The transition from youth to adult is a difficult one for most people, filled with unexpected events and changes that we are ill-prepared for. Many find themselves seriously lacking not only the life skills needed, but also the psychological and emotional tools that would make this huge change easier. Our guest this week explains how we can use mindfulness to develop these tools and make adulting much less intimidating.
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About Our Guest
Lara Fielding is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology. She works to empower young adults to promote their mental health resilience. She guides her clients and students to identify what they truly care about, and teaches them the skills they need to manage the discomfort that comes along the way. She is the author of Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grown-up, a first of its kind, multi-media, self-help book, with QR code-linked experiential skills practices.
ADULTING SHOW TRANSCRIPT (Computer-Generated)
Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health – with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.
Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales. And today, Vince and I will be talking to Dr. Lara Fielding, a clinical psychologist who writes a very popular Psych Central blog aimed at helping millennials use mindfulness and self-care skills to promote their mental health and manage the stress of transitioning into adulthood. Lara, welcome to the show.
Lara Fielding: Oh thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited. I just love your show and can’t support the message of getting psychology and evidence based practices and the knowledge that we carry out to as many people as possible. So thank you for building the show and having me on it.
Vincent M. Wales: Happy to have you. And I want to say right off the bat that I wish your blog existed when I was young because I could have used that kind of guidance.
Lara Fielding: Thank you.
Gabe Howard: Vin, computers didn’t exist when you were young. They didn’t exist when I was young.
Vincent M. Wales: I know where you live. I will never visit. But I could mail something very bad to you.
Gabe Howard: That is, that is very fair. But you are right. There was not a lot of talk about transitioning into adulthood when we were younger. It was just sort of something that we were supposed to gather on our own.
Vincent M. Wales: Yes. Schools didn’t teach what we would call life skills.
Lara Fielding: Right?
Gabe Howard: I mean they had Home Ec…
Vincent M. Wales: Yeah but that was so limited to…
Lara Fielding: Sewing.
Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: And depending on the school it could have been designed just for women. I mean it taught cooking and sewing. It didn’t teach me how to balance a checkbook. So Lara, our first question for you is what gave you the idea for this aside from the fact that it’s a very very good one?
Lara Fielding: Thank you. I’m glad you agree. It came twofold, from my own personal experience as well as from current life conditions that young people are growing up in. I actually started my adult teen adventures at 15 and when I took off on my own on the road I saw a lot of the people around me that I loved and cared for, in particular my sister, making choices or reacting to the stressors of the environment in ways that were not helpful. So judge them however you might be if they didn’t lead to good outcomes in their mental health and their overall life coping and success as an adult. And then I saw what was happening in our current road conditions as I call them in the road of adulting where, you know as you know, young people are coming of age in a time where everything they do is being observed. We know from a from a long history of psychological experiments that when we do something in the presence of others that we’re just learning how to do, we’re more likely to kind of mess it up. Whereas when we’re very good at something we do it in the presence of others then we’ll excel at it and get better at it. So they have heightened social comparison from the internet and digital access. They have higher hurdles to overcome than we did in our time. And just what was showing up in my office was not as I thought would show up. I thought I would see all these stories of trauma and difficulties growing up. What I saw with kids that supposedly should be doing OK really struggling and having a hard time. That’s when I started to delve in a little bit to what’s going on. And yes when I started the blog I said it was aimed at millennials but I think millennials are a little bit aging out now. It’s really just to anyone who is in that transition, either it’s going off to college or finishing up college and starting a new job or entering a marriage and family. It is all of those adulting, major adulting transitions that can create stress and challenge in our lives. And that’s why I wrote the book. I wrote the book because I couldn’t help the people I loved and I couldn’t help my sister and because I thought that these same challenges were sort of showing up for young people today.
Vincent M. Wales: We should probably clarify, since you mentioned all these young people that you’re associating with, Dr. Fielding is a an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Graduate School of Education & Psychology, hence all of the young people in her life.
Lara Fielding: And in my also in my private practice. My private practice was located right next to UCLA. I was also supervising at the time at UCLA. So yes, I had a lot of referrals for college age or graduate school age. I was teaching the graduate school and I was seeing more college age in my private practice. Exactly.
Vincent M. Wales: Now you mentioned being surprised by some of the things that these young people were struggling with. Can you share like one or two of the biggies that you see all the time now?
Lara Fielding: Definitely. When I would start to explore with my clients well what what was going on and something familiar there with your family with your friends? What I would hear over and over again was that my parents like my best friends. I check in with them every single day. I can text them, I take them multiple times per day or are they’re on the phone with me and they walk me through everything. So that was one thing that I was curious about at first and what that signaled, what that parent interaction element signaled, was lowered distress tolerance. So we know a lot from the research that reassurance thinking is actually a symptom of a lot of diagnoses like obsessive compulsive disorder. But a lot of other ones, depression and anxiety, as well. And when parents are always there and again by proxy the cell phone and digital media is always there as a source of reassurance seeking, there becomes less opportunity for learned distress tolerance to see that you can sit with the discomfort and the wave will come and go. So that was one of the primary themes that started to show up. You know I also specialize in dialectical behavioral therapy which was developed for borderline personality disorder. Even with really difficult problems with emotion dysregulation, you can see that the environment that they grew up in or their programming as I call it isn’t necessarily from bad things happening. It’s just from the parents constantly trying to help them fix their difficult emotions or growing up. Even the schools actually were quite guilty of this when we had our self-esteem program that everyone got a trophy and no one was allowed to feel bad. And this isn’t just me, there’s a lot of data to back this up. So that’s sort of the theme that I’ve seen showing up. That doesn’t mean that a lot of people don’t experience a lot of difficulties with emotion regulation and transitioning into adulthood for more traditional reasons of difficulty in their upbringing. Does that answer the question?
Vincent M. Wales: Yeah it does. And it’s interesting because when you were talking about that, it just reminded me of another situation that we have in our society these days, which is parents who refused to expose their children to germs without realizing that they need to because that’s what develops your immune system.
Lara Fielding: Yes it’s exactly the same thing.
Gabe Howard: Lara thank you. I want to jump in on something that you said about you know nobody’s allowed to feel bad and everybody gets a trophy and everybody gets to feel like a winner. And on one hand it’s like how could that go wrong? How could everybody feeling like a winner go wrong? And the answer is because while everybody was learning how to win, nobody learned how to lose.
Lara Fielding: Exactly.
Gabe Howard: And there is important and valuable lessons in losing. I’ll be the first to admit I hate to be wrong. I hate to lose. And I don’t like it when I don’t get my way. But thankfully I don’t always get my way. I can admit when I’m wrong and I know how to manage loss. And one of the most important skills for me, and I want you to talk on this because I know that you have great information about this, a loss isn’t just a loss – it’s also a learning experience, it’s an opportunity to gather data and get closer to “winning.” Can you speak on that for a moment?
Lara Fielding: Ok. There’s actually two things that come to mind regarding experiencing a loss. A loss is a message that needs tending to. Right. So if we pretend that it wasn’t a loss, then we lose the message there. I actually remember an interview after a political campaign where someone asked the Republican candidate what he learned from his loss. And I remember him saying, well nothing. From that day on, I was like really? Really? So yes we have to learn: a) you have a cognitive or a thinking change that happens we have a lot to learn. Oh that doesn’t work. Don’t try that again. But you also have the emotional part right? What most people don’t realize and the effort of my book is to teach that our emotions have a purpose and that purpose is important information about what – I mean, to be obvious -what you care deeply about. And what you care deeply about is the direction you want to build your life around. So if you get sort of very good or you’re raised in a way that avoids, suppresses, denies or otherwise minimizes your emotional experience related to those losses, then you’re really going to lose connection to that self, part of you that really does know why you’re on the planet and knows why you care about things beyond just the reasons other people tell us. So I would hope that directly answers your question. But those losses are not only important learned or cognitive lessons but their emotional practice and connection to what we care deeply about.
Gabe Howard: And of course if we don’t acknowledge that we lost, we can’t move forward. We go back to your politician analogy, it’s like what did you learn from your loss? And I would venture to guess that there is probably some larger story that that person would tell their friends and families about. Well I didn’t really lose, the third party candidates stole all my votes, voter turnout was very low. And I understand the desire to do this. I have to push those desires down as well. But when you don’t admit that you lost fair and square, you don’t know how to fix it.
Lara Fielding: Exactly.
Gabe Howard: I think that there are many young people coming of age right now who, anytime they mess up, somebody else fixes it for them. And of course the danger in that is all of the people who are fixing it for them? See, they learned how to fix it. And now they’re not passing that onto the next generation. Now I don’t want to turn this into like a bashing session on how all parents are hobbling their children, because that’s not fair either. So let’s change the focus to when you see your child -because most of our listeners are going to really relate to the parent aspect of this – when you see your child failing and they’re sad and they’re upset and every fiber of your being is saying run in there and fix it, what’s the benefit in sitting back and saying you know what I’m going to sit this one out?
Lara Fielding: I might not even say that might be an all or nothing right. Say I’m going to go in there and fix it versus I’m out. And I love that you ask that question because it’s so important because really the message of being effective with our emotional experience, being nuanced, being flexible is one of interest that so between us so a parent and a child or a couple and interact. And how do we relate to our emotions. So it’s all about how do we relate to our emotions and take those lessons as signals and guideposts, just like we made the biological example earlier, just like we might listen to symptoms of a cold or symptoms from our body. So the answer there is the most effective thing for a parent to do is to very simply validate the child’s experience. Now the how of validating is what is so wonderful about the mindfulness based evidence for treatments like CBT and ACT and my implicit cognitive behavioral therapy is the role of the parent or the partner or yourself to yourself is to first start by labeling that emotion. There is all kinds of wonderful research that shows the wonderful impact of simply finding the just right word for your emotional experience which activates the orbital prefrontal cortex the down right appeal like the amygdala. I know that a lot of psychobabble, but it pushes home the biological point that just finds the word of emotional experience and then tell them that it’s OK to have it. When we’re when we’re around 18 months to two years old, we’re learning to regulate our emotions when a parent looks at little Johnny who just spoke as ice cream and has this loss as – she looks him in the eye and says, Johnny… did you lose your ice cream? Are you sad? Yeah. And she makes like a cartoon-like response mirroring his experience and what Johnny learns is this is what sadness feels like. Mommy still loves me. I’m OK when I feel sadness. I’m still lovable and it will pass and it’s a normal part of my human experience. And that process, that mirroring process, literally helps children. Wire that neurological relationship I just described as the orbital prefrontal cortex to the amygdala. So we want to continue that and in those moment to moment interactions. If you have a partner who is prone to strong emotions, you know reassuring them or problem solving for them isn’t helping them, but helping them to learn to validate and know that they’re OK even in the face of those emotions – that’s a gift.
Gabe Howard: Give us one moment for our sponsor and then we will be right back.
Narrator 2: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com, secure, convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Vincent M. Wales: Welcome back everyone. We’re discussing mindfulness and self-care skills with Dr. Lara Fielding. Now I’m sure that in all of the teaching that you’ve done and all that, you’ve probably got a handful of items in your toolbox that anybody – our listeners, me and Gabe – can use to you know help us.
Lara Fielding: I hope!
Vincent M. Wales: What do you got for us?
Lara Fielding: So the theme of my teaching, broadly, and my book and my efforts to lower barriers to getting these effective tools is all built out around three simple steps. Let me say that there’s two parts, there’s first the self-awareness piece, the part of recognizing how your unique history and programming is showing up in your life, in your life patterns, based on the universal you, which is how we’re all wired. We’re all wired in a similar way. And in my writings and in my work I talk about the mind body vehicle – that machine that you feel yourself living in – that body where you feel your bottom in the chair right now… maybe you have headphones on, you could feel physical sensations. Right now you’re hearing the sound of my voice from inside your vehicle. And like all vehicles, there’s a lot of variability, but all vehicles have a steering wheel, tires, and an engine. Similarly, human beings all have action tendency emotions and thoughts, so emotions thoughts actions – I call that the ETA of your emotional higher hardwiring or the ETA of your a mind body vehicle. And here’s what people can take away from that. There’s a special way that you need to work with each piece of your experience. Well there’s only one of those that is directly in our control to change. Can you guess which one it is of our emotions thoughts and actions which one in our control?
Gabe Howard: I’m gonna go with actions, we can control our actions.
Lara Fielding: Exactly.
Vincent M. Wales: Reactions.
Lara Fielding: Exactly exactly exactly. And that’s the critical piece because so often you hear, Calm down, don’t feel that way, don’t worry. And then I can list you all the research that shows what happens when you actually try not to think. We could try it together. Ready? Let’s all not think about a banana. And what happened?
Gabe Howard: Banana.
Lara Fielding: You got bananas.
Vincent M. Wales: Banana banana.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, now I want banana bread, banana splits…
Lara Fielding: Yeah right. Because of this paired associations our minds make, the more you try not to think about it, the more you’ll be stuck with it. So what I teach people how to do is how to work with the paradox of our emotion regulation system rather than trying to control our emotions and thoughts, which causes discomfort. We control the behavior to enter into the system and turn the spinning system the other way when we’re having one of our spirals of frustration or sadness or anxiety or loss or whatever. So it it’s almost like I describe it like you’re standing on a surfboard on a bowling ball. You have to sometime there are places we have to lean in with acceptance and willingness and I’m going to feel this. And there it is. And then you have to change your behavior to pull up and so you kind of have to do the seesaw thing. And here’s the basic prescription and I give you the answer to the whole enchilada right here. I call it the Mindfulness Macarena. This is this tip of the iceberg with a lot of that could be dug down deep into, but it goes like this. And if you have your hands free right now, you can do it on your own. You’re putting both hands on your chest sort of in a compassion self compassion pose. You validate the emotion, then fingers up onto your temples, check your thoughts for accuracy and keep them in check. Is your thought 100 percent true? And redirecting your attention and focus to the present moment and last, using double barrel finger gun, change your behavior. So it’s validate, check, change. Validate, check, change. That’s the prescription when you feel like you’re losing your mental footing and when you feel like stress is getting to… that’s how you check in with yourself in an effective way.
Gabe Howard: So obviously we’re listening to this podcast and we’re considering it. And you know you’re not around when this is happening, but you have taught this to a number of people who are in the room with you and I imagine that after you teach us, they have a question. What is the number one question that you’re asked. Because I have to imagine that our listeners they’re doing this and they’re thinking X, and I’m not sure what that is, but I bet you know.
Lara Fielding: I do. Usually when I’m working with people we’re working for a significant amount of time. The very first few weeks is doing that assessment of what is my unique programming that’s showing up in my mind body vehicle? And the way I do that is with a form I call the dashboard form, or on the back end of my website it’s an online form, that helps them start to recognize the pattern. It’s amazing how fast this goes to show up. This dashboard form is basically in this moment right now, if you were doing a dashboard form, you’d say the facts are we’re on this call. You guys are sitting somewhere. I’m sitting somewhere. That we all agree upon. The rest, the other four components, are unique to each of us. What are my thoughts? What are my emotions? What are my bodily sensations? And what is my impulse right now? So I have them complete those for a while and that is actually a very simple way of doing what we call a functional analysis. We basically are identifying their pattern. Then from that I work with clients to help them find what don’t you want to feel? What is it when you reach for the extra cookies, when you scream at your husband or girlfriend, when you don’t do the project you need to work on? When you’re doing that thing you do – which is the title of the blog that I’m working on right now on Psych Central, called That Thing You Do – which tells a lot of stories of fictional cases where there’s a thing they do and then we unpack it. So that’s what I help people do, I help them unpack that thing. And so the question I get asked all the time is how do I validate my emotions? How can I check my thoughts? How can I control my behavior? And that’s what I help people do by getting into the weeds of where is that thing you don’t want to feel, because that’s when you see a behavior that you want changed, that there’s something that that behavior serves to avoid or control. Does that make sense? Is that clear enough?
Vincent M. Wales: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: It does yeah. Yeah. I mean it’s complicated but it’s not. And I think that’s the best kind of thing to learn. It really is just teaching you to stop and think and then giving you direction on what to think about rather than just being reactionary.
Lara Fielding: 100 percent. Non reactivity is the basic prescription. It’s non reactivity. So if you’re very dysregulated right, there are little tricks that we’ve learned from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy like go to the icebox, grab some ice or frozen peas, put them up on your forehead, hold your breath for 30 seconds because that will initiate the dive reflex. That means that your mind does not have time to ruminate and do all the things that are contributing to your dysregulation. So we have some extremes that hack into the biology that way, but really what the nuance and superpower skill here that we’re after is professionals call it psychological flexibility. What I teach people how to do is add a skill called Bring It On. Once you’ve labeled and identified and validated that emotion, I have a couple of recorded exercises with videos in the book where it actually walks you through like, OK what is it that’s really bothering me right now. And just literally willing yourself to invite in the tension, the worry, and not ruminate on it. It’s a very different mechanism. And so when you practice this new way, it’s a bit opposite to what your programmed to do. That’s why it’s so hard. You’re programmed to react, to get righteously indignant, to start thinking and separating. That’s how humans are programmed. Unfortunately our biological programming from an evolutionary standpoint doesn’t really work today because we’re perceiving all kinds of things as dire threats and we need to override that autopilot. So teaching people how to dive into this open willingness toward feeling the feelings that they don’t want to feel. So, recipe: identify what it is you don’t want to feel that is leading to you doing the thing you do and then practice opening with your arms open and your chest and shoulders open and literally saying Bring It On. I got this. And over and over again I get reports from clients, when I asked him at the end, OK. How do you feel now? They look at me, shocked, like, huh, I feel better. So it’s a paradox of the willingness to feel uncomfortable will make you more comfortable. Or like Steven Hayes in acceptance and commitment therapy say, it’s balancing feeling better with getting better at feeling.
Vincent M. Wales: It reminds me a lot of pushing your own boundaries. You’re in your comfort zone, expanding your comfort zone in order to just have a bigger one, so that you’re not all anxious all the time like some of us are.
Lara Fielding: Yeah yeah.
Vincent M. Wales: In your work with the millennials that you’re doing, are they going to grow out of this issue, are they are they going to be crippled by the social media dependence that they have or what’s going to happen?
Lara Fielding: You know it’s interesting. I was talking to someone the other day and they’re like, it’s going to be all right, right? And my reaction my response was, yes because you’re going to make it all right. It’s really… my deepest desire is to empower people. The biggest hurdle to this empowerment is the willingness of people to take ownership and responsibility. And I think the most challenging, controversial, and the biggest hurdle we have is, can we take ownership without and let go of blame. Right it’s not your parent. We don’t need to blame your parents. It’s the problem being stuck in needing someone to blame. Right. So are they going to be OK. I think that once we take on a) an idea that we’re all in the human soup together and things may be unskillful or ineffective. But they’re just human. We could drop all that judgment to ourselves and others and then choosing like OK I totally want to lose my stuff on someone right now and I’m going to choose to be effective over being right. No I don’t think that millennials or Gen Z’s are ruined at all. I think they have extra challenges in the environment today because there’s so many delicious ways to distract yourself by ordering food or drugs or distracting away on social media. If so many tools that tie in to our evolutionarily hardwired predisposition that it takes more mental hygiene. Just as, you know, 60 or 70 years ago, we started exercising because we were at our desks more. It requires more mental hygiene and more practices and more mindfulness than it ever has before.
Gabe Howard: I really appreciate that answer. Thank you so much. So my final question is where could listeners find you on social media. I know we just we just we just talked about maybe they should spend less time on social media…
Vincent M. Wales: You’re empowering them now.
Gabe Howard: Right now I’m empowering them… Seriously, where can listeners find you on social media online and where can they find more information about the skills that you teach.
Lara Fielding: Thanks for asking. It is it is a paradox isn’t it. And I thought about that when I was writing my book, Mastering Adulthood: go beyond adulting to become an emotional grownup. And it’s about quality right and versus quantity online. They can find me certainly at my Web site which is mindful-mastery.com. And on the Web site I’m going to be loading all the videos from the book that show and walk you through the steps you need to more skillfully regulate emotions, not to mention identify what you do care deeply about. We have some exercises to do that. And then they can write me comments and questions so I can engage with them there. And of course on Psych Central they can reach me and they can find me at mindful_mastery on Instagram.
Gabe Howard: We really appreciate that. And of course to anybody listening who has a millennial or a young person in their life, a high schooler, a college student, I recognize that we are not popular with the 16 to 22 year old crowd.
Vincent M. Wales: Speak for yourself!
Lara Fielding: We’re working on it, being as hip as we can!
Vincent M. Wales: Right.
Gabe Howard: We’re doing everything that we can but drop them a link to this episode. I think there is a lot of great information and of course the blog is really wonderful. We like all our Psych Central bloggers. We’re a great big family and we’re all experts in the fields that we choose to write in. So clearly this is a good product or you wouldn’t be here right.
Lara Fielding: Exactly.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for being on the show.
Lara Fielding: It’s been my absolute pleasure. And I really can’t say enough that getting these messages out to people of all ages to understand the inner workings of our mental health and really that it’s just about being human. I really love the work that you guys do. Thank you so much for having me on. Really appreciate it.
Vincent M. Wales: Well thank you.
Gabe Howard: And we really appreciate you. And thank you everyone that is tuned into this episode. And remember that you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private, online counseling anytime, anywhere by visiting betterhelp.com/psychcentral. We will see everybody next week.
Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/show. PsychCentral.com is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at GabeHoward.com. Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at VincentMWales.com. If you have feedback about the show, please email [email protected].
About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at www.vincentmwales.com and www.dynamistress.com.