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ARE YOU FEELING STRESSED?

Over one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, adults in the US are experiencing their highest levels of stress since the pandemic began. 

 

What is stress?

Stress is another name for anxiety. But in our vernacular, we often use the word "stress" instead of anxiety to denote several things: a lower level of anxiety, that comes about due to a unique set of circumstances, that "aren't our fault".  The truth is, all anxiety is experienced on a continuum, is triggered by a unique set of circumstances that bring up unresolved issues and this is never anyone's fault. So, stress is just another name for anxiety.

What is anxiety?

 

Anxiety is fear of what might happen in the future. This fear can fall into one of three categories: fear of losing yourself, fear of losing relationships, or fear of competition with others. While on the surface, your stress or anxiety might not look like it falls into one of these categories, the root of what's causing your anxiety is always one of these. 

All stress or anxiety, while triggered by current events, has a root in your personal history.

The roots of your anxiety.

 

Our experiences in early childhood create a map in the mind that we use to understand and navigate our lives. This map, or in this case the parts of it that relate to anxiety, are automatically used when we experience our current stressors. For example, you're feeling anxious about the amount of work you have to complete. The way you know how to manage is to put everything else on hold until it gets done; in fact, this may feel like the only solution. Putting everything else on hold would also require you to put your feelings on hold, and it's hard to do. You feel like a ball of anxiety. Most likely, your earliest experiences taught you to expect that you'd have to go it alone when something was making you anxious, leaving you feeling scared and overwhelmed. It also required all of your resources, so you had to ignore yourself to get past whatever was making you anxious. Ultimately, you are fearful of losing yourself in the face of this amount of work in your current situation. This is truly why you are feeling anxious.

Understanding the roots of your anxiety tells you what you're truly anxious about, which gives you the chance to address the real obstacle. Start with some of these questions to begin understanding your roots: What was your experience with stress and anxiety in childhood? Were others around you stressed? And, if so, about what and when? Did anyone help you manage stressful situations? Or help you with your anxiety when it came up? 

How do I make my anxiety feel better?

 

Understanding the roots of your anxiety brings clarity to how you are feeling and why. This knowledge alone can help alleviate some of the anxiety. It also opens you up to other ways of managing your current obstacle. If we use the previous example, once you know that your map is informing your expectation that you must go it alone with your overwhelming workload you may realize that it's no longer the case today and you can ask for help. This also makes your anxiety feel better. To eradicate your anxiety, dive deep into understanding its roots for you and connect these to your present day. Talk with someone who knows how to help you navigate this kind of conversation if it's a new one for you. Lastly, communicating your anxious feelings to someone who is understanding also helps alleviate some of the anxiety as they'll be "carrying" the weight of some of the anxiety for you simply by actively listening.

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WHAT IS SPIRITUAL BYPASSING

A term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, Spiritual Bypassing refers to "the tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks."

Spirituality and mindfulness has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. And while it’s important, it cannot take the place of psychological growth. Sometimes there is an unconscious and unintentional attempt to use these practices to heal all. Unfortunately, in doing so, issues don't get addressed and symptoms remain.

 

What can spiritual bypassing look like?

 

*Using sprituality as a cure all.

 

*Hijacking ancient spiritual practices in a way that they weren't intended to be used. 

*Taking on an identity as a spiritual practitioner.

 

*Everything is good! A one-sided practice that neglects duality and emotion.

 

*Focus on the intellectual and not the emotional.

 

*Focus on the abstact and not the personal.

 

*A sense of vagueness in beliefs and practices.

 

*Use of fancy language and jargon.

 

*Self-sufficiency.

 

Why would I "spiritually bypass"?

 

There are many reasons why you might "spiritually bypass". For one, because these ancient traditions are new in our culture, most of us are not fluent in them. We often can't appreciate the entirety of the tradition, and use a piece of it to stand in for the whole.

 

Others reasons are more personal, and in defense of our sense of self. Spiritually bypassing allows us to minimize, avoid and deny uncomfortable feelings and parts of ourselves. It can provide us with a sense of identity when we don't have one otherwise. It can reinforce our believe that we don't need others by falsing believing we are self-sufficient. It can encourage a lack of boundaries; "when everything is good" we do not set limits.

 

What is spirituality and mindfulness really about?

 

Spirituality and mindfulness are about engaging with your sense of self and your sense of self in the world at a deep level. This requires time, and can sometimes feel worse before it feels better. It is ultimately profound and transformative. It is not a touchy feely, make you feel good quickly endevour. Nor is it a self-help practice, but it can be so seductive to believe it's that!

 

The originally intended purpose of meditation is to develop skills that aide in this process. Meditation develops the ability to concentrate, so that you can put your focus where you want it and keep it there. Ultimately this is to help with insight practices. Calm and bliss are wondeful byproducts of meditation, but they are not the point. 

 

What is psychological growth really about?

 

Psychological growth practices are not dissimilar from true spirituality and mindfulness practices. It is about increasing awareness of the self in order to better manage feelings and decrease suffering.

The path to awareness includes understanding what you are feeling and why, understanding that you see the world through a lens that was formed from your earliest relationships and experiences, and understanding what those earliest relationships and experiences were, and connecting them to current feelings and behaviors.

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HOW DO FEELINGS WORK? 

Professor Peter Salovey and Professor John D. Mayer, to whom the concept of emotional intelligence is attributed, said that how we perceive feelings, use them, understand them and manage them ultimately has an impact on our behavior and our satisfaction with life.

Feelings, or emotions, are an internal state that we are in because of something that has occurred. For instance, I might find myself angry when my partner ignores me. Or I may feel excited when I see an old friend for the first time in years.  

 

Having feelings is a part of being human. Some of us assume that feelings are a problem because they can get in our way. But the problem really is the difficulty in managing feelings. 

What gets in the way of managing feelings?

*Too many feelings, and therefore getting overwhelmed.

*Too much intensity of feeling, and therefore filling up our whole being. This often happens with anger, when we "see red".

*Feelings that are muted, making it hard to know that we are feeling anything at all. 

*Lack of clarity about what we are feeling, making it hard to put them into words. We know we are feeling something, but don't know what.

When we have difficulty with managing our feelings, we have a hard time moving forward in life.

Unmanagable feelings act like a roadblock. They demand our attention until they are addressed, and therefore become distracting and limit our capacity to attend to other things. We feel stuck. Ever wonder why you procrastinate? There are unmanagable feelings, sometimes outside of awareness, that are getting in your way of taking action.

Unmanagable feelings can have other consequences too. When they feel intolerable, we turn to whatever we can find to help make them more tolerable. Sometimes this is food, drugs, alcohol and sex.

How do we learn to manage our feelings?

Managing feelings requires us to be able to do the following:

 

*Name the feeling

*Understand why we are feeling it

*Know that the feelings are normal

*Moderate the intensity of the feelings

 

If you are unsure about how to do this on your own, first practice with someone else in a safe environment. We need validation in order to be able to do this for ourselves later on. A space to talk about feelings without judgement, without the other attempting to rescue you and with the other making it about themselves is necessary. Then the other can reflect to us what we are experiencing and why, which also demonstrates that what we are feeling is normal and ok. In a safe environment, the other person carries some of the weight of the feelings for you too, which decreases their intensity.

What are the benefits to being able to manage feelings?

Self-awareness – Which can allow you to understand how others perceive you.

 

Self-regulation – Which allows you to think before taking action, and to take responsibility for how you react.

 

Internal motivation – Which allows you to set your own goals, show initiative, overcome setbacks and persist towards reaching those goals.

 

Empathy – Which allows you to sense other people’s feelings and understand what they need.

 

Social Skills – Which allows you to build bonds with others (despite any differences), and which allows for better problem solving and conflict negotiation. 

“We now know that children who have learned to understand what triggers strong emotions such as anger and anxiety and respond to those emotions appropriately are more accountable, do better socially and academically, and are happier and more successful in life.” -Raising-Independent-Kids.com

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SELF-ESTEEM: YOUR BIGGEST ASSET OR GREATEST DOWNFALL 

We all know about self-esteem: some of us have low self-esteem, some of us have good self-esteem. But what does that mean exactly? And how does it impact us? The importance of good, stable self-esteem has been overlooked. The truth is, self-esteem can be your biggest asset or your greatest downfall.  

We've all had moments of low self-esteem. We feel down, low, not good enough, unsure of ourselves, self-conscious, unworthy. These feelings can be paralyzing, preventing us from moving forward in our lives. These feelings can also make it hard to think critically, leaving us open to potentially harmful outside influence. Afterall, wouldn't we all be relieved to find someone to guide us when we're experiencing low self-esteem? The impacts of low self-esteem can be far reaching. 

When we have good, stable self-esteem we feel a sense of ease in our daily lives. 

Benefits of good, stable self-esteem:

 

Decreased stress and anxiety.

Ability to attain personal goals.

Ability to easily maintain relationships.

Safe from undue harm and coercive outside influence.

Sense of control over our lives.

How do we get good, stable self-esteem?

Ah! The question we all want to have an answer for! Well, good, stable self-esteem is built overtime. Experiences that help us understand who we are, and that we are good enough build a sense of good, stable self-esteem. For example, when we complete a task at work and the personal attributes that allowed for the completion of the task are reflected to us, we build self-esteem. This could look like your boss saying to you, "Great job on completing X task. It really shows your persistence and creativity." Now we know that we can be persistent and creative. Reflected enough times, we can be confident that these are traits we possess. A building block to good, stable self-esteem!

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WHERE IS OUR MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION? 

Have you ever wondered why we don't learn about mental health? We learn about our bodies in biology classes, but we never learn about our minds and our emotions. If we are not taught about "being human" in schools, how are we to understand ourselves, others and our experiences? Most of us walk around in the dark. 

Why do some relationships fail? Why can work be unsatisifying? Why are we anxious or feeling low? For a lot of us, it's hard to find answers to the most important questions we have.

 

There are a lot of voices out there trying to help us, but with the number of choices increasing all the time, it's hard to know where to start.

 

There is a way to simplify everything.

 

At Being Human 101, we offer classes in the basics of mental health. Or as we call it, we teach the blueprint for being human.

 

What are the benefits of mental health education?

 

Clarity. 

Sense of control over our lives.

Long lasting change.

 

Learning the blueprint for being human shows us that there is a root to all issues, and that it must be determined and addressed if we are to see lasting change. It also shows us how to determine the root cause of our issues and how to resolve them for good. Once we learn the blueprint and become fluent in it, we have the power to navigate any obstacle that comes our way. Do you want to see change in your life? In your relationships? In our world? Use the blueprint.

"The key to changing habits is to understand how change really occurs... It occurs by transforming the unconscious choices we make every day, shifting them so that the automatic, easy, default choices become healthy choices, not deadly ones." - Dr. Mark Hyman  

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