Saturday, April 15, 2023

Moving towards our values and making it workable rather than running away from it

What we value the most is often what will give us the most pain. If we don’t value it, we wouldn’t care too much about it would we?
Values and pain are often on opposite sides of the same coin.

In counseling work, one of the most common things we see in patients is “experiential avoidance”.

Avoidance of rejection
Avoidance of intimacy
Avoidance of failures
Avoidance of conflict
Avoidance of disappointments
Avoidance of the pursuit our dreams
Avoidance of the “unknown”
Avoidance of “the difficult path”

The mistake that many of us may do is to run away from our uncomfortable and painful feelings, and with such actions, we may unknowingly move away from our values and the life that we want to create. Avoidance may reduce our anxiety, but may worsen our low mood as we move away from our values.

If we want to move towards our values and create a life that we want, we may need to “make room” and “create space” for those inevitable uncomfortable feelings.

With ACT Acceptance Commitment Therapy, we try to help people reconcile and work through the above.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Exploring alternative perspectives to common mental health labels

It’s common for stigma and unhelpful judgements to be attached to those with “mental health” issues. 

If one has a body, one will have some kind of physical health issues. Likewise, if one has a mind, then one will also have some kind of mental health issues. None of us are immune to this are we?

I sometimes prefer to use different terms to describe some of our common mental health diagnoses to reduce stigma, judgements, or to offer an alternative description of the problem perhaps.  It can normalize it to some extent. 

Borderline Personality Disorder to “Emotional Personality”

Attention Deficit Disorder to “Curious and Distractible Personality”

Depression/anxiety to “Adjustment issues with stress response”

ODD to “Inner compass personality”

ASD to “Logical or a more emotionally defused personality style”. 

I also find these especially helpful when taking a transdiagnostic approach to treat mental health issues.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Learning to zoom in and out for better emotional regulation and problem solving

Knowing how to “zoom in and out” from thoughts, data, and feelings is super important for emotional regulation and problem solving. 

But like changing gears, we need to know what those gears are, what they are there for, and what it feels like. 

So let’s start with “zooming in”...

“Zooming into” a thought, a piece of data, or feeling is great for judging something as good or bad. We see it in detail. We get super focused on it. Of course in this state, we can lose openness and curiosity. We are more prone to stress in this state with more fight, flight, and OCD features if overly excessive. The main purpose of “zooming in” is judge and take action. 

“Zooming out” on the other hand is full of curiosity and openness. We see everything as “bigger picture”, and can see things that we were not able to see before when we were too “zoomed in”. We can see many possibilities. It’s great for brainstorming. It may be harder to take decisive action in this state. We are happy to observe the world and “go with the flow”. There may be less stress for us, but our inaction and lack of focus may stress out others around us! The main purpose of “zooming out” is to perceive and gather relevant information without judgement. 

So which one do you tend to overdo or underdo? Which one do you struggle with the most?

Better “zooming” skills=better problem solving=better mood regulation=better biopsychosocial health

Difficult confusing problems may need “zooming out” first before “zooming in” in order to seek more clarity, and avoid falling into the trap of “zooming in” too quickly unless it’s an emergency.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Understanding ourselves through our partner

Our partner is often the most useful “mirror” to see and find ourselves. It’s pretty important to know oneself isn’t it?

We don’t want to be “a fish out of water” due to a lack of self awareness and self understanding.  

If our partner is an introvert, it might tell us that we are more of an extrovert. 

A “fixer/doing orientated” partner reflects a “go with the flow” person in us. 

A “follow my feelings” sort of partner reflects a “follow my head” sort of person in us. 

A “zoomed in detailed” partner reflects a “zoom out bigger picture” person in us. 

A realistic, pragmatic partner reflects a dreamy goal orientated person in us. 

A stability focused partner reflects a novelty and newness orientated person in us. 

An inner compass oriented partner reflects an outer compass oriented person in us. 

And more.......

Don’t get too annoyed by your partner’s differences. Make space for it, acknowledge it, and use it to understand oneself is an important pursuit perhaps.  

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Better emotional literacy for better mental health

When we explore “poor emotional regulation”, it’s important to explore which part of emotional regulation is problematic. Is it a difficulty around processing the feelings of others, or is it a difficulty around processing one’s own feelings, or both?

Good questions to ask are….

1. Are we too “zoomed in” or fused with other people’s feelings leading to excessive empathy, over pleasing, emotional sensitivity from others, mood fluctuation, poor self esteem, excessive peer pressure, and other unintended consequences?

2. Are we too “zoomed in” or fused with our own feelings leading to impulsivity, mood fluctuation, stubbornness, inflexibility, self centeredness, and other unintended consequences?

Some of us are great at processing the feelings of others, but are not great with our own feelings.  Some of us are great at processing our own feelings but are not great with the feelings of others.  Some of us are not great with processing feelings in general. We simply don’t trust “feelings”. We may be much more data driven or “logical” in nature.  

Improving emotional literacy and learning how “to hold” those feelings “more lightly” may help. 

We don’t always to have to act on those feelings straight away.  Often, we don’t even have to act on them at all. They may be there to be observed, noticed, and processed if relevant, before taking action. 

It’s not an easy thing to do at all, but it’s super important to learn for our mental health and wellbeing.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Leading with both thoughts and feelings

Being able to sense other people’s feelings or empathy is great isn’t it, but at times, it can work against us too if we are not careful or unaware.


Imagine if someone is angry with us. We then can sense their anger. We then hold their feelings with the anger we sense. They then sense our anger, and now we may have an escalation of two angry people.

Same goes with sadness and anxiety. We may end up with two very sad or anxious people too.

So how can we mitigate this?

Consider holding other people’s anger, anxiety, or sadness with care, hope, and compassion instead. If they can then sense our care, hope, and compassion, they may then be able to use those feelings to hold/shift their own feelings.

We sometimes lead with our thoughts, but don’t forget to lead with our feelings too.

Feelings are “contagious” and can be “transmitted” in both ways.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Start teaching emotional literacy early to prevent mental health problems

One of the biggest benefits of being a Family Doctor working with mental health is our ability to work with it in a transdiagnostic framework.

We don’t have to commit to a “depression or anxiety” diagnosis to help people process their feelings and thoughts. We don’t have to wait for a full blown expression of “depression or anxiety” before we can take action.

We can help our patients at anytime to zoom out from the thoughts and feelings that don’t matter or not in their locus of control, and zoom into the stuff that really matters or in their locus of control. This creates psychological flexibility rather than psychological rigidity.

Start early.

We don’t wait for people to be illiterate before we teach them about literacy, so why wait for “depression or anxiety” before we teach them about emotional literacy.

Prevention is better than cure right?