Sunday, January 27, 2013

B.A.N. Emotional Reactivity

This topic has been on my mind for the last few weeks, but it was never more relevant for me than this week. It was a week of emotional ups and downs and some serious frustrations and disappointments. In the past, it has been so easy to either shove the emotions out of sight and out of mind, or to let it just all explode. Neither are helpful. Hence, this week's conversation starter: B.A.N. emotional reactivity.

Instead of listening to the same songs and talk shows on the radio over and over that can put me on edge before walking into work (NOT a good way to start the day anywhere, but especially not with EBD youth. That's just asking for it), I fished through my console for the CD's I bought at a mindfulness seminar last year with Mary NurrieStearns. I remembered that I liked her as a speaker, so I gave the CD a try to see if I could find anything at all helpful for that day. Oh, and I did.

Image courtesy of

What I found were ideas that I quickly wrote down and gave to my co-workers upon entering the building so I wouldn't forget them. I was pretty excited about these seemingly simple, but challenging concepts. The one that has been sticking with me for the past week is to B.A.N emotional reactivity (This is not how she presents the material, but I needed the acronym to have a chance at remembering the concept).




When you are facing an emotionally charged situation and feel yourself reacting, this is a way to avoid stuffing the feelings and thoughts down for them to come out in a side-ways or completely unrelated manner, as well as to deter your emotional reactivity from coming out in your actions.

For example, a child slams the door and comes charging out of the classroom for the fourth time this hour, stomping into another room swearing, throwing things and refusing to return to class. Immediately I feel strong emotions well up inside me. I could choose to ignore the emotions and push on, hoping they won't come out on the kid. I could choose to let my emotions impulsively lead my actions and do or say something that is the opposite of helpful or therapeutic, and probably pretty damaging to the child and our rapport. Instead, I am going to B.A.N. this experience.

When I feel the strong emotions, the first thing I am going to do is BREATHE. This will decrease the intensity of my physiological response. Secondly, I am going to ALLOW this unpleasant and strong emotion to continue. This is the opposite of what I want to do. However, it will subside. Emotions will always come down, you just have to let them run their course and decrease in intensity. Third, I am going to NAME what I am experiencing. "I am feeling frustrated because I have worked really hard to help this child remember their coping skills."   "I feel annoyed and pressured because I have so much paperwork to do."   "I feel discouraged and frustrated because this child knows how to get what they need."

By B.A.N.ning my emotional reactivity, it is less likely to come out in my actions or some other way down the line (including somatically or through burn-out). I have also once again practiced mindfulness. I am staying in the present, breathing to decrease my physiological response, allowing the emotions to continue to decrease my emotional response, and naming the situation to increase insight into why I might be feeling this way, what I may need, or what priorities I may need to adjust. After practicing this and understanding myself,  I am also better able to practice empathy and gain understanding in what the other person is trying to communicate verbally or behaviorally.

Think of some situations in which trying to B.A.N. your emotional reactivity would have made a situation different, perhaps for the better. Then the next time you have an emotional  reaction, pause and B.A.N. This has been so helpful to me that I have it taped to my lamp. Right next to the phone. Where I make all the intense phone calls after working all day. Believe me, it is necessary.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mindful Interactions...Not Just for Therapists!

Work last week was more stressful than usual, so I though now would be a good time to discuss engaging with others mindfully. While my day is mostly comprised of interacting with children, I also have multiple opportunities to interact with adults. Hence, I will be sharing my thoughts on how to have mindful interactions with both populations. Both are not so different, you just need to change the delivery a little!

In a previous post, I stated my view of mindfulness. It is focusing on the present. It is paying attention to what you are seeing, feeling, experiencing and thinking as it is happening. It is paying attention to how my body is feeling based on my emotional response from my mental assessment of the situation. When applying this concept to interactions with others, the last step is giving an intentional response.

Let's take examples from my work experience to illustrate the challenge, but necessity, of employing mindfulness when interacting with children. I love doing therapy, but for this population, many times behavioral modification (using techniques to increase positive behavior and decrease negative) comes first. Being mindful during these situations is particularly important.

Now, when a chair is being thrown at my head or a child is screaming and swearing at me because they didn't like the natural outcomes of their poor choices, my first instinct is generally not to stop and think. If they are running away or refusing to follow any directions, it is easier to take it as a personal vendetta rather than mentally and emotionally removing myself from the situation before reacting.

 In practicing mindfulness, I often times have literally seconds to be aware of my emotional responses that impacts what I am feeling in my body. But once I got started, it gets easier to get to that place automatically! Thank God. It's still hard work. It includes stopping and assessing the situation. Asking the question, "What is the function (therapy speak for reason) behind this behavior?" It is because they want to ruin things for other people, make people mad, get out of something? Possibly, but what is behind that? Anxiety that someone will leave or reject them? Their basic needs will not get met? Learned behavior based on past experiences that at one point ensured emotional or even physical security? Maybe it is simply that they are children, and don't have the words yet to ask or tell, they can just show through their behaviors. Regardless, I make my assessment and use these as a basis for my very different responses to each kid in each situation. The responses tend to follow the same pattern in a very calm but decided voice:

"I am hearing that you are wanting/not wanting to do ___________. That's your choice, but I can't help you until you follow directions/meet expectations. When you do __________, then you can do _________."
"If you continue to do ________ then ________with happen."

If-Then statements work wonders. Sometimes I have to repeat this statement over and over (along with "I am going to be doing _______, when you are calm I would like to figure it out with you", etc), until the child realizes that their current method of getting what they want is not working, and they try something else. Hopefully, it is to follow expectations. Sometimes it is to up the ante, then we start over again. Eventually, they generally find that they prefer to get positive attention for their choices rather than unfavorable attention for poor decisions. It also helps to keep my head on straight and my emotions in check, to remember that it is not about me and I don't have to fix everything. There is a function for the behavior and I need to determine my response to increase their ability to think through situations and make their own choice, be it positive or not. This is slowly becoming my first instinct.

Shifting gears, let's think about interactions with adults. The same concepts still apply. Having a mindful interaction involves gauging your own emotional and physical responses ("Why do I have a reaction to what they said? What is that about?" What might be the reason for their actions/words?") before reacting or giving a response. Practice seeing things from their perspective before responding instead of just reacting. That could save a lot of frustration and misunderstanding in the end. You may need to take a break and come back. You may need to ask to think before giving a response. You might open up a conversation that greatly improves your relationship, or at the very least be practicing empathy and greater self-insight.

This seems like a lot, but give it a try! One step at a time.

1. Stop and think
2. What are you feeling?
3. Body scan, what does your body feel like?
4. Ask yourself, what is the function (reason) behind their behavior?
5. Based on this information, how will I respond?

Be compassionate toward yourself. Try again. And again. And again. Just trying itself increases mindfulness. And that is the whole point.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Homemade Laundry Soap

With my heightened awareness of the damages environmental toxins can pose to our mental, emotional and physical health, I have been gobbling up readings and documentaries on regarding using natural, non-toxic cleaning solutions. Nerd alert.

While watching the documentary Chemerical (, I learned the effects of toxic chemicals found in highly marketed cleaning supplies. These were increased allergens, decreased energy, increased risk for cancer and a mirage of serious health issues. Not to mention the environmental impact. The documentary also gives information on what ingredients to stay away from. I was inspired to use natural products to decrease toxins, increase our wellness, and just to see the differences of how well the natural solutions clean as compared to the commercial products. An extra, enticing benefit of this change is that we would be saving A LOT of money per product, which really adds up in the grand scheme of things.

My first switch: Laundry Detergent.

I switched to a more naturally based laundry detergent that is commercially sold at $17-$26 a container. I was not impressed. Thus, I searched for alternatives that were cheaper, and I could control the ingredients that went into what cleaned our clothes. I had previously tried a homemade powdered soap, but I found this ran out fairly quickly. I needed something that would last a long time. My next recipe was inspired from the Chemerical Cookbook Sampler (

Homemade Laundry Soap
  • 34 Cups Water
  • 2 Cups Washing Soda
  • 2 Cups Borax
  • 1 bar grated soap (Natural would be best, I used Ivory because that was all I had access to at the time, but it gets the job done)
In a large stockpot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and dissolve the grated soap. When this has dissolved, add the Borax and Washing Soda and still until mostly dissolved. There will still be some gritty bits at the bottom. Then add the remaining 30 cups of water to the pot, stir, and store. Use about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup per load.

Easy, easy, easy. And I was able to fill a recycled 150 oz container, plus 64 oz in another. These containers had not been filled with any kind of toxic materials, as these will stay in the plastic and contaminate what was put in. I also found that I didn't need to use any fabric softener and the Borax helps to soften the clothes while cleaning. Bonus! Note: like the body wash, soap will have little if any suds, but remember that companies put toxic chemicals to increase the suds production to give the illusion of a cleaner clean. 

Price Breakdown: 
$3.24 per box

$3.38 per box

$1.39 for 3 pack

This is approximately $2 for 214 ounces of laundry soap! Use 1/4 to 1/3 c. per load, you do the math! WAY less than paying $25 for a 150 ounce container of store-bought. Very convincing!

Will often does the laundry, so I asked his opinion. He said that it gets the clothes just as clean. The only difference we noted was with the jeans. Don't over stuff the load, obviously. This is where my impatient, just-get-it-done self had trouble getting them all clean. Stopped that, clean jeans! :)

I made this soap for my family at Christmas in NH, hoping that this too would help my sister's eczema to heal and not be irritated by the chemicals and toxins in commercial laundry detergent. My mom really likes it! 

Happy Laundering!