Learn to Feel Better: The Lifecycle of An Emotion

Consider this: Going slow can be faster.


This paradoxical concept applies directly to our emotions. Feelings travel in waves: this is a neurobiological fact about all humans.  The physiological event of an emotion occurs in our brains, in the form of hormones releasing. 

Imagine a dam releasing water.  The dam opens and there is a rush of water that floods into another area, gradually dispersing.  This is the way emotions travel in our brains, as well.  As the dam opens, the water releases, but the strength of the current will decrease without intervention. In fact, if there are no rocks or branches in the current, there are fewer ripples and swells: the water calms even faster.  

Slowing down allows us to fully experience each wave of emotion. When you feel an emotion, like anger, for instance, take a few moments to focus on the physical sensations of anger. Perhaps you feel tightening in your chest, or constriction of your breathing. Maybe your heart races or you feel pounding in your ears.  Notice the multiple sensations that coincide with anger. Notice what happens to these sensations over time. After three minutes of observing your experience, the sensations will typically change automatically.  They may not have dissipated entirely, but they have probably already changed in some form or another. Take note of the change. 


Most of us learned that some feelings are desirable and some are not. But the truth is that all feelings serve to keep us safe or to help us thrive. By noticing your feelings and the sensations that accompany them, they move through us faster and we are free to keep moving forward.

Feeling stuck with a particular feeling or thought? Let’s get it moving. Send me an email at mkaden@gmail.com or fill out a contact request on the Contact page. I'll get right back to you. ~MK

"Patience is not simply the ability to wait. It's how we behave while waiting."


This quote by Joyce Meyers is profound. It implies a behavior that on the surface seem simple, yet in practice, is among the hardest task for human beings to learn.


Take a moment to think of something important you’ve had to wait for and reflect on how you felt while waiting. Having patience while waiting is among the most challenging skill that kids learn. And many of us never learn how to tolerate the discomfort of waiting. Patience requires us to endure and tolerate suffering while we are waiting. Learning how to regulate our feelings while waiting, and to tolerate the unknown of whether relief will come, is the most essential skill in adult development. In fact, learning the skill of emotional regulation opens up opportunities that are only open to those who have developed this part of themselves.

Learn how. Let’s talk.


Try This Secret Tip To Improve Your Relationship: Change Your Conversations by Changing Your Sensations


A recent study indicates that our physical sensations directly affect the way that we perceive other people and situations. In one experiment, researchers asked volunteers to complete a puzzle made up of either smooth pieces or pieces covered in sand paper. The volunteers completing the puzzle with rough pieces reported that the social interaction was "less coordinated" and more difficult than the people handling the smooth puzzle pieces. 

In another experiment, volunteers were asked to pretend to negotiate for the sale of a car sitting on either hard or soft chairs. The volunteers sitting on hard chairs described the exchange as more rigid, presenting offers that were closer to the original sticker price-- in essence, they drove a harder bargain than the volunteers sitting on soft chairs. 

The findings, published online June 24, 2010 in Science, show that subtle differences in tactile sensations can "influence our impressions and decisions, even when the people and events those impressions and decisions concerned are entirely unrelated to what is being touched," the authors noted in their study. 


This study offers useful information that we can apply to our personal and professional relationships. If you're in a field where tough negotiations are the name of the game, design your office accordingly. Maybe you take it so far as to keep your solid sitting surface while your clients sit on something softer.  

The findings suggest that high stakes conversations with people we care about are likely to go more smoothly if we are sitting in a comfortable environment and in contact with softer materials like a cozy couch and a soft blanket. Many of the intense conversations we have with our partners tend to happen in the kitchen where there are more hard surfaces, cold objects and sharp knives. Increase your capacity for empathy, compassion, and compromise by changing your physical sensations. 

Try it at home: Next time you and your partner have a tough conversation on the table, take it off the table and into the coziest place in the house.  For even more bang for your buck, take a few moments before diving into the discussion to close your eyes, notice the sensations of the materials you are in contact with by feeling the blanket in your hands and the soft support of the couch under you.  Open your eyes and look into your partner's eyes.  Notice all of the softness around you focusing on one sense at a time and then, begin your conversation.    Leave a note in the comments or send a private message to let me know how it went.  ~MK


My “Relationship” with Food: Really, How Complicated Is It?

With the start of the new year, many of us have changes and resolutions on our minds. As a clinical psychologist, I spend a lot of time in January with clients talking about goals, hopes and aspirations. The phrase, “My relationship with food...” gets thrown around frequently. We all have ways that we interact with food, including how we respond to hunger and how we make choices about what to eat.


But let’s look more closely at these words: “My relationship with food…” A relationship requires a dynamic interaction: give and take, input and output, giving and receiving. Is your relationship to food actually a relationship? Food does not get up and ask to be eaten. It does not walk its way into your mouth. It does not express its need to feel wanted or desired. It does not express cravings to be close to you or a longing to spend time with you.


By attempting to relate to our food, we ascribe power to it that in turn disempowers us from our ability to care for ourselves in decisive and intentional ways. Let’s make a pact: No more giving away our power! Let’s talk about how.

Chances are, you have been in a cycle with your decisions and feelings about food. You have set out to “lose weight,” measured by pounds on the scale and gone about weight loss in many different ways. You are consistent with a plan--Weight Watchers, Beach Body, Whole 30-- and then you are not. You are successful with an approach—juice cleanse, sugar detox, Paleo -- and then you are not. You make the changes you desire, and then you stall out.


You go through periods of ease and calm with your food choices. You feel better and better in your clothes as you get smaller, tighter or leaner. Then, an event like a birthday or holiday party, a stressful phase at work or a visit with your mother, leads to a period of rebellion. The voice in your head, or maybe outloud, says, “Screw this diet. Screw these rules. I’m going renegade.”

You eat treats, be they salty or sweet, and you feel like crap, physically and emotionally. You beat yourself up about your food choices. You focus on your confusion about why you always end up gaining weight after a period of weight loss and adherence to your diet. You beg you inner self for an explanation: “Why am I sabotaging myself? What is wrong with me?”

You stay here for a while, identifying “lack of motivation” as the primary issue. Your friends reassure you that you will get back on track when you’re ready. And then you do. When you’re feeling fed up with yourself, you get back to your point-counting, calorie-tracking, weighing and measuring, denying, eliminating, withholding, or whatever your method may be. Soon enough, you are back to losing weight and feeling better. The sense of ease returns and you reflect on the hard phase with a bewildered curiosity lined with self-judgment: “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me that I can’t stick to this. It’s not so bad!”

The question embedded in this self-talk that I hear a lot from my clients is, “How can this time be different?” These types of questions make my ears perk up. This question indicates readiness for a new approach and a big green light flashes in my mind and I think, “transformance drive.”

We are all born with this drive, and what a wonderful thing it is. Our emotions are designed to tell us what to do next and what action to take. All core emotions have the potential to move us towards our best selves. Our task is to listen to them.

So, in the case of the food cycle, what is the core emotion? Anger. You may feel angry at yourself for not having the willpower or motivation to stick to your diet. But, if we trust that anger is leading us in a transformative direction towards our best self, I suggest that the anger is pointing you somewhere else. Our bodies are not meant to eat the same foods for long periods of time. Three months is generally the length of a season, and humans were designed to have access to different local food sources as the seasons changed. So if every few months, your system starts to rebel against a diet by “giving in” to irresistible cravings, you are a normal healthy human. So, how can we use the core emotion of anger to drive us towards a new approach?


If food were your spouse and every few months you were back to the same issue of wanting to rebel against the relationship, to break out of the structure, to screw the rules, I would say: “How do you really feel about this relationship? Are these rules working for you?” If you can tolerate the structure for only so long, maybe tolerating them is not good enough for sustainability and fulfillment. In therapy, we might examine your relationship and explore options for changing the structure. Perhaps you even end up deciding you don’t want to be in the relationship. Of course you cannot leave food behind, and move on with your life without it. But you can leave your disempowered approach behind and you can restructure your thinking about food in major ways.

The dieting method that worked for you before may work on and off, or for short periods of time. But chances are it is an ineffective long-term way of life. If these rules are not working in a sustainable way, throw them out and write ones that will. Write “rules” that don’t feel like rules. Come up with a structure that feels nurturing, supportive and sustainable and one that you can be with for the rest of your life.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself:

1) What change did I make in the past that I whole-heartedly believe is good for me?
2) What change did I make in the past that made my mind and body feel better?
3) What indicators did I notice of improved health when I made this change?

Approach these questions like you’re a scientist. Look for data that support your belief that a certain change benefits you. Use indicators like mood, appetite, sleep quality, energy level, and sex drive. Tracking these using 0-4 rating scales is the most effective approach for adopting a scientist’s mindset and for noticing trends.

Use this information to inform whether a certain change is putting you on the right track or whether the change isn’t paying off. If you don’t see the benefit in the form of data, your brain will not “buy” that this change matters. If your brain doesn’t believe this change matters, you will most likely resent the change and rebel at some point.

Use these questions and the experimental method to develop basic principles related to food. Write down the principles that you want to use and then test them out using consistent rating scales for a period of no less than 30 days. If you feel angry in the form of irritability, crankiness or a desire to rebel, go back to the 3 questions posed here, and tweak as needed.

Know that you will need to make adjustments as you learn more about yourself. Report back what you discover as you use these principles to learn more about how your transformance drives are inching you ever closer to your best self. ~ MK