For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even function.
Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries, fears, anxieties).
When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds, do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back?
Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses, regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.
How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment.
The past has passed.
The future is not yet here.
All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness.
By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without judgment.
This is mindfulness.
We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness.
Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.
Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking us into the past or future).
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment.
It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~ without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and have the opportunity to start again.
We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this.
Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when worries flooded our minds.
If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental discourse).
Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that previously took us away.
In my last post, Flexible Thinking Part 1, I reviewed what flexible thinking is and its benefits. Over the last few months, we have all been “thrown in the deep end” of flexible thinking as the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to make adjustments. Flexible thinking, or the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations, helped us transition to distance learning, working, shopping, and socializing.
In this post, I briefly highlight how flexible thinking can improve and help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety:
Depression tells us things will never change and reduces hope for the future. Flexible thinking applied to depression recognizes the opportunity each day and, in each situation, to do something different and breaks down negative feedback loops.
Anxiety feeds on possible, but unlikely, scenarios playing out in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Flexible thinking reminds anxious minds they have the resources around and within them to solve current and future problems and to create solutions to those problems. In short, flexible thinking focuses on “possibilities rather than deficiencies.”
What can we do to increase and improve our mental flexibility?
Engaging in mindfulness activities, (think deep breathing, meditation and guided imagery) yoga, aerobics and relaxation techniques have all been shown to increase executive functions and mental flexibility. Research has also shown we can also enable flexible thinking through positive affect (positive emotions such as cheerfulness, pride and energy and their expression), openness to experience and self-control.
As we consistently engage in flexible thinking, we can have more control over our thoughts and responses, reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration and stress, meet our goals and successfully navigate the changing circumstances in our everyday lives and interpersonal relationships.
Emerald Robertson, M.S.Ed., ACMHC, NCC
Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 865-878.
In Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, they talk about how understanding the difference between a stressor and a stress response is crucial in helping us respond to both in healthy ways. A stressor is anything in our lives which causes strain or tension. A stress response refers to the physical changes in our bodies which occur in response to the stressor.
A deadline at work, an argument with our partner, a child who is struggling at school, or a to-do list that is longer than we have time for are all common examples of stressors. Your response and your neighbor’s response to any of these stressors may look very different. Sometimes resolving the stressor is fairly simple. We can work overtime to meet the deadline. We can resolve arguments with our partner. We can seek additional support for a child who is struggling in school. We can complete the to do list eventually. Some of these stressors will take longer than others to resolve, but whether by completion or the passage of time, the stressor will fade. What is left behind is the accumulation of the stress response.
Often we feel that the resolution of the stressor is sufficient, but Nagoski and Nagoski assert that it is not. We must also address the physical response to the stressor, and if we do not, the stress response will accumulate in our bodies to the point where it impacts our physical health. They suggest 12 methods for addressing stress response build up:
Creative self expression
Using your imagination
Superficial social connection
Intimate social connection
Connection with nature, landscape, or animals
Mindful self compassion.
The next time you feel stressed, take a minute to increase your awareness of your stress response. What changes do you notice in your body? What happens to those changes when you participate with intention, in one of the above methods?
If you find yourself overwhelmed with stress in your life and aren’t sure how to manage your stress response, give these suggestions a try, or for one-on-one support call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
Really, right now take a few seconds to focus on your breath. Notice what it feels like as it goes in through your nose and out through your mouth. A faith transition can be frightening and incredibly disorienting. Maybe you have that feeling of waking up in a strange place in the middle of the night, wondering where you are, only to remember you’re visiting a new town. Give yourself a moment to breathe, think, and become acquainted with this foreign land. Be kind to yourself. Sometimes you might feel excited or like you are on a new adventure. Sometimes you might feel hurt or betrayed. Sometimes you may feel lonely and out of place, but remind yourself that these emotions, like waves will go in and then go back out. Notice how you’re feeling without judgement.
Start with What You Know
When your world feels turned upside down, it can feel like you don’t know what to think, believe, or know anymore. That’s ok. Start with what you do believe or what you do know. Maybe you believe in service or the power of good people to make a difference. Maybe you know how important your best friend is to you or that mint chocolate chip is still your favorite ice cream. What do you value? What is important to you? Make a list.
When you lose a community or separate from important people in your life, you may up feeling isolated or like no one understands. Despite that very real feeling, there are people who have gone through, or who are going through, a change in their Mormon lens too. Try looking for groups on Meetup, or Facebook groups. Network through people you already know or friends of a friend.
Connect with Resources
“When Mormons Doubt” by Jon
Odgen or “Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis” by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie are both
two excellent books that are specific to Latter-Day Saints. Looking to people
of other faiths, like Tova Mirvis in “The Book of Separation” can also be
Take your time exploring
the world through your new perspective. Be patient with yourself and give
yourself the permission to say no and to take breaks. Find a therapist who can
meet you where you are and support you wherever you decide your journey will
take you. You’ve got this.
The world is full of noise and escaping that noise in important. Whether that is getting out running, hiking, walking, or enjoying any of your favorite activities. What is important in taking in the silences is that we are present. Taking the time to enjoy the silence is an act of mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown to benefit us by:
· Physical benefits including lowered blood pressure and improved sleep.
· Gaining more control of our thoughts.
· Reduction of stress.
Remember yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called present. – Mastery Oogway Kung Fu Panda
Mindfulness has been defined as “the quality of being conscious or aware of something.” Mindful.org refers to mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are, and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Practicing mindfulness and incorporating this way of being into your life can improve one’s physical, social and psychological wellbeing. The benefits are well worth the amount of time it takes and are as follows:
Increase one’s ability to decrease anxiety and depression.
Helps one to pay attention and observe thoughts and feelings without judgement.
Promotes relaxation and calmness.
Reduces negative emotions and stress. Improves memory.
Boosts the immune systems ability to fight off illness.
Encourages one to eat healthy and cope with cravings allowing them to pass.
Alleviates physical pain. Develops a sharp focused mind.
Improves relationships. Increases work satisfaction.
I know most of you started reading this in hopes of finding the magic bullet for dealing with your child’s misbehavior. You should know, that’s not the type of grounding we are talking about. While you won’t be getting any discipline tips, the mindfulness grounding techniqu
es presented here pose many benefits for you and your child, including allowing your child to be more present especially when becoming behaviorally or emotionally dysregulated.
The goal of grounding is to calm the emotional and irrational part of our brain so that we can begin to think more logically about what is going on. Grounding exercises allow individuals to:
Remain calm and present when we become over stimulated or experience a flashback from a negative past experience
Begin to feel and express big emotions such as anxiety or anger
Catch our self in a whirlwind of worrying thoughts.
One helpful grounding exercise is bring our mind to what we are sensing in the present moment by carefully observe our surroundings and noticing what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. This draws the mind away from worries, concerns, or large emotions and grounds us to the current space we are in.
One specific grounding technique I use with families and their children involves Lego mini-figures. Using a Lego mini-figure for this technique is not required; however, it is nice as it can have unique details and is easy to bring along anywhere you go. When the child gets upset they begin to describe the details they see on the mini-figure and what it reminds them of. Often children will describe the figures facial expression, specific cloths they are wearing, and discuss memories of playing with the figure. After the child has done this, I will have them take a deep breath before checking in with their parent or going back to play. While most children can do this on their own, I recommend the parent to participate and do this with the child in the beginning. By doing this with them, the child will become more comfortable at using this technique when they are upset.
It is important to note that while this specific technique is geared towards our children, it can also apply to us as adults. We as adults can look at our surroundings and describe what we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. If we apply this, and other mindfulness techniques, alongside with our children, we will feel less anxiety and stress and will find that escalated situations will deescalate more quickly.
If you, or your child,would like to learn more about other helpful grounding techniques and strategies to positively manage your child’s emotional or behavior challenges, please contact us at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555. We can provide a more specific approach to meet your individual or family needs.
Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who the person staring back is? The feeling of not knowing who you really are as a person separate from the roles that you find yourself cast in. How often do we define ourselves generically by descriptors of those roles rather than by our character traits? A mother, a wife, a father, a son, a daughter, a coworker, etc. These terms describe our relationships, but there is more to us than simply who we are to other people. Is that really how we want to be seen by those around us? Flat, non-dimensional characters in the play called life? Where we are content taking a supporting cast role rather than starring in our own lives? Sadly, often that is exactly what happens for many of us. We become so busy that we forget to truly live and are left wondering where the time went and who we are.
Recently, my just-graduated from college daughter was having an “existential” crisis in our kitchen. Like so many of us, she’s struggling with how to identify herself. She’s technically no longer a student, though graduate school applications are in process, and she isn’t yet working in her field of study. She has described as “feeling adrift.” There is no longer a label that she can slap on to describe herself succinctly that feels adequate. What’s a 22-year-old to do? Or a 32-year-old? Or a 50-year-old? Or a 103-year-old? See, this isn’t a question of age or experience, but a question of perspective. How do we see ourselves? How do we want to be seen? How do others perceive us? Do all these different perspectives align?
I’ve noticed when I pose these questions that people (clients, friends, family) are often taken aback when they contemplate their answers. Often, they find that how their loved ones, coworkers, or acquaintances would describe them is similar to how they would like to be perceived but, not surprisingly, their self -perception is much more negative. Why is that? Why are we so quick to look outward for a measure of worthiness but so harshly judge ourselves, and our contributions, as inadequate? I wonder what would happen if, as a society, we spoke more kindly to ourselves and left self-recrimination out of our personal narratives? Would we be happier? Less anxious? Less depressed?
Positivity, gratefulness, and mindfulness are all ways that we can choose to treat ourselves with more care. These practices can help ground us and keep us focused on the good in our lives and ourselves to help us better weather the storms that life hurls our way. So, take a minute, look in the mirror, and tell the stranger you see there all the things that you want, hope, and desire for them. Treat that stranger as you would your best friend, coworker, sibling, or child that needs a little boost. Encourage that stranger to find their inner passion and foster it. Tell that stranger how much they are loved, and one day, you just might believe it.
Here is a list of some of my favorite recommendations for books and podcasts to help keep the therapy going outside of therapy. These books and podcasts cover a variety of topics, from brain and behavior, child care, depression, and mindfulness. I particularly like Tara Brach’s mindfulness podcasts, as she offers listeners a dose of humor along with insight, and guided meditation.