feel and on our quality of life.  If we criticize ourselves all the time, that harsh voice gets stronger and we’ll continue unintentionally manufacturing more shame.  We could mull over why we feel the way we do and question why we can’t make it go away, but this approach is more likely to leave us feeling even worse.  If we try to hide our sadness and mask what feels so unspeakable, we’re liable to bear the cost of this strategy, experiencing more distress, less comfort, and more detached relationships.  And although we can try to escape through alcohol and other substances, this opens the door to use disorders and other problems.

There are a variety of other ways in which rejecting what we feel sets the stage for giving us more of the very thing we don’t want.  For instance, when people are scared of emotions, this forecasts difficulty managing anger, feeling more upset, drawing from pleasant memories to feel better, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Moreover, people who view uncomfortable emotions as bad are also less likely to be empathic toward themselves.  And the idea that painful emotions are hazardous is related to lower odds of naming such emotions for one’s children, a valuable step in emotional skill-building. 

So if it doesn’t serve us to treat our emotions as off-limits, what’s the alternative?  When we accept distressing emotions as being a universal, natural part of life, it’s ironically linked to experiencing them less and, in the long run, having better emotional health.

But why might this be?  Why would accepting the emotions we don’t want generally be connected with them dwindling rather than growing?  Researchers have proposed several possible explanations:

  • Rumination can make people feel worse, and individuals who accept upsetting emotions don’t tend to ruminate over them as much.

  • Efforts to avoid what a person feels can go awry and have a boomerang effect, furnishing them with more of what they tried to push away.

  • Individuals who accept their emotions may be spared an extra layer of emotional pain by not having to feel upset about feeling upset.  

  • Disquieting emotions that we meet with acceptance are less likely to have as much staying power.

Acceptance is a mindset, an approach of giving ourselves permission to experience our emotions and taking the perspective that they’re human rather than silly, weak, crazy, wrong, dangerous, or beyond our power to ever be able to manage.  It’s about challenging that self-critical inner voice that says we can’t feel what we do, or that an emotion will harm us or be a badge of our inherent fault or shame.  Acceptance is about giving ourselves the space to listen to ourselves in a nonjudgmental way.  


Read the full article on Psychology Today.


If you live in the Los Angeles or Westlake Village area and are interested in therapy, I invite you to contact me via email at: tanyasamuelianmft@yahoo.com . I provide a complimentary consultation. Check out my services to see which one might fit your needs. Contact me now to see if we might be a good fit to work together! Or book your appointment here!

Feeling Blue? It could be Seasonal Affective Disorder...

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is one of the few ailments that is on a clock: It usually begins in October, and people who suffer from it usually feel the full effects in January and February. We also know that it’s more common for people living in places that get less sunlight during the winter and it’s more common in women than men, according to psychologists and researchers.

Traditionally, SAD is treated with antidepressant medication or light therapy, but there has been recent piloting towards a new approach using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), looking at the effects of CBT method on reducing negative thought patterns for people with SAD, using the Socratic method to interrupt negative thought patterns and make way for more mood-neutral thoughts, while simultaneously focusing on behavior and helping people to make slight shifts in their habits.

Here are a few questions to consider.

Q

What is seasonal affective disorder?

A

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of clinical depression that commonly occurs in the fall and winter months and typically resolves in the spring and summer. While it can take any seasonal pattern, the fall/winter type is overwhelmingly the most common. The only thing that makes it different from garden-variety depression is the seasonal pattern that it follows.

Because of their similarities, SAD is often misdiagnosed as depression. It sometimes takes a few years for people who have this pattern to recognize that it’s a pattern, and that it’s tied to the seasons.

Q

What are the most common symptoms?

A

Because we’re diagnosing depression when diagnosing SAD, we look for at least five of the nine diagnostic symptoms of depression. We’re diagnosing a depression that follows a seasonal pattern, meaning we’re looking for depressive symptoms that are present much of the day, almost every day, for at least two weeks. The hallmark symptoms of depression are:

  1. Feeling consistently down for most of the day or nearly every day.

  2. A loss of interest in the things that would have otherwise been enjoyable, such as social activities that previously would have brought a sense of enjoyment or pleasure.

  3. Feeling overwhelmingly tired or experiencing low energy.

  4. Inability to hold attention and focus or experiencing difficulty in concentrating.

  5. Feeling worthless or hopeless.

  6. Issues with sleep. Either too little or too much. In winter depression, we tend to see hypersomnia or sleeping too much. In most cases, the individual sleeps for at least an extra hour a day compared to the spring or summer. Some patients may sleep ten to even fourteen hours a day and are still tired. It’s not restorative sleep that we’re seeing. A minority of patients, on the other hand, experience insomnia.

  7. Changes in appetite or weight. This could be either wanting to eat a lot more or a lot less than usual. In winter depression, it’s usually wanting to eat more, and it’s usually carbohydrate-rich foods. Either sugars, starches, or both. With this, we typically see weight gain with an increased appetite or weight loss with a decreased appetite.

  8. Agitation often accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame.

  9. In extreme cases, thoughts of death or suicide.

Individuals can be diagnosed with SAD when they’re experiencing five of these symptoms, which need to include the first and/or second symptom.

These are not momentary symptoms; rather, they are pervasive for at least a couple of weeks. On average, it’s estimated to be five months of the year in a major depressive episode. It’s a lot of time to spend in depression, in terms of the cumulative toll that it could take on a person’s life.

Q

Whom does it affect most?


A

Similar to depression, there is a pronounced gender difference for those affected by SAD. Depression in general is two times more common in women than in men, and data suggests seasonal depression is even more common in women than in men. When we look at its prevalence, we’re looking at a single snapshot in time. And we’ve found that most cases occur in young adults, typically in their twenties to thirties. We’re not entirely sure why it occurs in this age range, though, since these studies don’t follow people over time. One theory is that SAD becomes less prevalent as people age, because they learn how to cope with it or possibly move to places that don’t have winters that are as harsh.

Q

How does SAD differ from depression? For individuals who have been previously diagnosed with depression, does that put them at an increased risk of developing SAD?

A

It’s estimated that up to 10 to 20 percent of recurrent depression cases follow a seasonal pattern. This is generally the course of depression, in which a depressive episode tends to return over time, with periods of time without depression between the episodes.

For SAD patients, there are unfortunately very few studies that have tried to look at the long-term trajectory of the disorder. So we don’t have a coherent idea of its outlook. We’ve tried contacting people we knew who had SAD in the past to learn about their experience and see where they’re at today, and we’ve found mixed long-term courses. A lot of them continue to experience SAD episodes every winter. Others become more subclinical, where they used to have full-threshold SAD, and now they may just have the winter blues. Some develop a completely nonseasonal course where they still have depressive episodes but it’s not tied to the seasons. And others fully remit, where they don’t have depression, seasonal or otherwise, moving forward.

In terms of how SAD differs from depression, there is a strong correlation of SAD with latitude in the United States. The farther you are from the equator, the more cases you’ll find. It is estimated that 9 percent of those people who live in Alaska suffer from SAD, compared with 1 percent of those who live in Florida. For most people—at least in the northern United States—SAD slowly begins in October. People often report an increase in their symptoms after the end of daylight saving time and experience their symptoms in full effect in January and February. It is in these two months that we find the largest proportion of SAD patients in a full major depressive episode.

Another strong link is photo period, or length of daylight. Photo period is the strongest predictor of when symptoms start in any given year for someone who has seasonal affective disorder, as well as how severe the symptoms are on a given day. The number of hours from dawn to dusk determines your photo period. We believe that photo period is what explains the onset of this disorder and can determine how bad symptoms may be on any particular day.

Q

What is the traditional approach to treating SAD?

A

Light therapy was the first line of treatment developed specifically for SAD patients. It was developed at the National Institute of Mental Health under Norman Rosenthal. He was a psychiatrist who moved from South Africa to Bethesda, Maryland, to work at the National Institute of Mental Health, and he experienced SAD symptoms. He was interested in learning more about it, and seeing if others experienced similar symptoms. He put an ad in The Washington Post, asking whether anyone experienced depression in the fall and the winter, and the lab phone rang constantly for weeks at a time. They had a huge response from people who thought they had the symptoms. They brought them they seemed to follow. From this, they developed light therapy as a form of treatment.

With light therapy, the goal is to give people a very bright dose of light, first thing in the morning, to simulate an early dawn. In theory, we’re trying to jump-start a sluggish biological clock, so that circadian rhythms go back to a normal phase as if they’re in the summer, when these people are feeling good. The devices tested in clinical trials are 10,000 LUX, which is the same intensity of light from the sky at sunrise. We block out the UV rays since they’re not necessary for an antidepressant response. We’ve found that prescribing patients to sit in front of 10,000 LUX for at least thirty minutes a day is what it takes for the treatment to be effective in people who have SAD. That said, similar to finding the right antidepressant, it can be a bit of a trial-and-error process. We try to find that sweet spot of exactly how many minutes a day and at what time or times of the day it’s most effective for the patient. The optimal benefit from light therapy must be determined on an individual basis so we can balance any side effects they may experience in response to the light.

The same drugs that are effective in treating nonseasonal depression—particularly SSRIs like fluoxetine/Prozac—have been tested for SAD with a good outcome in placebo-controlled studies. There is one drug that’s FDA-approved specifically to prevent SAD, which is Wellbutrin Extended Release. There was a large multisite study—with the GlaxoSmithKlein drug—completed a few years ago with over 1,000 SAD patients. The study compared putting people on the Wellbutrin Extended Release versus a placebo, and the participants started the treatment early in the fall when they weren’t yet having their symptoms, and the study followed them into the winter. The researchers found fewer relapses on the drug than with the placebo, which led to the FDA approval of the medication. Either bright-light therapy or antidepressant medication are typically used in treating SAD.

Q

How can cognitive behavioral therapy be used to treat SAD?

A

There is an extensive body of research demonstrating that CBT is an effective talk therapy for people with depression. There have also been a lot of clinical trials showing that it worked as well as antidepressant medications for improving depression. Additionally, when you follow people over time, after they’re treated to remission using CBT versus treated to remission using antidepressant medications, there are fewer relapses and recurrences among those treated with CBT than those treated with antidepressant medication.

Q

Recommendations?

A

Resist the urge to self-diagnose and self-treat. Seek evaluation from a qualified person who can figure out once and for all if it’s SAD or if it might be something else, including a depression that’s not following a seasonal course. And know that there are treatment options out there that are effective, including light therapy, antidepressant medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy. So there are reasons to be optimistic that one of these interventions will be helpful in terms of improving your experience.



This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. View the full article here: https://goop.com/wellness/how-to-treat-seasonal-affective-disorder/


If you live in the Los Angeles/Westlake Village area and are interested in therapy, I invite you to contact me via email at: tanyasamuelianmft@yahoo.com . I provide a complimentary consultation. Contact me now to see if we might be a good fit to work together! Or book your appointment here!

Attachment Styles & The Effects on our Relationships

Many psychotherapists (including myself) believe that our adult personalities are unconsciously planted in our childhood experiences. And the way we relate to others, too, seems to be established in our very first relationships—typically with our parents. From the way our caregivers meet our emotional needs in early life, we develop social coping habits that collect into something called an “attachment style”—a pattern in the way we relate to others. A healthy attachment style might serve us well, fostering solid self-esteem and positive relationships, but an unstable one might hold us back from forming functional relationships.

Attachment theory isn’t talked about as often today. However, we all have something to learn from knowing our attachment style: The first step is knowing if you have an insecure attachment style, and, if so, what kind. The second—and this is the tough part—is changing it. Stepping into the unconscious mind isn’t intuitive or easy, but it’s not impossible—and it can reform the way you approach relationships going forward.

Here are a few examples:

You may have been single for some time and wonder why. Or you may be a serial dater who enters relationships falling hard in the first few months—only to cool down and lose interest. You may yearn for love but find yourself staying home binge-watching Game of Thrones. You may have found the perfect partner but get so in your head that it’s impossible to enjoy dinner with them. Perhaps you have been in a long-term relationship but feel unfulfilled, and no matter what they do, you can’t seem to trust your partner. If any of these scenarios apply to you, you may be mimicking feelings that were established when you were in diapers.

Do any of those sound familiar? Many of the fears, beliefs, and behavioral patterns you present as an adult are derived from how you felt in the first few years of life. Our thoughts and actions are shaped by the way you were attached to your primary caregivers.

Attachment theory is useful and relevant especially in identifying insecurities and detachments that affect our general well-being. There are three main types: anxious, avoidant, and secure. Of course, there’s a lot of individual variability, but most people tend to identify with one of these types.

Anxious

Anxiously attached people require a lot of attention. They never seem to be satisfied with the amount they are receiving and consistently want more, a need driven by the devastating fear that they are not good enough. They often compare themselves with others and strive for perfection.

It is almost impossible for an anxiously attached person to fully trust anyone, and so they make a mess of romance and friendships. They are often suspicious, scared of being betrayed, and predisposed to meddling in the affairs of others. If you don’t text them back within an hour or two, they tend to take it personally; they believe that something is wrong, feel annoyed, or worry they have offended you in some way.

People that are anxiously attached are waiting for the other shoe to drop. They may constantly be on the verge of breaking up with their partner or friends, but they don’t go through with it because they don’t want to be left alone. Does it remind you of anyone?

Avoidant

These people often seem indifferent and unaffected by even the most turbulent of relationships. They keep their emotions closed off and don’t engage too deeply in love.

It feels unsafe for avoidants to show who they are; they’re often dealing with self-doubt and uncertainty. They busy themselves with a wide array of useless tasks in order to place distance between themselves and others. They are often workaholics who have little time to socialize with friends, and they even have a tendency to neglect their spouses and children. Avoidants are masters of self-soothing, which often leads to reliance on unhealthy obsessive patterns around substances, exercise, and food.

People who are avoidant may yearn for a loving connection but find themselves running from scenarios where they are asked to commit—in the face of real intimacy, they become uncomfortable and tend to slip away when things get serious.

Avoidants are encased by an unconscious fear that they will be abandoned and rejected and therefore they do not allow themselves to get too close. Unfortunately, this can lead to loneliness, a sense of disconnection, and pessimism.

Secure

Those who are securely attached find the joy in friendships and intimate partners and are not afraid to let it all hang out. They have a balanced and healthy ego—for the most part—and believe in themselves and the vitality of companionship. They seek partners who are also healthy and have a low, well-balanced center of gravity, which allows them to take risks without the fear of failure.

When a securely attached person is paired with an anxious or avoidantly attached person, he/she can tell right away that something is amiss. This does not mean that relationships do not exist between these groups, but if they do, they are often short-lived and unfulfilled. Securely attached people sometimes have a blind spot that prevents them from understanding what people with insecure attachments are coping with. They are the fortunate ones who had parents who showed the correct amount of love for them. This is the primary difference: Avoidants and anxious types did not receive what they needed to feel fully safe.

What next?

We can’t go back and change the details of the first years of life, but there are a few things that can be done to heal these wounds. I encourage you to seek out the help of a therapist. Therapy can be immensely helpful in healing old wounds, shifting your perception of yourself and the people around you, and allowing you to feel safe.

If you live in the Los Angeles/Westlake Village area and are interested in therapy, I invite you to contact me via email at: tanyasamuelianmft@yahoo.com . I provide a complimentary consultation. Contact me now to see if we might be a good fit to work together! Or book your appointment now!


Forgiveness

What does forgiveness mean to you? What does it mean to forgive someone? What does it mean to forgive yourself? It sounds like it would be an easy question to answer, but I challenge you to pause and really think about the last time you forgave someone, or even yourself. Many times, it’s easier to forgive someone else before you can forgive yourself. Here are a few key things to remember when forgiving yourself:

  • admit the wrong: take ownership of what you did. You have to deal with it, face what you did, and how the situation was created by what you did. We are all human and you’re going to make mistakes.

  • prepare to restart and try again: continuing to punish yourself for the past only blocks you from your own happiness in the present. You are allowed to grow and become a better person. Make amends with others and yourself, keep what you have learned, and let go of the rest.

  • a restart is not an undo: although forgiving yourself is important, you have to remember that others may continue to hold on because you cannot control how anyone else thinks or feels, and forgiveness is not permission to do it again. You can’t force someone else’s forgiveness, and just because you apologize doesn’t mean that the person who was affected will accept it; however, that does not mean have to continue to punish yourself for whatever happened.

In order to grow as people, we have to learn from our mistakes and our past. We have to forgive ourselves even when others might not. Forgiveness is an important and necessary part of building a loving and trusting relationship with yourself.

What are some ways that you forgive yourself? Share in the comments below!

If you are finding yourself struggling with forgiveness and live in the Los Angeles/Westlake Village area and are interested in individual or couples therapy, I invite you to contact me via email at: tanyasamuelianmft@yahoo.com . I happily provide a complimentary consultation. Contact me now to see if we might be a good fit to work together!