This blog will be about life and relationships; mostly, from what I’ve learned from my two companion animals, Dali and Oskar. Sometimes I’ll post other types of resources and anecdotes. I hope what I share is helpful or at least fun.
He will stand at the top of the stairs and push a tennis ball to me at the bottom. When I get it, I throw it back – down the hall – so he has to run and get it. He’ll go back to the top of the stairs and wait for me to sit down on the couch and then he will push the ball down the stairs again, so I hear a thump, thump, thump as the ball bounces down the stairs.
As he grew up in our family, and I would give a chew treat to both him and Dali. He would hide his treat when I wasn’t looking and then give me this look like something happened to his chewy and he didn’t know what it was. I was thinking maybe Dali was taking it so I’d give him another. Until one day, I don’t remember why, I thought to look around the house and saw that he was hiding them. When he realized I was on to him, he stopped his prank.
There are other things he does in the moment and I find myself cracking up. I look at him and he has a big smile on his face. We connect over the moment of playfulness and I feel lighter and joyful.
Laughing boosts the immune system and relieves stress, depression, anxiety, pain and social conflict. Be sure to watch a funny video, movie, spend time with friends who make you laugh, or find other things that make you LOL on a regular basis.
Even if you don’t like making New Year’s Resolutions, the beginning of a new year can be a good time to reminisce on the passing year. It can be beneficial for us to highlight certain memories. Specifically, we can benefit from reflecting on:
a time when we successfully dealt with a challenging situation, and
an experience that shaped the person we are today.
Research shows that this exercise is uplifting because it promotes resilience and self-exploration.
You might want to take a few minutes of quiet time to come up with at least one example of each of the above situations. Maybe you would like to journal your examples. It might be fun to gather with one or two friends and share your responses. Of course, feel free to share below.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but according to Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, people who focus on being happy are less happy over time. Dr. David believes that getting to know ourselves, understanding what is really happening for us, slowing down so we can figure out how we would like to respond to our emotions are skills that help us be happier.
Here are some highlights from an interview Maria Shriver had with Susan David:
“One of the first things is showing up. Instead of trying to push our emotions aside or trying to put on a happy face—what I call bottling and brooding—instead, literally drop any struggle that you have within yourself by ending the battle. Not saying to yourself, “I’m unhappy, but I shouldn’t be unhappy.” Or, “I’m miserable in my job, but at least I’ve got a job.”
Emotions offer us important information regarding what is important to us. In the interview, Dr. David goes on to say:
“It’s important to recognize that our emotions contain data. I’ve never met a mother who’s feeling guilty about her parenting who, at some level, isn’t wanting to be present and connected with her children. Our difficult emotions [point] to the things that we value.
Instead of struggling with whether we should or shouldn’t feel something, it’s important for us to say, “What is the function of this emotion? What is the value? What is this emotion trying to tell me?”
Here’s a link to the interview if you’re interested in reading further:
Dali is barking and barking at the top of the stairs. Nonstop. I can’t figure out why. Normally, I offer her “petting time,” which as the phrase suggests, is when I pet her and rub her neck. When I do that, she calms down over time. I call up to her and “Dali, come down for petting time.”
But she doesn’t come to me and she doesn’t stop barking. At another time, I might go to her, but I have a broken toe and don’t want to get up from the couch. She keeps barking. I think it is on the fourth or fifth time of me offering to console her that she comes downstairs, trots over to me on the couch and then sits next to me ready for “petting time,” whining the whole time, expressing her internal discomfort with something.
She reminds me of how I can get sometimes. Internally upset and having a hard time calming myself down. It is important to have people in our lives we trust and can turn to for support, but I also believe we need to be our own support.
It can take a lot of work to calm ourselves down when we are having a strong reaction to something. It’s good to have a couple of skills to turn to at these times and it’s good to practice these skills at times other than when we are emotionally dysregulated, so we are pretty good at doing these skills.
Here is are some good questions to ask yourself when you are revved up (I got them from getselfhelp.co.uk).
What am I REALLY reacting to?
What is it that is really pushing my buttons here?
What is it that I think is going to happen?
What is the worst (and best) that could happen?
What is most likely to happen?
Am I getting things out of proportion?
How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?
What harm has been done?
Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?
Am I overestimating the danger?
Am I underestimating my ability to cope?
Am I using a negative filter? Is there another way of looking at it?
What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?
Am I spending time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future?
What could I do right now that would help me feel better?
How would someone else see this situation? What is the bigger picture?
What would be the consequences of responding the way I usually do?
Is there another way of dealing with this? What would be the most helpful and effective action to take? (for me, for the situation, for the other person)
These are a lot of questions, probably too many to remember. I recommend writing down about 6 questions that resonate for you and have them handy for when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. By taking time to think through the answer to these questions, you can get a different perspective on the situation and that can help you manage your emotions more effectively.
Please let me know if you find this approach helpful or if you have some other strategies that work for you.
Life is easier and more joyful when we know that there is someone who has our back.
Dali, Oskar and I were taking our early Saturday morning walk. Sometimes we are out before 7 am. It is one of my favorite times of the day because it is quiet and peaceful. We had made it to the grounds of a church about a mile from our house. Dali and Oskar were busy exploring when a woman walked by, headed toward a bus stop on the other side of the property. She shouted out to someone who had passed by just a bit ago. (I guess Dali, Oskar and I aren’t the only ones who like to be out early.) It was quite a jarring sound in the soft, silent air. Alerted to danger, Dali ran to see what was going on. She stood next to me, ready to take action if need be, and she turned around to check-in with me. “It’s okay,” I said. Reassured, Dali went back to scout out the smells around the bushes.
It is very fulfilling to know that I am a safe haven to Dali and Oskar, meaning they will turn to me when they are feeling threatened. I also feel deeply appreciative that I am a secure base to them. In other words, my relationship with them provides them with a foundation to explore the world and solve problems.
They also are my safe haven and secure base. I was running a supervision group out of my home and the participants were flexible enough to allow Dali and Oskar to join in on the learning. During one of the sessions, I was feeling anxious, unsure of myself as a teacher. Luckily, Dali was by my side and I started petting her. Here was someone who was happy to be with me even when I was feeling insecure. My anxiety subsided. And sometimes, when I’m very afraid like when I’m flying and there is a lot of turbulence, I think of Oskar licking my face and it helps me get through these stressful moments.
I am lucky to find this security in some of my relationships with people, as well. When I am feeling at my worse, my husband almost always lets me know that he has had similar feelings about himself. When I don’t feel so alone with painful feelings, my sadness eases. I have learned from my husband the power of letting another know how I can relate to their difficult experiences. I even do that with Dali and Oskar. When Dali is wants to go one way on a walk and I want to go another, and in the rare times that I don’t acquiesce, I will say to her “I see you Dali. I see that you’re unhappy. You didn’t get to go the way you wanted to go. I understand that disappointment. It is unfair.” Just being seen and understood helps her mood.
Life is easier and more joyful when we know that there is someone who has our back. Couples therapy can help partners find that safety in their relationship. Individual therapy can help people begin to feel safe about sharing their distress with another and be able to take these experiences to other relationships. When we feel safe and know that another is happy to see us, even when we’re at our worst, we can go out into the world and explore, the way Dali went back to seeking out adventure when I let her know everything was OK.