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Emotional Awareness in Depressed Clients
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the last section, we discussed how living in the present is essential to experience
a feeling of happiness.
In this section, we will examine the
importance of gaining a personal awareness of a crisis situation through "stopping"
To say the holidays are stressful,
may be an understatement for you. Everyone is rushing about, getting things done.
With all this hustle and bustle, a million opportunities are created for things
to go terribly wrong, or in short, not fulfill your expectation. Can you think
of a time you have tried to resolve a situation, when at a core level, you know
that your actions will only exacerbate the encounter?
example, trying to tell your teenage daughter how beautiful her face looks when
she has a case of severe acne; trying to get just the perfect gift; make the perfect
meal; be the perfect host; can you be perfect? Of course not, because everyone
has their own perception of you and what they think you should or should not do.
But at some level, you feel if you just do, do, do more faster, better, bigger
it will somehow turn out okay. But can you think of a time when your doing, doing,
doing exacerbated the situation? Pause a minute. When did you do something, when
doing nothing would have been better?
So common sense would
tell you not to act. Why do you think your mind pushes you to do act in a way
contrary to what at a core level you feel is not working? Many times, it happens
that when you listen to your anxious thoughts, you will blindly rush forward in
a dramatic attempt to maintain control over your surroundings. You've convinced
yourself that there is nothing else to try. It's do or die, right? Or is there
another alternative? Could this destructive rash of a rushing behavior be avoided
or stopped in any way? What do you do when everything and everyone around you
is moving at lightening speeds; yourself included?
♦ When Actions Exacerbate the Situation
you stop, of course. You don't have to react to every crisis right away. Think
of the circumstance again when your actions or words exacerbated the situation.
Your mind and body may have been going into panic mode and have started to break
down all solutions into two black and white categories. Category one being "react,
do something, recover, save face, smooth things over, just anything to make everything
okay" or category 2 is "stand and watch everything crash around you."
And how painful is that to do nothing?
Here is something
to think about: is everything really going to pieces? Before you turn on "survival
mode", just stop and gain perspective on the situation. Is there an alternative
that will prevent any more anguish? Is the situation really that hopeless that
you have to resort to a solution that's not really a solution? Is your holiday
withdrawal pulling you towards a more negative situation because you can't stand
to stand still?
How do you feel about slowing down your own
flow of activity? While all else whooshes past you, if you feel slowing down
would be to your benefit, could you stop and watch it go by, instead of reacting?
♦ Technique: Pearl Necklace Metaphor
How do you stop from reacting like a ball on a ping pong
table? One thing that works for me is I can start by analyzing my day. Your
day, like mine, is not a "stream" of continuous activities that operate
at the same intensity level. Think about it, some activities are more intense
than others. Is your day not more like a segmented pearl necklace?
To use a positive
metaphor Between each "pearl" or activity, there is a transition, the
string. It is in this transition or string that your mind shifts gears, so to
speak. Did you ever find yourself saying, "I need a break!"? Sure you
have. Did you give yourself that break? Why not?
There were more important things
to do, right? But tell me; is there anything more important than your wellbeing?
If you don't take time to let yourself be happy while your day is in "string"
mode, between the pearls, you can never move on to the next pearl and maintain
a sustainable state of happiness. When you do obtain a way to traverse these gaps
in the day with a certain level of contentment, this transition state will predispose
the activity that follows to be a positive one.
on the present, gaining perspective is an act of awareness. You cannot acquire
this sense of awareness without first stilling the body, because the body's activity
powers the mind and vice versa. It's somewhat like coming to a stop at an intersection
and letting the engine idle for a moment. You're not turning off the car, you're
just using less fuel. When you're taking these breaks of stillness throughout
the day, don't pursue any one thought. That is not giving your mind a rest. You're
not taking time off to "think" about things.
Also, don't attempt to
fight yourself. Obviously, a conflicted mind will not come to rest. Your objective
is peace, not a solution. Like Archimedes when he discovered the principle of
displacement and density by merely taking a bath, by pulling yourself away from
a situation, you can view the crisis at hand objectively.
that the day comes in segments, with little beginnings and endings to each. What
segments make up your day? Can you see how your day is like a pearl necklace?
For the next hour after you play this section, take advantage of as many of these
transitional periods as you recognize by merely pausing and stilling your mind
for a few seconds.
How do you do this, simple, take a couple of slow, deep breaths.
You can do this silently, and no one needs to know what you are doing. Of course
do not take one of these breaks if ever the circumstances are such that you could
not help worrying about the consequences, because the aim of the break is to become
more conscious of the present. If for the course of these two or more days you
will be as conscientious as possible about shifting your focus to peace between
events, you may become aware of some unexpected benefits.
When working with our
own mind we all have a tendency to judge it and jump to conclusions about how
it needs to change. But remember that when you feel judgmental in this way you
are criticizing your mind with your mind, and all you accomplish is to enlarge
the split between your anxious thoughts and your core self.
"Pausing Between the Pearls"
Here is a structured exercises you
can use throughout your stressful post-holiday season. You might find it helpful
in slowing you down when the traffic of life is going way over the speed limit.
I call this the "Pausing between the Pearls" exercise.
a day, for just ten minutes, sit quietly and look at the thoughts you are having.
Do this conscientiously some time today, perhaps right now. Shut the CD player
off and just be aware of your thoughts.
As you identify any idea, list
it under one of the five headings suggested below. You may want to turn your CD
player off while you get a pencil and paper.
The five headings you want to
(1) JUDGMENT/ATTACK: Your attacks and judgments
might include such thoughts as revenge fantasies, feelings of personal inadequacy,
imagined arguments, comparisons and categorizations of other people, analyses
of your own behavior.
(2) WORRY: attempts to understand why
something happened; concerns over what you have done or are leaving undone; small
worries about your appearance, diet, car, weather, etc.; nagging background questions
such as whether you are doing this exercise right.
Worry is a question whereas fear is experienced more as a fact. For example: fear
of predictable consequences from something you have been ingesting, such as becoming
violent, activating an ulcer, etc. Fear of physical danger to you or others from
driving too fast, not locking up at night, etc. Vague fears of general catastrophes:
earthquakes, inflation, exposure to disease. Fear of inevitable changes in the
course of your life,
(4) PAST: Among other thoughts, this list
might cover: Recalling past successes. Remembering embarrassments, mistakes over
Christmas dinner, Reenacting former provocations. Rewriting past conversations.
Nostalgic sadness over the old days.
(5) FUTURE: These are common
future-oriented ideas: Speculating on what might occur. Longing for some situation
to change. Planning before it is necessary. Rehearsing upcoming conversations.
"Watching the clock."
If you decide to repeat
this exercise, Write down any new insights you have had into your mental patterns
regarding these five topics.
In this section, we discussed the
importance of gaining a personal awareness of a crisis situation through "stopping"
and "starting". You received the tool of the "pausing between the
In the next section, we will discuss
how to gain an increased sense of difference between your anxious thoughts or
ego and your core self via a "Need to be Right" exercise.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bailen, N. H., Wu, H., & Thompson, R. J. (2019). Meta-emotions in daily life: Associations with emotional awareness and depression. Emotion, 19(5), 776–787.
Bardeen, J. R., & Fergus, T. A. (2020). Emotion regulation self-efficacy mediates the relation between happiness emotion goals and depressive symptoms: A cross-lagged panel design. Emotion, 20(5), 910–915.
Boden, M. T., & Thompson, R. J. (2015). Facets of emotional awareness and associations with emotion regulation and depression. Emotion, 15(3), 399–410.
Cetinkol, G., Bastug, G., & Ozel Kizil, E. T. (2020). Poor acceptance of the past is related to depressive symptoms in older adults. GeroPsych: The Journal of Gerontopsychology and Geriatric Psychiatry. Advance online publication.
Monti, J. D., & Rudolph, K. D. (2014). Emotional awareness as a pathway linking adult attachment to subsequent depression. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 61(3), 374–382.
What are the five thought categories in the "Pausing between the
Pearls" exercise? To select and enter your answer go to .