When you disagree with a spouse, co-worker or child, it’s easy to get emotional. Intense feelings can be triggered and the disagreement can turn into a messy fight. Things are said in the heat of the moment that you can’t take back. At that moment, it seems like you don’t have control over your brain. Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to train your brain so this wouldn’t happen?
During these interactions, we get consumed by what's called the “reptilian” part of the brain – the survival part of our brain that scans for danger multiple times per second to find potential danger lurking. That primitive part of the brain only sees two possible solutions to problems – fight or flight. The reptilian brain feeds on fear and actually shuts off the creative problem-solving part of the brain. Your heart starts racing, you get flushed and your voice starts getting louder. The other person responds in the same way and the interaction escalates.
When your creative thinking area of the brain is shut off, you won’t be able to come to a compromise or handle the situation in the best manner. So what do you do to train your brain not to respond this way? The main technique to learn is to slow your brain down. To be able to do that you literally have to remove yourself from the heated situation by saying, “I need some time…” Give yourself the time and space to slow down. Take deep abdominal breaths, go for a walk, listen to music or call a friend. It may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Once your brain is functioning slower, you may be able to think of a solution. Or you may realize that you don’t need to come up with a solution right away – you may be able to give yourself a few days or more to find a compromise.
Training your brain this way takes time and practice. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t do it right away. Tell yourself, “I’ve got this, I can do this.” Eventually you’ll learn this technique and you’ll find that your newly trained brain will help you tremendously in many different areas of your life.
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Most people who are thinking about divorce are extremely conflicted. Some days you feel confident that divorce is the right decision but other days you question whether or not you could be making a mistake. It may be on your mind for years. There are so many things that change when you decide to divorce. It’s absolutely normal to be unsure and to question yourself about this important decision.
Even if you’ve spoken to your spouse or a lawyer about divorce, you may not be ready to make that decision. Guilt about the impact on the children, fear of financial instability and fear of being alone could be significant factors in the decision of whether or not to divorce. The decision to divorce is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make with consequences that last for a lifetime.
It is extremely important to think through the decision rationally and to try not to let emotions get in the way. Fear, anger, resentment and loss can be so intense that you may not see things clearly. If you can work through these feelings with a friend, therapist or divorce coach, you will be better able to make an informed, rational decision that you will be able to live with for the rest of your life.
The following are factors that you should consider before divorce:
If you have thought through these questions and still feel that divorce is the right decision, then you’re probably ready to start the process. If you need help with making this decision, a therapist or divorce coach can help you think through these issues in a calm, rational and confidential way. You are the only person who can make this decision but it can make a difference if you have support throughout the process.
Experts agree that parents who are divorcing need to have an age appropriate conversation with their children telling them: 1) “We both love you very much. Nothing will ever change that love and we will always be here for you.”, 2) ”The divorce isn’t your fault, it’s ours.” and 3) “Even though things are going to change, we will always be a family.” However, to give your children the best chance for a happy childhood, the positive messaging can’t stop there.
There are a number of effective strategies that are extremely important for parents to bear in mind. One strategy to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to keep children out of disagreements between the parents. Even when couples are married, children get upset when their parents fight. Imagine how much worse it is for children of divorced or separated parents. They already have experienced their family breaking apart. They need their parents to reassure them that their new family structure is stable and secure. Children need to know that their parents will work disagreements out in a calm and rational way.
Another way to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to avoid saying anything negative about the other parent in front of the children. When parents say negative things about the other parent, they “parentify” their children. They actually switch roles with the child and children become the parent. Many parents don’t even realize that they do this. They rely on their children to be their support system and share information with children that children shouldn’t be aware of. For example, a father complains to his children that he has to pay so much in alimony. Or a mother complains that the father called her a name. These things are very upsetting to children and can be damaging.
Separation and divorce can be an extremely difficult time in life and it’s very important to get support such as a therapist or a divorce coach. This will enable parents to have someone to talk to so that they won’t put their children in the middle of their conflicts with their ex-spouse. This will enable children to focus on school, friends and their own lives which is what we want them to be focused on.
Finally, if your child complains about the other parent, encourage your child to work things out with him or her. Say something supportive like, “I’m sure that mom didn’t mean to upset you. Talk to her about it.” It’s so important for children to have strong relationships with both parents, if at all possible. These strategies can make the difference and result in children who grow into adults who have happy lives and healthy relationships.
It’s hard to let go of anger: anger at our parents, anger at a former friend, anger at a betrayal, anger at an ex-spouse, anger at ourselves. It’s understandable. Someone has done us wrong and we’re angry. We don’t have to forgive them. We can hold onto the anger for the rest of our lives if we want to. It’s our right to do that. But forgiveness can be healing and enable you to move on.
Holding on to anger can consume you. You start thinking about it all the time. Special occasions can be ruined simply because the person you are angry with is there. Relationships can be damaged as you project what happened to you in the past onto your current situation.
In order to get to forgiveness, you must work through your anger. A beneficial way address anger is to express it. Although anger is a normal emotion, it must be expressed in a constructive manner. Problems develop when the root of the anger isn’t recognized and the feelings aren’t expressed.
One of my clients was angry at her father for leaving her and her mother when she was a child. She carried that anger into her marriage and became angry at her spouse after their child was born. She felt that he was acting like her father even though he wasn’t anything like her father. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her husband left her.
With some guidance, my client learned how to express her anger at her father and went through all of the feelings she had about him which included sadness, anger, regret and grief. After expressing all of her emotions, she was actually able to forgive him. After forgiving him, she was able to move on in her life and develop a deep, intimate connection with a man.
It’s like a jar with the top on. If you keep the top on the jar, the anger stays inside. But if you open the jar and let the anger out, it goes away. Once you release the anger you can start the path to forgiveness. Remember forgiving the person is for you, not for the other person. You’ll feel a sense of relief when you aren’t burdened by the anger anymore. Through this process, you’ll be amazed at your ability to heal your past wounds, let go of your anger and move on in your life.
Effective methods of releasing anger:
Positive affirmations have been shown to reduce stress. The following six mantras can be a powerful tool to reduce stress. Take deep breaths as you say the following:
Studies have shown that some people are inherently more grateful than others. People are born with a proclivity towards many different things and being grateful is one of them. It may have to do with a person's temperament and their ability to be tolerant - some people are more tolerant of everyday hassles such as difficulty finding parking, long waits for help on the phone, etc. The people who are more tolerant of everyday hassles are also more grateful for everyday blessings such as seeing the sunset through the clouds, the right to vote, a quiet moment, etc.
The good news is that being grateful is something that can be learned. If you can incorporate more gratitude into your life, you will be happier, more fulfilled and more peaceful. How do you incorporate gratitude into your life? One way is to keep a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is simply a journal where you write one thing that you're grateful for every day. Writing what you're grateful for everyday helps you focus on the positive things in your life so that you can develop a grateful focus.
Becoming more grateful has tangible benefits. In 1,000 people studied, the people who kept a gratitude journal had psychological, physical and social benefits. They felt more alert and alive. In addition, they felt less bothered by aches and pains, they exercised more and they had a 10% increase in sleep duration. There was also an improvement in blood pressure! Socially, they felt more outgoing, less lonely and more compassionate. In addition, children who wrote in gratitude journals showed an increase in their GPA.
A gratitude journal is just one way to become more grateful. What other ways can you come up with to become more grateful?
Divorce. It’s something that you never thought you’d be facing. Most people avoid thinking about it until they feel they have no other options. According to the American Institute of Stress, divorce is one of the most stressful processes a person can undergo, second only to the death of a spouse. Coming to terms with the idea that your marriage is ending can take an emotional and physical toll and overwhelm every aspect of your life.
Feelings of failure, shame, grief and anxiety can make it difficult to function. Your ability to work may be impacted, you may not want to be around family and friends and you may not be able to count on people who feel their loyalty is torn. If children are involved, taking care of their needs may seem impossible when you can’t do basic things like eat, work, pay bills, etc.
So how do you cope with this stressful life challenge and turn it into an opportunity to change your life for the better? The first step is to acknowledge that you need the help of others. There are too many important decisions to make and you need personal and professional support. Experts can explain the legalities, outline your options and identify the consequences. A therapist can help you work through your grief and find your strength to move on with your life. Family and friends can give you support and provide an outlet to release stress.
Friends are wonderful but they can have a limit to how much they are willing or able to help. A divorce coach can provide you with a sounding board and thinking partner to help you look at various options. A divorce coach can enable you to step back from your immediate emotions and provide an unbiased, professional evaluation of your best-case and worst-case scenarios. The advantage of using a divorce coach is that they are usually a lot less expensive than lawyers and can minimize the time you need to spend with a lawyer. In addition, a divorce coach helps you build your resilience so you can do the internal work that leads to a happier and healthier life.
When I went through my divorce, one of the first things I did was hire a lawyer. She was an experienced divorce attorney and I trusted her. There were so many decisions to make and I looked to her to help me make many of those decisions. While she was looking at my divorce from a legal point of view, she wasn't evaluating all of the variables that were important to me. A divorce coach could have helped me evaluate all of my options and enabled me to have had more peace of mind throughout the process.
What happens during a divorce can impact you and your family for years to come. It can really help to get as much support as you can while you go through this emotional and sometimes overwhelming time. And you may be surprised when you come out the other side how much stronger you feel and how happy you are with your new life.
Being close with another person is one of the most satisfying parts of the human experience. According to the article in Psychology Today, Getting Close, social isolation or the lack of close relationships is as much a risk factor for mortality as smoking. The wider our social support network, the better our chances of warding off obesity, high blood pressure and other corrosive conditions. The degree of support people feel they have from family, friends and significant others actually counteracts serious health risks.
But today, we have more difficulty than ever in maintaining close relationships. There are so many reasons why it's hard to develop close relationships - we are busy with school or work, we have distractions like surfing the Internet or playing video games , or we just don't know how to meet people. Maybe we're scared to be rejected so we don't reach out. These road blocks to intimacy are significant so it truly takes an effort to put yourself out there to become closer to others.
Closeness and intimacy begin.when a person shares something emotionally meaningful with someone else. The sharer is taking a chance that the other will respond in a positive, accepting manner. If this doesn't happen, we can feel hurt and rejected. However, if we can put it into perspective and recognize that this person isn't the only person available to be close to, we can get over it quickly and try again. Eventually we will find someone who will respond in the manner we need them to. It takes courage to do this but the benefits of feeling closer outweigh the risks. Some ways to make connections in order to increase close relationships:
I want to highlight volunteering as I believe that everyone should volunteer their time if they can. The benefits of helping others cannot be overemphasized. It is a wonderful way to meet and connect with people but it also helps us feel valued and gives us perspective on our own lives. Volunteering and all of the other suggestions above are wonderful ways to make connections and increase close relationships. With a little bit of effort, we can develop closeness and intimacy, have a more satisfying life and ward off disease.
In today's world, it's very difficult not to feel anxious. With the advent of the 24 hour news cycle, an infinite amount of information coming at us from a multitude of devices and recent current events, people are more anxious now than ever before. Everyone seems to be worried and it is significantly impacting our physical health, our mental health, our relationships and our lives.
What can we do about this? It turns out that we can start with some advice from our elders. In an article in Psychology Today, the author interviewed hundreds of older people over a 10 year period about what they would like to pass on to younger people. You would think they would talk about their regret of a big decision they made or an affair. As they reflected on their lives, over and over they said "I wish I'd spent less time worrying." We need to take this advice from our elders and worry less!
The best way to decrease anxiety and worry less is to be in the moment. When you're truly in the moment, you can't be anxious. Often we spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about the past or the future. When thinking about the past or the future, you aren't in the present moment. Being in the moment means looking at the beautiful colors of the fall leaves or noticing the curve of your child's face. It means taking some deep breaths and smelling what's cooking on the stove. It means being in your body, not in your head.
Sounds simple? Obviously it's not that easy to do. One very important method to help stay in the moment is meditation. Meditation takes time and practice. There are several meditation apps and YouTube videos that can teach how to meditate. Meditating once or twice a day, it could be for only 10 minutes, has been shown to change the way the brain works and decrease anxiety. The apps that I found helpful are: Take a Break, Headspace and One Moment Meditation - all are free! Also, there are many YouTube videos with instructions on how to meditate. Just type meditation in the search bar and look at all of the options.
So the next time you find yourself worrying, tell yourself, "Stop". Refocus your thoughts to the present and use your meditation skills to decrease anxiety in your busy life. You may find that when you become an "older person", you'll have less to regret!
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.