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How co-rumination turns healthy relationships toxic

How co-rumination turns healthy relationships toxic

Who do you turn to when you’re going through a challenge or difficult time? What do your conversations sound like? Do you know what you actually find helpful? And can you spot the difference between helping and hindering?

Research has shown time and time again just how important it is for us to feel socially connected to and supported by the people around us. In fact, what matters more than the number of friends we have, or even how realistic their advice may be, is that we feel as though we are supported. That is, that we are satisfied with our perception of the input or encouragement we receive. Yet not all forms of support are created equal. And sometimes, the line between helping and hindering can be blurred, especially when conversations veer towards venting.

As comforting as it may be to have someone to turn to when we need to vent or debrief, it can be a slippery slope towards co-rumination. It’s possible you’ve never come across the idea of co-rumination, but chances are you’re familiar with rumination. When going through a difficult time, it’s not uncommon to repeatedly mull over events that took place (as well as those that have yet to happen) and the things that were said (or not said). Sometimes this process can be helpful—it’s a way of thinking things through, weighing our options, and figuring out new, creative solutions. But it can also make us feel stuck and be less inclined to actually do anything constructive about the situation and our associated distress. The deeper we are in a cycle of rumination, the harder it can be to recognize it’s happening and dig our way out.

This process can be even more difficult to spot when it happens in the context of our closest relationships. Co-rumination involves repeatedly discussing and rehashing our problems and difficult feelings with someone else without coming up with a solution or resolution. The issue is, talking with a friend, partner, or family member about our problems can feel really good. It can make us feel supported, bring us closer together, and even trick us into believing we are doing something productive about our situation. In the long run, however, it can hold us back from moving forward and actually lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How can you spot co-rumination?

1. Know the signs

A good place to start is to recognize the difference between sharing and ruminating. Disclosing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences is an important way to build closeness and trust in any relationship. But if you find yourself talking about the same experiences over and over again, particularly those that involve difficult emotions like anger, sadness, or envy, it can help to ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re caught in a cycle of co-rumination:

  • Is this a new problem?
  • Have I/we spoken about this before?
  • Am I speculating about things that have yet to happen?
  • Do I have any new information that I haven’t shared or discussed?

2. Learn your patterns

With time, it helps to become mindful about your own patterns as well as those that tend to develop within friendships. We each have our own sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Certain topics are likely to get us going and specific people may just be easier to open up to. Take a closer look at your behavior and learn your own triggers—this can help you spot co-rumination if or when it starts to unfold.

  • Are there certain topics you tend to ruminate about (e.g., work, romantic relationships, family problems, financial worries, health concerns)?
  • Are you more likely to co-ruminate in certain settings (e.g., when chatting at home or on the phone, after a long day at work, after you’ve had a drink or two)?
  • Are there certain people or friends you tend to co-ruminate with?

3. Recruit close others

Even when we know the signs to look out for, it can still be difficult to catch ourselves in the act. That’s why it helps to recruit the people closest to us, especially those with whom we have a tendency to co-ruminate. Remind your friend or partner that you will always be there to listen to and support them, and that you appreciate all they have done for you. Let them know that you’ve noticed your tendency to co-ruminate together and ask them to gently point it out when they feel you’re veering towards rumination. These kinds of discussions also give you the chance to have a bigger conversation about the kinds of support you might find helpful and how you can be a better or more supportive friend or partner in return.

How can you move from co-rumination to collaboration?

1. Catch yourself co-ruminating and be compassionate

Often, simply becoming more aware of our behaviors and patterns can be enough to help us move from co-rumination to actual solution. The more you focus on recognizing co-rumination as it happens, the easier it’ll be to shift towards a problem-solving approach. Just make sure to be compassionate, both towards yourself and your friend or partner, when you do catch yourself in the act. Instead of judging yourself or being overly self-critical, treat it like a game and give yourself a pat on the back for getting so good at recognizing the difference between venting or ruminating and problem solving.

2. Weigh the short and long-term consequences

There’s usually a good reason why we do the things we do, even if our behaviors might seem illogical or even destructive from the outside looking in. That’s why it helps to validate why you may be tempted to co-ruminate, whether it’s to process difficult emotions or to feel that sense of closeness in your relationship. These benefits, however, do not take away from the reality that in the long run, co-rumination isn’t actually all that helpful for our sense of well-being or even the problem itself. Longer term, co-rumination can lead to anxiety and depression or exacerbate symptoms if we're already struggling. It also has the potential to drive certain people away, especially when a relationship is unbalanced and conversations tend to be overly focused on one person’s difficulties or life. Having a clear understanding of the reasons why you are working towards change is an important step in actually being able to do so.

3. Switch to active problem-solving

Ask yourself if there is something you can do to change or improve the situation right now. Can you actually do something to resolve the problem in some small way? Perhaps it involves having a frank discussion with a colleague to clear up a misunderstanding. Or maybe it’s apologizing for something you wished you hadn’t said to a partner in the heat of an argument. Often, taking a step towards actually doing something about the problem you’re facing can be much more helpful than venting, not to mention empowering. Of course, there are times when there will be little you can do to change your current situation or circumstances. In these cases, it can be helpful to reflect on what you would like to do differently in the future to prevent similar situations from happening or to cope with them when they do arise. 

4. Strengthen your other coping strategies

Trying to minimize your tendency to co-ruminate without coming up with other more constructive ways of coping will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed and even lonely. That’s why it’s equally important to find new ways to cope with whatever problem you are facing. Develop a sustainable self-care routine, work through the pros and cons of possible solutions, and turn to healthy distractions when all else fails. And don’t lose sight of how important it is to find new ways to feel connected in your relationships. Focus on having meaningful discussions, try a new activity together, share your dreams or team up to tackle a shared goal. Above all, work together to establish new ways to better support each other through the ups and downs that life inevitably throws your way.

5. Strike a balance

With all that said, there will still be times when all you really need is just the space to open up to a friend and let off some steam. Venting isn’t always counterproductive. It becomes an issue when it happens repeatedly, especially at the expense of other more constructive approaches. If you need to vent or support a friend who is doing so, go ahead! Just make sure you’re aware of how much space this is taking up in your conversations and relationship. If need be, work together to set limits so that your interactions aren’t entirely dominated by co-rumination. Finding a healthy balance will make your conversations that much more helpful and supportive, both in the immediate and longer term.

The original version of this post appeared on Miriam Kirmayer’s blog with Psychology Today, Casual to Close. Learn more about Miriam’s work on friendship here.


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist 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 like us on Facebook.


References

Rose, A. J. (2002). Co–rumination in the friendships of girls and boys. Child development, 73(6), 1830-1843.

Calmes, C. A., & Roberts, J. E. (2008). Rumination in interpersonal relationships: Does co-rumination explain gender differences in emotional distress and relationship satisfaction among college students?. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(4), 577-590.

Rose, A. J., Carlson, W., & Waller, E. M. (2007). Prospective associations of co-rumination with friendship and emotional adjustment: considering the socioemotional trade-offs of co-rumination. Developmental psychology, 43(4), 1019.

Waller, E. M., & Rose, A. J. (2010). Adjustment trade-offs of co-rumination in mother–adolescent relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 33(3), 487-497.

Those times when “being healthy”…. isn’t. How to integrate self-care into our exercise goals

Those times when “being healthy”…. isn’t. How to integrate self-care into our exercise goals

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Lucy is a 25-year old working in her first job post-university. She’s always been an active person, but has never been confident with the way she looks. She considers herself to be pretty healthy, though. In the past year, she has gotten into more intense forms of cardio work-outs, and she makes sure to exercise most days, as well as to do yoga a few times a week. That’s good for body and mind, right…?  When she doesn’t have time to fit in exercise into her day, she gets antsy and feels irritable and guilty. Doesn’t that happen to everyone?

As a psychologist working with individuals aiming to improve their mental health, the topic of exercise often comes up in session. We have all heard that we “should” do some form of physical activity in our week (I’m going to come back to that word later). Indeed, the benefits of exercise on physical and mental health are well established (e.g., Penedo & Dahn, 2005, Anchor, 2010); better mood, reduced stress, increased motivation, better physical health across a range of measures, and an overall better quality of life.

But how can we approach exercise with an attitude of self-care, rather than obligation? And how can we notice when we’re taking it too far? Some clients describe moments when focusing on fitness and health can feel like a compulsion. It can be something that we feel we have to do (otherwise we might feel guilty, for example) - rather than something that feels good. It can feel obsessive and rigid, rather than a way of caring for our bodies and minds. The messages that we get from social media and general culture can be confusing, too. The rise of extreme fitness trends and Instagram-style fitness celebrities and workshops put forward the notion that fitness is about intensity, and pushing your body to its limit. And hidden in there too (often not so subtly) is a focus on body image - we “should” be strong, muscular, and intense in our dedication to physical fitness. As described in this recent article in the Walrus, messages about fitness have changed, but the focus on body image remains. For many adherents of extreme fitness, the message remains that, “we would be happier if our bodies were different”.

So how to pursue exercise in a way that is caring towards both your mind and body?

1. ADOPT AN ATTITUDE OF SELF-CARE

To quote this lovely blog, which discusses focusing on health in a mindful and balanced way: “Try paying attention to how you feel, the signals your body is sending you, and what would truly serve the needs you have.”

Self-care is a simple concept, but one that is often difficult to prioritise, given all the competing demands in our day. But the basic idea is that there are certain core needs that should be met in order for us to feel both mentally and physically healthy. Namely:

  • Stay hydrated - drink water
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Be physically active
  • Go outside
  • Take a shower
  • Sleep
  • Spend time with friends and family

In essence, self-care has some basic ingredients, but the “fine tuning” is unique to every person. It basically means taking some time to make sure that you are taking care of you (check out this link for some examples shared by individuals).

2. ALLOW YOURSELF TO CHOOSE

Identifying our self-care needs involves tuning in with our bodies and allowing ourselves to think about what would truly be in our best interest. Importantly, this involves allowing yourself to choose what you need in that particular moment. Sounds easy, but think about how often you end up feeling that you “should” do something else instead (is it just me…?)

For instance, if you’re feeling tired and stressed after a long day at work, what would serve your needs best? Would exercise help you get rid of some of that pent-up energy, and boost your mood? Or, some days, do you feel that what you really need is to sleep? This may mean choosing to go to bed early, and cancelling some of your plans (not always easy!). When you notice that your knee is hurting (a personal example of mine, following a knee surgery), does it need rest? Or, on the contrary, do I need to get to the gym and do my knee exercises? When you notice that you’re feeling under pressure and irritable at work, can you say no to a few requests and allow yourself to complete your existing tasks as best you can? And could you do some activity that will allow you to feel good and direct your focus back to you and your health (some laps in the pool, a dance class, a jog)?

The key is to become familiar with your body’s signals and needs, and allow yourself to choose what self-care would look like for you at that time - be that going for a jog, taking some time to read, spending time with loved ones, or simply going to bed. Being honest and flexible with oneself is key here. Feeling that you “should” do something is a warning sign to ask yourself if it is truly in your best interests. (Note: It’s worth pointing out here that self-care does not mean being selfish, or considering only your needs. It’s not “me first”, but rather “me too”, and ensuring that you maximise your own resources in order to be able to engage with what’s important to you - check out Andrea’s blog for more on this topic).

For those who have difficulties identifying their self-care needs, check out this fun, interactive guide).

3. IDENTIFY WHY EXERCISE IS IMPORTANT TO YOU

Read Jodie’s awesome 3-part blog posts which discuss identifying and connecting to your values, and figuring out how they can be pursued on a daily basis. Pay special attention to self-criticism (“you need to lose weight”) or “shoulds” that leave you feeling coerced (i.e., the stick, rather than the carrot). Jodie breaks this down into figuring out your WHYS, WHATS, and HOWS. This includes the most challenging part - how to keep your self-care habits going!

Follow us on Instagram @connectepsychology for your daily connect to self-care.


Maeve O'Leary-Barrett 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

Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Crown Business: New York.

Penedo F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Curr Opin Psychiatry;18(2):189-93.

Rupert, P. A., & Kent, J. S. (2007). Gender and work setting differences in career-sustaining behaviors and burnout among professional psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(1), 88-96. 

It’s fall already?! 5 ways to cope with end-of-summer blues

It’s fall already?! 5 ways to cope with end-of-summer blues

       Fall is often a time where we get a high volume of referrals at the Connecte Montreal Psychology Group – and that’s not entirely surprising - the warm weather is fading and the reality of back-to-school/work (whether for ourselves or our kids) is setting in. All of this can contribute to feelings of heightened sadness (as we ‘mourn’ the end of summer) or anxiety (as we picture the next few months like a mountain of upcoming work projects and dread the inevitable shift to colder weather). Some research even shows an association between vitamin D (which we get in part from the sun) and mood (Anglin, Samaan, Walter, & McDonald, 2013). It might seem like an objectively undesirable situation that we just can’t do much about. As it turns out, we have a lot more control than we may realize. In this blogpost, I’ll suggest some specific things that you can do to make this transition to fall more bearable, and hopefully even enjoyable.

#1. Take things one step at a time. It sounds cliché, but it’s true! Take the example of a student who, on her first day of school, looks at her syllabus and sees every chapter she will have to read, every assignment she will have to write, and every exam she will have to take for the remainder of the school year… of course she would feel overwhelmed and/or anxious! And she’s right, at some point she will have to undertake all of those challenging tasks. But viewing the school year that way is akin to looking at all of the food she will eat in a semester piled up on her kitchen floor – that would be enough to make even the biggest foodie lose her appetite. Instead, we want to take things one step at a time. For example, instead of thinking of everything you have to do in the upcoming semester, try instead to focus on what you have to do that week, that day, or even that morning. This change in perspective can make things more manageable. Indeed, much research has shown that the way we think about things can have a tremendous impact on our mood (Greenberger & Padesky, 2015).

#2. Shift your basis of comparison. If you love warm weather and find yourself feeling down after comparing the current 12-degree weather to the sunny 22-degree days that we enjoyed just a few short weeks ago, try to then compare the current weather to the much colder temperatures that we have endured (‘well at least it’s not anywhere near as cold as it was in February!’) or that people in other countries are currently exposed to. Maybe there are some things you could do without from the summer months – like the sticky humidity or those pesky mosquitos! Shifting our baseline can have a big impact on how we perceive our current situation.

#3. Consider whether there is anything you actually LIKE about the change in seasons.

a. Maybe you think it’s super interesting that we in Montreal get to have four seasons, whereas temperatures in some other places stay pretty constant over the course of the year; this gives us the opportunity to see our city through an entirely new lens – doesn’t your neighborhood look totally different when the streets are basked in sun versus colorful fall leaves or a blanket of fresh white snow? That variety can keep things novel and exciting should we choose to look at things this way.

b. Make a list of all the fun things you can do in the upcoming season(s) that you didn’t get to do in the previous one. Maybe you finally get to go skiing again once the weather gets cold enough - especially if one of your values is being healthy/active or being in nature. Or maybe you just love watching your kids roll around in the colorful fall leaves. Maybe you have been meaning to take up photography and the changing city views are leaving you inspired. Instead of looking back longingly at the lovely summer we just had or dreading the upcoming winter, why not plan fun things that you can look forward to doing in the coming month or two? Maybe you can rent a cozy log cabin with your family or friends, or maybe you can look forward to the winter holidays.

c. If you’re having a hard time thinking of something you actually like about the colder months, one of my favorite ways to do this is to follow the lead of children! Those little people know how to have a good time – and they can be a great source of inspiration – snow fights, rolling down a mountain, etc. 

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#4. Instead of trying to deny or disconnect from the inevitable fact that the season is changing, practice heightening your awareness by being mindful about these changes; try to be fully conscious and aware of the present moment, without being judgmental of your experience (click here for a review of the positive effects that mindfulness can have on mental health). Consider the difference between walking out of your house and grumbling to yourself about how the weather is getting colder versus taking a minute to notice how the crisp fresh air feels on your cheeks, how the crunchy leaves feel when you step on them as you walk down the street, etc. For more information about mindfulness, check out my colleague Dr. Natsumi Sawada’s blogpost.

#5. Increase self-care. Self-care can mean different things to different people; examples include taking time to prepare a healthy meal for yourself, reading a book by your favorite author, going to bed early, going for a run, or carving out time to catch up with a good friend. You might even talk to that good friend about how you notice a dip in your mood around this time of year; he or she might feel similarly, and it might help you to feel that you two are in it together. Self-care can contribute to improved mood, and pre-emptively engaging in more self-care activities can be especially helpful if you have noticed that your mood has tended to dip around this time of year in the past. Check out my colleague Dr. Jodie Richardson’s 3-part blogpost for more information about self-care.

Importantly, these same tips (e.g. shifting your baseline, increasing self-care) can be applied to many other life situations that might have you feeling down. Although the end-of-summer period can be rough for many of us, my hope is that these tips help to make that transition a bit easier!


Simcha Samuel 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 like us on Facebook.


References

Anglin, R. E. S., Samaan, Z., Walter, S. D., McDonald, S. D. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 202, 100–107.

Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C. A. (2015). Mind over mood, second edition: Change how you feel by changing the way you think. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev, 31, 1041–1056.

My Grandma Washed Clothes in a Creek, and I Get Upset when my Washing Machine Breaks: How to Keep Perspective in our Daily Lives

My Grandma Washed Clothes in a Creek, and I Get Upset when my Washing Machine Breaks: How to Keep Perspective in our Daily Lives

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Last summer I visited Greece, the country from which my parents emigrated. On one sun-soaked day, I was sitting with my uncle and my partner, enjoying some freshly picked figs from my maternal grandparent’s olive farm. We were sitting beside the ruins of my mom’s childhood home - An old, stone, two-room house, where she and her 10 brothers and sisters grew up. As we’re sitting there, my uncle describes that one his most vivid memories of my grandmother is her hunched over the small creek that runs through their property, washing clothes for hours on end. My heart sank. The thought of my grandma spending her days hunched over a muddy creek washing clothes elicited a mixed bag of reactions in me - shame at my ungratefulness for the relatively luxurious life I lead, sadness for my grandma (was she happy?), as well as an acute awareness of how lucky I am and all the opportunities I’ve had that my grandma could not have dreamed of. The mental image of her washing clothes in the creek still takes my breath away, and makes me feel at the same time like a privileged jerk and a deep sense of gratitude.

Back in Montreal, a few months ago, my washing machine broke and for various reasons couldn’t be fixed for a few weeks, so my partner and I were left carting our laundry to the local Laundromat, which I haven’t done since my university days. I was not happy. That image of my grandma easily slipped back to the forefront of my consciousness, and so my laundry “crisis” got me thinking more and more about how difficult it is for us, in our day-to-day lives, to let go of the small stuff and connect with what really matters in life. It seems easier to hold onto this grateful mindset when major life events happen, like when a loved one falls seriously ill, when we lay eyes on a newborn baby, when we get sick and aren’t able to do the things we normally do. But who wakes up every day, or even most days, thinking wow life is so precious, and feeling deeply grateful? Not me. I think most of us wake up sleep-deprived, pressed for time, ruminating about a conversation we had the day before, feeling fat and like we haven’t been working out enough.

So how do people like me, those lucky enough to be well-educated, able-bodied, and living in the first world, keep things in perspective and remain grateful in our day-to-day lives? Here are a few tips that I’ve found personally helpful.

Practice mindfulness

I hesitated to write about mindfulness, because it seems mindfulness these days is presented as a cure-all, and you might be tired of hearing about it. But, I wanted to be honest about what helps me, and I do find mindfulness (and specifically when I practice it through meditation) a great tool for helping me keep things in perspective. One characteristic of mindfulness includes noticing the “stories” (vs. the facts) we tell ourselves about a situation. For example, when I’m getting caught up in the small stressors of life, I might be telling myself things like, “Things have to be a certain way for me to be okay. I need this to be a certain way. This is a huge inconvenience.” If I’m remembering to be mindful, I can take a step back from these stories, and with compassion and curiosity, ask myself what are the facts of the situation? Am I catastrophizing? Am I excessively focusing on the negative? Is this a huge hassle or a minor bump in the road?

Add a little diversity to your life!

It is so easy and normal to get caught up in our own lives. Most of us likely spend the majority of our time with our family, close friends, and co-workers, and those people are often very similar to us in terms of cultural background, social status, etc. To top it off, our social media feeds make it seem like everyone else's life is sunshine and rainbows (and babies and kittens), making it even more difficult to maintain a sense of how lucky we truly are. For keeping things in perspective, I find it helpful to get outside my bubble. I love, for example, reading about other cultures in National Geographic, and of course travelling is an excellent way if you have the time and financial means. Reading the news is another great way to keep things in perspective. Here are some tips on how to stay informed in a balanced, healthy way: How To Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed By Your Newsfeed

Notice the invisible things you have to be grateful for!

I don’t know about you, but my brain is really great at focusing on the negative. It loves to hang onto all the things that went wrong during the day. I find gratitude, simply taking the time to notice the positives, like a breath of fresh air in all this chatter. If you want to up your gratitude game, check out this podcast, Why is My Life So Hard?, where social psychologists explain that we often fail to notice the invisible advantages that help us along, like a free society, our ability to walk, talk and dance, etc (1). The authors suggest, when practicing gratitude, ask yourself, “What are the ways I’m boosted along? What are the invisible things that are helping me?”  

Let go of first world guilt

Of course we have first world problems; we’re living in the first world. We will feel annoyed when our washing machine breaks down, because in the context of our lives this is an inconvenience and a hassle. However, beating ourselves up over “first world problems” is not an effective way to foster gratefulness. Instead, notice without judgment when you’re feeling bad over something relatively small, and try out one of the techniques above, or something else that helps you put things in perspective. When you notice yourself getting frustrated or anxious over “first world problems” you might even take it as an opportunity to pause and list a few things you’re grateful for.

A quick shout out to the emotion of anger before signing off - Feeling grateful and cultivating humility does not mean being okay with the bad stuff. Racism, sexism, etc. still exist in the first world. Anger and frustration are important emotions too – they let us know when we are possibly being disrespected, and they are activating and empowering. You can be angry at injustices AND grateful at the same time :)


Lisa Linardatos 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 and Resources

1. Davidai, S., & Gilovich, T. (2016). The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(6), 835.

For more on mindfulness, check out Mindfulness: An Introductory Guide.

For more on gratitude, check out What’s the Big Deal about Gratitude?

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.