Thursday, July 30, 2015

I know you don't feel like it but......

Avoidance!  It's something we all do now and again, but some of us do it more than others.  Like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, we ignore important things because..... well we just don't want to deal with that right now.  And "that" is feeling overwhelmed or afraid or disappointed in ourselves.  Think about it.  What do we most often avoid?  Exercise?  Looking at our finances?  Talking to our significant others?  Talking to our boss?  That big project at work or school?

We avoid when we feel overwhelmed or when we don't like the potential outcome of a situation.  Or when we feel like we don't have much control of a situation.  Or when we don't feel very prepared.  It's a stall tactic that allows us to push away something big that we are not quite sure how to handle.  It's a coping skill left over from childhood.  If we ignored something we didn't like, it would go away or someone else would take care of it.  But we're adults now right?  And if we ignore things, they don't get better and they rarely just go away.

You see avoidance itself sets us up for future failure.  When we avoid doing something complicated or unpleasant, we lose out on valuable skills we could be learning such a problem solving and negotiation.  We also don't learn how to tolerate discomfort.  Did you know that in recent studies more people would choose death than to sit for an hour alone with themselves?  They're avoiding alone time in order to avoid having to take stock of their lives and who they've become.  And to add injury to insult, that avoidance behavior actually increases our anxiety.  We know way back in the back of our brains that the issue is still there.  That we still haven't had that conversation or taken care of that important task.  The only way to stop the worry is to deal with the situation at hand.  So what to do?

First, break up a big project into smaller pieces.  There's no need to attack it all at once.  In fact, write it down on paper - make a plan for yourself that you can stick with and just start at step one.  You can also visualize a time when you handled other big projects or difficult discussions and things went well.  Get help from someone you trust who can talk you through things or hold you accountable when you can't trust yourself to do that.  There are many ways to face the things that make you uncomfortable and when it's over, you can relax and feel good in knowing you at least learned something new.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

When you need to break up with your break-up.

Have you ever been dumped and then found yourself obsessing about your former love?  Break-ups are known to be difficult, but in some cases it can turn a normally reasonable person into a veritable basket case.  What gives?  

Take my friend Paul for instance.  He was dating this girl Sharon for about two years and things were going great - or at least he thought so.  They went out often, shared an apartment together - even had a dog!  Then wham!  Out of the blue, she dumps him.  Paul looks like he’s been hit by a truck.  He’s got dark circles under the eyes from no sleep.  He’s constantly checking his phone and email for messages from Sharon.  He sends her messages daily even though he gets no response.  He stops eating and hanging out with his friends.  It’s almost like she died.  And for Paul, that analogy is not that far off.

You see, no one likes rejection.  It hits that little panic button in all of our brains that make us wonder if we just lost “the one” and will never be happy again.  Turns out, that reaction is hard-wired into our brains.  We’re social creatures after all and the thought that we might get left all alone in the world can be devastating, threatening our very survival.  

On another level, love is like a drug - literally!  A Rutgers University anthropologist, Helen Fisher, took brain scans of people who were recently dumped and found that the same parts of the brain associated with addiction, reward and motivation were lit up like a christmas tree.  This suggests that love itself can be addictive and that losing love can put us into love withdrawal.  And its key symptoms appear to be anxiety and obsession.  And while for most of us, we go through our few weeks long mourning period and get back on the horse, some folks fall into a pit of despair that may require help to climb out of.  

The key seems to lie on our early childhood past.  Particularly our relationships with our parents.  When a child grows up in a home where they feel securely loved by their parents, they tend to have an easier time with break-ups later on.  But for those who had a less secure attachment to their parents, break-ups tend to be fraught with more anxiety and obsessive thoughts.  

Additionally, people who have a lower sense of self-worth may also struggle with getting over a break-up.  A 2011 study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found the more a person’s sense of self-worth was tied to their relationships, the more suffering they felt when the relationship ended.  A person’s sense of self-worth develops over their lifetime based on their life experiences.  When a person has negative experiences that leave behind negative beliefs, great damage can be done to their sense of self-worth.  

So what can you do if you find yourself struggling at the end of a relationship?  First, try to reconnect with yourself.  It may be time to discover (or rediscover) things about yourself such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘What are my goals?’  Next, be sure to break all ties with your former lover.  Stop writing, calling and texting them.  It may be difficult at first, but the longer you can go without contact, the easier it will be to heal in the future.  After that, start forcing yourself to get out and have some fun.  Reconnect with your friends and family or find a new hobby to enjoy!  If those things don’t work, it may be a good idea to seek out professional help, especially if you’re feeling depressed or are finding it too difficult to take care of yourself.  A professional can help you resolve the past experiences that may be at the root of what you are feeling and help you move on.