A Tube of Toothpaste

I was searching for a mental image that would capture just how I was feeling about the constant barrage of emotional ups and downs of a loved one who lacked the ability to discern between a big deal and a small one. And that’s when it struck me and I said “I am like a tube of toothpaste and each time you squeeze me to respond to another temper tantrum, I use up valuable patience and emotional reserves that we will both need for bigger life events down the road. When that times comes, you do not want to be rolling me up tight and squeezing hard to get that last little bit out.”

I’ve used that “tube of toothpaste” analogy a few times in my life for people who needed to work on their emotional regulation and productive coping skills. It was something that I tried to instill in my children especially when they were teenagers. I was encouraging them to make a determination for themselves about whether their current issue was a 1 or a 10 on the scale of “big stuff in life”.

What I’ve come to realize over these past couple of years is that the sooner we learn tools for self-control and emotional intelligence, we not only have happier and more stable lives, we give our brains a remarkable gift.

Our thoughts and emotions contribute to our overall health. I’m sure you have experienced how your heart races and your breath grows fast and shallow when you are really upset. Imagine the toll that this is taking on you physically. And if you are getting upset often and easily angered, your brain is getting wired for this super-charged negativity bias. While it may not be as obvious as a racing heart or finding it hard to breathe, this is some serious toxicity in the the brain.

Consider what Dr. Rick Hanson shares in his blog post “Take in the Good”:

The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways.  For example, studies have found that:

  • In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
  • People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
  •  Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction. (https://www.rickhanson.net/take-in-the-good/

As a parent, partner or close friend who is striving to balance all that negativity bias for another, it can be exhausting and contagious. I knew that I did not want to get “used up” on minor issues when later on down the road there would be weddings and babies, job changes, health issues and so much more.

What I wish that I had many years ago was the knowledge and experience of mindfulness and meditation — for myself and for those that needed some really good tools for dealing with their emotions and a negativity bias.

I recently completed a 21-day Perfect Health Mediation program with Deepak Chopra and Oprah (https://chopracentermeditation.com) and it was not surprising that the quality of our thoughts was mentioned frequently over the 3 weeks. One thing that really struck me was that our supportive relationships significantly impact the positive messages we send our bodies every day which invites greater health and well-being into our lives.

And that brings me back to my tube of toothpaste analogy. I intuitively felt that I wanted to save my energy to fully soak up the good stuff in life and to have deep reserves for those times when we needed strength to get through heartbreaking adversities. What I was striving for was balanced, supportive relationships where we counted our blessings and faced our problems rationally.

I know firsthand the toll that stress can take on our physical health. While we cannot control events and circumstances that bring stress into our lives, we can take proactive measures to mitigate unhealthy recurring and long-lasting responses to it on a daily basis. Practicing gratitude, taking walks in nature and calming yourself with a few deep cleansing breaths are easy tools to incorporate. Daily meditation offers some of the greatest benefits for calming our minds and becoming aware of how our thoughts are impacting our health and our relationships.

If you want to learn more about neuroscience and how “neurons that fire together, wire together”, I encourage you to check out Dr. Rick Hanson’s website https://www.rickhanson.net/.

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