Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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On Coping with Adversity

By Lynne Gots, posted on October 28th, 2015.

I’ve been extremely fortunate with my health. No major illnesses or injuries. I even walked away unscathed from a head-on collision with a drunk driver who plowed through a traffic light at the intersection where I was stopped, totaling my car.

So my accident a few days ago, which landed me in the emergency room and required extensive oral surgery, was a new experience for me.

I went out for my usual walk with my dog. Wearing headphones and listening to a podcast, I was “distracted walking.” My foot caught on a bump in the sidewalk. I fell forward, tried to brace my fall with my hands, and landed hard on my chin.

Let’s just say the damage, in the medical-speak of the ER, was “impressive,” the sort usually only seen in major automobile accidents, or among young men who’ve been in bar fights or crashed into trees while snowboarding.

My jaw is now wired shut to heal the fractures. I’ve heard from friends who are envious of the enforced opportunity to shed a few pounds on a liquid diet, or who’ve known of people who voluntary opted for jaw-wiring as part of a weight-loss plan. I am not amused.

Nevertheless, I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation. While waiting for hours in the ER, I researched expensive Vitamix blenders,which I’d been eyeing for awhile but felt were too extravagent, and treated myself to one (with a single click on amazon). I’m using up my CSA produce in kale smoothies and creamed vegetable soups. I’ve been catching up on emails and on the latest novel I’ve been trying to get through for weeks. I’m writing a long-overdue blog post.

And, to my surprise, I’m even feeling a little grateful. While I was undergoing a CT scan of my skull, a worried thought of the kind health-anxious folks are frequently plagued with popped into my head: “What if this is one of those situations you hear about, where someone goes into the hospital for one thing and finds out they have something else much more serious? What if I have a brain tumor?”

Thankfully, I don’t. I’m just facing a somewhat arduous process of recovery. But I will heal over time.

I think I’m practicing acceptance. It’s not a situation I like. I’m not a good patient. I want to be in control.

But it is what it is. So rather than wallowing, I’m trying to treat myself kindly (when I’m not berating myself for my carelessness), connect with friends over email, arrange milkshake dates for when I can be seen in public, allow my husband to run around doing errands for me, and experiment with new soup recipes.

Mindfulness practitioners tell us you can accept something without being happy about it. If there’s a secret to getting through life’s ups and downs in the best way possible, I think cultivating an attitude of acceptance (which isn’t the same as resignation) is key.

We’ll see. I’m working on it.



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MBSR, Week 8: What Do You Get from Practicing Mindfulness?

By Lynne Gots, posted on June 2nd, 2014.

Our MBSR class wrapped up a few days ago. We spent the last session reflecting on where we were when we started and where we are now after eight weeks of intensive mindfulness training.

It’s very hard to quantify the benefits of a consistent mindfulness practice (although brain imaging studies are attempting to do so). In our group, participants talked of feeling more patient, handling difficult situations more effectively, communicating more clearly, and recognizing physical responses to stress earlier. But these qualitative experiences are hard to measure.

I’ve noticed a subtle improvement in my ability to concentrate, sustain attention, and maintain an even emotional keel. Nothing dramatic, but enough to make me curious about what might develop over time and to keep me plugging away at it. Daily meditation doesn’t bring me bliss or elevate me to a higher plane of consciousness. More often than not, I have to push myself to do it. Sometimes it’s boring. Just sitting and doing nothing frequently makes me wonder if my time would be better spent in a more obviously productive endeavor, like weeding the garden or writing a blog post. But I’ve continued to maintain my streak (272 days and counting) because a growing body of research touts the merits of meditation.

So what has mindfulness done for me?

Well, I’m pretty sure it’s making my manicures last longer. I’m serious. I used to be able to keep my nails polished for a day, maybe two at the most. I’d see a chip and would be unable to resist peeling it off until every nail would be ruined. But since I started meditating, my manicures stay intact for a week.

There’s actually some evidence basis for my observation. Mindfulness is being used as a component of treatments for body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as trichotillomania, nail biting, and skin picking, to develop impulse control. So it might be helping me resist the urge to pick at my nail polish.

My manicures also may be lasting because I’m actually waiting for the polish to harden. I used to feel so antsy while my nails were drying that I’d leave the salon after a few minutes, reach into my purse for my keys, and mar the finish before I even got into my car to drive home. Now I take the opportunity to practice observing my breath while I wait, sometimes for as long as half an hour.

And one other mindfulness lesson may be helping preserve my nails: the acceptance of imperfection. In my premeditation days, I’d see a slight chip and not be able to stand it. But now I can notice the flaw, cover it up with a topcoat to keep it from getting bigger, and let it be.

You may think the grooming improvements I’ve reaped from practicing mindfulness are trivial. After all, a long-lasting manicure hardly qualifies as a major quality-of-life booster. But if you consider the value of learning how to wait patiently, resist impulses, and accept what isn’t perfect, you might agree it’s much more significant than it seems.

Fellow MBSR classmates:  What has practicing mindfulness done for you? I’d love to post your comments.



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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Weeks 3 and 4: Everyday Pleasures and Pains

By Lynne Gots, posted on May 4th, 2014.

Formal meditation is only one part of mindfulness training. If you want to become more aware and present during the ordinary moments of life, you have to practice noticing.

Our assignment in the third week of MBSR was to keep a daily log of pleasant events, noting our physical sensations, feelings, and thoughts. We also paid attention to how we were “relating” to each experience. Were we pushing it away or hurrying through it? Holding onto it? Or just “being with” it—that is, staying in the moment and observing, not judging.

Most of us rush through our days oblivious to our moment-to-moment experience. When you start looking, you might discover, as I did, how many opportunities for pleasure slip by.

My week of recording pleasant experiences was perfectly ordinary. I wasn’t on vacation in an exotic locale. There were no birthdays to celebrate or parties to attend. I drove to work every day on the Beltway. I came home after work and cooked dinner. I packed lunch for the next day. I paid bills, booked dental appointments, scheduled household repairs, and vacuumed up the dirt the dogs tracked onto the living room rug.  Sometimes the weather was dreary and unseasonably cold.

But I was able to discover pleasure in small, everyday events. I enjoyed drinking my coffee on Saturday morning, noticing the aroma of the freshly ground beans and feeling content to have some time to myself. I relished my Sunday ritual of completing the NY Times Crossword (in ink), feeling focused, engaged, and proud to be continuing my father’s tradition. I took in the bright yellow forsythia when I walked out onto the deck one day before work and appreciated the coming of spring. I even observed, while sitting in traffic one morning on the route taking me into the city, the sun glistening on the Potomac, the rowers gliding through the water in their skulls, and the greenery budding on either side of the road. Not a bad way to start the day.

The following week’s home practice was to observe unpleasant experiences in the same way, recording physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings, as well as how we related to the events. Not surprisingly, the predominant way of relating to unpleasant events is to push them away.

But here’s where it gets tricky. If you want to cultivate mindfulness and acceptance—attitudes helpful in dealing with pain, stress, and other aversive emotional and physical states—you need to allow yourself to “be with” the unpleasant experiences rather than avoiding them, bracing yourself against them, or actively pushing them away.

Why, you might ask, would you want to let yourself feel bad? Because, counterintuitive as it might seem, allowing the full range of internal reactions to unfold and observing them without piling on the negative interpretations we usually make can lessen the distress.

My unpleasant events for the week were mundane. They mostly involved driving:  sitting in rush hour traffic on the way to work when I was running late, having the driver next to me speed up and cut me off when I was trying to merge into his lane, seeing another car beat me to the parking space I’d had my eye on.

So I noticed my chest tightening and my jaw clenching.  My hand balled into a fist and pounded on the steering wheel.  I heard myself cursing out loud once or twice. And I tried just to observe.

I can’t say I ever achieved a total Zen state of calm during my commute. But practicing being mindful made the experience a little more interesting and maybe even a touch less frustrating.

In my next dispatch from the mindfulness front, I’ll talk about another challenge: how to keep up with all the mindfulness exercises.


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This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

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© 2008-2023 Lynne S. Gots, PhD. Photographs by Steven Marks Photography.