When your beach vacation doesn't go as planned (or, what happens when you forget you're a therapist)

A couple weeks ago, I woke up to yet another gray, dreary day. In a funk, I poured myself some coffee and stared out the window.

It isn't fair, I thought. This isn't how it was supposed to be. My sweet husband sat next to me and asked what was wrong. I silently stared out the window, hoping he would just read my mind. 

(Here is the part where I'm happily dispelling any illusion you might have about the personal lives of therapists. Even with years of education and training, we don't always get it right!)

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So, what was happening here? Why was I in a terrible mood? 

To explain, we need some background:

Minnesota winters are notoriously cold, dark, and long. Average highs in January and February are somewhere around 25 degrees. The sun rises late and sets early. Here in the Bold North (did we all agree on this branding, post-Minneapolis Super Bowl?) we are intimately familiar with winter. We take pride in our hardiness, our ability to deal with snow and frigid temperatures. But there comes a time when a girl just needs a little break from winter.

And so, when my generous in-laws invited us to join them at at Florida beach rental, I started dreaming about sunshine, sandy beaches, and umbrella drinks.

About a week before our trip, I decided to look at the Panama City Beach forecast. I wanted to know just exactly how many pairs of shorts I would need!

Ahem. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw that Panama City Beach was forecasted to have a full week of rain. 

I wish I could say I took this in stride, but to be honest, I was really disappointed. To make matters worse, the forecast kept changing. My emotions did too. When sun was forecasted, I felt excited and relieved. When the rain was back, I felt resentful and frustrated.

Yes, this is where I seem to have forgotten that I'm a therapist and have all sorts of skills to deal with unpleasant thoughts and emotions.

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We arrived in Panama City Beach on Saturday evening. The fog was so dense, my mother-in-law was concerned our plane wouldn't be able to land. No kidding, when we arrived at their beach condo, we couldn't even see the see the sand or water.

Sunday came and brought with it torrential downpour. We got caught in the rain and ended up a bit soggy. On Monday, it was still dreary and cool. Two days of being cooped up inside, and let's just say I wasn't my best self.

  My husband on the beach- he had no problem regulating his emotions ;)

My husband on the beach- he had no problem regulating his emotions ;)

If I had recalled any of my training and knowledge, here's what I could have reminded myself of:

In cognitive behavioral therapy, we pay attention to how thoughts and behaviors impact emotions. This means our emotions do not just appear in response to a situation. Rather, emotions are the result of how we think and how we act. 

The weather itself was not causing my foul mood. My thoughts and expectations about what I thought the weather should be like were actually the cause of my mood. My crossed arms and frown certainly weren't helping, either.

Check it out, here's what was happening:

Unhelpful, actual thought: I cannot believe it's gross AGAIN this morning. This is my beach vacation, how could it possibly be so dreary? 

Unhelpful, actual behavior: Crossed arms, frown, surly responses to innocent questions from my husband, overall sense of heaviness and tension in my body

Undesirable, actual emotions: Frustrated, irritated, entitled

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Here's what I could have been thinking and doing instead:

Helpful thought: Shoot, I was really hoping it would be sunny today. Well- I can't change the weather. I'm so grateful to be here and to spend time with family.

Helpful behavior: Deep breathing, getting directions to shopping center, writing in my gratitude journal

Desirable emotions: Content, grateful, relaxed, energized

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Wouldn't you know it, the sun actually did come out that afternoon, and the rest of our vacation was filled with warmth and sunshine. 

  Sun after all.

Sun after all.

Here are my takeaways, things I already knew but needed to remind myself of:

1. Being a trained therapist does not make me immune to unhelpful thoughts and feelings

2. The earlier I can identify an unhelpful thought, the sooner I can change my whole experience

3. I can't expect perfection from myself OR from the weather

We all have difficulties with unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. It's part of the human experience. But anxiety and overthinking do not have to rule your life. You deserve to have peace in your mind and in your spirit. If you notice that anxiety is starting to take over more of your headspace than you'd like it to, consider counseling. We can walk through this together, you're not alone.