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Saturday, May 30, 2020

5 Tips For Reducing Emotional Reactivity and Arguments in Your Relationship - Part 1

Everyone has had the experience of getting triggered and overreacting to their partner at one time or another.  But when there's a pattern of emotional reactivity that leads to frequent arguments, these arguments can signal a serious problem that threatens the relationship. To save the relationship, each person needs to learn to be less emotionally reactive.  So, let's explore how you can reduce the emotional reactivity in your relationship (see my articles: The Challenge of Keeping Small Arguments From Becoming Big Conflicts in Your Relationship and Tips For Getting Along During the COVID-19 Crisis).

Reducing Emotional Reactivity in Your Relationship

What is Emotional Reactivity? 
Emotional reactivity is a tendency to have intense emotional reactions. Negative emotional reactions, like snapping at your partner, often occur because you feel triggered by something that was said or you're displacing your anger from another situation onto your partner. For instance, you have a problem with your boss and you come home and snap at your spouse.

What is Emotional Regulation?
Generally, emotional regulation refers to an ability to modulate your emotions to reduce reactivity.  For instance, instead of snapping at your spouse after you had a bad day at work, you take a moment to calm yourself first so that you don't displace your emotional reaction to the situation at work onto your spouse. One way to reduce reactivity so that you can regulate your emotions is through mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness? 
On the most basic level, mindfulness is a state of focusing your awareness on the present moment while accepting your feelings, thoughts and body sensations. It takes practice to achieve a state of mindfulness, especially if you tend to be emotionally reactive (see my articles: Being in the Present Moment and The Mind-Body Connection: Mindfulness Meditation).

5 Tips For Reducing Emotional Reactivity 
  1. Calm Yourself Before You React: Before you react, take a moment to breathe and calm your mind and your body. While you're calming yourself, use mindfulness techniques to become aware of what you're feeling, thinking and sensing in your body (see my articles: The Mind-Body Connection: Developing a Felt Sense For Your Internal Experience and Learning to Relax: Going on an Internal Retreat).
  2. Make an Agreement with Your Partner: The agreement is that neither of you will be emotionally reactive to the other, and if either of you feels like you're about to lose your temper, you'll take time to get calm. If this means that you take a break from the discussion to be alone for a short period of time, communicate this to your partner. If you're about to lose your temper, do something to calm yourself, like splashing cold water on your face.
  3. Tell Your Partner that You Want to Know What He or She Needs and Then Listen: Encourage your partner to tell you what s/he feels and what is needed from you. Listen carefully to what your partner is saying rather than focusing on your response (see my article: The Importance of Active Listening).
  4. Make an Effort to Understand What Your Partner is Trying to Communicate with You: Try to understand what's really being communicated beyond his or her angry tone and words.
  5. Don't Invalidate Your Partner's Experience When It's Your Turn to Respond: After you have listened to your partner's concerns and it's your turn to speak, don't invalidate or belittle your partner's concerns. Be respectful and, if you don't understand your partner's feelings, ask questions in a nonjudgmental way.
I'll provide a scenario in my next article to illustrate of what I've discussed in this article (see my article: Reducing Emotional Reactivity and Arguments in Your Relationship - Part 2.

Getting Help in Couple Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point.

If you've tried to change a reactive communication pattern in your relationship and you're been unable to do it, you and your partner could benefit from working with a couple therapist who can help you to understand and change the dynamics in your relationship (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples?).

Many therapists, including me, are providing teletherapy for individual and couple therapy during the current pandemic (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy During the Pandemic)

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Coping With Loneliness While Living Alone and Isolated During the Pandemic

In my last article, The Emotional and Physical Impact of Loneliness During the COVID-19 Pandemic, I addressed issues related to isolation and loneliness. In this article, I'm focusing specifically on the challenges of living alone while having to isolate during the pandemic.

Coping With Loneliness While Living Alone and Isolated During the Pandemic

Living alone during this pandemic can be very challenging, especially when people, who are alone, are suddenly cut off from having physical contact with their loved ones and other activities that would normally sustain them.

Tips on Coping With Loneliness While Living Alone
The following tips are suggestions that might be helpful to you. Take what you think would be best for you and use it and toss aside anything that's not useful to you:
  • Be Patient With Yourself:  
    • Recognize that you're going through a period of time unlike any other time you've experienced.
    • Lower your expectations about what you think you can accomplish in a day and have self compassion (see my article: Practicing Self Compassion).
    • Be aware that, due to the stress caused by the pandemic, you might be more forgetful or less productive than you are under normal circumstances.  
    • Recognize that you might notice mood swings from day to day or even from one minute to the next due to the uncertainty of the situation.  
    • Be aware that all of the above issues are being experienced by millions of people and these are common reactions to living under these circumstances (see my article: Common Reactions to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Fear and Anxiety and Coping With Loneliness).
  • Create a Schedule For Yourself
    • Maintain a regular schedule that includes personal care (see my article: Stress Management: Taking Time for Self Care).
    • Be aware that trying to normalize your day as much as possible might not eliminate your loneliness, but it will help you to feel as much in control as possible while creating a sense of stability in your life while living in a time of uncertainty.
    • Start your day with an intention for what you would like to accomplish and, once again, be patient with yourself if you accomplish much less than you intended (see my article:  The Power of Starting Your Day With an Intention).
  • Stay Informed in a Balanced Way
    • Get important information that keeps you up to date about the pandemic.
    • Limit the amount of time you spend watching, listening or reading the news because too much exposure to the news can becoming overwhelming, especially when it's presented in a dramatic or anxiety provoking way.
    • Sign up for online courses, if you're interested in online learning, to learn something new and expand your horizons. There are many colleges offering free courses during this time.  If this doesn't interest you or you find that you're unable to focus, be patient with yourself.
  • Stay Active
    • Make part of your self care routine being active, especially since you're probably much less active outdoors or at the gym than you were before.
    • Find online exercise videos that are right for you. This will not only help to keep you fit, it will also help to boost your mood.
    • Take walks outside, if possible, while taking the necessary precautions of social distancing, wearing a mask and other recommended precautions.
  • Maintain Healthy Habits
    • Eat nutritious meals. Although many people who live alone have the attitude that it's not worth making meals for themselves, now more than ever, it's important to maintain healthy practices and this includes healthy meals.
    • Limit alcohol and other unhealthy substances or compulsive habits.
    • Shower and groom yourself every day whether you're going out or not.  You'll feel better.
  • Stay Connected
    • Make an effort to stay connected with loved ones by video chat or by phone (see my article: Reframing Social Connection).
    • Recognize that, even though connecting online isn't as emotionally rewarding as seeing your loved ones in person, it's better than not having any contact at all.
    • Plan to share a meal together, have a wine party, share a birthday or celebrate an occasion online.

  • Make Meaning Out of Your Experience
    • Look back on prior experiences where you overcame obstacles. Although the current time is unprecedented, you can look back on challenging times and remember the strengths you had to get through.
    • Find meaning in the current situation in terms of your beliefs and values (see my article: Finding Meaning in Your Life).
  • Look For the Silver Lining in Your Current Circumstances
  • Maintain a Balanced Perspective About the Future
    • Try not to allow your fear and anxiety overwhelm you. This is often easier said than done, but to the extent that you can control negative thoughts about the future, you can try to maintain a balanced perspective about the future.
    • Remember times in the past when you feared the worst and the worst didn't occur. Although you don't know what to expect in the future, if you dwell on the worst case scenario, you're going to overwhelm yourself, weaken your immune system and, possibly, get sick (Resilience: Remembering Your Comebacks During Stressful Times).
    • Practice bringing your attention to the present moment, whether you do this through meditation, prayer, a breathing exercise or anything else that is calms you.
Getting Help in Therapy
During this time of uncertainty, many people with unresolved trauma are being emotionally triggered, and they're finding relief in therapy (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on the Past).

Most therapists are conducting therapy online to make it accessible to clients while therapists are out of the office due to the pandemic.  Online therapy is also known as teletherapy, telemental health and telehealth (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't Meet With Your Therapist in Person).

If you're feeling overwhelmed, seek help from a licensed mental health professional to get you through this difficult time.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrated Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am providing teletherapy sessions during this time when I am out of my office.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, contact me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Emotional and Physical Impact of Loneliness During the COVID-19 Crisis

Everyone experiences some degree of loneliness at some point in their lives. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness was already an epidemic throughout the world, especially among the elderly.  However, the need to physically isolate from others to stop the spread of the virus has made the problem of loneliness much worse for many people (see my article: Coping With Loneliness During the COVID-19 Crisis and The 5 Stages of Grief During the COVID-19 Crisis).

The Emotional and Physical Impact of Loneliness During the COVID-19 Crisis

In this article, I'm focusing on the emotional and physical impact of loneliness on people who are isolated.  In my next article, I'll address the issue of loneliness during this pandemic if you live alone.

What is Loneliness?
First, let's define what we mean by loneliness.

Loneliness is a subjective negative emotion that occurs when our social needs aren't met. It's the discrepancy between our desire for connection and our actual experiences of connection.

Our need for social connection is hardwired in us from infancy. We are born with the need for attachment.  As infants, we need more than being fed, clothed and sheltered. We need to feel an emotional attachment to our primary caregiver in order to survive and thrive.

The need for emotional attachment doesn't end in infancy.  It continues throughout the lifespan. Although some people like spending a lot of time alone because it gives them a feeling of solitude, most people need to feel connected with others in a meaningful way (see my article:  How the Early Attachment Bond Affects Adult Relationships and Loneliness vs Solitude).

To form meaningful connections with others, our social needs must be met in terms of both quantity and quality.  So, while superficial relationships can distract us momentarily from our loneliness, they don't fulfill the deeper need to feel connected meaningfully in safe and secure surroundings.

What is the Emotional and Physical Impact of Loneliness?
Experiencing loneliness heightens our feelings of vulnerability and often takes a toll on our mind and body.

     The Connection Between Loneliness and Depression
Loneliness can put us at risk for depression.  The reason for this is that we often turn our attention inward in a critical way when we're isolated and lonely.  We become self critical and engage in negative self talk (see my articles: Are You Sabotaging Yourself With Negative Self Talk? and 5 Tips For Overcoming Chronic Negative Thoughts).

Negative self talk and the feelings connected to it can create a downward spiral that reinforces itself.  So, the more lonely and disconnected we feel, the more likely we are to criticize ourselves, and the more we criticize ourselves, the more likely we are to experience a downward spiral.  This makes it harder for us to connect with others because we feel unworthy (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic and Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

To stop this downward spiral, first, it's important to become aware of this cycle of negativity.  Second, we need to step back from our negative thoughts to be objective and question these thoughts to recognize that thoughts and feelings aren't facts (see my article: Your Thoughts and Feelings Aren't Facts).

If you're unable to stop the downward spiral into depression, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional (see the section below: Getting Help in Therapy).

Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. So, if you're feeling suicidal, call 911 immediately to get help.

     The Connection Between Loneliness and Physical Problems
Aside from the emotional impact, loneliness can put you at risk for physical problems.

Loneliness and isolation creates stress and can also create increased inflammation in the body.  This is a genetic reaction that goes back centuries, and it occurs because the body still perceives loneliness and isolation as a threat to survival--like a physical attack or an infection.

Inflammation is the body's way of defending itself against the danger of an attack, and the body reacts the same way whether it's a real danger or only a perceived danger.  So, although inflammation is a way for the body to protect itself, too much inflammation can create serious medical problems. 

Chronic inflammation puts the body at risk for heart problems, stroke, cancer, autoimmune disorders and other medical problems.

Physical Distancing and Social Connection
Physical distancing is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but you can still maintain social connections with loved ones (see my article: Reframing Social Connections).

Connecting with loved ones online isn't the same as connecting with them in person, but it's the next best thing (see my article: Undoing Aloneness: Staying Socially Connected While Being Physically Distant and Developing a Felt Sense of Connection While Physically Distant).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're feeling overwhelmed, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional.

Many therapists are providing online therapy during this pandemic (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist to combat the emotional and physical impact of loneliness and social isolation.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I am providing online therapy.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

5 Tips For Challenging and Restructuring Distorted Negative Thoughts

In a prior article, I discussed how your distorted thoughts can have an negative impact on your overall mood and perspective (see my articles: How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Change Distorted Thinking).  In this article, I'm providing tips on how to challenge and restructure your negative thoughts which are distorted, so you don't get stuck in a pattern of negative thinking that affects your mood.
Challenging and Restructuring Distorted Negative Thoughts

How Negative Thoughts Affect Your Perspective
During a crisis, like the current pandemic, it's easy to get caught in a cycle of negative thoughts that gives you a pessimistic outlook and affects your mood.

While it's important to be realistic about the real challenges, if you don't find ways to overcome a habitual negative thoughts, they often have a way of crowding out anything that's positive.  So, it's important to notice if your thoughts and mood have become overly negative to the point where you're no longer seeing positive things that are happening in your life.

5 Tips For Challenging and Restructuring Your Negative Thoughts
  • Write Down and Monitor the Accuracy of Your Negative Thoughts: When you have a negative thought, write it down.  Sometimes writing, rereading what you've written or even saying it out loud can help you to see that your thought is distorted.  
  • Test Your Thoughts: Many negative thoughts remain untested, which gives them more power over you.  Try testing your thoughts to see how accurate they are.  For instance, if you tell yourself that you have no time--not even 5 minutes--to meditate, take a look at how you spend your time. If you're spending a lot of time online, can you take 5 minutes from that activity to close your eyes to meditate and relax?
  • Evaluate the Likelihood of Your Negative Thoughts Coming True: Ask yourself how likely is it that your negative thoughts will come true.  Is there evidence for it?  What is this evidence?  How solid is this evidence? If there's no evidence, where are these thoughts coming from and what might they related to in your past?
  • Practice Mindfulness Meditation: Your mindfulness meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and paying attention to your breathing.  As you focus on each inhalation and exhalation, notice the quality of your breath and how focusing on your breath calms your mind and body (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: Calm the Body and Calm the Mind).  Mindfulness meditation also provides an opportunity to see your negative perspective with a sense of calm so you can evaluate if you're catastrophizing.
  • Practice Self Compassion: Notice if you're being overly critical of yourself or if you're in the habit of berating yourself for your mistakes.  It's often true that people who have compassion for the mistakes of others have little to none for themselves because they believe they don't deserve it.  So, practicing self compassion can be challenging.  Start by challenging yourself whenever you berate yourself ("I'm such an idiot for making that mistake").  Ask yourself if you would be as hard on someone else as you are on yourself.  Accept that you're human and, like everyone else, you're going to make mistakes.  Practice have compassion for yourself (see my article: Self Compassion: Loving Yourself Even in the Places Where You Feel Broken).
Getting Help in Therapy
Sometimes habitual negative thinking is linked to a history of trauma. 

When negative thinking is linked to trauma, trying to challenge your negative thoughts on your own often doesn't change them.

A crisis or a stressful event in the present can trigger unresolved trauma that requires the help of a trauma therapist (see my articles: Becoming Aware of Triggers Related to Unresolved Trauma and What is a Trauma Therapist?).

Many therapists are providing online therapy (also known as teletherapy and telehealth) during the COVID-19 crisis (see my article:  The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

Rather than getting stuck in a cycle of negativity, you could get help from a licensed psychotherapist who can help you to get through a difficult time and work through any underlying trauma.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I'm currently providing online therapy while I'm out of the office due to the global pandemic.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.