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Ava

Getting off tilt

Getting off tilt

I’ve been trying some new things and recently I decided to branch out into poker. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the game - keeping track of the odds, reading the other players, deciding on your risk-taking comfort level - that I’ve actually found to be helpful for me in my day to day life. In fact, probably the most useful thing I’ve learned about so far is being “on tilt”.

In poker, when a player in on tilt, it means that their emotions have taken over and reduced their ability to make decisions. So something negative happens like they lose a big pot, and then they get really upset and make decisions in the next hand that are not ideal. And of course, they get into a bit of a spiral, with negative emotions leading to poor decision making, which then leads to more negative emotions and so on. Sound familiar?

We have all had similar experiences - we get really angry, or sad, or frustrated, and then react in an unhelpful way. Maybe we yell at a family member and say something that we regret, or hit someone and end up escalating the situation. All of us know what it’s like to be on tilt, the questions is, how do we right ourselves?

In the moment, Linehan (2014) recommends that we STOP. So we:

  • Stop what we are doing

  • Take some deep breaths

  • Observe what is happening

  • Proceed effectively

The key is to not react impulsively, but to give ourselves time to calm down. See Natsumi’s blog post for other great ways to handle strong emotions.

This is also a wonderful time to put your deep breathing and other relaxation skills to use. Again, inserting some time between the situation and our reaction can only be helpful.

Once you’ve moved past the initial emotion, engaging with your thoughts can be helpful. Is this the worst thing that could happen? Will this matter six months from now? Why has this affected me so strongly? What are other options for reacting that may be more helpful? In cognitive behavioural therapy, the focus is on the thoughts that lead to the emotions, with the goal of reducing unhelpful thinking.

Sometimes, the urge to do something can be overwhelming. However, it’s important to recognise when we are not in a space to make good decisions, and to take the time we need. After all, as a great philosopher once said “To tilt is human, to break out of the cycle is definitely possible with some practice” :)


Ava-Ann Allman is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

Linehan, M. (2014). DBT skills training manual: second edition. Guilford Press.

The search for certainty

The search for certainty

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I am a planner. I love doing research, making lists and weighing the pros and cons. For me, there’s a real comfort in knowing what‘s coming up so I can be prepared. The thing is, it’s not always possible to know. By its nature, life is uncertain, and if we spend too much time looking for absolute certainty, we miss out on many amazing possibilities.

For some, the unknown is thrilling. They look at it as an exciting adventure, regardless of the outcome. For others, the unknown is extremely unpleasant, and they are very anxious about possible negative outcomes. This is known as intolerance of uncertainty (Wever et al, 2014). For these individuals, doubt or uncertainty are seen as terrible and unbearable, and they will do almost anything to avoid these feelings. Intolerance of uncertainty is associated with a number of disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression (Carleton et al, 2012).

One way in which many clients feel that they can deal with uncertainty is by worrying. They often tell me that worrying helps them to prepare for the worst, and gives them a sense of control. Indeed, worrying may lead to a reduction in feeling uncertain, which then leads to even more worrying to continue to keep the feeling at bay.

Whenever I speak to a client about this, I always ask one question: does the worrying actually make things more predictable? Has your worry ever changed the outcome of a situation? While it may make you feel better for a short time, over the long term has it been successful or has it become a problem in and of itself? Okay fine - three questions :).

An important thing to work on is increasing tolerance for uncertainty. Remember, it is normal to have some fear of the unknown, but when this fear leads to excessive worry and avoidance, it may be time to practice challenging this fear. Here are a couple of things that can help.

A) Thought challenges

When you have the “What ifs” floating around, ask yourself the questions on this sheet and write the answers down. Writing them down is important because it allows you time to think and reflect on them, rather than dismissing them quickly.

B) Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of awareness focused on the present (read more about it here in Natsumi’s post). Because it is about the present moment, that means that we are not looking to the what ifs of the future. When you notice these what ifs, acknowledge them and make note of what is happening for you while they are present. Then, allow them to pass. Don’t engage with them, or try to get rid of them, just observe them and remind yourself that they are just thoughts (read more about thought defusion in Lisa’s post). Finally, know that they will come back. Not because you failed, just because that’s what thoughts do. When you notice them again, be proud of yourself for noticing, allow them to pass, and bring yourself back to the present.

The future is definitely unknown, and that can be tough. But why sacrifice experiencing what is actually happening now, worrying about something that may or may not happen?


Ava-Ann Allman is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


REFERENCES

Carleton, RN, Mulvogue, MK, Thibodeau, MA, McCabe, RE, Antony, MM & Asmundson, GJG. (2012). Increasingly certain about uncertainty: Intolerance of uncertainty across anxiety and depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26 (3), 468-479.

Wever, M. Smeets, P & Sternheim, L. (2014). Neural correlates of intolerance of uncertainty in clinical disorders. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 27 (4), 345-353.

Getting Back to Bed

Getting Back to Bed

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I love to sleep. Almost nothing makes me happier than being able to climb into bed after a really long day and get some rest. For me, sleep is a time to recover from the day and get ready for whatever will come next. Science also backs me up: sleeping plays a major role in learning and memory (Walker & Stickgold, 2004) as well as mood (Talbot et al, 2010). The quality and quantity of sleep have even been shown to affect everything from your chances of getting a cold (Cohen et al, 2009) to being obese (Beccutti & Pannain, 2011)! The better you sleep, the better your mood, your health and your performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks.

Unfortunately, when life gets busy and there just aren’t enough hours in the day, sleep is often the first thing to go. Not only do we stay up later to get more things done, but the worries that we have about fitting everything in can also make it hard to get to sleep and to sleep well. If you are having trouble sleeping, you are not alone - a recent survey found that about 40% of the sample of Canadians studied reported trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early (Morin et al, 2011).

The best way to determine if you are having trouble sleeping is to check in on how you are feeling during the day. Do you feel rested when you wake up? Are you able to focus during the day? If you never feel like this, regardless of how much sleep you got the night before, then you should contact a medical professional to be assessed for a possible sleep disorder. However, if you feel like this more often than you would like, here are some things that you can do.

A) Track your sleep

The first thing to do is to keep track of your sleep, in order to figure out where the problems lie. You can use the National Sleep Foundation’s diary to look for any patterns in your sleep and any potential areas that you could address. For example, is there a link between how much physical activity you do during the day and when you fall asleep? Do you always hit the snooze button in the morning, or are there some mornings when you don’t need to?

B) Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to behaviours that promote good sleep. There are a number of things that you can do during the day as well as at bedtime to practice good sleep hygiene and have better sleep. Here are some tips from the Canadian Sleep Society that can help.

First of all, make sleep a priority! Establish a regular schedule for sleeping, and try to go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day.

Second, make sure your environment is set up to promote good sleep. Your bedroom is only for two things: sleeping and sex. You shouldn’t use it for watching TV, catching up on social media, or doing paperwork. And don’t take your cell phone, iPad or any other electronic devices to bed with you. In addition, your bedroom should be quiet, cool and dark, and you need a comfortable mattress. These things will help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. You need to create a space in which your brain knows that it’s time for bed.

Your diet also has a major impact on your sleep health. In general, you will want to avoid foods, drinks and medication that may contain stimulants, and minimise your caffeine intake (e.g. tea, coffee, cola), especially after 6pm. Alcohol and nicotine both interfere with your ability to sleep, making it difficult to stay asleep and have a restful sleep.

Finally, your behaviour during the day will affect your ability to sleep at night. No napping!! If you must take a nap, make it brief (less than 30 minutes) and not after 3 pm, otherwise you will not be tired enough to fall asleep that night. Regular exercise can help you sleep better, but try to exercise only during the morning and afternoon. Exercising just before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep. And establishing a bedtime routine is helpful for preparing your body for sleep - when you change into your pyjamas, brush your teeth etc, your brain and body know where you are headed!

C) Clear your mind of unhelpful beliefs about sleep

We’ve all had those nights when we lie awake watching the time go by while thinking “Well, now I can only sleep for 5 hours...now 4 hours and 59 minutes...now 4 hours and 58 minutes…”. It probably isn’t too surprising to you that this does not help you get to sleep! There are other unhelpful thoughts that we can have around and about sleep that can interfere.

It’s a widely held belief that everyone needs 8 hours of sleep every night. While we do have estimates about the ideal amount of sleep needed, on average, we also know that sleep needs vary from person to person. Rather than becoming stressed about how much sleep you should be getting, pay attention to how you are feeling during the day to figure out whether or not you have slept enough.

Everyone has nights where sleep just won’t happen, or is very poor. If you have a period of insomnia don’t assume that it means you are no longer able to sleep well - often transient periods of sleeplessness can be addressed relatively easily.

Finally, many people  think that it’s okay if they skip out on sleeping during the week, they’ll just catch up on the weekend. Unfortunately, sleeping doesn’t work like a bank where you can deposit money until you need to withdraw it. It is better to maintain a consistent sleep and wake time, even on Saturday mornings.

If you need some help with sleep, here are some resources that can be very helpful!!

I wish you sweet dreams :)


Ava-Ann Allman is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

Beccutti, G. & Pannain, S. (2011). Sleep and obesity. Current Opinion in Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 14 (4), 402 - 412.

Cohen, S., Doyle, W.J., Alper, C.M., Janicki-Deverts, D. & Turner, R.B. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169 (1), 62 - 67.

Morin, C.M., LeBlanc, M., Belanger, L., Ivers, H., Merette, C. & Savard, J. (2011). Prevalence of insomnia and its treatment in Canada. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56 (9), 540-548.

Talbot L. S., McGlinchey E. L., Kaplan K. A., Dahl R. E., Harvey A. G. (2010). Sleep deprivation in adolescents and adults: changes in affect. Emotion, 10, 831–841.

Walker, M.P., & Stickgold, R. (2004). Sleep-dependent learning and memory consolidation. Neuron, 44, 121–133.