Category Archives: Managing Thoughts

Defeating Addictive Urges

Posted on August 24, 2016

Anatomy of an Urge

by Farmgirl68 (Connie)

While taking the facilitator training, I watched a video with Joe Gerstein where he showed the ABC relationship with a lapse and how it often involves a belief (B) or a consequence (C) turning into another activating event (A) thus creating a cascade of ABCs.  This intrigued me, and putting it together with the way I had noticed my own urge experiences, I realized most of the time there is a basic pattern an urge takes on for me.  Being a very visual thinker, I began to formulate on my computer screen a picture of how my urges occur. Continue reading

How to Manage Your Emotions

Posted on July 26, 2016

Building Resilience Part II: How to Manage Your Emotions

Originally posted here, for the Center for Motivation & Change

resilience_1Being resilient means being able to face adversity and cope well enough that you recover relatively quickly. In Part 1 of our resilience discussion in the March newsletter, we reviewed the ways that your perspective can actually mitigate some negative effects of stress. Now in Part 2, we’ll discuss the research that tells us about how to decrease the stress you experience through prevention by managing your emotions with skill and being mindful of the positive things in life. In Part 3 next month, we will talk about the value of getting enough sleep, exercise, oxygen, and healthy food.

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Relapse Justification: A Normal Part of Change

Posted on July 19, 2016

relapse_justificationYou have made some pretty big changes in the past few weeks. You’ve cut down or stopped drinking and using substances, you’ve tried to reach out to friends and family to build up a support network, and you’ve worked to align your daily life with your values and goals for yourself. Overall, it’s been a huge success, and you’re feeling great about yourself. That’s when a little voice in your head starts to speak, a little voice that says, “You know what, I have done a great job! Things are so different right now, I could totally go out and drink and not over-do it! I’ve got this all under control!” That little voice is yours; it’s your brain doing a little something called relapse justification, and it’s a normal part of any behavior change process.

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Brain Re-Training

Posted on June 28, 2016

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When I first stopped drinking I knew that one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was my own brain – specifically my hard-wired thinking around alcohol.

I knew that after twenty-plus years of drinking I was locked into a mindset that regular consumption of alcohol was a good thing. I deeply believed that alcohol was a vital ingredient in life. I had been introduced to that way of thinking by my society as a teenager and had reinforced those messages to myself through years and years of regular booze consumption.

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Self-Expression and Creativity: Managing Feelings

Posted on June 7, 2016

Self-Expression & CreativitySome feelings are hard to verbalize. Some thoughts we don’t want to say out loud. So what do we do with them? My thoughts and feelings used to drive me to get high. I had learned that drugs could change how I felt, whether it was dampening my anger or invigorating my boredom. But, that change was always only temporary.

Now that I’m living a life in recovery, I still deal with impulsive thoughts and overwhelming feelings, but I find a way to manage them by expressing them. Self-expression sounded like a lot of “Dear Diary” nonsense to me, but  the creative arts are an amazing outlet for our recovery.

We can write our thoughts down privately into journals, stories and poems. But, we can go beyond words and express through paintings, drawings, doodles, and photographs. We can express through music, dance, and song. Self-expression involves any activity where we can transfer the energy from our thoughts and feelings into another form. And, usually, this makes us feel better.

Self-Expression

When we express our feelings honestly, we are better equipped to deal with them because we actually know what we are feeling instead of denying it. A UCLA neuroscientist, Alex Korb, has even conducted experiments that show how the brain can benefit when we express ourselves.  In an fMRI study, participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Then, their amygdala—the part of the brain that plays a primary role in our emotional reactions—activated to the emotions in the picture. Yet, when a participant named the emotion, it reduced the amygdala’s reactivity and lessened the impact of the emotion. The study even found that when we try to suppress our negative emotions, our inward stress and anxiety can get more intense!

By virtue of being human, we are full of thoughts and ideas that inhabit us with energy. And if the creative energy in our mind sits untouched, it can turn on itself and we feel all sorts of anxiety and restlessness. To maintain our emotional well-being, we need to exercise our creativity.

Flow

The therapeutic benefits of artistic activities come in many forms: hands-on tasks can soothe our minds, they offer a healthy form of escape, and such tasks can free up our unconscious minds. Coloring books geared towards adults have gained popularity recently, and they are marketed as therapeutic tools.  When we get into a state of creative “flow,” our minds enter an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best. Our concentration is so focused that everything else falls away, and we lose our sense of time and self.

Normally, our brain is in a fast-moving state of beta waves. In flow, our brainwaves slow to an alpha state, the same as our day-dreaming and meditation mode, where we slip from thought to thought easily. Our prefrontal cortex is also temporarily deactivated, which allows us to simply create without self-consciousness or judgment. Making time to use your brain creatively can bring your brain and body the same kind of benefits as meditation: practicing mindfulness and decreasing anxiety.

Arts and Healing

Art and health have been a subject of human interest throughout our history as a species, using pictures, stories, dances, and chants as healing rituals. In a hospital setting, studies have found that clinical outcomes improve more in patients who participate in art therapy than in those who do not. Creative expression may be a catalyst in our emotional healing process.

Expressive writing has been particularly successful in long-term improvements of mood and health. Writing about our emotional states can bring us more self-awareness, but studies have also shown that it helps us manage those emotions and cope with them.

When the intent behind our art is self-expression, the value in the art becomes the emotional benefits. The process we go through to create our art, to transform a mental image into something physical, is a reflection of our thought processes. How many times in a day do you stop to consider what or how you are feeling? Much like paying attention to how we feel physically, the creative arts allow us to check in with our mental well-being and emotional state.

The Power of Creativity

Expressive arts bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious mind. When we put our mental process into a physical form, we feel more in control of our thoughts and feelings, and we understand them more clearly. We can’t always explain an emotion using logic. Creative activities allow us to externalize our thought process and observe it from a distance, and then we don’t have to act on our feelings impulsively.

The creative and artistic processes allow us to merge our emotional and our logical parts into one identity. This is a key step in our healing—to learn that what we think logically may not match how we feel, and that’s okay. It is a part of our process. Having a creative outlet where we can express ourselves means we can better manage those thoughts and feelings.

Nadia Sheikh is a content writer and web developer for Sober Nation.

Have you tried creative expression, either as a way to manage thoughts or as a “Vital Absorbing Creative Interest?”  If so, have you found it helpful?

Spring Has Sprung, Should You be Worried?

Posted on May 17, 2016

Spring has sprung! The sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and birds are singing. While you are replacing your boots with sandals and pants with shorts and skirts, you can feel the energy buzzing in the warm spring air. Sounds great, right?

As you work to cultivate a life of mindfulness and present-moment attention, you may start to notice another side of spring. The change of season can bring on a whole new set of challenges which may come as a quite a surprise for those trying to change their use of substances.

The sidewalk cafes are bustling with brunch-goers drinking wine and laughing. You may find yourself wondering, “Why can’t I have just a glass? It feels so good to finally get back outside after a winter of being cooped up indoors.” “Perhaps smoking a joint would make me feel even better?” “How can I go to a baseball game without a beer to go with my hot dog?” You may find that the impulse to pair fun, social, or just outdoor activities with the use of substances can grow much more intense as the weather heats up.

For people who do not struggle with substances, the decision to use a substance (including alcohol) or not can carry about as much weight as whether to have the steak or the fish for dinner. However, for people working on changing their relationship with substances, situations like these can be challenging, difficult, intimidating, and even overwhelming. External triggers (sidewalk cafes, concerts, sports, beaches, longer days) and internal triggers (feeling good, memories of warm weather past, relaxation) can become more apparent with the change of season.

So what can you do if you are looking to make changes? What can you do if you find yourself wrestling with these thoughts and feelings? How can your loved ones best support you? Improving your Awareness and Coping skills and well as building your ability to Tolerate is a threefold approach to relapse prevention which can be applied to coping with the change in the season.

To start, try to increase your awareness of the high risk situations, people and feelings that might increase ambivalence about your goals in this season of change. This will allow you to prepare yourself and plan for ways to stick to your goals. For example, you might take some time to think through your triggers and identify that seeing people at a sidewalk cafe drinking is triggering to you. Then you can plan your route home to limit the number of cafes you pass, or perhaps you make sure that you have an alternate form of decompression ready for you when you get home. Either way, your awareness of what triggers you allows you to prepare yourself in advance.

Next is coping. How does one cope with all of the new “triggers” brought about by the spring? One action for this might be making the decision to avoid certain events. Is a backyard BBQ full of beer too tough for you right now? How about planning a massage or lunch with a friend you don’t strongly associate with drinking? Another strategy might be to reduce the time you spend at these events and/or to bring a safe friend along. Maybe you can go late to the concert just for the music you want to hear and leave as soon as it’s over? Maybe you can bring a supportive friend or family member to the beach, since there is no need to do it alone. Find a way to have a (non-alcoholic) drink in your hand and partake in the food that is available in order to avoid people pushing drinks or craving a drink because you are hungry. Finally, if you find that your emotions start running high or your capacity to stick to your goals is weakening, have an exit strategy planned in advance. You can also book-end events with healthy people or things on either side of a potentially tricky situation.

And what about the all-important role of tolerating? What exactly does this mean? In this case what might be most important to remember is that cravings and feelings (both negative and positive) are time limited and they do pass. In the moment of intense cravings or feelings, it may seem as though the desire to use will never end. The reality…is that cravings always end.

If you are trying to really change your relationship with substances, it’s important to build up your ability to tolerate cravings and feeling of ambivalence without doing something that goes against the goals you set for yourself or makes things worse. Here are some suggestions to increase your ability to tolerate these tough moments…

  • Have a friend to call who can remind you that you will get through this moment and that you have before.
  • Make a note and put it in your wallet to remind yourself of your reasons for wanting to change and ways you have tolerated these moments in the past.
  • Create a mantra that you say to yourself over and over until the feeling or craving passes.
  • Cheerlead yourself with positive, supportive feedback. The way you “talk” to yourself really matters!
  • Practice meditation on a regular basis.
  • While none of these suggestions are a quick, easy fix, that all will build your capacity to tolerate difficult situations that may arise.

If you are new to making changes, getting through this change of season can seem a little daunting, but if you embrace and use these skills you can get through! If you’re a seasoned veteran of behavior change, it’s good to remember these skills! Each experience you have for the first time may challenge you in unexpected ways. Some things may be easier than you expected, some may be harder, and some may be just what you anticipated. Whatever the case, your decision to change is admirable and inspiring. Using these skills can help you achieve and maintain your change goals.

Julie Jarvis, Ph.D.

Reprinted from the Center for Motivation and Change at http://motivationandchange.com/cmcs-blog-for-individuals-and-families/