Don't Fear Your Emotions
On this episode, I had a chat with Cinder Smith, a registered psychologist. We talked about why it's important that you don't fear your emotions.
Our Recent Guest - Cinder Smith, Registered Psychology
Cinder Smith is a Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists. She graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology, and then moved back to her home town, Calgary, where she completed her Master in Counseling Psychology Degree.
Her internship and residency was completed at Calgary Counseling Centre, as well as in a private practice setting. She is also a member of the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta, and offers a lot of her time volunteering for various events for the Association.
She has been working in the areas of assessment, consultation, and therapy with individuals for over 12 years in various roles and environments including non-profit and private practice settings, family medicine clinics, hospitals, forensic, employee assistance programs, and university institutions.
She believes taking care of one’s mental health is as important as taking care of ones physical health! When she isn’t working, Cinder enjoys spending her time with her family, kids, and friends. She is a former ballet trained dancer for over 15 years and currently stays active running, lifting weights and is also a fitness instructor. Cinder is also a major sports fanatic, she loves to cook, and is known to have a spunky sense of humour!
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Important Discussion Points
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 1 - From the eyes from the perspective of a professional how would you define mental health?
Oh, it's a really tough question. Mental health has many components to it. One of the ways that I like to teach people about it is how you're living your life. Is it functional or not, because seldom is it in the middle or gray. It is about having joy in your life. It's about having balance in your life. Mental health is about having access to healthy supports in your world. We are neuro-biologically wired to be connected as humans. Even the biggest introverts of the world... we are wired for that. And so, it's kind of grouping all of those together. Looking at your physical health, your financial health, your relational health, your social supports and kind of combining all of that together to really capture how well or unwell is somebody doing.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 2 - You mentioned the word connection quite a bit. I think the word connection, it tends to be lost on us nowadays. Social media gives us a perception of connection because you know what everybody's up to. So what is your stance with social media and how it affects the present state of mental health at large?
At large, oh I might get a lot of flak and I'm OK with this.
I dislike it. There's some really great social media platforms out there, so I'm not going to say it's awful everywhere. But things like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook can really give people a misperception about someone's life. So I have a word that I use for Facebook, and it's "Fakebook". Because I don't really believe that everybody's putting their honest, unscathed, raw version of themselves out there. They're putting perfect holiday, they're perfect kids with their perfect outfits and their perfect meal that they put together. And so, in that realm and I can say for sure in my own practice, people compare themselves on social media and it makes them not feel good. So they feel less than, they feel that comparative factor and it's a breeding ground for mood related issues, period.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 3 - One of the things that I really enjoyed about our conversation was you make such a clean distinction that there aren't good and bad emotions. You talk about comfortable versus uncomfortable emotions. Can you break that down and elaborate on that?
I'd love to. So I have a lot of people in my practice who are very linear and logical thinkers and I needed a way to explain emotion, to explain feelings to them, to help them make sense out of what was going on for them. So I love talking about this. So there is a belief system out there and other people in my field potentially, who talk about feelings and emotions as being right or wrong or good or bad. I came up with the idea of them being comfortable emotions versus uncomfortable emotions. So comfortable emotions are these joy, happy, content, peace, loved, needed, desired and so when we experience those comfortable emotions, because that's what they are - they're more comfy than the other ones. That's giving us data that says, you know what, life is working well for you. Keep making the decisions you're making, the choices you're making, the habits you have, the people you're surrounding yourself with. Keep doing those things because it's working for you - you're getting a lot of comfortable data back to you.
It's equally as important to pay attention to the uncomfortable ones, but we don't like to do that as humans. So uncomfortable emotions being depression, anxiety, sadness, fear, worry, jealousy, anger - that kind of stuff. And when we experience those feelings, a lot of us want to numb it. We don't want to deal with it or we want to avoid it. We want to retract. We want to do things like drinking, drug use, shopping, other forms of ways of not feeling it. But that information is equally as important. So when we have uncomfortable emotions, it's giving us data that says, you know what, life doesn't seem to be working very well for you. Maybe it's your habits, maybe it's the people you're spending time with, the hobbies or the things that you're engaging in regularly that are leading you to feel more discomfort, more uncomfortable feelings.
And so it's important to look at that.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 4 - What that leads me to believe is the quality of that data is predicated on your ability to interpret it. So how do you best put yourself into a position to better understand what you're feeling, your emotions?
Okay so, here's an interesting thing. I've done many talks before and my opening statement is how do we define emotion? So I'm gonna start there, because people get that confused and complicated They will put their hands up if I'm standing in front of a big audience and say “oh it's when you're happy and you're sad”. I'm like well, it's kind of like trying to describe color. We can talk about pink, red, purple, blue, green, blah blah blah, but it's really hard to define what's a definition of color. So same thing with emotion, it's really hard to just define what is an emotion.
So, I break it down and say it's a combination between a physical response because we have lots of physiology that occurs when we feel an emotion and then it's our cognitions as well. It's our interpretation of an event, it's our interpretation of something or a perspective on things. So someone's happiness can look really, really different than somebody else's happiness.
Yeah, so I talk about it as a combo between our physical response when we're getting hooked by something as well as what we're thinking about. That's how I talk about emotion.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 5 - What is your practice like, what do you do on a day to day basis?
My profession will require me to distinguish this. So psychiatry is different than psychology. Psychiatry is really more about symptom management and medication. So they are rock stars in their field in terms of really understanding the psychopharmacology of human behavior. My world is more focused on the day-to-day behavioral stuff and helping people live more functional lives. And I know it sounds so cliché and a little bit cheesy, but I really have a philosophy in my practice... are you living your best self? And that's not a “maybe”. It's either yes I am or no I'm not. And generally speaking, what I say to people when they come into my practice is you're here because something's not working and we need to figure that out together. So the process in my practice is around people's functionality. So, really assessing that. I get down to how's your sleep, how's your appetite, how's your exercise, who are your supports, and then really teasing out what's the thing that brings you here. What's the thing that isn't working in your life right now, we got to figure that out.
I don't want to just talk about the thing that brings you in to see me. I want to know all of these other areas because I really believe that people have, no matter what they're going through, a set of strengths.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 6 - What are the tell-tale signs the very, very obvious indicators that there may be something wrong and they need help?
Oh boy, I would come back to my previous answer in terms of their functionality. So how are they doing on a day to day, regular basis and really looking at sleep, appetite, exercise, supports. How are they doing relationally? How is their employment, their job, their workplace, their finances, and a big one that gets missed... I ask every single person who comes for a first consultation, what do you do for fun? And it's funny, but not. Because if I have a long pause between my question and someone's answer to that, I'm gonna be right there, because it's a problem. If you can't access two, three quick things that you do for fun in your life, that's a problem. So it's really looking at everything.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 7 - One of the things that we talked about was communicating with children, communicating the importance of mental health, communicating how they should articulate their emotions. Let's talk about that.
They live in emotion and they do because the frontal lobe of their brains in all school-age children are still developing. And why I highlight that is because that is the part of our brain where we're really good problem solvers. That is where impulse control comes into play, so hence why those little toddlers have their little tantrums. But, the frontal lobe of our brain also allows us to have executive function and good thinking. And so, if you imagine that you've got a young child who doesn't have that part of their brain developed yet, but has oodles of emotion, it doesn't know what to do with that. And so my belief and philosophy about kids and feelings, is talk about them. Let them have them, don't shut them down. We're very quick to do that because they can get on our nerves. As a mother I can say that. And I also think that we have to have oodles of patience to teach kids about emotion and about feeling, but to not take it away. I often say, be careful that you're not hijacking your little one’s feelings because they need to have them.
They need to learn about them.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 8 - Some people just feel like they have no options, nobody to talk to. Who are the first people they should go to?
If you're lucky and you have healthy supports in your life and that can be friends, family, your partner... those people. If those people can be in your corner and listen to you and hear you and you feel comfortable enough to confide in them, I would. If you have a family doctor that you have a good relationship with, they're also really good.
I call it your nucleus. So if you have a good nucleus of people in your life or tribe, that's your support network. Those are the people you should go and talk to. If you don't have that, it's about well, probably coming and seeing a professional like myself and then you build one. You create one. I was serious when I said earlier, we are wired for connection. All of us. And so you don't have to have a huge nucleus, a huge network. But you need to have a few people who you can turn to and talk to when life gets hard and messy.
Don't Fear Your Emotions | Question 9 - This is one of those topics that does come up again and again. Whether it's physical health, mental health, psychological what-have-you, we wait until we're at the brink and I'm sure you experience that all the time. How do we begin to get ahead of it and when should we actually be going to see a professional?
Right. Love that question because you're right. People often come in when things are really bad, and I love to tell people and teach them... I want you to come in when they're kind of, sort of starting to feel like they're off. And not everybody has the same level of self-awareness. If they have lots of it, they're gonna catch... I call it catching yourself on the fall. So if you're gonna catch yourself on the fall and you've got lots of awareness, you're gonna get yourself help a little bit sooner. Does that make sense? Versus, if I'm not really self-aware, I'm probably gonna be closer to that kind of tipping point or that drop and not catch myself.
So again, I'm coming back to the functionality of your life. If your sleep is off, if your appetite is off, if you're noticing that your mood is a little bit shifted or you're more impatient, if you're not engaging in the things that used to bring you joy or happiness, those would be some big red flags to be paying attention to.
Have questions for Cinder? Head to her website: http://smithpsychology.ca/