3 Things to Ask Yourself When You’re Just Not Bouncing Back

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

Do you ever wonder why you’re not bouncing back from things as fast as you usually do?questioning

Maybe you’re facing a big stressor or perhaps it’s something so small that it usually wouldn’t bother you, but in either case, somehow you just aren’t as resilient as you have been in the past.

The tendency is to think, “I must be a real wimp; I usually am fine with this type of stress.”

You might be a wimp (although I seriously doubt it) or there might be something else going on.

We humans have a penchant for glossing over the most obvious things, so here’s a reminder to ask yourself about these three commonly overlooked factors that make it difficult to bounce back:

1. Am I tired?

Being tired saps us of any reserves we might have in the resiliency arena so it makes sense that bouncing back wouldn’t come as easily.

If being tired is due to lack of sleep, our ability to problem-solve and manage even the smallest issues may be severely challenged. We need our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep – the deepest stage of sleep – in order to be able to process memories and emotions most efficiently.

If lack of sleep is a problem for you, check out this helpful article from the American Psychological Association.

Tired from physical exertion? Make sure to get enough rest to get your wits about you again before making any decisions or trying to accurately gauge your ability to bounce back.

2. Am I sick?

Obviously, being seriously ill is going to make it difficult for you to have any energy at all to manage your emotions.

But did you know that even something as simple as the common cold can affect your bounce-back-ability?

Think about it: not only are you tired (see #1 above) from being sick, every bit of extra energy in your body – and most of the regular-strength energy – is going toward fighting off the invasive critters that are making you sick.

That doesn’t leave a lot left over for emotional resilience.

Take care of your body to help restore your energy and bounciness.

3. Am I under more stress than I realize?

This is a common factor I see in my clients. They rattle off a number of very stressful things going on in their lives and I make the observation, “Wow, that’s a lot. Do you see how much you have on your plate right now?”

More often than not, they’ll respond, “Really?”

Really.

Our under-assessment of our level of stress goes back to this idea that we’re not supposed to be wimps. We “should be able” to handle any amount of everyday stress.

The reality is that when we’re under stress – even the normal, everyday stuff like kids, jobs, and traffic – our minds and bodies go into survival mode. Our mental and emotional resources are directed toward solving problems and keeping our anxieties at bay so we’re not left with much else to work with.

And that’s just managing everyday stress! Add a few more unexpected stressors to the mix and we’re really besieged.

No wonder we’re not bouncing back!

Give Yourself a Break

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these three questions, it’s a good idea to allow yourself some space and realize that it’s just plain hard to be very resilient when any or all of these factors are in play. It’s possible, but it’s harder than when you’re not tired, sick, or stressed.

While it’s frustrating to not bounce back as fast as you’d like, it’s important to acknowledge that there are times in your life when you need to have just a little more energy available to you in order to get back to your normal level of resiliency.

It will come, I promise. Take care of yourself!

 

Want more ideas on how to bounce back? Download my FREE ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs



3 Ways to Tame Monstrous Problems

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

Take a look at this striking photo of a monster.magnified gnat_matthias_lenke_flickr

We see gigantic, multi-faceted eyes, leathery skin, and hairy, feeler-y things sticking out in the front.

Who knows what those feeler-y things might be hiding? Probably some hideous mouth with powerful, trap-like jaws.

It makes me shudder just looking at it.

Do you know what this scary monster is?

It’s a gnat.

One of those tiny little insects that we swat at impatiently as they flit around our faces.

But it looks pretty scary when it’s magnified hundreds of times, doesn’t it?

This is the exact same thing that can happen when we’re faced with a problem or setback, too.

It can look really scary. So scary, in fact, that we shudder and run away from it.

What we may not know is that we’ve inadvertently magnified the problem so that it seems much, much larger than it really is.

As a matter of fact, it’s taken up our entire field of vision and not only appears frightening, but is preventing us from seeing around it to any kind of solution.

I’m not suggesting that all problems are in reality the size of gnats, but you understand the point: we often magnify and catastrophize situations that may not be as big as we perceive them to be.

So how do we keep problems in perspective?

Here are some ideas:

1. Remember that you’ve had problems in the past and are still here to talk about it.

Just like the magnified gnat taking up all of our visual space, we can allow problems to appear monstrous, too.

We get very focused on the stressful situation at hand and then have a hard time seeing anything else but the problem.

Next time this happens to you, take a deep breath, move a few steps back and get a bigger, longer-term picture.

You’ve had problems before. And you’ve figured them out and been able to move on.

Granted, the one you’re facing now might actually be more complicated or difficult than others.

Still, experience tells you that you’re going to get through this one, too.

2. Look at the problem from a different angle.

That magnified gnat is creepy.

But really, it’s kind of, well, interesting, too.

How often do we get to see the details of such a tiny creature?

So, it’s creepy and interesting.

That’s a different way to look at it, isn’t it?

You can do the same thing with your problem, too. Take a look from a different angle.

Is it creepy and interesting? Even though you don’t like it, is there something the problem is teaching you? Is it ugly but challenging, too?

How many different ways can you look at it?

3. In the scope of things, your problem may actually be a gnat.

The gold standard of gaining perspective remains the same: look at the big picture.

Not the big picture of the gnat, the big picture of life.

When you consider the breadth and scope of your life, how impactful is the situation in front of you? Is it something that will affect you a month from now? A year?

The other day I felt my stress level rising. Unexpected, annoying problems had been popping up all day and I was starting to get very frustrated and annoyed.

But then I caught myself and asked, “You’ve been through days like this before – when was the last one?”

I couldn’t remember.

In the scope of my life, my frustrating day was just not going to end up being a big deal.

I decided to drop the annoyance and frustration. Since this exasperating little episode wasn’t going to make an impact on the breadth of my life, I figured there wasn’t any use in wasting time on feeling annoyed.

 

The next time you find yourself running in terror from your big, hairy monster-problem, slow down and look again.

It might just be a little gnat.

 

Ready for more ideas on how to bounce back from problems and setbacks? Download my FREE ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.



Four Words That Can Get You Through Any Crisis

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

We face them every day.cloud with a silver lining

Crises. Stressful events. Problems.

Sometimes they’re small like running out the door late for work only to find that the cat threw up on your shoe and you have to go back inside to change.

Sometimes they’re big like financial problems, illness, or loss of a loved one.

Whatever the situation, there are four words that can help you make it through better than any self-help book.

Before I tell you these four words, I want you to promise me that you’ll keep reading this entire post. Because I can pretty much guarantee that when you read the words you’ll roll your eyes and think, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before.”

These four words have magic when strung together and there is much, much more that we need to think about when we hear or remember them rather than just letting them go by.

Okay, ready?

Here are the four words:

This, too, shall pass.

Wait! Don’t go anywhere. Keep reading.

Perspective, perspective, perspective

Most people when they hear this familiar phrase immediately dismiss it, thinking, “I know that, but what do I do now to manage my stress?”

What you do now is gain perspective.

Example 1: The cat threw up on your shoe and you are going to be later than you thought to work.

So what? You’ve been late before and the sky didn’t fall in. Allow yourself to learn from past experience that you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

The moment passes.

Example 2: You’re deep in debt and bill collectors are calling to harass you.

This is not a “so what?” experience. This is a stomach-churning-teeth-grinding-waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night experience. How does ‘This, too, shall pass’ fit here?

In a couple of different ways.

One is that this moment will pass. Or perhaps I should say, you can allow the moment to pass. And I mean the moment.

Those stomach-churning-teeth-grinding-waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night moments eventually pass. Especially if you realize that grinding your teeth and worrying in the middle of the night doesn’t really solve any problems. It just makes you tired the next day.

You know these moments pass because you’ve had them before even prior to this current crisis in your life. You’ve had crises before and worried before and here you are today to talk about it.

Which brings me to the second way ‘This, too, shall pass’ can help.

Even though your situation may be long-term such as the current example of trying to get out of debt or other instances like grief and loss, remember two things: 1.) You’ve been through tough times before and you will again, and 2.) Your crisis changes minute by minute and day by day.

So although it may seem that you’re mired in debt or drowning in grief, look carefully at what’s really happening.

Hopefully, you are taking action to get out of debt – even if it’s just paying it down a few dollars per day. That is change and that means the day before – which was more stressful for you because you were those few dollars more in debt – has passed and you’ve made it through.

Similarly, your grief ebbs and flows and changes each day. Grief is very much like a long-term chart of the stock market: it goes up and plummets down but, over time, it slowly progresses upward.

So try not to get bogged down in thinking that the place you are in has you stuck forever.

Remember that, whether it’s the moment or the crisis itself,

This, too, shall pass.

 

Interested in more ideas about bouncing back in life? Download my FREE ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.



5 Ways to Bounce Back from Everyday Stress

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

stressed womanStress.

It happens to most of us every day. And most everyday stressors are things that we can handle fairly easily if we just remember a few simple strategies:

1. Engage your vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that wanders throughout the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve tends to slow your heart rate and create a calming response.

The easiest way to engage the vagus?

Take a deep breath.

Both moving your diaphragm and the exhalation part of the breath will put your vagus nerve in gear and help reduce your body’s stress response.

2. Release your death grip on things you can’t control.

When you find yourself stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, how do you react? Does your grip tighten on the steering wheel? Do you start talking to the traffic, cursing its slowness and bemoaning your fate?

Let’s get something straight: You can’t control the traffic.

All of your moaning, cursing, grip-tightening, pulse-elevating behavior is not going to get that traffic to move.

So why curl yourself into a stress ball over it?

Since there’s nothing you can do about it, just relax. Being uptight isn’t going to get you to your appointment any faster and it’s likely only doing damage to your body rather than helping you in any way.

It’s hard to release control, but there is a large percentage of our stress that is directly related to trying to control things that we will never have any control over whether it’s traffic, weather, your company’s promotions policy, or someone else’s behavior.

It’s okay to take action when and where it is needed and you can actually have some influence, but learn to be okay with not controlling the things that are out of your control.

3. Remember that it usually works out okay.

So you’re late for your appointment and stuck in traffic. You’ve tied yourself in knots fretting about being late.

There. Has that helped anything?

Let me ask you this: How many times in the past have you been late for an appointment?

And, when you were late for past appointments, did the sky fall in?

Did the world end?

Did you have a heart attack and die?

No, you were late for your appointment, you apologized for being late, and the world kept spinning like it always does.

You probably even forgot about being late for that appointment by the end of the day. Yet, the way you stressed yourself out about it, you would have thought that your life depended on it.

When you start to feel yourself knotting up about an everyday stressor, ask yourself how many times you have experienced this particular stress in the past. Then consider whether the usual outcome (everything works out fine; you forgot that you were even stressed, etc.) is worth all of the stress you’re creating in your mind and body.

4. Distract yourself from the stress.

One of the things that can exacerbate everyday stress is our tendency to focus unblinkingly on the source of our stress.

Blink.

Find something to break up your focus on the stressor. A great way to do this is through laughing. Find a funny video on YouTube. Think of the joke that always cracks you up no matter how many times you’ve heard it.

Do something different. Start a different project or go for a quick walk around the building. Look up into the sky and remember that the thing that is stressing you out is actually a small, small piece in the overall picture.

5. This, too, shall pass.

All things do.

Just like we can’t control the rising and setting of the sun, but we can certainly count on them, so can we also count on stress rising and falling in life.

But it passes.

And it will pass more quickly if you allow it to.

Stress happens. It’s how you react to it that makes all the difference.

 

Looking for more ideas on how to bounce back in life? Download my FREE ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.

 



Are You Willing?

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

I’m often asked, “Why are some people more resilient than others?”stone question mark

I don’t know the exact answer to this question (I’m not sure anyone does yet,) but I have a guess about one particular aspect of resilient people.

Willingness.

My partner often asks me to do things around the house that involve lifting heavy objects.

“You’re much stronger than I am,” she says in answer to my curiosity about why she would like me to do the task rather than her.

After much thought about this, I now reply,

“It’s not that I’m stronger, I’m just willing.”

It is the literal truth. I’m quite sure Andrea is physically as strong as I am, but she is not willing to lift heavy objects due to real concerns about her back and imagined perceptions that I am stronger than she.

This idea of willingness is also echoed in one of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes,

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

It seems to me that those who bounce back well in life have an aspect of willingness, too. To be stronger than they thought they were. To stay with problems longer. To realize that they are not extraordinary in any particular way, but they are willing.

One of the origins of the word willing is from the Gothic waljan which means “to choose.”

To be willing is to consciously choose something.

What will you choose when faced with adversity?

Are you willing to pick up a situation that you thought you weren’t strong enough to handle?

Are you willing to stay with a problem longer than you thought you could?

Are you willing to say, “This is hard and I feel broken and depressed about it and I am willing to go through this to get to the other side?”

Here’s a task for you. Decide how you want to fill in the blanks to this sentence,

“It’s not that I’m so ____________, it’s just that I’m __________.”

Use it as your mantra the next time you face a tough time in your life.

Are you willing?

 

Want more ideas about how to bounce back in life? Download my free ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.



Warning: Happiness May Be Bad for Your Health

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

If you’re searching for everlasting happiness, stop it.happy face

It might be bad for you.

Here’s why:

A recent article in The Atlantic explored an innovative new study by Positivity author and researcher Barbara Fredrickson and her colleague, Steve Cole.

Frederickson and Cole noted that, when faced with adversity, our bodies tend to go into threat mode. This tends to increase the “activity of pro-inflammatory genes and decrease the activity of genes involved in antiviral responses.”

What does this mean in plain language?

If you have long-lasting adversity in your life, your immune system prepares you for bacterial infections by ramping up your inflammatory response. And chronic inflammation has been linked to serious diseases including cancer and heart problems.

Why happiness (by itself) may be a bad thing

You’re probably wondering how happiness fits into this scenario.

To make a long story short, Frederickson and Cole looked at two different kinds of happiness: hedonic and eudaemonic.

Hedonism is about taking to create happiness. Having a lot of money, avoiding problems, and even enjoying a meal can be hedonistic activities.

Eudaemonia, on the other hand, is about giving to create happiness. Using your money to help others, looking at problems as ways to learn, and being grateful for your food can engender eudaemonic happiness.

You can probably see that there is one big difference between hedonism and eudaemonia: meaningfulness.

Here is the important thing that the researchers found: People who scored high in happiness, but low in meaningfulness were found to have the same high-stress, high inflammation responses in their bodies as people who have suffered from long-term adversity.

Not surprisingly, people who had the same levels of happiness and meaning or even those who were low in happiness but high in meaning showed a deactivation of the adversity-stress response.

So, it may be that the pursuit of happiness by itself is bad for your health.

 3 ideas to make your life more meaningful

How do we create meaning in our lives to keep ourselves healthy and generate eudaemonic happiness – also known as well-being?

Here are some ideas.

1. Clarify your values. Knowing what you value can help you set goals and pursue activities that you not only enjoy, but that will bring meaning and purpose to your life.

2. Practice random (and intentional) acts of kindness. Doing something nice for others is always meaningful and will help you to feel happy, too. One of my favorite concepts is to practice “stealth” kindness: buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru lane, pick up your neighbor’s newspaper from his driveway and put it on his front step, leave a note on someone’s car telling them to have a nice day, etc.

3. Think about your 90th birthday party. A great way to discern your values and create meaning in your life is to envision yourself at your 90th birthday party. All of your family and friends are there to toast your long life. What do you want them to say about you? Do you want them to say, “You always had your closets organized and arrived to work on time” or do you want them to say, “You have always been very kind to everyone you met, you put your family first in your life, and you mentored others to success in their lives”?

Not that there’s anything wrong with organized closets and being on time to work! But notice how the latter responses are more about who you are and what you stand for – the things that really impact you and those around you.

For more ideas about why values and meaning are important aspects of bouncing back in life, please download my free pdf, How to live a more meaningful life.

 

For even more information on how to bounce back in life, download my FREE ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.

 

Photo credit: Marc Falardeau

 

 



You Might Be In Trouble If You Don’t Know This One Thing About Your Mind

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

I want to let you in on something that no one talks about.gears in mind

You don’t have to believe everything your mind says.

Those thoughts that come up and tell you how terrible you are? You don’t have to believe them.

That voice that says what you did was okay, but you can always do better? Take it with a grain of salt.

The constant, annoying, analytical thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind? They may not all be true. And even if they are, you can choose to attend to them or not.

Part of what prevents us from bouncing back well in life is the difficulty we have in separating ourselves from our minds. Because our experience is unique to each of us – no one else is hearing our thoughts – we tend to believe that what we say to ourselves must be true.

And why wouldn’t we think so? If I want to pick up a pen, my mind directs my hand to pick it up and my hand moves to the pen and grasps it. If I’m stuck with the problem of low fuel in my car, my mind jumps into action and quickly problem-solves, telling me I should stop at a gas station to refuel.

With the experience of our minds solving problems for us, it’s easy to think that our minds will always give us answers truthfully and helpfully, even if it hurts.

But . . . not so much.

 What you don’t know about your mind CAN hurt you

The mind developed as a way to keep us safe – to solve problems. In the early days of humanity, life was extremely hard and people had to make quick decisions in order to stay alive.

“Should I run from that predator or fight it?”

“Should I swim across this lake or go around it?”

“Will this person hurt me or help me?”

Another important way the mind kept us safe was to recognize that there was safety in numbers so being in a community became very important. To be banned from the community meant a likely death, so the mind learned to ask, “Am I fitting in? Do I look right? Am I acting appropriately? Are my skills valuable to the group?” and so on.

Today, even though we don’t have saber-toothed tigers to avoid, the mind continues along these problem-solving lines. And it still recognizes that being part of a group is important.

However, the problem comes in when the mind – with good intentions – tells us things that aren’t true in order to solve a problem or make sure we’re fitting in.

Using the examples from above, the mind might tell you, “You’re really terrible. You’re never going to fit in unless you change.”

Or, “Sure, you’re okay, but if you don’t do better, you’re going to be in terrible danger.”

Or, “We’ll just keep going over and over every experience we have just in case there’s some important piece of this puzzle we’re missing.”

In reality, your mind is using old actions for something that really isn’t necessary any more. It doesn’t know that we’re safe and okay just like we are. Your mind is just doing its job: It’s protecting you and solving problems any way it can, including threatening, shaming, cajoling, or harassing you. (And a lot of other good, productive methods, so let’s not throw those minds away!)

3 ways to put your mind in its place

How do we get our minds to stop these behaviors?

It’s likely that we don’t. The mind is always going to continue its chatter, much like a talk radio station. But it’s up to you if that chatter is in the foreground or the background. Here are some ways to push your chattering-radio-station to the background when you need to:

1. Thank your mind. The next time you notice that your mind is chattering on about something that is negative or not helpful to you, just stop and say, “Thanks, mind! I appreciate you looking out for me, but I don’t really need that negative input right now.” With practice, this will help you gain a bit of separation from yourself and your thoughts so you can see that you are not your thoughts.

2. Become aware that some of the thoughts your mind produces may not be true. This is essential. We are so accustomed to believing what the mind says that it has us brainwashed! For example, my mind often tells me, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. You need to do better.” When I buy into this, I find myself on a hamster wheel, running as fast as I can and never getting anywhere.

Why? Because once I reach what I thought was “good enough,” my mind keeps up the same patter: “Anyone could have done that. You’re still not good enough . . .” And off I go again on the wheel, looking for the next thing that will convince me I’m good enough.

I’ve learned to just shrug these thoughts off and say, “That’s just not true. I understand why you’re saying that, mind, but it’s not true, so let’s move on.”

3. Labeling thoughts as stories. Our minds create patterns of thoughts that can be seen as stories. Recognizing the stories our minds tell us is another way to get some distance from your own thought process and be more objective about it.

Sometimes when my mind is telling me I’m not good enough and could do better, I stop, take a breath, and say, “There’s that ‘Not Good Enough’ story again. Thanks, mind, but I don’t really want to hear that one right now.”

 

Our minds are wonderful things, they really are. But the aspects that aren’t true, helpful, or workable in our lives don’t really have to be attended to.

What will you choose to do when your mind isn’t being helpful? Let me know in the comments section.

 

Want more ways to make your life better? Download my FREE ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.

 

 



How to Survive Emotional Quicksand

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

You’ve probably watched the typical hero-in-quicksand scene in an action movie. The hero (or maybe an expendable extra!) runs through the jungle and suddenly is knee-deep in soft, shifting sand and sinking quickly.quicksand

The harder he struggles, the faster he sinks.

What to do? The solution is much easier than our hero thinks.

Continue reading… »



10 Ways to Bounce Back from a Break-Up

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

Here’s a list of 10 ways to bounce back from a break-up:

broken heart

Continue reading… »



The Best Grief Book of All Time

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

I know I’m going out on a limb proclaiming a book “The Best Grief Book of All Time,” but that’s exactly how I feel about Tear Soup.Tear Soup

Upon first glance, Tear Soup appears to be a children’s book. It is handsomely illustrated with beautiful, and somewhat whimsical, drawings.

And Tear Soup is for children. But it’s also for teenagers, adults, seniors, and anyone who has lost anything, not just someone.

The first page sums up the entire book:

“There once was an old and somewhat wise woman whom everyone called Grandy.

She just suffered a big loss in her life. Pops, her husband, suffered the same loss, but in his own way. This is the story of how Grandy faced her loss by setting out to make tear soup.”

Just what is tear soup?

It is the concoction that is made up of all your memories, feelings, and experiences you have while you grieve. Here, let’s see Grandy’s recipe for tear soup found on the inside cover of the book (with gratitude to authors Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen:)

Continue reading… »



 
 

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