Monday, April 14, 2014

Coping with Change - A Call for Advice

Coping with Change A Call for Advice
This the first entry in a scheduled series about coping with change.

To be honest, this never was one of my strengths. Impending change is one of my largest triggers for anxiety - even if the impending change is objectively good. Right now, I am approaching many good changes in my life. I got engaged a few months ago. In addition to planning a wedding, my fiance and I are moving halfway across the country. In a short amount of time, my driver's license will be getting a new state and a new name.

At this point, I am equally terrified and excited. I couldn't be happier to be marrying the person with whom I have shared love, support, and friendship for nearly six years. I think that the move will be a really positive change. Still, I can't help but feel anxious. It is likely that there might be a few panic attacks to come between today and the time that I am settled in my new home.

This blog has been a wonderful source of shared support in the past. Not only have I used it as a venue to share my own advice, but so many entries brought responses that provided me with insight that led to an increase in my own position emotions. Therefore, my plan is to keep blogging through this whole process.

I will do my best to be mindful about what does and does not help to moderate my feelings of anxiety, and I will share whatever I learn. However, I want to take this time to ask YOU, my wonderful readers, to share your own advice.

  • What techniques have you used to cope with anxiety related to change?
  • How do you make yourself feel better during a panic attack?
  • How do you avoid panic attacks when you know that you are about to be exposed to a trigger?

Please share your thoughts in the comments or on my facebook page, I will share your thoughts in an upcoming entry! Also, if you have blogged about this, please let me know. I would be happy to link to your blog.

Your internet friend,

Friday, March 14, 2014

Self-Esteem for Emotionally Sensitive People

wise mind bpd mindfulnessLast week, I wrote about how I tried to deal with a sucker punch to my self-esteem using the DBT skill of Wise Mind.

I would like to continue that discussion today. However, instead of talking about finding perspective on situations, I would like to talk about how we view ourselves. How many times have you taken external feedback and incorporated it into your own self-image? For me, receiving a compliment can cause my own self-esteem to skyrocket. Similarly, it is all too easy for me to internalize criticism and use it to define myself.

I firmly believe that this conversation is relevant for everyone, but those with who are emotionally sensitive or who have a diagnosis of BPD might find it particularly salient. According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, people with BPD can have feelings of emptiness, fluctuating moods, a desire to avoid abandonment, and an unstable self-image. Combined, this can lead to the tiny bits of feedback that we receive from others having a HUGE impact on both our mood and sense of self.

While DBT provides really nice techniques, such as self-soothing, to help lessen the immediate emotional impact, I decided to veer away from DBT to help bandage my own injured self-esteem. What did I do instead? I decided to take control of my own self-esteem.

One thing that struck me about having an unstable sense of self is that LOTS of things can impact it. Why can't I take control and guide my own sense of sense?

As I sat and internalized the minor criticism that I received, I realized two things:
  1. There is NOTHING that I can do to change the past. All that I can do is be mindful of what happened and accept that it led to this place.
  2. I am in complete control of my future actions.
It is so tempting to internalize criticism, let it define me, and begin a self-fulfilling feedback loop. When I was a child, I was one of the youngest (and smallest) in my class, which led to me being much worse at sports than my bigger, older peers. I internalized that perspective, and 'being bad at sports' came to define me. It is impossible to succeed at something when you have no expectation of doing so. It has taken me 20 years to realize that maybe I am not doomed to be horrific at all sports. This weekend, I took a beginner skiing lesson and rocked it!

Similarly, I am in full control of my reaction to new criticism. Rather than letting it upset me, hearing criticism gives me an opportunity to form concrete steps to counter this perception of me.

I am a bit shy to give details regarding my exact situation, so let me create a hypothetical. One thing that I know that a lot of people struggle with is public speaking.

Imagine our hypothetical friend, Sarah, has to give a presentation. She is really nervous leading up to the speech. Finally, she gets on stage, pulls out her notes, and freezes. Maybe she regains her composure; maybe she doesn't. Either way, it is clear that this speech did not go well.

There are two ways that Sarah can react:

  1. She can decide that she is not someone who is good at public speaking. Based on this, she avoids future opportunities to speak publicly. When she does have to give a speech, she has low expectations for herself. 
  2. She can acknowledge that she bombed her first speech and then use mindfulness to evaluate exactly why it went poorly. Based on this self-aware assessment, she can develop a plan for how she can do better next time. Rather than judging herself based on this negative experience, she turns the experience on its head and uses it as a tool for improvement.
How do you react to criticism? Do you have any tips of your own for staying strong in light of threats to your self-esteem? Please share in the comments!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

EPIC BATTLE Between Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind

An even more accurate title for this post would be: How Not to COMPLETELY LOSE IT When Someone Serves a Sucker Punch to Your Self-Esteem. That title felt a bit too long though.

Wise Mind Reasonable Mind Emotion Mind dialectical behavioral therapy dbt
If you hadn't guessed already, my own self-esteem was dealt a major sucker punch recently. As a lifelong member of the 'Emotionally Sensitive Club,' this was unsurprisingly unpleasant. I have always been really poor at receiving negative feedback.

As an example, one of my strongest memories from kindergarten was the feeling of absolute devastation after my teacher told me not to climb into our classroom playhouse before my classmate, who was there first. To the frazzled young teacher who spent her days chasing after wild and crazy five year olds, this most likely was a completely forgettable moment in her day. To me, it felt like the end of the world. The teacher had chastised me. I was a good kid. I was not someone who did anything wrong, ever. From my worldview, accidentally misbehaving in class just once was not something that good kids did. Her passing comment dug a giant hole of doubt into my self-image.

My memory then flashes forward several hours. I was sitting in the passenger seat of my mother's car, crying hysterically, still consumed by the fear that I was becoming a bad kid. In case you have forgotten, this was all due to my teacher casually telling me not to do something, which I immediately obeyed.

It is in light of that memory of five year old Caroline that I invite you to jump forward 22 years to 2014.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Happy, Happier, Happiest

I currently am near hour six of today's cross country flight. Having read the inflight magazine, a few chapters of my Kindle book (A Beginner's Guide to Investing - highly recommended!), and seemingly dozens of saved articles on Pocket, I finally realized that this is the perfect time to touch base with my readers.

Today, I want to share with you a lovely, free app for iOS that I recently started to use, Happier. The premise is both incredibly simple yet brilliant - it's a social network designed to record and share your happy moments. It functions as a fabulous tool that reminds you to remain mindful of the positive in your life. Not only does it motivate you to notice little happy moments, but reviewing past posts can be a wonderful way to realize the magnitude of the good that exists in your life. I have been feeling particularly stressed and grumpy for the last week, but a quick glance at the app reminds me that I was able to witness a beautiful snowfall, have a fun lunch with colleagues, help an acquaintance with her job search, and receive praise for bringing happiness to other people through my work on my office's social committee. Each of the 160 character posts can get a tag, which should allow for some nice searches in the future. Who wouldn't want to be able to have a curated list of positive memories at their fingertips during an unpleasant situation?

The other feature that I really enjoy is the social aspect of the app. It's hard to feel grumpy when you see the simple joys that others are experiencing. Further, I often have found other posts to be motivating. It can be difficult to be mindful of the positive in your life; seeing others post about things that you are experiencing but not appreciating can help shift your perspective. Remember the moment I mentioned earlier about appreciating the beauty of freshly fallen snow? I hadn't even realized how lovely it was until I saw that someone else was enjoying it.

I want to add that I am not being compensated for this review - it is completely spontaneous  and sincere. However, I do hope that the people behind Happier read this and are happy to see the positive impact that they are having!

I have my Happier account set to private, but you are welcome to friend me so that you can see my posts. Just send me an email at, and I would be happy to send you an invite  or share my username with you.

Your Internet Friend,

[This post was written on 2/13/14 - I waited to post it until I returned home.]
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