5 Ways to Soothe Dating Anxiety

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Dating Can Be Crazy-Making!

I recently had a client who was struggling with the all too familiar experience of dating anxiety or what we often call attachment anxiety. We had had a fairly productive session helping her re-regulate her nervous system, but I knew she was still leaving with some angst and discomfort given the unpredictable nature of dating. 

I wanted to be helpful outside of the session by sending her some tools and tips for dealing with anxiety and insecurity. I was looking for a quick blog with some tips that I could send her that could help her in between our sessions, but didn't find something that I liked so I decided to write my own, both for her and for you.

Attachment anxiety throws our nervous systesms out of whack!

Attachment anxiety shows up in the dating world when someone we have started to date and get to know, and consequently started getting even a little bit attached to, suddenly does or says something that makes us feel like they aren't as interested as we thought they were.

We can feel left hung out to dry, unimportant, un-liked, and unwanted.  It can even touch off deeper experiences of shame and hopelessness (I’m not lovable, I’m never going to find someone that wants me).

When someone we have started seeing unexpectedly pivots, perhaps for reasons that have little or nothing to do with us personally, it can feel like WE are being rejected and left and we can feel abandonment.  The internal psychological experience is somehow, “I'm not okay.” We need to re-establish contact with ourselves and our sense of goodness and we need our nervous systems to settle in order to do that.

5 tools to get your system back on track.

Here are some tips that should help you manage some of the anxiousness, self-soothe and re-regulate when you're feeling rejected, left or not liked or loved anymore.

Get physical. – Take a good 20 minute walk or do a full exercise/work-out routine that includes cardio.  Getting the cardiovascular system revved up changes brain and body chemistry. Yoga is also a great physical practice to soothe anxiety. 

Crank up the volume! – Listen to some up-tempo/Dance Music. It gets you moving physically and can uplift your spirit and mood, and interrupt and re-route unhelpful/obsessive thoughts and can get you back in touch with your inner strength, core energy and center.  My favorite is House music.

Make Contact: Emotional and Physical – Get in touch and connect with a friend or someone who will listen and empathize.  If you have a close enough friend or family member who can put a hand on your back, give you a long hug or even hold you and let their regulated nervous system co-regulate your anxious nervous system.  In lieu of an available friend/family, getting a massage can be a good way to soothe. 

Visualize a better reality.  – John Welwood, in his book Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, has an exercise that I have found to be quite powerful for a number of situations:

Get comfortable.  Close your eyes and go inside.  Ask yourself: How do you most want to be loved right now? Answer that question to yourself out-loud or inside.  It could be anything (I want a hug./I want my mom to tell me how great I am./I wish an angel would come down and wrap her/his arms around me. Or anything simpler or more elaborate.)

Notice the answer and feel it as if it was happening, imagine it in your mind’s eye. Let the question help you get in touch with a longing for something soothing and then let that lead you into imagining it and experiencing it in the moment as if it were happening.  Our brains/nervous systems respond as if it were actually happening.

Relax the body. – Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Sometimes we have to activate something to relax it.  Start by lying down on the floor. You will go through the body one muscle group at a time slowly first tensing and then relaxing each muscle group.

Start with feet, then calves, thighs, and on up through the neck and facial muscles.  There’s no right/wrong, just start with one muscle group at a time. 

Breathe in as you tense or contract and hold for 5-ish to 10-ish seconds, then slowly exhale and relax the muscles.  Then just notice how it feels, rest and take in that relaxation.  Then do the next area. 

At the end you can try tensing/relaxing the whole body.  Notice and take in whatever positive sensations or experience arises. Notice the good sensations IN YOU.  You ARE OK.  There are many different guided practices on YouTube that might help you, here is just one.

You could take 10 minutes or more doing this.  It should help your muscular, nervous, cardiopulmonary and other systems to shift and begin to re-regulate and reconnect you with the goodness that is in you and IS YOU.

I appreciate hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you feel, how you date and creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping successful singles create the love and life that they want!

Heal From Your Breakup: How Neuroscience Can Help

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Breaking Up Sucks!  Your heart aches, your thoughts spiral, you don’t want to eat, leave your darkened room or do many of the things you need to do just to get through your day and keep from losing your livelihood. 

We all know breaking up sucks just from having been through it, but neuroscience has recently given us a leg-up on recovering from the heart-sickness that comes from losing someone you love and have been attached to.  I’ve written a guest blog-post on Medium with other breakup advice, but keep reading for my latest thoughts.

What happens when you break-up?

When you fall in love and get attached to someone new, all kinds of feel-good neurochemicals and hormones are activated in your body and brain.  These neurological factors translate into the experience of being psychologically, emotionally and physiologically ATTACHED to another person.

So, its no minor event when you get torn away from that person.  The attachment isn’t just in your head, it’s also in your body.  It’s kind of like if your skin or a body part were to be torn off or removed from the rest of you.  When someone you’ve loved and has become part of your life and part of your daily psychological, physiological, and emotional experience it’s excruciating.

Your pain isn’t just imagined, it’s (literally) in your head.

Neuroscience validates this pain.  According to Xioameng Xu in a report in the Scientific American, fMRI studies have shown that the pain and heartache experienced during a break up activate the some of the same regions of the brain activated when we are in physical pain.  In other words, it’s not just in your mind, the pain is evident and measurable in your body and brain.  Your brain is reading and responding to real pain.

Other fMRI studies have shown us that physical contact with a loving partner relieves and reduces the brain’s perception and our experience of physical pain. This study shows that the pain from the loss of a romantic partner ignites the same areas in the brain as physical pain.

Going through withdrawals is a bitch.

In addition to that, areas of the brain that we refer to as the reward centers are affected.  These areas are involved when experiencing the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or the experience of falling and being in love.  Similar to the physical and psychological pain experienced during chemical and substance withdrawal, when you’re going through a break up, your brain and body (not just your “feelings”) are experiencing a deficit of the usual neurochemicals present when you are connected, attached and connected to your partner.

So how can you use this information to help get through a break up? 

  1. Give yourself a break.  Find ways to soothe and comfort yourself; you’re going through a physiologically demanding and painful process. You’d take it easy and get support and be gentler with yourself if you had a broken leg, try and do the same with your broken heart.

  2. It won’t last forever, though it feels that way.  Know that though this experience may feel like it will never get better, part of what you are experiencing is physiological and chemical withdrawal from someone you loved and relied on.  It is a process that will peak and settle, just like an ocean wave.  This wave of pain and heartache will eventually subside and reach the shore.  You will start to feel better after these waves have run their course.

  3. Get through the waves.  Navigate these waves with some tools: 

    • Connect with others that will help you get human connection.

    • Exercise or do physical activity.  Getting your heartrate up and be active helps your body process the stress hormones that are part of the heartache.  It can also help your brain chemistry regain equilibrium and balance.

    • Processing the break up is healthy and helpful, but if you get overwhelmed too much of the time, push pause.  Your body needs to re-regulate.  Sometimes it may help to stop thinking about the person.  You can gently tell yourself, “I care about you so I’m going to protect you from feeling overwhelmed and hopeless for a little while.  We are not going to think about him/her.”

    • Catch “romanticizing” your ex.  It’s easy to get pulled into a state where you are only remembering the “good” things about them and for the life of you, can’t remember any of the “bad” things.  This isn’t reality.  They weren’t all good and they aren’t your source of goodness. You are.  Try connecting with some of the things that weren’t perfect to balance out your perspective.

I know breaking up aches and can be totally overwhelming.  I’ve been through my share too.  I’d love to hear if these ideas are helpful OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want some help getting through the waves - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping successful singles create the love and life that they want.

Social Anxiety and West Coast Culture: How does it relate to my dating life?

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Could West Coast culture be affecting my dating life?

I’ve long had a fascination with understanding the differences between East and West Coast culture in the US.  I’m going to take this chance to share some of my thoughts about the Coast Cultures and how it relates to social insecurities and what I’ll call “hiding”, particularly on the West Coast.  The caveat is that these are generalizations and may not apply to everyone. 

Having said that, part of my own personal working hypothesis is that on the West Coast people tend to be more private, tentative and get preoccupied with what others are thinking.  Many of us grew up with the saying,

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, when my mom said that to us I’m sure it was meant to teach us proper manners and to not just blurt out any old thing we felt in the moment that might offend someone.  But as I’ve been reflecting on it, I’m realizing the message received in many situations was something like:

“Don’t say what’s true, people don’t want to hear that, and people can’t handle that.”

I think it also communicated things like:

·       Others can’t handle your truth (or you).

·       You’re kind of threatening, so don’t be direct. 

·       And especially for guys:  Guys are threatening, and girls don’t trust you, so be careful, filter what you say. That’s what good guys do. 

Without intending it, these old messages fostered the seedlings of shame and the belief that in some way, “I’m not ok.”  We often refer to this as a sense of shame:  somehow I’m not ok and I don’t want others to see that.

Many of us learned to keep certain things to ourselves and filter what gets shared.  Many folks learned they’re too much, others are sensitive or fragile, and it’s not a good idea to just be who you are or say what you think. 

With these kinds of messages embedded in our iOS (internal operating system) they can create a subtle self-doubt that is pernicious and paralyzing.  It can cause us to doubt and distrust ourselves at fundamental, even non-verbal levels.  Yet it shows up in our attitudes towards ourselves and others.

On the other hand, many of my East Coast transplant friends, particularly if they haven’t given in to West Coast sensibilities, often tend to say whatever shit they think.  In general, I think East Coast cultural values trend more towards directness, honesty and less preoccupation with others’ sensitivities.  The operating social platform is more like:

“Hey, I’m ok, you’re ok.  And if not, we’ll sort it out…if loudly and brashly, nevertheless, we’ll get it all out and we’ll survive.” 

A West Coast bias that keeps you feeling alone?

As a result of being programmed with sensitivity to others’ sensibilities I think West Coasters have struggled more with being open, direct and honest.  They tend to hide a little more, can feel more reluctant, ashamed or hesitant around approaching others. 

So, whether it’s West Coast culture, a family value or personal constitution that influences values and behavior, lots of people tend to worry about how they’ll be seen, what others will think and/or say about it them, and how they need to compensate for that. 

Regardless of culture, shame and insecurity can cause us all to get stuck!

Shame, even if we don’t recognize it as “shame” per se, makes us all freeze or hesitate and become self-conscious.  In turn we bottle stuff up, hesitate about being direct and honest, don’t trust others or ourselves, and end up feeling disconnected from others and ourselves and painfully alone. 

According to Brene Brown, social psychologist, researcher and acclaimed author, resilience is the opposite of shame and the antidote to hiding, feeling unworthy or not enough.  Include in that, the sense that it’s not ok to really be myself for fear of being too much or feeling unwanted or rejected.

Brene’s work tells us that actually being vulnerable is they key.  Vulnerability is actually COURAGEOUS, not weak or undesirable. 

What shame tends to keep us from:

·       Going for what we want

·       Believing we’re enough/acceptable as we are

·       Feeling good about ourselves and life

·       Being open to taking risks that could create positive experiences

Ok, so what?  How can that help me?

Daring Greatly, as she calls it, or courageously risking being vulnerable is the antidote to shame.  Shame only has an edge when it can freeze us, make us hide, or rob us of our future with negative narratives about our past.

So here are a few ways to respond to the shame that underlies some of the self-doubt that keeps us from feeling good about who we are and how others see us:

·       Uncover the shame by understanding it

·       Overcome the shame by naming it and uncovering it

·       Becoming more accepting/loving towards the parts that have felt the shame

·       Finding ways to move past freeze and courageously into places we feel more vulnerable

I plan to write more on Brene Brown’s work with shame and Daring Greatly.  For now, she has a popular Ted Talk and a book, Daring Greatly, that are good places to continue exploring these ideas.

I love hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you feel, how you date and creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping successful singles create the love and life that they want!

Can I Have A Great Relationship Even If I Didn't See One Growing Up?

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I was sitting at a coffee shop in warm and sunny Walnut Creek, California several weeks ago escaping the June Gloom of San Francisco, which was bleeding deep into July. As I was sipping my tropical tea, letting myself slowly arrive and adjust to working on some writing projects, I noticed a warm grandfatherly gentleman just outside the window in front of me sitting with what must have been his sweet, little blond-headed 4-year-old grandson.

He was gentle and nurturing with the boy and I thought about how special it must be for that little guy to be able to spend time with this warm, kind grandfather.  Then I noticed a cheerful woman about the same age as the grandpa come over and sit down next to them.  As she settled, the boy leaned in and nestled his head into her lap. It was such a warm, endearing scene.  I basked in the effortless waves of care that rippled off that family as I peered out the rustic window frame. 

I never met my paternal grandfather so perhaps it warmed my heart a little to see a young boy get to be with his grandfather.  And in such a kind and affectionate way, somewhat uncharacteristic of an older generations emotional sophistication. 

Difficult relationships create longing for better ones.

My grandparents and my own parents struggled with relationships as many of us imperfect, yet aspiring humans do. But somewhere along the line I decided to make it a point of my life to learn about relationships.  I wanted to better understand these things called feelings and to create more rewarding experiences with the ones I love than the complicated exchanges I grew up seeing.

Have you seen relationships that inspire you?

Did you grow up seeing complicated relationships?  Or did you see great relationships between your parents or grandparents?  Maybe you had some good models outside of your family that you looked up to in some way. Maybe they taught you that there was a way to do relationships that was better than the ones you saw in your own family. Or maybe you never really learned it you just saw it, admired it and longed for something like that.

We ALL need help creating the loving relationships we long for.

I think many of us fall into the latter category, or perhaps somewhere in between.  An in-between place that has left us with longings, but without enough skills or the ability to turn our wishes into our realities.

I have to admit, I think every single one of us could use some good relationship guidance and communication tools and strategies. Even those of us who know a lot about it, have gone to school and studied it, and practice it a lot need reminders and need help in our blind spots.

If you didn't grow up with great relationship role models and if you didn't go to therapy school, there are probably some ways in which you could enhance your relationships, maybe even make them more like those ideal relationships you grow up admiring, or like the grandparents I was touched to see outside the coffee shop window.

You can do big and small things to create a happier relationship.

Here are some of the most important things I find myself helping clients do every day and every week.  I hope it will help you experience more warmth, kindness and gentleness in your relationships:

1.  Be Curious - Come from a place of genuinely wanting to understand. You’ll probably have to check the HABIT to want to be understood first or to counter-argue.

2.  Listen.  Listening is the greatest gift (and sometimes takes the most work) you can give a loved one.  It takes intention and effort.  But the rewards are transformative.

3.  See More – See the vulnerable, tender, human with needs and cares and hurts, just like you.  Don’t just see what’s on the surface.  There is so much more there.  See the GOOD underneath, whether it’s presenting or not.

4.  Reflect/Ask Questions - If you’re struggling to empathize or understand, ask questions to help you get there.  If you think you’re getting it, check it out.  Reflecting back what you‘re hearing is also a gift.

5.  Regulate - your own feelings that may come up while you’re listening to the other person:  Breathe, notice your body, ask for a moment to clear your head if it will help.  Then return to listening to your partner.

These tips are little nuggets that can point you in the right direction.  But if you find yourself getting stuck or unable to translate them into real change in your life, it may be helpful to get some professional guidance.  Real long-lasting change and satisfying relationships shouldn’t skip your generation.  You can create a great relationship even if you didn’t grow up with one.

I love hearing how couples are using these tips and strategies! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help with listening and getting listened to - feel free to call me at (415) 797-8297 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I am San Francisco’s resident relationship therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!

Part III: 3 Tips to Get Them to Swipe Right + Rewire Your Brain for Love



Part III:  3 Tips to Get Them to Swipe Right + Rewire Your Brain to Attract Love

This is Part 3 of a mini-blog on getting more profile perusers to “swipe right” on your profile by rewiring your brain and upping the frequency you’re vibing on.

In Part 1 of this mini-blog we saw how confidence is attractive and how to build that sense of confidence by slowing down, tuning in and focusing on the good that’s already there in you!  You-liking-you is numero uno in enhancing genuine self-confidence.

In Part 2 we talked about enhancing good voices that help us to tune into self-love that feels good and draws more good to us.  Drop by drop, practicing slowing down and tuning into those good voices inside actually rewires our brains for love.  Now let’s talk about Enoughness – feeling like we’re ok, good enough, ANYHTING enough.  And how rocking that vibe will attract more love (and swipes that matter).

What is “enoughness” and what’s it got to do with dating?

A sense of “enoughness” is a wonderful achievement.  We’re incessantly bombarded by cultural and commercial messages that prey on our vulnerability to feeling like we’re not enough in some way.  Dr. Brene Brown, a popular sociologist, author and Ted Talk presenter with over 35 MILLION views (link), is known for her research and talks on vulnerability, shame, and what I’m calling “enoughness”.  She talks a lot about shame, one of the most debilitating and painful feelings we can encounter, which cripples us with the message that we’re not “something” enough.

Not-enough-ness casts us into dark, shame-filled, virtual hells (not realities) where we just want to hide, so as not to be seen, and where we feel inferior and insecure.  It’s so hard to connect with others or feel worthy of their appreciation, let alone our own, when we’re in these dark, disempowering places. 

The antidote to the sense that “I’m not enough”, and to the accompanying shame that cripples us is being seen, and more specifically, being seen as truly ok and acceptable--just a human being like everyone else--in that place we fear we are not ok. 

Confronting the BS story of feeling not enough is the answer.

We hide when we don’t feel we’re enough.  However, when we summon the courage to fight that FALSE feeling-thought, and take the risk of coming out into the light and being seen, we take away shame’s power and weapons.  We take back our power.

Let’s be real.  I’ve worked with enough people from all walks of life to know that CEO’s, supermodels, and others with incredible success, fame and affluence do not escape the fear about measuring up.  Everyone has underlying vulnerabilities, worries and insecurities.  It’s a human condition. 

So, you’re not alone and no one is better than you.  Everybody experiences not-enough-ness.  So then, what are we measuring ourselves against?!  It’s an illusion, a fantasy that we don’t measure up or aren’t “blah, blah, blah” enough. 

How can I use this in my dating life?

Here’s a quick experiment: Take a few minutes and ask yourself:

·       What areas do I feel I am somehow not enough?  Write down 2 or 3.  For example: I feel like I’m not funny enough. I feel like I’m not intelligent enough.  I feel like I’m not (fill in the blank regarding physical attractiveness) enough. 

·       Now, what would it be like to have someone you trust and appreciate tell you the opposite of those thoughts or beliefs?   Example: “Kelly, I think you are genuinely funny and interesting. I love hearing you tell stories!”

·       Close your eyes so you can go inside.  Visualize in your mind’s eye, someone who you like and trust telling you this kind of message about the “not-enoughs” you just listed.  Really feel it.  Let it in. How does it feel?  What happens when you take it in?*

*Sometimes we encounter blocks to letting in good messages that contradict old longstanding beliefs about ourselves.  If that happens, that’s totally understandable.  Keep experimenting and practicing. 

Build shiny new neuropathways that will change how you feel and how others see you!

Once you get to a place where that message starts to create a good, uplifting, lighter, positive physical and emotional experience inside, you’re letting it in.  That means new neuropathways are getting built, right now!

Take that internal experience, knowing you’re creating new neuropathways in your brain and in your psyche, and approach your profile, the next app encounter, and/or your next date with that quality and energy.

This isn’t magic, it’s science.  It works.  The goal is to feel the newer good feeling and start to experience and create for yourself new realities, that then manifest in new experiences in your life.

It does take time and commitment to catch, stop and replace the old “not-enough” messages with something that is new and different, but truer, more supportive and just plain feels better.  For me, knowing that I’m not just feeling something in the moment, but actually creating a new pathway in my brain that I can build on and that will eventually create long-lasting change in my life is satisfying an encouraging!

Remember, “Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, so the wise man [and woman] gathering it little by little, fills her/himself with good.” -Buddha

I love hearing how these dating-life strategies are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you feel, how you date and creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping singles create the love and life that they want!