Spiritual Healing after Divorce

Divorce and separation have all kinds of legal, financial and emotional consequences. One aspect of divorce that is not often talked about is the spiritual consequence experienced by the family members. It is safe to say that for many, divorce is a legal dissolution of a religious or a spiritual contract. For many people, raised with strong religious beliefs, the decision to divorce brings up feelings of guilt, shame, and a sense of failure.

Of late, many distinctions are made between religion and spirituality. Generally speaking, spirituality is described as a more personally chosen and an individual experience compared to religion. Religion may or may not be chosen by one, and tends to be a more collective experience that is guided by texts or leaders. While religion and spirituality bring up inner conflicts and question your faith, these beliefs and values can also be helpful in getting through one of the most difficult times in people’s lives. Although in this country we support the separation of church and state, in reality, religion often frames our view of right and wrong and a sense of fairness and justice, and needs to be addressed for healing and growth for all members of the family.

Spiritual healing can take many forms. Here are a few ways of making room for the spiritual and emotional healing after divorce:

1. Finding support of a religious leader/guide who understands your situation may be helpful in getting through this difficult part of your lives with compassion, forgiveness, and room for healing…

Read the article:

7 Ways to Make Room for Spiritual Healing after Divorce

by Gitu Bhatia Pys.D. on Divorce Magazine

What Time Is It?

We usually find ourselves asking this question when planning some portion of the day ahead. We need to reach our destination by a certain time or finish an assignment prior to its deadline. Perhaps we ask ourselves this question rhetorically after spending hours doing “nothing,” only to begin hurriedly arranging the time we have left in the hope of shortening our to-do lists. Undoubtedly, we have all devoted innumerable hours to reminiscing about past experiences (both comforting and regrettable); and likewise, we both wonder and worry how the future ahead of us will unfold. So many times each day do we check the time: Two o’clock? Half past five? Quarter ’til? We find these among myriad other responses to our question, and yet all of them are quite misleading!

Certainly scheduling our time according to days, hours, minutes, etc. enables us be productive, efficient, and make sense of the sequence of events we expect to happen in the coming moments. However, viewing time through this lens obscures the most fundamental answer to our question: What time is it? The time is… Now. If you imagine a watch without hands or marks and in their place the word “now,” that watch will always be correct—regardless of time zone, hemisphere, or position of the sun. It is always now. Now is here, and it has been now every moment of your life.

Beyond calling into question the appeal of upscale timepieces, the reality of now offers a renewed perspective on the reminiscing and worrying we do. Dwelling on misfortunes of days past and fearing future catastrophe often leave us feeling helpless and afraid, as they prevent us from being truly present and taking action in the only moment that matters—now. Likewise, many of us avoid such emotions, albeit temporarily, through obsessing, day dreaming, procrastinating, and a host of other strategies. Eventually, this vicious cycle can lead to feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and powerless to handle tasks that once seemed easy—prompting many to seek professional help. What remedy can we offer our clients? Better yet, what can we
do for ourselves?

It is my view that Mindful living and regular meditation offer a wonderful method of remaining in the now, confronting uncomfortable feelings, and tackling life’s challenges effectively. Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, and without judgment.

It emphasizes an awareness and acceptance of this moment, of now, whether it brings discomfort, gratification, pain, joy, or anything in between. This may seem counterintuitive, and yet those who practice mindful living describe a renewed sense of presence and a willingness to engage with the ups and downs of life. One might say living in the now fosters resilience, a sense of wellbeing, and openness to life. So the next time you find yourself glancing at your watch, check in with yourself; remember that you are, and always will be, right here right now.
– Kenneth S. Skale, M.A.

Why do we procrastinate?

There has been a long gap between my postings on this blog. I apologize to some of you who have encouraged me to write. Like many of my readers, I have been struggling with procrastination. I have decided to work through this personal challenge by learning more about it and sharing what I know, what I am learning, and how I plan to beat it.

There are many valid reasons for most of us to procrastinate and not all of us are chronic procrastinators. By definition, procrastination is a habit of putting off urgent tasks for less urgent, and perhaps more pleasurable, tasks. As a consequence, procrastinating leads to feeling disappointed, disappointing others, self-criticism, added stress, and feeling a sense of failure. It is not surprising that procrastination and the resulting feelings lead to more procrastination and more negative self-appraisal. This vicious cycle has a tendency to feed on itself and grow exponentially.

Personally I have used all the valid excuses for putting off things. The “I am so busy”, “I am not in the mood”, or “others need me” have been explanations that soothe some of the nagging negative feelings some of the time. However, it is hard to convince the inner, more knowing, self that there is a clear gap between the intention and action.

Eric Jaffe, in an article titled, “Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination”, explained some theories and research to better understand this concept. Most evidence shows that the consequences of choosing temporary pleasure over finishing important work costs us emotionally (sense of well being), physiologically (stress that translates to physical changes) and sometimes financially (work output and productivity). Intuitively we would think that suffering these consequences would teach us to do things differently. However, the reason we procrastinate, in the first place, is that we are drawn to avoiding pain in the form of boring, hard or demanding work, and tend to seek relief by playing Words with Friends or watching mindless TV (not necessarily pleasure). It turns out that the solution to overcoming these challenges is learning to tolerate negative feelings and having the skills to regulate our emotions rather than taking the easy way out.

To unlearn old patterns and learn new ones, we need to have a good talk with ourselves about our core values. Personally, I value the present time and feel grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded. Just articulating my values helps me view procrastination in a different light. “Procrastination is really a self-inflicted wound that gradually chips away at the most valuable resource in the world: time.”(Psychil, 2000). Clarifying our values is only the first step. An important next step is to have a plan that works and allows us to feel successful and motivated.

There are specific strategies to beat procrastination. Like with any behavior modification plan, we need to start with truly assessing the problem. Ask yourself the following questions: How big is this problem? When does it occur and what is most likely keeping it going? What has helped you overcome this problem in the past? What, and who, has helped you solve the problems in the past? BTW, I am a firm believer in engendering support of family and friends. Once you have these questions answered, set a goal for yourself that is relatively easy to accomplish and makes you feel successful. Remind yourself that you have the capacity to cope with the anxiety and discomfort that you had been avoiding. Reward yourself when you complete this task (pats on the back from your supporters always help) and set another goal. Before you know it, you would have reversed the vicious cycle of procrastination, like I did.

Lastly, to make any kind of changes in our lives and move forward, it is important to learn to forgive and not beat ourselves up. Putting yourself down for procrastinating is a waste of time!

Simplifying and Optimizing our lives with TLC:

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.

Most of us think of TLC as Tender Loving Care. These letters conjure up thoughts and feelings of nurturance towards our loved ones. However, most of us don’t always associate TLC with caring for ourselves. A recent edition of the American Psychologist, a reputed publication of the American Psychological Association, addresses this very issue in great detail.

Roger Walsh, Ph D, MD, did a comprehensive review of research, spanning the last few decades, and concluded that “Lifestyle changes can offer significant therapeutic advantages for patients, therapists, and societies, yet are insufficiently appreciated, taught or utilized,……….in the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical and public health.”

The best part of these recommendations is that they are inexpensive, are known to treat multiple physical and emotional pathologies and preserve and optimize social, psychological and cognitive well-being (Walsh, 2011). The simplicity of these recommendations is contrasted by how difficult these are to implement in our lives. The tendency to use pills and rely on external sources of gratification is universal, specially, since we continue to be bombarded by commercials highlighting the values of these magical remedies. Unfortunately often medical and mental health professionals, also subject to the same socio-cultural influences of this fast paced and consumer driven society, underestimate and underutilize the following lifestyle treatments:

Exercise not only helps people feel better by reducing anxiety and depression. It can help children do better in school, improve cognitive performance in adults, reduce age-related memory loss in the elderly, and increase new neuron formation in the brain.

  • Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and fish may help school performance in children, maintain cognitive functions in adults, as well as reduce symptoms in affective and schizophrenic disorders.
  • Spending time in nature can promote cognitive functions and overall well-being.
  • Good relationships can reduce health risks ranging from the common cold to strokes as well as multiple mental illnesses, and can enhance psychological well-being dramatically.
  • Recreation and fun can reduce defensiveness and foster social skills.
  • Relaxation and stress management can treat a variety of anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorders.
  • Meditation has many benefits. It can improve empathy, sensitivity and emotional stability, reduce stress and burnout, and enhance cognitive function and even brain size.
  • Religious and spiritual involvement that focuses on love and forgiveness can reduce anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and foster well-being.
  • Contribution and service, or altruism, can enhance joy and generosity by producing a “helper’s high.” Altruism also benefits both physical and mental health, and perhaps even extends lifespan. A major exception the paper notes is “caretaker burnout experienced by overwhelmed family members caring for a demented spouse or parent.”

Aiming to implement all these changes can be overwhelming and time consuming. Perhaps tackling one change per week can be more realistic. However, inviting friends and family to join you in making these changes can address a few of the therapeutic lifestyle changes, ex, improving relationships and taking care of others.

Inspired by: Walsh(2011) Lifestyle and mental health. American Psychologist, 66(7), 579-592.

Web link to summary of the article: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/02/beyond-tlc.aspx

Importance Of Play In Our Lives

Games and play have been a part of all cultures. Besides being a source of amusement and joy for young and old, they seem to have a significant role in socialization of young people and a means of social interaction for people of all ages. This was clearly evident during the recent frenzy of the World Cup. All boundaries of race, religion, class, caste and even political ideologies, were set aside to a common goal. Psychologists, educators and sociologists have long known that play is an essential way for children, and adults, to learn about themselves, their world, and the concept of rules in life. The use of play makes learning easier, transforms relationships, and creates a climate of mutuality.

Lullabies, nursery rhymes, peek-a-boo, bouncing on the knee, etc., make way for more imaginative and interactive play as a baby grows. Development of language, recognition of faces and facial expressions, and social skills are naturally developed through these activities. As the baby grows, the increasing cognitive and physical development allows for more complicated games that incorporate more complex rules and physical activity, from using gross motor skills to fine motor activities.

Bring to mind little children who take delight in playing with a string, an empty box, a noisy rattle, or just about anything. The reason we think of this activity as play is the delight visible on their faces. This kind of play does not need to involve another person. As the child grows older, he or she finds that delight in sharing activities with others. The developing brain allows imagination to bring even more choices to the use of the string, an empty box and a noisy rattle. Play becomes more complex and ingenious games are invented. Games and play become more complex and competitive as children get older.

While children are having fun, they are also learning about rules and order of things in the real world. Some games are about luck and chance while other games require strategizing. Some games require strength and endurance while other games require fine motor skills and finesse.

In the present times, physically challenging games and interactive play have been replaced, to a large extent, by more solitary play in the form of video games. Even when these games are interactive, the social interactions tend to lack some important ways of learning about feelings of others, i.e., reading the facial reactions of your opponents, sensing the emotional consequences of winning or losing. The greater loss, to children and adults playing these sedentary and solitary games, is the lack of physical activity and fewer opportunities to let off steam and engage with others in physical activities. There is growing recognition that a natural consequence of social networking and interacting on the internet may result in an impairment in empathy for others as evident in the increasing incidences of bullying in schools and cyber bullying.

Read more

Anger is a difficult emotion

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy – Aristotle

Very often people struggle with knowing what they are really feeling when they are angry. On the one hand, anger is universally recognizable and understood. On the other hand, anger is a very complicated set of emotions with layers of feelings. Anger, for a lot of people, is the go-to emotion when they are hurt, afraid, disillusioned, misunderstood, or even embarrassed.  Since many people are unable to understand the complexity of their anger, they are even less likely to care for, or manage, this emotion in a constructive manner.

Most of us associate anger with rage, being out of control or being destructive. Thinking of anger, as a constructive emotion, is often difficult because it feels corrosive and uncomfortable. Yet anger at the unjust world is what motivated the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Women, more often than men, are likely to suppress or mismanage their angry feelings. Women, in most cultures, are socialized to hide or sublimate their angry feelings. Where as men typically let out their anger in recognizable ways, women tend towards internalizing their anger or expressing it in more complicated ways. Although it may seem unfair to generalize, research support that across the board, women from different socio-cultural backgrounds, tend to use passive aggressive or manipulative means of managing or expressing their anger. For example, women are more likely to use the internet or emails as a weapon for attacking or for bullying from a safe distance. The book Mean Girls, Meaner Women, written by two psychologists, Dr. Erika Holiday and Dr. Joan I. Rosenberg, addresses this issue in greater depth and detail.

Popular wisdom about how to deal with anger is also often problematic. It is not uncommon to hear people say that they scream into a pillow or punch a punching bag to let out their anger. Unfortunately many of these strategies can have the opposite impact on our bodies, minds and relationships. Anger tends to have many physiological effects on the body, e.g., elevated heart rate, raised blood pressure, and tightening of muscles. Anger can evoke the same “fight or flight” responses in our body, as when faced with a scary situation. The strategies of punching or screaming exagerate the very feelings that we are attempting to temper. Also, a common way of dealing with anger, is expressing anger verbally in the name of communication. “You have to let it out”, is the common bias in this culture. Not all communication is effective and self- restraint is confused with being weak or passive.  Letting the anger out, very often provides support for the angry person feeling even more justified in being angry. The most ineffective form of communication or of expressing anger tends to be when one is the angriest.

Interestingly, not letting out the anger, can be equally destructive. Since our minds and bodies are intimately related, unmanaged anger often shows up in the body as aches and pains, stress and even diseases like depression and anxiety. It is easy to see the link between the need to soothe difficult emotions and substance abuse or eating disorders. The more effective ways of dealing with anger requires a lot of self evaluation, changes in attitudes, re-evaluating relationships, one’s role in the relationships and cultivation of new habits. Thich Nhat Hanh provides a compassionate way of looking at anger in the book Taming the tiger within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions. In his infinite but simple wisdom, he says, “If you get angry easily, it may be because the seed of anger in you has been watered frequently over many years, and unfortunately you have allowed it or even encouraged it to be watered”. To stop watering this seed of anger, therefore, we probably have to focus our energy elsewhere, learn new coping skills and cultivate other qualities.

One of the ways of better understanding our anger and dealing effectively with anger continues to be effective communication. Unfortunately, we over use the word communication but misunderstand the essence of it. Anger gets communicated without words even more palpably than with words. Slamming doors or silent treatments are loud examples of non-verbal communication. The most important aspect of communication that is often neglected is “listening”. We are more likely view the act of listening as the time spent waiting to express our side of things or gathering up more evidence to assert our point of view. Listening with the intention of truly understanding the other is challenging and takes practice. It takes many years of training as a psychologist or a therapist to listen with unconditional acceptance.

Forgiveness is another profoundly helpful strategy to deal with unresolved or long term anger. Perhaps because it is associated with religiosity, forgiveness is also a widely misunderstood concept. People sometimes equate forgiveness with giving someone else permission to continue to wrong them or with forgetting bad events. Forgiveness is, simply, a conscious act of acceptance of the realities as they exist, and allows for healing and unburdening. It takes practice and it happens in small increments, like watering the seed and watching it sprout and grow into a healthy plant.

Good health is like walking on air….

Good health is like walking on air, we don’t value it until we don’t have it. Managing a healthy weight is closely related to overall health but it is one of the hardest goals to achieve in this culture of abundance. Billions of dollars are spent each year on weight loss products and a correspondingly high amount is spent on treatment of health consequences of excess weight. Here are some useful recommendations based on American Psychological Association’s Mind-Body Project:

Behavior & Lifestyle Tips to Reduce and Manage Weight

Identify the unhealthy habits or behaviors contributing to weight gain. Is it simply a matter of not eating right or not getting enough exercise?  Or, are there sources of stress or anxiety in your life that affect how you eat? Do you turn to food for comfort? Do you choose fast food for convenience instead of taking some extra time to prepare a healthy meal?

One of the best tools for weight loss is a “food diary”.  Include the following categories; Time, quantity, feelings before and after eating, and places where you eat (in front of the refrigerator, in the car, at work, sitting with family, etc.). People who keep a record of everything they put into their bodies are not only able to identify what may be contributing to the weight gain but also gain a sense of control over their lives.  The food diary increases self-awareness and it is not uncommon for people to lose weight by just noting down what they are putting into their bodies and why.

Change one thing at a time. Rather than going on a diet, focus on one habit or one thing to change in your environment. Focus on that one thing for a month or six weeks until you get used to doing the new, healthy habit. For example, do you drink too much soda? Try drinking water in place of soda. If you are inactive and never exercise, try going for a 20 minute walk three times a week.

Cut down on portions while eating the same foods. Along with making dieting feel less depriving, you’ll soon find that the smaller portions are just as satisfying.  This will also give you a platform to safely curb your appetite even more.

Balance what you eat with what you do. According to the Surgeon General, reducing your daily calorie intake by 150 calories and participate in moderate activity to your daily schedule could double your weight loss.  That doesn’t sound like very much does it?  And there are many easy ways to do it. You can burn 150 calories with a brisk 30-minute walk, pushing a stroller for a mile and a half, raking leaves for a half-hour, or doing 15 minutes of stair walking.

Don’t obsess over “bad days” when you can’t help eating more. This is often a problem for women who tend to be overly hard on themselves for losing discipline.

Losing weight is always easier when you have the support. Try to enlist the entire household in eating a healthier diet.  You may also find it helpful to ask a friend or family member to be “on-call” for moral support when you’re tempted to stray from your new lifestyle.  Just be sure you’re not competing with this person to lose weight.

If you feel overwhelmed or if the reasons behind unhealthy behaviors are emotional, or related to stress, then consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are trained to deal with lifestyle and behavioral issues that can influence mind/body health. A psychologist can help you identify unhealthy behaviors as well as life stressors and/or emotional issues contributing to weight problems. A psychologist can work with an individual address any emotional issues and to help develop strategies to reduce and manage stress that may influence those unhealthy behaviors.

Healthy Behaviors for kids:

Make sure the child knows that he or she is loved and appreciated regardless of his or her weight. Obese and overweight children need support, acceptance, and encouragement to safely change their eating and activity habits.

Just like adults, young people need to eat healthy and in moderation. Make sure their diet is balanced and nutritious.  By the same token, you should never use food as a reward or punishment.

Get the family involved. You can do things such as plan meals as a team, making a game out of trying new types of fruits or vegetables, and scheduling family-oriented exercise periods such as walks or sports.  You may also want to keep a daily record of each family member’s eating habits and activities.

Set a good example. As a member of your child’s weight loss support group, parents should do what they can to improve their own eating and activity habits.

Get support. As with adults, children with weight problems, should have a strategy and goals that are approved by a physician.  Depending on your child’s age, it may be appropriate to maintain the current weight while he or she grows normally.  If stress, depression, or other emotional issues are involved, a psychologist who specializes in counseling young people and families, can help address them and suggest ways to implement the lifestyle changes.

Self-Care is not Selfish

Women often struggle with the concept of self-care. Self-care is often equated, in our minds, with self-indulgence and selfishness. The idea of caring for own needs and being compassionate to ourselves seems to conjure up images of getting facials or massages or being at the gym for hours and spending a lot of money. These may be part of the self-care we may need. However, the kind of self-care that is essential to us being in good relationships and being effective as parents.

Self-care begins with self-knowledge. Knowledge and understanding of what makes us feel good about ourselves and what hurts our sense of self or sense of well-being. This understanding helps us define our values and needs to our selves and to people with whom we are in relationships. The clarity helps us communicate in ways that is more easily understood by others around us.

Spending some part of each day getting to know our own needs is sometimes more restful than a body massage. Spending time with a supportive friend can be more relaxing than a facial. Surrounding yourself with the beauty of nature and listening to the sounds of birds can be a self-indulgent and a nurturing respite from the many responsibilities of our daily lives.