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Mindfulness Refresher

Mindfulness can be an elusive concept.  It is openly discussed in pop culture, and yet a lot of people struggle to understand what it is.  I love this topic and the practice; yet even I have a difficult time finding the words to describe what mindfulness succinctly.  In simple terms, mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on purpose. Mindfulness is about no longer letting your thoughts and urges bully you; you choose what to focus your attention on.  The concept is that you control your mind/thoughts instead of letting them control you.  Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years and is a component of all spiritual practices.

Mindfulness is a skill and thus requires practice.  There are six core mindfulness skills according to the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy model, which are broken into “what” and “how” skills. The “what skills” (what you need to do in order to be mindful) are to observe, describe, and participate.  The “how skills” (how to be mindful) encourage us to be non-judgmental, effective, and one mindfully in the moment.  Observing is about noticing your internal and external surroundings in a curious manner.  Describing encourages factual statements that everyone would agree with (note this requires you to be non-judgmental and thus becomes effective in reducing anger and gossip). Participating requires you to get out of your head and into the moment, targeting the anxiety that people often feel in new and/or social situations.  In order to be effective in the what skills, you need to apply the how skills. Using them together allows more time between a trigger and a response which reduces anxiety, depression, obsessions, and maladaptive behavior patterns such as self harm, substance abuse, and aggression.

Examples of mindfulness practice are limitless, almost anything can be a mindfulness practice if done with intent and focus. Taking a walk is a practice if you open your eyes, take in your surroundings through all 5 senses and block any other thoughts from entering your mind.  Eating is often done mindLESSly; however eating mindfully-with no distractions and full awareness has been shown to reduce binge eating and overall meal enjoyment.  Art, dancing, building, meditating, breathing, applying lotion, showering, listening to music…all can be done with full awareness and can increase your ability to live in the moment fully, thus reducing depression and anxiety. Adult coloring pages have exploded in popularity in recent years as a method to practice mindfulness.

If you need to plan, as is essential in life, mindfulness would tell you to sit down with pen and paper and plan with your full attention. Take that time to worry, think and make decisions; then return to the here and now.  Mindfulness would also tell you that if you need to feel sad, you should reminisce and be sad as is justified; then return to the here and now.  The goal is to keep strengthening the “muscle” that allows you to keep coming back to the present moment.

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Expectations

I have noticed that people get themselves into trouble when they assume that everyone thinks like they do.  We tend to think that if something upsets us, it will upset everyone.  If we enjoy an activity, then everyone would enjoy it.  If we dislike someone, we expect everyone will dislike them.

This mentality assumes that:

  1. You are right
  2. You are smarter than everyone else
  3. Other people should want keep you happy
  4. Other people should defer to your preferences

This ties into our mental health as it increases suffering!  When you expect that someone will hold the same opinion as you do, you inevitably set yourself up for suffering due to the likely disappointment that will occur.  Holding others to the same standards as we hold ourselves also opens us to anger as high expectations are a form of judgment. Judging another person does not lead to the other person magically changing and thinking differently; it leads to you being angry (and them not usually even being aware of it!)

So what can you do about it? The trick here is to learn to recognize when you are judging other people for their opinions and when you are holding them to your standards.  When you find yourself “shoulding” on them, you are likely rigidly believing that they need to do it YOUR way.  Once you notice that you are in this trap, the trick is to replace the judgment with a factual description and acknowledge that other people are allowed to have their own opinions.

example:

“What an idiot, they should have known I wanted to leave at 5pm to beat traffic.  What is wrong with them? Who likes to sit in traffic??!”

reframe:

“I am tired from a long day and I know how annoyed I get in traffic.  I would have preferred to leave at 5pm and yet I can understand why they would want to wait until 6pm.  Getting downtown an hour early means we’d have to figure out a way to kill time”. 

or

example 2:

“How can the restaurant be out of rice? Whoever does their ordering needs fired!”

reframe:

I was really looking forward to beans and rice with my enchiladas, it’s frustrating that they are out.  I bet it is embarrassing for the manager and frustrating for the staff to keep having to explain this.  Perhaps tonight I will try the taco salad”.

 

See if you can try this in your family!

 

 

 

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Hump Day

Top ten ways to tackle hump day

  1. Go to be earlier than your normal time on Tuesday night
  2. Get up after 8-9 hours of sleep
  3. Start your day with a brisk walk and a shower
  4. Listen to your most upbeat playlist in the car or house
  5. Positive affirmations
  6. Make time for a special morning beverage: a good coffee, a fresh juice, a hot tea…
  7. Go outside at lunchtime and take a walk or eat at a park
  8. Start planning for something to look forward to during the upcoming weekend
  9. Tidy up your house in the evening
  10. All yourself to go to bed at a decent time
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Mental Health Matters

I heard on the radio yesterday (therefore unable to cite) that in the month following the release of 13 Reasons Why, Google searches containing “suicide” rose by 19%.  The good news is that these include “suicide prevention” and “suicide hotlines”; the bad news is that those were not the majority of terms searched.  The glamorization of suicide as an escape route is heart breaking.  It is literally impossible for a suicidal person to comprehend, yet it is 100% true that your family will not be “better off” or “relieved.  They WILL care and it WILL wreck them.  Suicide does not end your pain, it magnifies and transfers it to everyone in your life.

Another statistic I keep coming back to is that 1 In 5 adults meet criteria for a mental health condition.  In my opinion, this means that mental illness (Depression, anxiety, ADHD…you name it) affects everyone by default.  If you have ever loved someone with mental illness, you know that it doesn’t just affect them…it has a ripple effect on the whole family.

So why in the world is our systematic world ignoring this? It has been my experience that most primary care physicians don’t screen for this (although they certainly ask me if I smoke or wear my seatbelt), schools aren’t teaching mental wellbeing courses (although they offer personal finance and physical education) and I don’t see television commercials promoting mental health (although I see plenty of antidepressant commercials).

So what can you do? TALK ABOUT IT!!! Support your own and your loved ones’ mental health by openly promoting and discussing mental health.  Follow hashtags like #mentalhealthmatters #depression #mentalillness #wellbring #dbtskills etc and share their content!  Be a beacon of light in a dark world.