Beach Ball Metaphor for Coping with Emotional Dysregulation

I first heard of the beach ball metaphor while watching a video through PESI (one of my continuing education providers). Arielle Schwartz, PhD uses the beach ball metaphor to explain how we can manage our dysregulated emotions. Arielle Schwartz, PhD provides a mind-body healing exercise that can help trauma survivors process their negative emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.

I hope that you find this metaphor helpful in understanding how we can better regulate our emotions and nourish our nervous systems.

Beach Ball

Imagining something that we don’t want to hold or feel. – This is the beach ball. We’re pushing it down and trying to hold it under water. It wants to come back up to the surface. Sometimes, we do this temporarily, called “containment,” as we run to the store or parent the kids, then return. If we’re constantly and chronically trying to hold the ball down, avoidance, at some point, it is exhausting and taxing. This can lead to causing other issues, the ball coming up and causing a splash. Then, we have to gather the ball back up and push it down.

We want to understand the dysregulated feeling or memory. We want to turn towards it. Understand the sensation and emotion in small parts, at a slower, appropriate pace, so that the ball comes to the surface without making a big splash. We have a little more control and can push it back down.

We do this therapeutically. “Pendulation” (meaning, turning towards the distress) in small, tolerable parts, taking off some pressure. Next, we pendulate from the distress and turn towards the resource. A resource can be the therapeutic relationship, or the breath, or a cue of safety (like a flower or plant in the room, or something out the window), so we oscillate between the stress and ease. We take a break, and then, check-in. The pattern is distress, then resource, distress, resource, distress, resource.

This combats the “negativity bias,” (meaning we are wired for survival and to scan our environment for threats). We need to consciously counteract this by looking for the good and nourishing our nervous system. Nourishing can look like a relationship with someone who feels safe, or our pet, who we feel connected to.  

Death Valley National Park, CA

It’s a “Positive Affirmation” Kinda Day

Today, I’m diving into my positive affirmations, as negative and distorted thoughts have crept in. This is completely normal and something everyone goes through. I like to write my positive affirmations, which include quotes and Bible verses, on index cards. Today, I wrote one about being a business owner. The affirmations are kept on a shelf next to my work desk. As I read through my cards, I reflected on them, noticing that I’m feeling pretty good about them and have not needed to use certain affirmations for a few months! I take them to heart, I know that they are true.

When I’m going through my day and notice physical symptoms of worry and anxiety, I know that a helpful strategy is to visit my cards. Having three to four mental coping strategies on hand, that aren’t going on a run, is key. Addressing anxiety by going on a run is my top way to manage symptoms, but I can’t always go out when I want, so I take deep breaths and incorporate mindfulness to create a different reaction. I read my affirmations as many times as I feel appropriate. There are tougher days where I keep them on my desk and will intentionally be more aware of my breathing throughout the day, as I know that an unhelpful habit is to hold my breath.

When was the last time that you read or recited positive affirmations to yourself? If it has been a while, don’t forget that this is a simple way to redirect your thoughts. Know your distorted thoughts and unhelpful habits. Know when you need to use your positive affirmations and other coping strategies, and pay attention to the benefits.

Find more on affirmations below:

Positive affirmations to get through a crisis or difficult time.

Friendly Reminder: Understanding and Protecting Your Mental Health

Friendly reminder

Please, take care in understanding and protecting your mental health. Grow your understanding by reading and listening to credible resources.

Just a few thoughts

If you use social media or the internet to find information, use caution, as there are people who spread misinformation about mental health. – People who are lifestyle bloggers, coaches, or celebrities (people who probably don’t have an educational degree on the subject). Always get the professional’s advice.

Expand your resources and tools. If you’ve never listened to a podcast episode on mental health, consider listening one day while cooking dinner. Subscribe to a mental health care professional’s YouTube channel. Buy a new book that sounds really interesting. You could start a wish list of books and workbooks on Amazon or write them in your journal. Having more valuable resources at your fingertips helps you to further understand and protect your mental health.

Other’s mental health

Also, take the time to learn about how mental health affects everyone differently. We will all likely respond in dissimilar ways to issues and crisis. Many people struggle in silence and still carry on throughout their day doing the best that they can. A struggle isn’t always fully apparent.

Resilient Motherhood

Resilient Motherhood is a team of experts serving Pittsburgh, PA & Westmorland, PA.

They are dedicated to helping women feel strong and confident in their bodies during pregnancy, motherhood, and beyond.

Resilient Motherhood was born out of passion and necessity.

Read their story.

Explore their services.

Resilient Motherhood

Survivors: Resilient Motherhood helps survivors of sexual assault and abuse re-claim their power and birth with confidence.

Labor and Delivery Prep

“Prevent perineal tearing, fearlessly manage pain and triggers, empower yourself to have
a healing birth.”

Fix Pain

“The truth is that many survivors have pelvic pain. Like your trauma, let’s make it a thing of the past. We are in this together.”

Stabilize Your Mood

“We will work together to use heart rate variability, food, and exercise to help you
feel your best every day.”

Learn more

Don’t forget to visit their resources. They have resources available for download and a blog. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

“Unfinished Business” Letter

To help resolve any unfinished business that you have with another person, write a letter. This may be written to a person who has hurt or wronged you, and who is no longer a part of your life. DO NOT ACTUALLY SEND THEM (or anyone) THIS LETTER, this letter is for YOU. Keep it confidential.

I STRONGLY suggest doing this activity with a professional counselor and talking through the situation with them. They can support you.

Writing this letter will help you to:

  • Reflect and process
  • Feel emotions
  • Think more slowly
  • Problem solve
  • Maybe to forgive the wrong-doer
  • Forgive yourself, if you need to
  • Put your thoughts and emotions to paper
  • Release pent up thoughts and strong emotions, like pain, sadness, and anger
  • Find some peace, healing and resolution
  • Empowerment and improve self-esteem
  • Increase self-care and self-love

Format:

There are no set rules for writing this letter. You may find it difficult to start this process, just dive right in. The letter can be edited and re-organized to how you would like. Start with the wrong-doer’s name, like you are writing a letter. If you’re unsure of how long your letter should be, try aiming to write one to three pages just to get an idea. Once you have that, you will better know if the letter should be any longer. The letter is to benefit you and to help resolve any unfinished business, the length of the letter doesn’t matter quite as much. End the letter with your name.

Important things to think about including:

  • Things that you want the wrong-doer to know.
  • Anything that you want to say to them.
  • Talk about what they did to you.
  • Talk about how you feel.
  • Talk about your reaction to what they did.
  • Talk about the impact that it has had on yourself. What areas of your life have been impacted? How has it been changed?
  • Write about what you wish went differently.
  • Write about how you wish things ended with that person.
  • Is there anything that you could have done differently?
  • Allow yourself to be open to writing anything that comes up.

This is a challenging exercise, so take a break if you need to, re-visit it. *Self-care is very important through this process.* Work on acknowledging your thoughts and emotions, know that they are natural and occur for a reason, but let them roll away (not sticking in your mind) as you write. Utilize coping strategies to reduce intense stress, anxiety, emotions, etc. Try to make sure that you’re in a good “mental space,” not overly anxious or panic when you write this. It is helpful to be able to think clearly and be focused. After you finish writing this letter, read it out loud to yourself. Reading it to yourself might be emotional because your brain will be processing the information slightly differently, hearing your own voice read what you wrote is powerful. Read it to a counselor, they will listen and be able to guide you. If you think that it would be beneficial reading it a second or third time, then do so. Notice if your thoughts and emotions changed the next time through. Lastly, when you are ready, you completed the letter and read it out loud, destroy the letter for resolution (and confidentiality). There is symbolism in destroying the letter. It isn’t returning. Allow yourself to be healed and empowered. Love yourself. Notice how you feel while destroying the letter and afterwards. Do you feel physically lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders? Do you feel empowered? Did you sigh in relief or smile?

Once again, please talk with someone if you need to, don’t hesitate to reach out. It is rewarding to speak with someone, brain imaging research shows that talk therapy (psychotherapy) can be impactful right away.

Download this exercise here

Red Rock Canyon, NV

Mental health therapy: what people think it is vs. what it actually is

Mental health therapy: what people think it is vs. what it actually is.

What people think it is:

• Talking to a therapist about problems.

What it actually is:

• Talking to a therapist about problems.

• Making changes to thoughts and behaviors.

• Psychoeducation.

• Building awareness of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

• Between session work.

• Learning and practicing coping strategies.

• Working on becoming less judgmental of certain thoughts and emotions.

• Finding a healthy balance while going through difficult life situations and increasing self-care.

• Increasing empowerment and mental strength.

• Improve overall wellness.

• Focus on personal growth.

• Helping to end the stigma of mental health illnesses.

Mirror Work Activity

This mirror work activity will increase self-awareness and promote personal growth.

Looking in the mirror, state to yourself:

“I love you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Forgive me.”

“Thank you.”

While looking at yourself in the mirror and stating these things, pay attention to your non-verbal body language, the tone and speed of your voice, and the thoughts and emotions that arise.

What comes up?

Did you just go through the motions?

Did you experience any powerful emotions?

Were your thoughts negative or positive?

Was your body physically uncomfortable?

Did you speak quickly?

Did you dissociate?

Do you feel valued?

You may want to jot down notes in a journal to have a record.

Struggling to Remain Strong for too Long?

Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are signs that you should ask for help

It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks in ourselves. When we experience these symptoms frequently, for longer than a few weeks, it is time to ask for help. Take action. We tend to go for far too long, trying to remain strong, that we become weak. The depression, anxiety, and panic attacks can begin to harm multiple areas of our lives. Social, relationships, school, work, etc. A counselor can teach you ways to cope and renew your strength.

Mindful Breathing Exercise

When you feel stressed or anxious, have you been mindful of your breathing? Notice if you’re holding your breath, taking shallow breaths, or breathing too quickly.

Take control of your breathing by trying a short breathing exercise:

Lay, sit, or stand comfortably, with good posture to allow yourself to breathe easily.

If you’re laying or sitting, maybe you want to close your eyes to increase focus.

You may place your hands gently on your stomach to physically feel it move in and out as you breathe.

Take note of physical sensations and then focus on your breathe.

If you find yourself becoming distracted by anything, acknowledge the distraction (distractions occur naturally and are reminders to return to what we were working on), allow it to roll through your awareness, and then simply return your attention to your breathing.

Breathe in for 3 seconds: 1-2-3

Brief pause

Breathe out for 3 seconds: 1-2-3

Repeat 3 times

Notice any differences in how you physically or mentally feel.

Calmly return your focus to the environment around you.

You may want to play around with the time spent in the exercise, do what works for you.

*Tip for severe anxiety and panic: if you find yourself holding your breath for longer than the brief pause during this exercise, skip the pause all together and just focus on steady in-and-out breathes.*

Download this exercise below.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania

Favorite Positive Affirmation?

What’s your favorite positive affirmation, right now?

Mine is, “I have everything I need.”

I tend to feel like I need MORE (belongings, money, approval from others, etc.) and it can create anxiety and tension. I don’t actually need any of these things. When I practice living in the moment and tell myself that I have everything that I need RIGHT NOW, HERE in the present, I feel less anxious.

Laurel Highlands, PA