Grief is an unavoidable part of the human experience. However, my guest this week helps her clients love life again after tragedy, and while this is a weight-loss podcast, we can all learn so much from her journey and how she built a life that is aligned with her purpose after going through an incredibly tragic experience.
Krista St-Germain is an expert in so many things, but she primarily works with widows who are going through the grief of losing their partner, and she specializes in post-traumatic growth. Krista lost her own husband Hugo in a tragic accident, and in the midst of her journey through grief, she found life coaching.
Tune in this week to hear from Krista St-Germain about the potential that grief offers us. Krista is sharing what grief really is, the post-traumatic growth that is available, and why this is an opportunity to pause and create intentionality without negating the emotional experience of going through tragedy. Krista is sharing her calming techniques, and your brain’s role in being present with your intense emotions and aligning yourself with what you want to create.
This is Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown, episode 146.
Welcome to Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you’re a successful woman who is ready to stop struggling with your weight, you’re in the right place. You’ll learn everything you need to know to lose weight for the last time in bitesize pieces. Here’s your host, Master Certified Coach Natalie Brown.
Hey, everybody. I am so excited to introduce you to my friend, Krista St-Germain. She is a Master Certified grief coach, she’s amazing, she’s one of my good friends. And I really wanted to invite her onto the podcast to share with you some of her vast knowledge about grief and big feelings as we kind of head into this holiday season. So I hope you enjoy it, cant wait for you to meet her, here we go.
Hey, everybody. I’m so excited for you to share in this conversation today with my good friend, Krista St-Germain. She is an expert in so many things. I’m going to let her kind of tell you about herself but I’m excited for our conversation. Krista, tell them a little bit about you, what you do, a little bit of your story, just give them a little snapshot into you.
Krista: Absolutely. So I’m Krista St-Germain. And I am a master certified coach, and I love grief and I love posttraumatic growth. And so I kind of came to this work literally by accident. But when I was 40, which was a little over six years ago now my husband and I were on the way home from a trip and I had a flat tire on my car, and he was following me in his car. And stubborn man that he was, he did not want to wait for AAA to change the tire, he wanted to do it himself. And I did not insist that he didn’t.
We were on the shoulder of a very busy interstate and unfortunately as he was trying to get access to where the spare tire was stored in the trunk of my car a driver that we later found out had meth and alcohol in his system just didn’t see us at all. Did not see our hazard lights and hit the back of Hugo’s Durango and trapped him in between his car and mine. And within less than 24 hours, it was Sunday at a little after five, by Monday he was gone. And so I went from this place where I felt like I was in a high in my life because he was my second marriage, kind of my redemption story.
The first marriage had gone down in flames and so I just went from this really big high to this all-time low. And even after I got myself back on my feet again with the help of a great therapist, back to functioning. I reached this place which I now call a grief plateau. I didn’t really have a word for it then but it’s like you’re doing okay. You’re going through the motions, your children have food and they’re getting back to school and you’re at work. And everybody’s telling you how strong you are and you look fine on the outside.
But on the inside you don’t feel good, you feel empty, and hollow, and robotic. And in that place my kind of internal chatter was like, your best days are behind you. You should just be grateful for what you had because it’s never going to be that good again and you’ll be okay. But you’re not really ever going to be happy, get used to it. And I didn’t want to believe that. And fast forward, thank goodness, I discovered life coaching.
But life coaching is what helped me figure out, okay, actually how do I decide what I want in my future and how do I create that for myself and how do I stop believing that little voice that was really going to take me in the exact opposite direction of where I wanted to go? And so when I figured it out for myself I decided I wanted to become a life coach. And now that’s what I do full-time and have for several years. And I specifically work with widowed moms and I help them love life again even though their spouse died.
Natalie: Yes. So I think it’s so fascinating and I think, and if people don’t know who you are, and they hear me introduce you, and they hear you introduce yourself. And the first thing you say is, “I love grief.” And then they hear your story, they are probably like, “This doesn’t compute.” How can these two things be true at the same time? And this is something I want to talk to you about anyway because I think the idea of grief and I say that because to me, from my perspective, and like I said, I’ll defer to your expertise of course.
But it seems to me like grief is, we say it’s an emotion, but it seems to me more like an umbrella term for a whole bunch of emotions that we experience. And so I think that’s maybe part of the reason why it feels so elusive to so many people and scary or whatever their opinion of it is because it seems like a lot of us know the stages. We’ve heard the stages.
Krista: Well, we can have a conversation about that, yeah, I have opinions, I have thoughts.
Natalie: Yeah, but grief in general I think is something that just feels really nebulous. So how do you love grief? Let’s talk a little bit more about that and what grief is in your opinion.
Krista: Yeah. So here’s what I don’t love. I don’t love that my husband died. And I think sometimes we think that in order to love grief or to love a part of our life experience or what we got out of that life experience that we have to actually love what happened to us. And that’s not true at all. And it took me a long time to come to that conclusion by the way. I thought that I couldn’t really be happy unless I somehow was happy that he had died. That everything’s meant to be or everything happens for a reason, or whatever, that somehow it was a blessing or I don’t know.
Natalie: Yeah, because look what you got out of it.
Krista: Right, yeah. And that’s a really awful place to be in but I was definitely there for a while. So that’s not it but it is, I see grief as the natural response to a perceived loss. It’s a very natural human thing that happens to us. It happens to all of us, it’s not just some of us. None of us have a life that doesn’t include grief. And I see it as an opportunity. Now, I’m not saying it feels, all aspects of it feel good. It can actually feel terrible when you’re in it.
But also I see it as an opportunity to get to know ourselves, to become even more aligned with what we value and the life that we want to lead. And that’s why I think the concept of posttraumatic growth is so powerful. But it doesn’t matter what’s happened to us and it can be a death loss, it can be a non-death loss, it can be anything that we perceived as traumatic. No matter what happens to us that never diminishes our ability to decide who we want to be in the face of it, to decide what we want in our lives going forward.
And a lot of us, at least this is where I was even though I was very happy when he died, in so many ways I was kind of living a midlife on autopilot. I wasn’t really questioning, am I spending my time on this planet the way that I want to spend it? Am I being the person that I want to be? Am I creating what I want to create? And not that I would wish for my husband to die so that I can reassess that because I don’t. But also that’s the potential I think that it offers, is for us to go, “Wait a minute. Am I being who I want to be? Am I living the life I want to live? Is this what’s here for me? What do I want to create?”
How can I create even more of what I want knowing what I’ve already learned in my time on the planet? I think that’s such an opportunity.
Natalie: Absolutely. And I just want to emphasize what you said which is, I think people hear you say it’s an opportunity. And that doesn’t negate the emotional experience that you’re having. It doesn’t mean we have to turn something from darkness into sunshine. It’s a matter of taking it for what it is and making some decisions. And I think it is an opportunity like you describe to kind of pause. It gives you this chance to sort of take inventory and look around. There’s a before and an after that event, whereas your day-to-day, you’re not really often thinking about it like that.
So yeah, the opportunity to say, okay, so here’s a question because I was about to say something but I want to just talk about, you described kind of in one sentence but give us an idea. So you have this loss of your husband and then you said you spent time in therapy. And then you got to this place of a grief plateau. I know there’s not a prescriptive amount of time. But we’re not trying to go from he died to posttraumatic growth. So in the interim let’s talk a little bit about that.
So the process from being able to turn and look at it as an opportunity, what does that look like? I’m sure that didn’t happen overnight.
Krista: No, definitely not. And I can share and I’m happy to, my story. But it’s also important that I think everyone understands it isn’t the same for everyone. It is completely unique and different. And so anything that I say should not be interpreted as prescriptive.
Natalie: The way it goes, yeah.
Krista: Yeah. So for me what I needed in the very beginning was just a place to process what had actually happened, and to talk about it. And to let my brain do what my brain needed to do so that it actually felt real, that it didn’t feel like a dream. So early acute grief for many people can be extremely disorienting. Your brain can feel very foggy, your ability to process and make decisions, the executive functioning part of your brain can get very overloaded for a number of reasons. But it can kind of feel like cotton candy is in your brain.
And there’s just kind of this numbness sometimes that feels like it is all-encompassing where you just, you can’t even – you know intellectually what has happened but you can’t even allow yourself to feel the depth of it, the weight of it, the heaviness of it. I didn’t want to talk about it with a lot of people that were close to me because in my mind that would be burdening them and they needed to be able to process it on their, you know, they needed to grieve too.
And I just needed a place where I could go, that I could talk in an unfiltered way and my therapist gave me that, just the ability to talk about. Also what I have learned since then, that I didn’t know was what your brain actually needs to go through when you’re grieving. Your brain, so much of what feels weird about grief is this dissonant state where you intellectually know something but yet your body and heart are responding as though it’s not happened.
You hear the garage door open and you know it’s not them, intellectually you know but yet a part of you responds as though maybe it is. You expect it could literally be them. Or you pick up your phone because something just happened and you start to text them and you catch yourself. And you’re like, “Am I crazy? I think maybe I’m crazy.” And you’re not crazy at all but your brain is like a little prediction machine.
It has and there’s a brilliant book about this called The Grieving Brain by Mary Francis O’Connor if anybody wants to learn how your brain works in grief. There’s more than that one but hers is my favorite. But basically your brain has ideas of where people are that you care about, especially your spouse. Literally where they physically are, how long it will be until you see them again. And your brain has to actually relearn that. And time is involved.
It’s not to say that all we have to do is just wait for time to pass. But we do need our brain to do its thing and make enough predictions that when you roll over in the middle of the night, you’re no longer surprised that your person isn’t there. And that takes time because your brain is used to them being there and when it’s not there you feel that.
And so that’s what early acute grief for me was like, it was a lot of that. Of thinking I was crazy, not being able to read and retain anything, functioning and going through the motions, needing to talk about it a lot, a lot of crying, a lot of journaling and then I went back to work. I did that within about six weeks. Some people go back immediately. Some people take much longer. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong there. But for me going back felt good, it felt like I wanted to go back. Also Hugo and I worked together at the same company.
And so all the people that we worked with they were grieving too. And it was a really supportive environment for me to be in because I was surrounded by people who, some of them knew him longer than I had. He had worked there for 20 years. I had only been there for 10. So that actually felt good to me. Also somewhat painful in that there were lots of opportunities. Work wasn’t a respite, it wasn’t a place I could go and forget about the loss because memories were everywhere and people were everywhere and stories were everywhere.
So it was a little bit mixed. But that was what the early part of it was like for me. And again, not prescriptive, no stages, we want to disregard everything we’ve ever been taught about stages, please. There are many theories about grief, most of them outdated but especially the five stages, that was never intended to be interpreted the way that it was interpreted, but I digress. Then eventually I think I just got to that place where it was like, okay, I’m pretty convinced I’m going to be okay. I’ve gone to sleep and gotten up all of these days and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be okay.
And I’m able to handle for the most part, I’m still crying, and I’m still sad and I still have feelings but I’m functioning. I’m back to functioning. It’s no longer, my greatest accomplishment is no longer a shower. Which in the beginning it was, my greatest accomplishment was can I drink this smoothie for some days. And so I got past that and then that’s when it was just kind of what I now call a grief plateau where it’s like, oh, oh, this is it?
Natalie: Yes, this is where we are, this is where we’re staying.
Krista: This is what we’re doing, I don’t know, is this all that’s possible? And your therapist is saying, “You’re doing great. You’re doing great.” And you’re like, “Oh, crap.”
Natalie: And you’re like, “Yeah, I am, all the boxes are checked.” But great may not be.
Krista: But on the inside I don’t feel so great so what are we going to do about that? So that’s when for me coaching was a great time. And that’s where I try to meet my clients as a coach, is in that space.
Natalie: So just like you said, disclaimer wise, it’s not going to look exactly like that but it seems like there’s some principles we can take away, that your brain needs to go through a process. And that is going to entail sort of, re-remembering. Because it sounds like you have all these memories of the garage door opening, husband walking in. You have memories of waking up in the middle of the night, hearing breathing, whatever. So it’s almost like habit of thought and your brain has to learn a new habit of thought.
Krista: Yeah, exactly. It’s a great visualization is if you could walk through your bedroom in the dark, and you know that you’ve got to turn left to get around that dresser. And all of a sudden that dresser is not on the left, now it’s on the right, or it’s completely gone. And you’re like, “Wait, what.” I’ve walked here how many times, the dresser, it’s supposed to be right there but it’s not there. But your brain keeps expecting it to be there and it’s not there. And your brain has to relearn through exposure over, and over, and over that it’s not there. It got moved.
Natalie: So then you develop a new set of expectations for what is real now. And I’m sure like you said, that it takes – it’s a unique and individual human experience for everybody. But it’s nice to know for people I think that they’re not alone in it and that it is a process. And not just that time will heal all but it does take time.
Krista: Exactly, it does take time and it’s also we want to be thinking about what are going to do with our time. Because if we think it only takes time then what I see a lot of is a lot of well, I’ll just white knuckle my way through everything and I’ll just wait for time to pass and then surely I’ll feel better. And that’s usually the people who then, the first year, just grip the whole way. And then they expect something magical to happen at the end of year one, okay, I’ve been through all the firsts. And then it’s not better and then they don’t know why.
It’s because they didn’t learn how to feel their feelings, they didn’t learn how to comfort themselves. They didn’t learn how to cope. They just held tight.
Natalie: And I think that’s, I mean on principle akin to the idea of, I mean us tying something happening to us feeling different versus us actively participating in the process of feeling different. And I think for a lot of my clients especially the idea that we just get through it somehow, but really they’re wanting to get over it, or under it, or around it, not really actually through it.
Krista: Well, we think what we’re doing is getting through it. For me a lot of what I thought was getting through it was I’ll just eat everything, eventually. In the beginning I couldn’t eat at all. And then later it was just like, okay, I can turn to food. I can distract myself with work. I thought it was coping but actually it was distracting.
Natalie: Yes. And we talk a lot about that idea that it’s distracting us ultimately from the experience of a difficult or uncomfortable emotion which is just it’s unknown, especially when we’re talking about the process of grieving, of grief itself. Because whatever loss we’re talking about, I think for individual losses it’s going to be an individual experience. It’s not like you are a person who grieves this way. This happens. This is what your grief process looks like. If this happens and you’re this age, this is what. It’s going to be individual even in context of the situation too.
So to be able to understand and grasp that and know that it’s possible for you to participate and that it’s actually kind of necessary for you to participate in some way and not just wait and hope. And a number will come up that says it’s been this many days and therefore you should do this.
Krista: Ka-ching you’re done, end of grief, yeah. No. And I think also we don’t do ourselves a service, just we live in a culture that doesn’t really talk. Thankfully we’re talking more about grief but typically most of us weren’t brought up with much information about grief. And so we do kind of tend to think that it ends. And so which it doesn’t, by the way. It’s not golf, it’s not like 18 holes and you’re done. It doesn’t end. We can’t ever undo the loss. So we’re always going to have thoughts and feelings about it. But what does happen over time is that we choose those thoughts and feelings.
We have different thoughts and feelings. We integrate the experience that can never be undone into our lives. And so we adapt to it or adjust to it but it doesn’t actually end. And if we go into it thinking that there’s an end then it makes sense that we would just try to hold on until the end comes.
Natalie: Until there, yeah. I think that’s such a good point. I notice with my clients, a couple of different things. Whatever they’re grieving, whatever loss they’re grieving, it seems like there’s either sort of that way of looking at it where it’s like I’m going to just hold out because eventually this will be over. Or there’s the avoidance of it altogether, their desire to avoid it altogether because they don’t know if it will end, they don’t believe maybe in that. And so they’re just like, I don’t even want to start down that path because I don’t know where it ends.
So if we’re just thinking in either case, there’s not an end, this is an ongoing process, it’s going to evolve and change as you do. I think that allows us to approach it differently, I mean in some way. I lost a baby between my first and second and it’s been 19 years and she’s definitely top of mind in this moment because her birthday was last week. But I think in the beginning it felt like she was present and the sadness was present every day all day. And at this point I feel like sadness comes when it does. There’s so much, it’s just settled to a different place and it’s taken its own time.
But I feel like I also like you, felt like there was a point where I wanted to engage with the process. I didn’t just want to wait or try to fix it with whatever I was trying to fix it with, that I wanted to engage. And so maybe let’s talk a little bit about a couple of things. First let’s talk about the idea of engaging with our feelings because I think that that’s like we’re saying. If you’re white knuckling it until the end, you’re likely not allowing yourself to feel. And if you’re avoiding it altogether because you don’t know when it will end, the same thing.
I mean whatever it looks like, if there’s avoidance, or distraction or whatever, what we’re not doing is feeling and that’s actually the way through, there isn’t an around or an under, whatever.
Krista: It is through, you’re right.
Natalie: So let’s talk a little bit about that. I mean we don’t have to say, here’s how you process it, do these steps and you will be free. But let’s just talk a little bit about maybe like this. I know what I see my clients doing to avoid. So what does it require just from your perspective for us to be willing to not do that, to do something different, and what is the something different do you think?
Krista: Yeah, that’s such a good question. So I think it requires of us the belief that we can handle it, that whatever the emotion is or emotions, we actually have to believe that it isn’t actually going to swallow us. And I do see that a lot. And we kind of know we’re doing that when we want to avoid. The idea that we kind of like the idea intellectually but then when it comes time to actually allow our feelings to pass, we don’t really want anything to do with it. Or we might notice that we are trying to thought swap. We’re trying to find silver linings and think our way out of feelings.
I was a guest coach in someone else’s program not too long ago and she has a son with a terminal diagnosis and he’s had it for a while. But she was like, “Help me get to gratitude.” But the reason she wanted to get to gratitude which when we had the conversation about it came pretty apparent is not because she wanted to get to gratitude because gratitude felt good. She wanted to get to gratitude because she was afraid that sadness was going to swallow her up.
Natalie: Yes, that was maybe more safe, as a place to be safe.
Krista: It was like, I don’t want to be where I am because where I am is so scary to me and it’s going to consume me, it’s going to be a black hole and I’m going to fall in. So please help me find thoughts that make me believe that this is okay and that I’m grateful, and that it could be so much worse, and all those things. And so those are the kinds of things I think we tend to do. And we might not know it. It might not be as obvious as well, I overwork, or I overeat, or I over-shop, or some of the overs, they’re not as transparent.
It’s more like, but it would just be better if I felt something else. So could you just help me get to that happy shiny place. So yeah, so it really comes down to if we can believe that feelings aren’t problems, they are just experiences, they’re not problems to solve, they’re just experiences to allow, they actually cannot hurt us. And that the ultimate and highest for us comes when we allow them to pass through. And it doesn’t have to be, I will say this, it doesn’t have to be a black and white thing.
So I think a lot of us and I’m imagining your listeners too because you tell them their thoughts cause their feelings of course. Or that we want to feel feelings. And so then sometimes I think we can take this idea of feeling feelings and make it mean that we’re any other way we deal with feelings besides feeling them is now somehow bad or ill advised. And then we fall into black and white. And one of my favorite grief theories, it’s called the dual process theory of grief. And what it teaches is that we could just kind of generally categorize actions in one of two places.
We can call them grief related, doing the work of grief, feeling feelings, thinking about our loss, grief related. Or restorative activities, restoration related activities. And what dual process theory teaches is that the healing is to be found in the oscillation, the back and forth. So it’s kind of like how when you stop thinking really hard about a problem then the solution comes to you because you’re in the shower and you’re not thinking about it, or you’re painting, or you’re doing something unrelated, same thing.
Is that, yes, we do sometimes want to think about our loss and sometimes we want to feel our feelings. And also not all the time, we also want to do things that are unrelated to our grief. We want to intentionally provide ourselves respite, and distraction, and hobbies, and things that are not that. And so it’s not that not feeling your feelings is bad, or that feeling your feelings is good, it’s that we actually kind of want to do a little bit of both. It doesn’t have to be all one or the other. And so then that can provide, I think a little bit less pressure as we think about it.
Just because I’m going to do it doesn’t mean I’m always going to have, you know, that’s the only thing I’m ever going to do. I have a process for how I teach people to feel feelings but I suspect you’re going to ask a brilliant question.
Natalie: Yes, we’re going to put a pin in that because we want that too. But I was thinking it just reminded me, as you’re talking about this idea of kind of balancing both or moving between both. It’s kind of the same thing with the idea of the woman who wanted to get to gratitude in order to not feel the sadness. We’re not trying to get some place and then it will be absent of these other feelings. To me it seems like the experience of emotion during this process is kind of like you described too.
There will be both, they will exist together. We’re both going to feel gratitude at times and joy, and love, and all of those good feelings or more high vibration feelings. And we’re also going to, even sometimes at the same time feel sadness, and desperation, and all of that as well.
Krista: Yeah, joy can be part of grief too.
Natalie: Yes. Let’s apply that also to everybody, we want to like you said, Krista, oscillate between those two types of activities but that’s also what the process of the feelings is going to be like. All those things are going to exist together and that’s how it’s supposed to be. We’re not meaning to go all the way that we don’t feel feelings anymore because we’ve felt them all. Or we’re going all the way to gratitude because the sadness has now gone. That’s not how it’s all going to be.
Krista: What I see happening and this might also be a useful thing for listeners to kind of visualize is if we take all of the emotions and we line them up from the least desirable ones at the bottom to the most desirable ones at the top, a full rich life includes all of it. It’s like a rollercoaster, we’ve got the highs, we’ve got the lows, we’ve got everything in between and that’s by design. And what often happens in grief which we don’t really mean to have happen but is because we don’t have the skills to allow feelings.
And so we are so used to just trying to find other ways to get away from them and distract. Then what ends up happening is that yes, we can numb ourselves or avoid some of those emotions at the bottom. But then in doing so we can also get really stagnant and then limit the emotions at the top too. So if I’m trying to avoid feeling something but yet, for me if I, you know, one of the most meaningful things I’ve done since Hugo died was changing my career. If I hadn’t been willing to feel rejection and been willing to feel all the scary stuff on the bottom of that scale.
Then I wouldn’t have been able to feel the joy that I now feel. And so yes, you diminish the negative but you also diminish the possibility of the positive. And so what’s left for us is this band in the middle where it’s not great but it’s not terrible. And that’s the plateau. I think about it like, I call it the stagnation zone which literally breaks my heart because that’s where often we get stuck and we tell ourselves that that’s our new normal. It’s not great and it’s not terrible, it’s just meh. And there’s no new possibilities, there’s no new life, there’s no risk.
There’s a decent amount of avoidance often but it’s just this kind of blob band in the middle. And if we get that and we know that that band in the middle is what we’re going to be left with unless we’re willing to let ourselves feel, I think that can be such a powerful motivator to be like, “No, actually I want to choose the full alive human experience.” And maybe that means I have to learn some skills that I don’t have, I don’t have to be mad that I don’t have those skills, maybe my parents didn’t have those skills. But I could learn them.
Krista: Yeah, even in the highest of functioning families we just don’t talk about feelings all that much or at least nobody ever says, “Hey, do you know, here’s how to feel a feeling and it’s not actually a problem.” But if you just let it flow through you it will.
Natalie: Yes. Well, and I think that band in the middle, people think I’m living a fine life, there’s a lot of fines and okays, and a lot of it’s better than the alternative for a lot of people because they’re only thinking about that, the amplified uncomfortable emotions. And I think it’s totally normal, I remember my best friend losing their beloved family dog. And her just being like, “I can’t go through that again. I’m never getting another dog.” But the reason why you’re hurting so much is because of how much love you had that for little furry thing and how much joy.
So yeah, we’re like, you can live that fine life and there’s, you know, I mean a lot of people are there. But the possibility to live a bigger different, richer in terms of emotions experience is available to you. And all it really requires is some understanding, some awareness and maybe some skills. So let’s talk about that a little bit. Tell us about just a snapshot of the process that you teach your clients. Let’s see if we can share some tips and tricks if you will.
Krista: Tips and tricks, I like that. I like the way that I teach this because it helped me honestly. And when I find something helps me it’s usually a good sign it can help other people. So I don’t think that feelings have to be that complicated. I think what typically happens when we are having an awful experience of a feeling is that we aren’t actually letting a feeling flow through. We’re usually so absorbed in the story that’s caused the feeling and then we’re telling ourselves other stories about what the presence of that feeling means.
And it also very much happens in our head, at least it does for me. And so feeling feelings is really just a process of coming back to our body. And so I use an acronym NOW, N-O-W, so I call it my NOW feeling process, easy to remember, N-O-W. And so all you have to do is the N in Now stands for name which is just to name the emotion. And I think there’s so much power in that. This is sadness, this is anger, this is shame, this is whatever it is. And I will say even if you can’t name it, at least notice it. Because we don’t want you to get lost in the feelings.
Natalie: What is this called, what’s the right thing?
Krista: Is this guilt or is this regret? I don’t really know. And then getting into a debate with yourself about it. That’s to miss the point. So name if you can but at least notice it. And then the O in NOW is for open which is to do the exact opposite of what probably everything in you wants to do at that moment especially if we would classify it as a negative emotion and I use that in air quotes because I don’t really think there’s such a thing.
Natalie: Yeah, same, I’m with you.
Krista: Yeah, okay. So we really are inclined to recoil, and close down, and kind of curl in and turn into a little ball or get ourselves away, extract ourselves as much as possible. And so the O in NOW is to do the opposite of that and to actually open up to it. And so I actually kind of visualize myself dropping my shoulders and pushing my chest a little bit forward and literally opening my body and breathing in. And then giving permission for that feeling to be there. You don’t have to say it out loud or anything but just even internally, okay, this is sadness and I’m willing to allow it to be here.
I’m open to its presence. So I kind of imagine too if it’s knocking at my door my inclination is to tell the kids to pretend we’re not home, I can’t come to the door, I’m on the phone. Definitely not open the door. And this is the opposite of that, to be like, “No, it’s okay, come on in, you can’t hurt me.” And that’s what that requires of us is the underlying belief that feelings aren’t problems and they can’t hurt us and they really are just transitory experiences that add value to our humanness, that really make our humanness what it is. So open up.
And then we witness, the W in NOW stands for witness or watch, either one. But essentially instead of going from thinking about your feelings and telling yourself stories about what they mean and kind of being in the awfulness of that experience we pull back. And we instead notice what’s happening in our body. What is it exactly that’s happening? Where is it that I’m experiencing it? So is it in my throat? Is it in my chest? Is it in my stomach? Is it in my cheeks? Where actually is it?
And then what is it like? If it’s true that it can’t hurt me and I can watch it pass through then can I just be an objective observer and see what it’s like as it does its thing. I like to think about it like we’re digesting it and what is that like? And then describing it. And the purpose of describing it isn’t because that it’s supposed to be a particular way or that because we all experience the same emotion in a similar way. It’s just to get you in the spot that helps you let it flow through.
It’s like you’re being, you know, there’s water coming down a hill. And instead of trying to dam it up, you’re just being a screen and you’re just kind of letting it flow through. And then it doesn’t take as long as you think. As long as you don’t go back to the story that caused it in the first place, it passes through. And then I’m also a big fan of tapping, huge fan.
Natalie: The thing that I love so much about this because I think the opposite of what we want to do is be present. We’re always, all of the distractions we use, all of the avoidance, whether it’s food for a lot of my clients or alcohol or whatever we do to escape. It gets us out of the moment of the feeling. And even the thinking about the feeling, the fear of the feeling, all of that just puts us further and further away from the present experience.
So being able to have, I love those three letters and I love that within those three letters you also added in we want to open up and that these feelings are okay. There’s so much goodness in there to utilize. But it allows us every step of that to be with ourselves, to be present. And that what I teach my clients is being able to be present allows us to open up some space between, my clients are trying to honor and align with what they want most, their health objectives and all those things.
And so to be able to open up some space between the impulse to go eat and escape and the action of actually doing it where we just sit with and allow that feeling. The more time you can get present there the better because that gives you, you know, the experience of witnessing that it does change and move gives you some evidence to the contrary of what you’re currently believing which is it’ll last forever and it’ll take me down with it.
But it also allows you to, we’re now kind of cataloguing experiences for next time like, look, it’s possible for us to have an intense emotion and for us to be with it and not push it away and not put it under a pile of food and then see it move. And the thing I often, because I think it’s so hard for us to relate to that concept. The idea of it sounds so simple but to believe that it won’t hurt you and that it won’t last forever, those just seem contrary to everything that we believe so solidly to be capital T True.
But one of the things I tell my clients is to remember the last experience they had with joy, or gratitude, or happiness, or peace, that didn’t last forever either. Think of the happiest moments of your life, my family and I love Disneyland and I think even a happy day at Disney I’m annoyed, I feel annoyed, I feel tired, I feel frustrated. I feel all sorts of emotions outside of happiness. And that’s all okay. But if that is true then it must also be true that desperation, and sadness, and those emotions, they also don’t last.
Krista: Yeah. And I think it’s also really valuable to be skeptical of our brain’s story about those negative emotions because if we weren’t ever taught the skill then when we look back and we think about the last time we felt that emotion that we are trying to avoid. Then what we remember experiencing is not actually clean pain. It’s not actually allowance. It’s like, usually, at least for me was a whole bunch of resistance, and avoidance and all kinds of junk on top of the actual emotion.
The actual emotion was not what I remember. I remember a bunch of resistance and ick.
Natalie: I like to always say, consider the source of this information. So if your brain is telling you that it’s terrible and it will never go away. How does your brain know that? Has your brain had the experience of allowing that emotion to be there, truly allowing it, being present with? And so the whole like never idea to me is predictive. Your brain can’t predict the future so it really doesn’t know. If it doesn’t have any experience with actually just being present with this emotion then it’s making crap up so consider the source too.
Do you actually have expertise and experience with this processing of an emotion, being present with an emotion, allowing an emotion? If not, then that’s not really trustworthy, a trustworthy source of information.
Krista: Yeah, 100% agree.
Natalie: And it’s possible for you to become an expert through experience and that, it’s a hard ask.
Krista: Yeah. I ask my clients to do it a 100 times, to do the NOW process a 100 times. And not even necessarily on emotions that they aren’t looking forward to, just on any emotions. Just to just start through experience proving to themselves that it’s really not what my brain wants to make it.
Natalie: Yeah, I love that. And that’s actually, for those of you who feel like a bunch of fear and resistance to the idea of allowing an uncomfortable emotion, okay, start with one that you like. Start with one you already know you’re going to be okay through which is peace, or happiness, or gratitude, or whatever and do the same thing. Notice it, name it, open up to it, witness what happens, what is it like? All of those things so you can see the process of an emotion on principle is the same either way.
Now, the actual physical experience of it, different, all of that is true but the principle remains the same. You go through it, experience it.
Krista: And you could do 10 and 30 minutes.
Natalie: Sure, yeah, I think the idea of going through it on purpose will allow you to see. I mean and there’s some scientific evidence that says 90 seconds, that the actual physical experience of the wave is about that long. So certainly we’re not saying that emotion, they’re only 90 seconds long and then they’ll be gone forever, absolutely not because the stories continue and that’s a whole other topic, the idea of looking at our stories. But typically the experience is 90 seconds, or just short waves that move and wash over you.
And it’s possible for you to have that happen, be present, remain present and survive it.
Krista: Yeah. And what I often get is when I tell people, “We’re going to do this a 100 times”, the thought is, well, that’s going to take forever. Well, no, not necessarily because how many emotions have you noticed today? Because I felt confident, and then I felt unmotivated, and then I felt insecure. And it’s not even, we haven’t even gotten all the way through the day.
Natalie: Yeah, or even early afternoon, so yes, I love this. Okay, so here’s something I want to talk about. Let’s apply this to the idea of, I mean we are rounding the corner on ‘the holidays’ which is in and of itself really sort of disconcerting I think to a lot of people. Because it makes it sound like it’s six weeks, for my clients especially of endless eating and 15 pounds on the scale starting January 1st. But the reality of it is depending on what holidays you celebrate, you have a handful of days, events etc. And for a lot of people this is a time with high emotion.
We’re getting together with family which for some people is challenging. We have your clients are experiencing this, a new experience with maybe a holiday after, post, or in the midst of grieving a loss. So we’re coming into the holidays and I feel for a lot of people the holidays are fraught. It’s just a fraught experience. So one of the things that I think my clients especially are experiencing is the idea of sort of experiencing the holidays in a new way because for most of them the holidays are food centric.
They typically mean an eating of all the things, a disregarding of how we feel, and obligation eating, lots of those experiences where it’s like, well, they made it homemade. And they know it’s my favorite. And they made it just for me. And my neighbors brought it over, I have to consume it, a lot of that. And they have sort of a conflicting goal or objective where they’re trying to renegotiate, reevaluate, heal and change their relationship with food, and their emotional experiences with food, and their attachments to food, and the nostalgia of food etc.
In order to serve their bodies better, and their health goals better, and their future and longevity, change that as well. So they’re coming into holidays where they’ve done things a certain way or they’ve had a certain experience. And it’s been emotional, and hard, and challenging, and food has been a source of comfort etc., etc. So we’re wanting to look at the holidays may be a little bit different way. We’re wanting to go into it having a different experience.
But I think kind of like we were talking about before, your brain remembers, you have an intense connection in terms of smell to specific emotions and experiences. So we have all of these smells that trigger us to want to eat cinnamon rolls or grandma’s cookies etc., etc. So how do we navigate going into this time of the year where there’s a whole bunch of that, the memories and your brain thinking things are going to be a certain way but wanting to shift and change our relationship with it a little bit so that we can have a different experience?
I mean I know there’s not here’s what you do and here’s how you do it, steps one through 10. But what are some of the things to kind of remember and think about? I’m sure this NOW process is something that we can keep front of mind because we’re going to be feeling lots of emotions as we go through this. But tell me a little bit about your clients’ experiences or the way that you sort of navigate or help them to navigate this upcoming series of events.
Krista: Yeah, there’s a few things coming to mind. So one is I consistently see that the lead up to any dreaded event, holiday, deathaversary, whatever, the lead up is always consistently worse than the actual experience. And so that’s just good news going in. And the reason the lead up is worse and how to make it easier is to just be willing to feel. What we’re always dreading in the future is usually just a feeling.
And if we just decided that feelings aren’t problems, and that we’re willing to feel them. And we could just decide, I mean yes we can change our thoughts, we absolutely can. But we don’t even need to if we just decide that we’re just willing to feel. And I think that can take a lot of pressure off, just my only job is just to stay in my body and feel, just be willing to feel whatever it is. Brain, I don’t need you to change. Thoughts, I don’t need you to change. But I am going to be so present with myself and a little feelings ninja.
Natalie: Yes, because all my feelings that I’m having are about feelings that I don’t want to have. All the stuff that I’m going through right now is in anticipation of more stuff.
Krista: You drop the resistance and you’re like, “No, I don’t.” Because this is what I see so much. I don’t want to feel sad. And in your case probably, I don’t want to feel deprived. I don’t want to feel awkward. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. And yes, we can think in different ways so that we don’t feel those things. But also we can just be like, “I am totally willing to feel awkward, and uncomfortable, and deprived, and sad, and lonely and it’s all okay. And none of it’s going to hurt me and it’s all transitory and it’s just going to pass through.”
And that’s my only job is to be a screen, just let it flow through. So I think that’s huge. The other two things that are kind of coming to mind, one is just being very aware of the filtering system in our brain. I call it the bouncer in your brain. So it’s like outside of every bar in my olden days which was a long time ago, but you would go the bar and there was somebody who decided who got into that bar and who didn’t. And our brain has the same thing happening, the filtering system in our brain.
And so if you’re thinking about the holidays and your thought is this is going to be so awful, it’s going to be so hard. You’ve literally asked your bouncer to only look for data in the world, to only look for the it’s so hard, people to let into your party. And it’s not allowed to let anything easy in now. It can’t even see it. That’s how powerful the filtering system in our brain is. So we want to very consciously decide, what do I want that bouncer to look for? What do I want that bouncer to let in to my holiday experience? Do I want it to look for hard or do I want it to look for how I can handle it?
What do I want it to look for? So I think that really matters a lot is just consciously deciding if I’m going into the holidays and I’m thinking that uncle is such a jerk. Or why does that sound of the family have to be like that? Then that’s all my brain will show me is what lines up with that.
Natalie: And I also think to add to that too, not only will we only see that but we’re also going to start to create that because all the stories we’re telling leading up to it is about all the things that could possibly make it hard. So it’s not even that we’re just going to sail into the thing and then all we’ll see is hard. We’re also going to be kind of setting ourselves up because all the stories we’re going to be telling on the way there is how that is true, how it will be hard.
Krista: And it’s literally all your brain will show you. My poor first husband, for the longest time I was super convinced that he was just a jerk and that’s all my brain showed me. I didn’t have a different experience of him until I realized how much the filtering system in my brain was creating that experience for me. And then when I started to look for how is it possibly true that there are other things I’m not seeing here and that maybe he actually is a good parent and he’s not always a jerk.
Then I started seeing what was, it was already there in front of me, I just couldn’t see it because of what the filtering system in my brain was looking for. So I think we just want to be intentional about that. And then the other thing that came to mind is just all the should thinking. I think we go into the holidays with all of these shoulds about how people should behave or what the experience should be like. And I’m imagining with food, it’s like, well, I should be able to eat the cookie. I should be able to do it like I want to do it. I shouldn’t have to, whatever.
And it’s just kind of a universal truth that no should thought ever feels good. It really is just resisting what is which means we lose, thank you, Byron Katie. So just what if actually I stop? I think people hear, well, so you’re saying I should believe the opposite of that? No. But what if we just put the should thoughts down. What if we just stopped believing that things should be some other way and that this is what they are.
Natalie: And to me it makes sense to ask, how do I know that that’s how it should go? It hasn’t happened yet, what am I basing this on? I think it’s really helpful for anybody to be like, where did I come up with this idea? Because at that point, and again, I can say, consider the source, because they say that, who’s they? I don’t have any emotional investment in they. I’m not listening to them anymore. But I think that that’s like to question that a little bit I think is important because there’s a reason it’s there. And then you get to gain a little bit of understanding about yourself.
I think for a lot of people it should be a certain way so that it’s easier, so you don’t have to experience the negative emotion or the difficult and challenging things. Or because you think of Christmas is supposed to be minus all those experiences, everyone’s supposed to be happy. We’ve never had an experience where it is, we haven’t had a Christmas where it does go that way, or a holiday season or whatever.
Krista: And sometimes you may have not, I see this a lot where this may be someone’s first experience with a death or a loss around the holidays. Or I’ll get, “Well, this person died on thanksgiving and then my ex, you know, this person got diagnosed with something in early December and then that person died.” But the underlying thought there is that shouldn’t happen around the holidays. Okay, well, maybe it hasn’t happened to you around the holidays but it definitely did just happen to you around the holidays. And also for millennia it’s been happening to lots of people around the holidays.
So maybe it’s new to you but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be. And that doesn’t mean that should moves you toward the experience you want, it never does. It always moves you away. So why do we keep telling ourselves that?
Natalie: Well, I mean yeah, I think it always feels good to be able to predict the future accurately and know exactly what you’re getting into. I mean the concept of that feels good, to think we know what we’re getting ourselves into and [crosstalk].
Krista: And so, listeners, if you know how to predict the future, please tell me. I’ll give you my email.
Natalie: But I think, so the other thing I think I just want to add is I like to say to my brain, we were talking about that filtering system. My brain’s going to come up with ideas and my brain just really likes those ideas to be acknowledged, whether I want to buy in and go all the way down that road or not, just to say, that could be true, that could possibly happen. What else is possible? Just that acknowledgement, you don’t have to stop thinking those things. You don’t have to be like, never think should, if we think should, then we get into judgment of what we’re thinking.
I like sometimes just replacing that with could. It could be. It might happen. That might be a part of this, yes, that experience, that feeling, the sadness, that might be a part of this. What else could possibly be a part of it? Because then we’re not negating or discounting what’s happening. We’re being really present with that and also trying to open ourselves up to the idea that there is more, that maybe we don’t know exactly how it could go. So if we’re going to brainstorm, let’s brainstorm some other things too so we’re not trying to get rid of stuff.
We can allow that to be here. We can keep it and expand it to just more that maybe we didn’t initially default think of, yes. Oaky, I love it so much. So I feel like there’s so many amazing things here to take away. And I’m always sharing stories with my podcasts peeps from my life that it’s like take this and apply this to yours. So if you are not here experiencing a loss of someone you love, or your partner etc., all of these concepts in terms of grief and loss and allowing emotion. That can apply in so many different ways.
And loss happens, I mean honestly, a lot of my clients have the experience of grief with starting to sort of shift away from and limit the way that they have been eating. It’s like a loss of the way they once did things and the comfort that they found in food. Once they recognized that wasn’t the real kind of comfort they wanted to invest in anymore, there’s just sadness there, there’s a grief, there’s a feeling of loss of that quick solution that used to ‘work’ for them. So loss can be in all different ways in all different things.
Krista: Yeah, I’m so glad you pointed that out. I kind of think if we can just broaden it up and think okay, I expected it to go this way, to happen this way, to feel this way, to be this way, I expected this and then I experienced that. So maybe it’s I lost all the weight that I wanted to lose and I expected that when I lost all the weight I wanted to lose, that magically my inner critic would disappear and it didn’t. Or I expected my body would look a particular way. Or I expected I would just have this complete self-love, whatever it is.
We expect one thing and then it goes some other way and then we’ve got to reconcile with that.
Natalie: Yeah. And I think honoring both your expectations and your experience is really useful. I expected this for these reasons, especially when we talk about weight loss, and health goals, and wanting to change our relationship with ourself and our bodies etc. There’s a lot of reasons why we have these expectations. There’s a lot of cultural expectations heaped on us. I mean there’s a lot of stuff in there that didn’t just totally come from you. So to honor that, to understand, well of course, all I’ve seen is images of this kind of person.
Or all I’ve been told by my mom my whole life is whatever, “You are what you eat”, or whatever she said. So of course I have these expectations. I honor that they were set up this way for a reason and I also want to honor my experience. My experience may be different than what is expected. But it is also what is happening. So once again, presence, that ability to be present with. To me honoring means I’m not trying to push it away. I’m not trying to change it. I’m not judging it. I’m just being here with it.
Krista: Yeah. And we also don’t need to compare it to the experiences that other people are having and make ours worse, or better, or less, or any of them. I can acknowledge what is true for me and I don’t need to make someone else’s experience mean anything about my grief.
Natalie: Yeah, we can honor theirs as theirs too. Beautiful. So much good stuff. Thank you so much, Krista, thank you for your time, and your experience, and your expertise. And tell everybody where they can find you in terms of either working with you or just learning more about you etc.
Krista: Sure. Yeah, I’m a podcaster too, so The Widowed Mom Podcast is my podcast. So it’s obviously very niched but a great resource for anyone who just wants to learn more about grief or posttraumatic growth. And then coachingwithkrista.com and it’s K-R-I-S-T-A is where I live on the internet and all my social connections and everything can be found there. So I do only work with in terms of paid clients with people who identify as widows and moms. But I hope that a lot of the content that I put into the world it’s still valuable to lots of other people too.
Natalie: Absolutely. We said, grief is something that touches us in all stages of our lives, in all different ways. And so I think there’s a lot they can learn from you whether they exactly identify as a widowed mom or not.
Krista: And it totally forgot, I’m working on, so I don’t know the timeline on this but at some point we’ll be offering an advanced certification for coaches who want to be able to coach more confidently around grief. Grief is sometimes one of those things that coaches, they’re a little scared of and I really want to change that. And so that will be at some point a way that people can work with me.
Natalie: I love that. So they can just hop on your list and get notified about any new things that are going on?
Natalie: Love it, it’s so good. Well, thank you so much.
Krista: My pleasure.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you want to learn more about how to lose weight for the last time, come on over to itbeginswithathought.com. We’ll see you here next week.