I grew up competing. Some of my earliest memories are in my backyard playing with and against my older siblings. I was hooked and quickly moved to organized sports. As my athletic career progressed, I was privileged and fortunate, enough to experience high school travel-baseball. This provided me the opportunity to travel the Midwest, playing in front of different coaches and scouts. However, I suddenly became aware of the gravity of my performance. This was an exciting and terrifying realization, exciting because of the friends and adventures, while, terrifying because now the outcome of my performance could affect my future. My stats could affect the schools that I could attend. The emotions I had regarding playing were amplified tenfold. But as I thought, “I was just showing passion, right?” I carried these thoughts and feelings with me for 3 years before I started unpacking them (but, that’s a story for a different day).
As an athlete you’re taught to pay attention to your stats: your ERA, your FG%, Shots on Goal, completion %, and so on. This is, typically, the main criteria which coaches use to separate the starters from the substitutes. Logically this makes sense, as you want your best players on the field/court/pitch. However, this does have its drawbacks as many athletes will learn to base their self-value on their stats. Again, I am not promoting that all sports should have participation trophies (in fact participation trophies aren’t very effective), but all individuals need to know that their value is not tied to a statistical analysis of their most recent game.
I always had the thought, if I play well, I am good right? Well sooner or later, I could never play good enough. I could always find something wrong with how I played, a missed pitch, a bad read, or 1 bad at-bat. I thought to myself “What do I do now”? So, I turned to the literature. Coincidentally, I was gifted a book all about Sports Psychology in action (The Mental Game of Baseball). I read it cover to cover, devouring every little detail (it became ritual for me to read it before the start of each season). I learned a lot of things, but today I want to highlight three. First, I needed to assess how my response, not the situation, affected me. I found that when I experienced a negative event, I became very tense. I would try to exert more effort on the next play. So, I keyed into the internal physical tension that I was experiencing.
Next, I learned how to manage that tension. Of the many skills I learned, the most effective, was, and still is breathwork. I say breath work and not breathing exercises because it is not a singular event or technique but an active process of using my breath to self-regulate. I won’t bore you with the science of why breath work (click here for the science) is so effective, but for me, it helped to decrease the muscle tension which I was experiencing, it grounded me in the present moment and gave me something else to focus on.
Finally, I turned to my support system. I realized that even though I couldn’t give myself the compassion that I needed at that time, I could ask my friends and family to support me while I worked on it. At first, I struggled to hear the praise they offered. The “You did so good”s felt disingenuous. Instead of asking them to change their comments, I challenged myself to find a nugget of truth in their comments. So, I started saying to myself, I didn’t get a hit AND I had a good play in the field. And when I couldn’t find anything good in the game, I would tell myself that I can have one bad game AND I am not a bad player.
I will be forever grateful for the skills and experiences I had while playing sports (even though they weren’t always fun/happy). I learned many lessons beyond the three I spoke about today, but whenever I find myself in a stressful situation, I immediately take a slow and controlled breath. And, I constantly go to my support system in times of need. It has been 4 years since I last played competitive baseball, AND these skills will always be with me.Learn More
This time of year in particular – being in the homestretch of winter – has generally proven itself to be a challenging one for me in past years. Persistent weather-related inconveniences and diminishing hours of daylight are enough to impact anyone’s sense of optimism and daily motivation. Recently, however, I became aware of a feeling of discontentment and general unease that I could not seem to shake off. It made me feel like there was something wrong, but that just couldn’t be right.
As a couples therapist, much of my clinical practice focuses on relationship issues and helping partners repair patterns of interaction and improve the emotional connection between each other. In other words, I help people feel more satisfied in their relationships. Therefore, most of my work in therapy has to do with feelings related to love, intimacy and romance, or lack thereof. Being newly engaged and in the trenches of wedding planning myself, I anticipated a certain specialness to accompany this time of year considering the congruence between my role at work and events unfolding in my personal life. Throw in the timing around February, the hallmark month for love & romance, and I thought my stress would be at an all-time low. Yet somehow, there remained a familiar feeling of discontent. But why? Shouldn’t all the positive, exciting things I have going on in my life right now negate my typical “blah” feelings that pop up around this time every year? Never-the-less, my distinct feelings of discomfort were both difficult to pinpoint and ultimately left unresolved.
My emotional state surfaced unexpectedly and in such stark contrast to not only how I anticipated myself feeling, but also how I wanted myself to feel. Regardless of my actual feelings, I knew (or so I thought) they didn’t feel right. Which got me thinking – I can’t assign myself emotions based on what feelings should match with my experiences, no matter how many circumstances align with one another to predict a certain set of emotions. Even though I knew and believed this, it was still hard for me to wrap my mind around. Instead of feeling a sense of excitement and happiness as a byproduct of my overlapping roles, I felt something else – not the opposite, but also I didn’t know what it was. What I was left with challenged me to revisit skills I had taught myself regarding self-acceptance and authenticity. My recent emotional experiences reminded me of the importance of practicing self-compassion and self-acceptance daily. Self-acceptance is so very important when it comes to mental health and maintaining our own emotional baseline. True acceptance of self takes continuous practice and requires us to consistently choose our self everyday as a person worthy of attending to.
Therefore, no matter what our emotional state may be, it is important for us to remain present and employ mindfulness as a means to gaining self-awareness (the key to everything) and soothing ourselves. When we are effortful in attending to our own emotional states, we can move through various experiences with ease and respond accurately to the range of emotions present within us all. As a general rule of thumb, I always practice checking-in with myself regularly to remain aware of my changing emotional states, making sure not to instead avoid or ignore them. Sitting and tolerating emotions tends to be less distressing once they are identified and labeled accurately. The final step then is to fully embrace and accept the feelings, positive or negative, while reminding ourselves that they are temporary and cannot be controlled. Therefore, we must choose to embrace and lean into our feelings, despite whether or not they may seem acceptable. We tend to receive messages that not falling somewhere along the range of positive emotions is bad or unacceptable. It is often believed that people should always feel a general sense of happiness and comfort, regardless of circumstance, and difficult emotional states are not to be tolerated or prolonged. However, this leads us to fully embrace only a portion of our internal experiences, while invalidating and rejecting the remainder of our feelings that are equally important for us to experience.
Every emotional state is useful & operates to inform us of areas for potential growth. We must be willing to listen truthfully and remain open to accepting. As it turns out, it is ok to not feel ok. We just have to allow ourselves to do so.
One reason I believe the holidays get a bad reputation is because of a tendency towards altering our typical routines in lieu of all the additional events and obligations we find ourselves agreeing to. Already individuals are barely keeping up with the demands of the weekend, so adding more commitments is often times leaving us running on empty. Most of these events include alcohol, over eating, gossiping, unrealistic expectations and upsetting our sleep routines. As a realistic woman, I will not even imagine suggesting you decline such festive invitations. We do not ever want to feel left out. Instead, being more mindful of maintaining realistic expectations, boundaries with food and alcohol, socializing with friends and family that nourish positivity, and prioritizing rest are essentials. If you find it difficult to focus on all four of these behaviors, then I would encourage you to pick the one you struggle with the most. One of these behaviors are likely to derail you from taking the most joy out of the experience.
Step One: Identify which behavior challenges you the most:
- Maintaining realistic expectations
- Boundaries with food and alcohol
- Socializing with friends that nourish positivity
- Prioritizing rest
Step Two: Build a Case:
Ask yourself “In the past, how has this behavior negatively impacted the joy that I get out of this holiday event?” And “Why is this important to me now to make a change?”
Step Three: Set a Goal:
Ask yourself “What would I do differently to avoid the traps of this bad behavior from emerging during my next holiday event?” (Remember the most effective goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely).
Step Four: Get Accountable.
Decide who, or what can help you stay accountable to your commitment to the change in behavior. Remind yourself of Step 2 (your big WHY).
Step Five: Self-Assessment.
After the first event of the season, determine how you did in maintaining your boundaries. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is you barely tried instituting the change, to a 5, honored your goals by maintaining the boundaries. Reinforce the behavior change by repeating steps 3 – 5.
Remember, the holiday season, like life, is short. It is meant to be shared, indulged and celebrated. Too much of any good thing leaves us feeling depleted. Completely in opposition to what is intended. So, do yourself a favor, and become more proactive this holiday season by picking one behavior change that will help you maximize your joy! If you need help in supporting your change, we are always here to help.
Here’s to All the Best Wishes this Holiday Season!Learn More