Monday, July 3, 2017

Musing on emotional literacy and self care

In Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), we talk about receiving information through two ways:
  1. One way is in the "here and now" experience through our 5 senses.
  2. The other way of getting information, is from inside our head. The memory of the past and projecting this into the future.  Through our brain's ability to "fuse" with the stories and thoughts inside our head, we can react to these emotionally as if it is in the "here and now".  These stories and thoughts can seem very real!
Both are important of course, but if we spend too much time in our head, it can be very overwhelming and tiring.  This is the result of information overload, where one experiences too many memories of the past and worries about the future.

Hence, it is important to get outside of our head at times.  This is often called "mindful practices".  It helps to bring focus into the "here and now", through our 5 senses.

Some people do this through comfort eating, drinking, smoking, music, physical activities, sport, social media or recreational drugs.  These sensory activities get us out of our head.  One can say that mindful eating is a meditative practice, although watch out if you are doing too much of it!  When we bring our focus out into the "here and now", it's often relaxing and enjoyable!

Other examples of "comforting activities" include bush walking, sight seeing, watching TV, massage, craft, camping, having a hot shower or floating in the pool.  Although if one is doing these activities and one's focus is "still in the head" experience, then this may not be so relaxing!

The point is, we must do some healthy mindful practices, to find a balance between our inner world and outer world experiences.

A focus on any sensory experience is considered a "mindful practice".  Not all sensory experiences are healthy, so choose wisely!

Monday, June 26, 2017

How to let something go.

One way to accept or to "let it go",  is to explore beliefs and values that you hold "TRUE", which may be preventing you from letting something go.

Examples of some common beliefs and values which impede the "letting go" process:

1 "We shouldn't be wasteful".  This belief can lead to hoarding in the extreme.
2 "Things should be fair".  This can result in much frustration because life is not always fair.
3 "The period of mourning/grief is proportional to the amount of care. Moving on after the death of a loved one shows a lack of care/respect."  This greatly impacts the recovery after prolonged grief.
4 "If someone does something wrong, there should be consequences or punishments.  There should be justice".  This not only hinders forgiveness, but may also encourage spite.

Once aware, we can challenge these beliefs (CBT Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) or defuse from it, through validation and acknowledgement (ACT Acceptance Commitment Therapy).  You cannot "TRY" to let go in my opinion, because letting go is, in essence, "NOT trying".  So "letting go" is more about "unlocking" a belief through deeper understanding and validation rather then "doing".  Ironically, many people say, "Yes, I am trying to let it go but I can't!"

Mindfulness practice will help one to be less judging and more "perceiving".   It is this perceiving state of mind, that letting go, or acceptance becomes easier.

Once we realise that these are just beliefs and values that make us feel a certain way, we can then change them, or defuse from them, fostering a different relationship with them.  It is no longer as fixed or as detrimental, as we initially thought.

Some examples:

"We shouldn't be wasteful" can be acknowledged that it is good to be like this in some situations but in the case of a child who has not finished his oily chips and you are full, it is not very helpful for you to eat those oily chips just because you feel that it is wasteful.

"Things should be fair"
This may be changed to ... "It would be nice if life is fair, but the reality is that it is not.  Life is not fair and it is what it IS.  I can only do my part to make it as fair as possible.  Change what I can and let go of the things I cannot."

"The period of mourning/grief is proportional to the amount of care. Moving on after the death of a loved one shows a lack of care/respect."
This can be changed to... "My loved one would not want me to be in so much pain, and would like me to move forward and live the best life that I can.  He/she would probably like me to honour him/her in this way".

"If someone does something wrong, there should be consequences or punishments.  There should be justice"
This may be changed to ... "Letting go is important for me to reserve my energy for more important things in my life right now.  I forgive them, for me, for my health and wellbeing, and for the important people in my life. Human beings are not perfect and they will have to learn from natural consequences.  I don't have to be the judge or jury in their life".

We have all been conditioned to fix, rather than to let go, so these skill are not always easy to foster.  However, it is not impossible.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Emotional literacy and emotional processing

Emotional literacy and emotional processing: 

Do you know the difference between avoidance, "putting up with it" and acceptance?
Do you know the difference between being assertive vs aggressive?

If you have fully accepted something, you will be at peace with it.  You would feel happy with it.  If you are "putting up with it", there is a sense of resentment there.  So on the surface, acceptance and "putting up with it" may look the same but internally, the feeling is different.

With regards to assertiveness vs aggressiveness, assertiveness has no blame and less judgment.  Aggressiveness has blame and judgment as its undertone. Often people will find these 2 states difficult to differentiate and cultivate.

Emotional literacy is also important for emotional processing.  In schools, we teach our children numeracy to help them solve complex mathematical equations.  We also teach them literacy in order to solve communication issues.  The question is, do we put enough emphasis on teaching them emotional literacy to help them solve emotional problems?  I don't think we do and in my opinion, this needs to change for us to cultivate a more emotionally well generation.

Poor emotional processing, "blocking it out" or suppressing your emotions can lead to a lot of frustration

So how does one process one's emotion?  This is my take on it.....

1 Name the emotion
2 Step back and "detach" or "defuse" from the emotion and ask "Why do I have this emotion?"
"What is it trying to tell me?"  
"What external factors are there that made me feel this way and can I change that?"  and if not....
"What values and beliefs do I have that make me react this way and can I change that?"
3 Then try the "tame" the emotion with fact checking, reasoning and challenging it or "defuse from it", and focus on actions that are congruent with one's values.

Not easy of course but this certainly can be learnt and cultivated in everyday life.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A reminder on Self Care

Life can be stressful.  Unexpected challenges and stress in life are inevitable.  Hence, self care is important.

If one looks at the BioPsychoSocial model of "wellness", one will realize that to be well, one has to be physically well (bio), emotionally well (psycho), and well in our relationships and in our financially health (social).

From experience, the relationship component is often forgotten, or it is simply "too hard".  Take time to reflect on your relationships, learn more about it, and most importantly, look after it!

The 80yr Harvard longitudinal study on relationships say it all.... Good relationships are good for you

Take care of it!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Climate, Seasons and the Weather of Relationships

I sometimes think relationships in terms of climate, seasons and the weather of the day.

We might have a storm but that will come and go.  It does not change the underlying climate or fundamentals of that relationship.

Even a cold winter will warm up eventually.

I think we can get into a slippery slope when we are so focused on the weather of the day, and forget to step back and remind ourselves of the bigger picture, the climate of the relationship.  Helpful things that we can do are:

  1. Be present.
  2. Remind ourselves of why we got together in the first place and whether those fundamentals are still there. 
  3. Remind ourselves that we care for each other no matter what, and our promise/vows for each other.
  4. Have the commitment to give each other unconditional positive regard.  Look past there current behaviours and see the positive intent behind it and work with that.
  5. Try to understand and acknowledge the other person's feelings and position and ask, "Can you tell me more so that I can understand?" instead of being critical or defensive.
  6. Listen to understand rather than to respond.
  7. Turns towards rather than away.
  8. Connect through spending time with the other person, acknowledgment, physical connection and helping each other out.  Be kind.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wanting to achieve a goal but feeling a bit stuck?

Have you ever wanted to achieve something but felt a bit "stuck"?
In order to achieve anything in life, there are 3 things to consider.

1  Do you have clear goals that resonate with your values. This is important for "direction and motivation".  It's the "why" in the equation. Why are you doing what you are doing?
2  Do you have the appropriate skills, resources, including mentorship to make it happen.  This gives you "confidence" to carry it through.  It's the "how and what" in the equation. 
3  Do you have "limiting beliefs" that is holding you back from achieving your goals.  Limiting beliefs like 

  • "I am not good enough" 
  • "If I fail, I am insignificant"
  • "If I fail, I will let people down"
  • "It cannot be done".  These are the common limiting beliefs that we have to overcome in order to realize our goals.

Coaching or counselling can help us to define number 1, 2 and 3 with 1 i.e. goal clarification being the first on the rank in my opinion.

It's important to note that number 3 i.e. limiting beliefs can hold us back from achieving our goals despite having clear goals, motivation and the ability to execute.  Limiting beliefs are like brakes that has to be released in order for us to move forward with consistent action.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

From Stress to Resilience

Join Dr Vin for a half day workshop on Saturday 18/03/17 titled "From stress to resilience".

Venue: Priority Health Medical Centre
            Springfield Central
            Seminar Room

Time: Saturday 18/3 from 930am-1pm

Click here to find out more...
From stress to resilience

Monday, March 28, 2016

Free Writing - Therapy by yourself for yourself by Clinical Psychologist Dr Wee Hong Tan

I first came to know about free writing as an undergraduate psychology student. Having read the fascinating works of Professor James Pennebaker and his colleagues about how free writing worked to alleviate emotional distress even amongst those who have been traumatized. However, it was only recently, after having attended an Art Therapy 101 course that I started to experience the impact of free writing for myself in my life.

We were introduced in the art therapy course to an Artist and creativity trainer called Julia Cameron and in her book, one of the fundamental exercises to liberate our minds and get out of the way of our own innate creativity was something she called “morning pages” – essentially free writing about everything and anything that pops up in our mindscape.

The instructions are stunningly simple:

1. Write about whatever comes to mind, or if there is an issue that is bugging you, write about that. Write freely without censoring yourself, without care for grammar, spelling or punctuation. The aim is to capture verbatim whatever is happening in your mind as it occurs moment-to-moment.

2. It is important to have a limit to prevent the emotions that come from writing to overwhelm you. Write for either a fixed time (e.g., 20 mins) or a fixed number of pages (e.g., 3 pages). This also helps to train our minds to become disciplined and express emotions and thoughts in a paradoxically structured-yet-free manner.

And so I committed to trying free writing every morning a week after the end of the art therapy class. The writing was at first difficult, because I felt a strong reluctance to write and my mind appeared to be blank whenever I turned my attention to it. So I wrote freely about the reluctance and the blankness. Then issues that had been bugging me for some years started to surface and I wrote about them freely, allowing my mind to remember whatever it remembered, allowing my body to feel what it felt as I wrote.

Initially it just felt cathartic and liberating to write freely without censoring myself, but as I wrote, I started to experience emotional shifts. New insights about old issues arose, new memories or neglected memories arose and changes in perspective occurred. Sometimes the issues started to loop and I felt that there was no way out and as I pressed on with the writing, new ideas about what to do came forth. Some days the writing was energetic and invigorating and my fingers felt that they could not type fast enough to capture my experiences. Other days, writing was wrought with lethargy and nothing of note came up. Still I persisted in writing freely.

After a few months, I started to notice significant transformations in my personality – I was more relaxed with others and with myself. I was a lot more open with others and with myself. My emotions no longer summoned a knee-jerk reaction and the initially unclear emotional senses that I sometimes got became clearer quicker. Most importantly for me, the old emotional baggages and issues started to resolve and the nagging feeling in the middle of my chest dissolved and there was a sense of freedom. Occasionally, as I wrote on, there was a sense of mindful detachment and a sense of spiritual transcendence away from the self (Now, I’m not saying that I’m enlightened in anyway!). In short, many new experiences and many new transformations occurred for me from the persistent free writing.

For me, ultimately, free writing became (and still is) therapy for myself by myself and it is also an act of self compassion because I am making space and time deliberate for me to be me. Give this a try but not the caveat! If you have been traumatized before or if you are easily overwhelmed by your emotions, DO NOT try this exercise without support from a psychologist.

Dr Wee Hong Tan
Clinical Psychologist
Psychology Consultants Pty Ltd @ Newmarket
Phone: 3356 8255

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Living life authentically

A large part of counselling is to help people to accept them for who they are and to live life true to who they are.  Live life authentically so to speak.

The problem is, many don't really know who they are, and their core values. They may take on their parents' values or their peer's or influenced my Hollywood and media. A big part of counselling in my opinion, is to define that for people.

In counselling, we help people define their values about work, family, kids, parents, siblings, friends, community and their spiritual life as well.  Then, we help them to use this as their "inner compass" and encourage them to take actions congruent with those values.

This is a part of ACT... Acceptance Commitment Therapy.

If you want to explore more about ACT, consider getting yourself a copy of the Happiness Trap written by Dr Russ Harris.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Anxiety, Parenting and Acceptance Commitment Therapy by Dr Nga Tran Consultant Psychiatrist and ACT Therapist

Being a parent is probably the most important role your life. It is frequently a time of great joy, love, wonder and gratitude. From the images you would have seen and books you may have read, it certainly seems like these emotions are the ones that will be most prominent.

However it is also common to feel other emotions that perhaps you may think you are not supposed to feel.

Feeling down, sad, depressed, guilty, overwhelmed or anxious are also very common for parents.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that is vital in protecting us from danger. When we perceive a threat our body reacts with physiological changes including the release of large amounts of adrenaline and an increased heart and breathing rate. These changes prepare the body to fight or take flight from the threat. If you think about how fragile and defenceless a child is, then it makes perfect survival sense for the mother to be constantly on the alert for threats to its wellbeing.

Our brains are still wired like this to detect bears and tigers that may harm our children, or poisons in the environment that may make them ill. You may feel restless, fidgety and constantly on edge. Your sleep and appetite may be affected. You may find yourself constantly thinking ahead to plan and organise to shield off any potential problems. You may constantly look for the perfect response to every situation. So many “what if” and potentially catastrophic scenarios run through your mind that you may not be able to make any decisions at all. You may feel guilty and your mind may tell you that you are not a good mum, that you should know what to do, that everyone else except you can handle the situation.

You may respond to these emotions in a way that makes the problem get bigger rather than smaller, such as withdrawing from your family and friends, stop doing the things that normally give you pleasure, work harder in setting rules and schedules in order to get a sense that you can control the danger.

These strategies work well when there is a tiger outside about to eat your child. But when the source of danger is diffuse and cannot be eliminated, such as worrying thoughts, these strategies actually teach you that you need to worry harder and exert more routine and control. And the potential sources of worry are endless, so a vicious cycle is set up. Reading multiple parenting books and websites can often increase the doubts that perhaps you are not doing things right and that you need to work harder.

This is not because you are in any way abnormal. This is just how your brain, and most of our brains, work. For a combination of reasons that may include your usual thinking style, the ways of coping you have observed around you, past experiences, your current situation, responses of others, and the temperament of your child, you have inadvertently found yourself in this vicious cycle.

ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is a modern form of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) that is very effective for anxiety.

ACT helps you to become aware of your anxious thoughts and emotions, not as automatic cues of danger but as events occurring in your mind and body. In that way you don’t have to automatically react to your thoughts and emotions, but be able to step back from them and see them for what they are. This frees you up to act in a way that is more in keeping with how you want to be as a parent and as a person. It allows you to experience your unique child as he or she really is from moment to moment, a concept known as mindfulness. In this way you can notice all the subtle cues that your child uses to communicate. This more than any set rules or routine, forms the basis of the sort of interaction and care that will allow you and your child to thrive together.

An added benefit is that you can apply this to all other areas of your life on an ongoing basis. So ACT is so much more than a treatment for depression or anxiety. You gain a whole set of skills that help you to live a richer and more vital life, and can dip into this tool box time and time again throughout your life.

Dr Nga Tran
Consultant Psychiatrist/ACT Therapist
Brisbane ACT Centre
7 Marie Street, Milton 4064
Ph 3193 1072, Fax 3193 1073