By: Justin Stilson, LPC

Burnout.  It’s a word that’s been circulating the internet for quite a while now.  It brings to mind images of stressed out employees slumped over their desks or leaning against a wall with their eyes closed and a painful expression on their face.  The reality is… well, that kind of IS the reality. Burnout can manifest itself in different forms for different people, though.

Psychology Today defines burnout as a state of chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion

  • cynicism and detachment

  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

The thing to remember about Burnout is that isn’t something that just happens to someone instantly.  It can be a slow and steady process. Most people who eventually experience full-fledged burnout may not realize the severity of what is happening to them until it’s full blown.

Warning signs of Burnout can vary from person to person, but there are a few common denominators that can include:

  • Chronic Fatigue

  • Anxiety

  • Loss of Sleep

  • General feeling of Pessimism

  • Lack of Productivity 

  • Anger

If you think you may be experiencing these signs, you are not alone.  I can remember years back, when I was beginning to experience all of these symptoms, I had to take an inventory of all the stress in my life, not just at work, and develop some strategies to help reduce it.  I developed a self-care plan that including a yoga practice, meditation, limiting my alcohol consumption and I began to practice being more mindful every day. Other Self-Care options could include:

  • Exploring New Job Opportunities

  • Limiting Screen Time

  • Spending Time Outdoors

  • Volunteering

  • Engage in a Hobby

Working my plan is still a process for me, but I’m still working it every day.

In and Out

By Justin Stilson, LPC

In. Out. In. Out.  23,000. That’s about how many inhales and exhales the average person takes every day.  Breathing is part of our unnoticed everyday lives.  But, have you ever wondered what the effects would be if you became better acquainted with your breathing?  If your inhales and exhales were accomplished with intention rather than routine?

Over a year ago, I was beginning to feel the effects of habitual stress on my body and mind.  While I had an active yoga practice for physical body, I wanted to find a method to provide me more mental balance.  I began the practice of Three-Part Yogic Breathing, aka Dirgha Pranayama.  Defined by Yogapedia:  Dirgha Pranayama is a yogic breathing exercise that involves filling the lungs as much as possible using the entire respiratory system. The term comes from the Sanskrit, dirgha, meaning “long”; prana, meaning “life force”; and yama, meaning “restraint,” or ayama, meaning “extend” or “draw out.” It is the most basic of yogic breathing exercises and the one upon which other breathing practices are built.

My favorite Three-Part Breath Practice courtesy of DoYouYoga:

1.       Sit with your spine erect or lie down on your back. Begin taking long, slow, and deep breaths through your nose.

  1. As you inhale, allow your belly to fill with air, drawing air deep into your lower lungs. As you exhale, allow your belly to deflate like a balloon. Repeat several times, keeping your breath smooth and relaxed, and never straining. Repeat several times.

  2. Breathe into your belly as in step #2, but also expand your mid-chest region by allowing your rib cage to open outward to the sides. Exhale and repeat several times.

  3. Follow steps #2 and #3 and continue inhaling by opening your upper chest. Exhale and repeat.

  4. Combine all three steps, utilizing all three chambers of your lungs (low, mid, high) into one continuous or complete flow.

Since integrating this into my yoga practice, I have found many benefits.  I finally feel like I am able to take full, concentrated breathes.  Now that may not seem like an earth shattering benefit, but the result of these full, concentrated breathes has helped calm my mind, helping to reduce my stress and anxiety.  I feel more rested in the morning which has helped me feel more focused during the day.  When done before meditation, I find that I am able to better focus while still remaining at ease. 

While I may only spend a few minutes in a Three-Part Breath Practice each day, they have become my most beneficial minutes. 

Get Unstuck From Your Emotions

By Marlo Torrelli, LPC, NCC


Feeling STUCK in your emotions?

A large part of that feeling can be due to the patterns of mood-congruent behavior we sometimes fall into. “Mood-congruent” is a fancy way of saying “acting like our feelings say we should act.”

If we FEEL sad, we may BEHAVE in predictable ways: isolate ourselves, disconnect from our friends, sleep too much, stop doing the things that used to bring us joy.

If we FEEL angry, we may BEHAVE by yelling or lashing out with words or actions.

Most of us have certain “go-to” responses to our emotions, but these responses often end up making things even harder for us if they happen for a prolonged period of time.

This is where the DBT skill Opposite to Emotion or Opposite Action can be helpful.

Opposite to Emotion asks us to ACT or BEHAVE in a way that is incongruent or opposite to the emotion we are feeling so that we don’t get stuck in an emotional state.

For example, someone who is feeling sad or depressed can commit to engaging in activities like meeting a friend for lunch, walking the dog, or going to yoga class.

She/ he may not “feel” like doing these things, but simply “doing the doing” can often help lift the sadness and be part of a plan of effective coping strategies that, when used together, start to form new patterns in her/ his life.

You may start by asking yourself what some of your go-to responses to emotions are.

Ask, “What do I tend to DO when I FEEL sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, or shame?”

Then ask, “What might the OPPOSITE of those actions be?”

Be creative. Imagine what you might be DOING if you weren’t FEELING this emotion.

Remember: the goal isn’t to disregard that you’re having a true emotional experience; the goal is to choose actions that work more effectively for your life so that your emotions don’t keep you stuck.


Self-Validation is KEY!

By Marlo Torrelli, LPC, NCC

So many of us are seeking more emotional balance and a sense of well-being, but where do we even start when so many aspects of our daily lives can feel so stressful, overwhelming, and chaotic? 

If you read our most recent blog post, you know that one key concept is to create a space between our emotions and actions. This may seem like common sense to a lot of people (it's not exactly rocket science to tell someone that they should hit the "pause" button when they are triggered or experiencing an intense emotion, allowing themselves a moment to hopefully choose an effective action that works for their life and their relationships), but many of us find this to be a difficult thing to achieve.

So what's ONE WAY to do this more consistently? 

The answer is self-validation. 

Great... but what does that really mean? (Glad you asked!)
Self-validation is the nonjudgmental acknowledgment of our feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and experience. When we self-validate, we are acknowledging that our own experiences make sense given our life circumstances, backgrounds, and values. 

When we find ourselves "triggered" by a situation or thought, it's important to take a moment to say to ourselves, "It makes sense that this situation is making me feel this emotion because ______."

Here's an example many of us can relate to:  "It makes sense that my husband forgetting our dinner plans is making me feel angry and disappointed because I really miss him. I was looking forward to reconnecting with him. This relationship is important to me and staying connected with my partner is something I value."

When we take a moment to self-validate, it's much more likely that we will be able to create that important space between our emotion and action, allowing us to choose an intentional action that is in keeping with our goals, values, and priorities rather than reacting impulsively from our "emotion mind."  This not only helps keep us in a more balanced emotional state, but it also helps us communicate our thoughts and needs to others more effectively. 

Create Space Between Emotion and Action

By Marlo Torrelli, LPC, NCC

We’ve all heard the phrase “being triggered,” but what does it really mean and what can we do when it’s happening to us?

When a thought or situation causes us to experience an intense emotional reaction, we are triggered. We may find ourselves having bodily sensations such as a clenched jaw, upset stomach, rapid heart rate, or red, flushed cheeks. With this often comes a decrease in our ability to think clearly; in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) we refer to this state as being in our “emotion mind.” Plainly speaking, our emotions are ruling us and are most likely causing us to want to enact whatever urge or impulse goes with the emotion(s) we are feeling.

The formula is pretty simple:
We become triggered --> We experience an emotion --> We feel an urge to act in some way because of this emotion
Here’s how this may look:
A friend cancels plans with us at the last minute --> We feel angry and disappointed --> We want to text our friend and “tell them off”

It can also look like this:
A friend betrays us in some way --> We feel sad and angry --> We feel the urge to self-harm

So what can we do when we feel triggered and have the urge to act impulsively?

This is where DBT skills can be life-changing. The goal is to create a pause or a space between your emotion and action. 
One set of skills, Observe and Describe, can be very effective in achieving this goal. 
We can say to ourselves, “I’m feeling a lot of anger and having the urge to be self-destructive.” Just doing this can create the space we need to diffuse the power of our urge and allow us to make a more intentional choice for ourselves and for our relationships with others.

This isn’t a magic cure, but with practice and use of a full range of DBT skills, we can learn to recognize our emotions and urges as being our internal experiences rather than forces that have to drive our actions.

You Aren't Crazy

By Marlo Torrelli, LPC, NCC  

Part of being a therapist is helping my clients identify when their emotions and experiences are being invalidated. After they can identify it, they can begin to build some immunities to the shame, self-doubt, and worthless feelings that often develop from this type of interaction (especially when it’s chronic).

It’s safe to say that I have really good job security, I suppose, because invalidation, minimizing, and gaslighting are collectively a social EPIDEMIC! 

If you are being told that your emotions aren’t real, that you are “dramatic,” that you shouldn’t feel the way you feel... please take a moment to reflect on the person who is telling you these things. Is this person incapable of handing their own or anyone else’s emotions in an adaptive way? Does this person seek to quiet you or shame you? 

Your experiences of emotion are real and important. I promise you this is true. If someone is making you feel like you are “crazy,” please consider what’s going on with that person before you conclude that you are flawed, bad, or wrong. Because you aren’t.

And the wisdom to know the difference...

Anyone who comes to therapy in our office suite knows that there tend to be themes that make themselves apparent at different times; often these seem like a common thread beautifully weaving between clients who may otherwise seem to have little in common.  For the past few weeks, one of these themes has been around the idea presented in the Serenity Prayer.  Putting religion aside, the Serenity Prayer delivers a powerful message: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Acceptance. Courage. Wisdom. Who wouldn't want more of these things in one's life? How, though? How do we achieve this?

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), we refer to a guiding principle known as Radical Acceptance. While it's a difficult concept for many people to understand at first, it's an integral part of DBT treatment. Basically, the idea is this: we are all here in our own present moment and we must accept this moment completely, just as it is, without judging it or trying to change it.  For those of you who practice mindfulness, this concept will probably sound familiar. By not judging a moment as good or bad, we allow ourselves to be more aware of the series of events and decisions that led us to this moment and we free ourselves of impulsive emotion-driven reactions. 

Now, should we just blindly accept situations that are harmful or even abusive? Of course not.  This is where the courage to change comes into play. Once we accept a moment for how it is, we have a choice: we can assess what role we may have played in this situation coming to be AND we can decide how to respond differently so that we or those around us feel less pain.  This summarizes another important tenet of DBT: finding the balance between acceptance and change.  Achieving that balance requires wisdom, or what we refer to in DBT as “Wise Mind.” 

Acceptance of the present moment.  Willingness to change how we respond.  The wisdom to guide us in our journey.  May we all find more of these things in the new year.

Reacting Vs. Responding

A colleague and friend recently inspired a conversation regarding "reacting versus responding."  It became the theme at our practice for at least a week and seemed to resonate with many of our clients. 


Reacting, it seems, is a more immediate and emotion-driven experience.  We may not be bringing our best interest, or the best interest of those around us, to the table when we immediately react to those things that make us uncomfortable in some way.


This can be especially problematic in our technology-driven society; if we feel it (whether "it" is anger, frustration, or some other emotion), we can instantaneously express "it" to any number of people at the touch of a few buttons. But what would happen if we waited?  What would happen if we were able to sit with our discomfort for a moment? 


Being more mindful-- more aware of our own experience and of how we affect those around us-- can give us the pause we need to respond rather than react.  The difference is that a response is more intentional, less emotion-driven, and usually more effectively communicates the want or need that we are trying to express.


There are many techniques, theories, and tools that help us achieve a more balanced and mindful way of existing and communicating.  I'll be reviewing some of them here in upcoming blogs. 

Where's the AND?

Most of my clients know that a common question I ask is "where's the AND in this situation?". 
What on earth does that mean? I'll try to explain here:

Dialectical thinking is a more open-minded way of conceptualizing our interactions and experiences. Basically, dialectical thinking means that we can see both sides of something and can appreciate that two ideas can be true at the same time, even if those ideas seem to be opposite or contradictory.

Some examples may be:
-- I value my independence AND I need help sometimes, too. 
-- My viewpoint makes sense AND the other person's viewpoint also makes sense.

Dialectical thinking asks us to abandon black and white/ all or none thinking and instead to adopt a more open "both-and" stance. This can help us in achieving more flexibility in our thinking and can also lead to much more effective communication and satisfaction in our relationships with others because we let go of blaming and learn to validate other points of view in addition to our own.

Is there a situation in your life that could benefit from you letting go of right and wrong and instead asking yourself "where's the AND?"