DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Mindfulness and Hot Tea

I was sitting here reflecting on what to write about when I noticed my mug of tea.  To some, it may seem irrelevant; however I try not to do things that aren’t on purpose (meaning, I like to be mindfully awake to my life: what and why I make choices).  Mindfulness means that you happen to your life, not the other way around.  When I used to be less aware and less mindful, I would often go all day without drinking anything…or i’d be half way through a frappachino before I realized that I had ordered it.

Being mindful and tuning into my body, my emotions, my urges, my sensations…has allowed me to notice when I am thirsty, when my body needs a hug, when I am feeling overwhelmed.  This is not a bad thing or a thing to fear as many believe; rather, it allows me the chance to make wise-minded choices.

Hot tea is like a warm hug from the inside.  When I sip my tea, I feel nurtured and cared for.  It reminds me to slow down.  The process of making tea can be a mindful practice on it’s own: experiencing the smells, sounds, sensations, etc.  Hot tea is not something I drink fast either, which makes it a lovely reminder to slow down and enjoy this one moment. The reality is, that all we have is this one moment. Now is now. You might as well enjoy it!

The reality is that my moment currently doesn’t look as beautiful as the photo above…yet when I close my eyes and take a sip, I can transport myself to that photo each time!

DBT, mental health

Noticing in Nature

Continuing with the message from my previous post, I would like to share some nature (landscape, animal, plants) photography from my Texas vacation.  Nature photography is a way for me to cue myself; to remind myself to slow down and really observe.  I am fascinated, in awe of the variety and uniqueness in each plant (the same is true of each human)!  I wish we all remembered to slow down and smell the roses more often, this practice is a hidden gem that will always calm me (I bet you too)!

Animals are also great teachers because they don’t fear judgment at all! The giraffe doesn’t worry about whether she will will be judged for sticking her tongue out, the unidentified animal from the safari doesn’t care that it is muddy, and the peacock cares not that the people watching want him to display his tail-feathers.  Animals just are.  They are masters of being in one moment.

DBT, mental health

Learning to be mindful

I am a mindfulness teacher, and yet…I am still learning to be mindful.  I was caught off guard two days ago during a moment with my children.  We were at a nature preserve and they were playing at a free-play mud-kitchen type set-up.  They were sharing, playing together and truly enjoying themselves….and yet I found myself growing restless.  My internal dialogue was “hurry up”, “c’mon, let’s go”, “let’s go find the next thing” “I’m bored” AND it was very cool that I was fully aware of these urges to live on fast forward.

It dawned on me in that moment (thankfully), that this moment was perfect just as it was.  Sure, there are times that we must hurry children along…but this was not one of them.  In this moment, we had no where else to be.  In this moment, everyone was content.  In this moment, everything was at peace.

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Fast forward to today: we were visiting a Japanese Tea Garden (which was stunningly beautiful) and we came upon a waterfall.  Two things I am teaching the girls is to notice and point out the different colors they see in nature and to close their eyes and “just listen”.  Here is a pic of them practicing mindfulness of sound at a waterfall.

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I am so grateful that I have these mindfulness teachers in my life! Take some time right now, in just this one moment and take a deep breathe, exhale slowly.  Just this moment is all that exists.  There is no need to rush.

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Four Options with Any Problem

I am struck by the quickness with which we feel we do not have a choice.  I hear myself (and others) saying things like “I didn’t have a choice…” or “I guess I have to…” on a regular basis and yet I am also equally struck by the concept that we do have a choice! In any given moment and with every given situation, you always have a multitude of choices!

I DBT we teach that a person always has four choices in coping with a problem:

  • Solve the problem

This is quite possibly the worst one on this list because if it were so simple, I think we all WOULD solve our own problems!  What is valid about this option is that we must take time to assess what the actual problem is and determine whether it is in our control or not.  If we are determining that the problem is: my spouse folds the towels wrong then I would challenge you and say that you need to dig deeper and look at what role you play in the scenario.  We might discover that the real problem is: I am clinging to my preference as to how the towels are folded and judging my spouse as incompetent.  In the second version of the problem, we now can apply the strategies below to solve the problem in a more creative way.

  • Change your opinion/thoughts/beliefs about the problem (one of my favorite…more below)

In continuing with the same problem above, we could work to change how we are thinking about the towels.  We could have a more comical thought: The way the towels are folded does not change their absorbency. You could have an attitude of gratitude: I am so grateful that my spouse took time to fold the towels.  You could have a change in your thought process: I never thought to fold them like that, I’ll give their way a try and see if I like it better.

  • Accept the situation (ie: stop lamenting how bad it is and accept that it just IS, letting go of your anger and resentment about the situation)

This option allows you to not get so angry every time you see the towels folded differently than you prefer.  It allows you to look at the towel and recognize that it is a towel, not a symbol of spousal defiance.  It allows you to see your partner as a partner, not a nuisance.  I also love this option due to the freedom it brings.  There is a freedom in not getting so angry about the “little things” or about the things in life that are out of your control.

  • Stay miserable (and/or make it worse).

This is the option we all tend to jump to! We belittle people we love, we yell and scream over things that really don’t alter our life’s course.  We throw things, we hurl insults, we give the silent treatment, we make passive aggressive gestures and comments that only serve to fuel the fire.  This option does not take into account the long-term goals (staying married) and only pays attention to the short-term urge.

 

Which do you jump to?

Which do you think would be the most effective one for you to start using more?

Take time this week to press pause when you feel yourself preparing to engage in a problematic reaction to a (perceived) problem and take a moment to ponder these 4 choices.  You may be able to free yourself from potential negative consequences!

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DBT, Journaling, mental health

Self-Encouragement

Today I want to introduce you to the skill of SELF-encouragement. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) it’s taught as one part of the IMPROVE acronym. I believe that it is one of the most overlooked and under-utilized skills in the book. In short, self-encouragement is talking to you self as you would talk to a friend.

inspirational pooh

We would NEVER say to friends the negative statement that we say to ourselves. If a friend is crying to you about a life problem, I doubt you’d say “suck it up”, “get over it”, “what’s wrong with you”, etc…So why on earth would you say those things to yourself?

Furthermore, would you keep a friend around who talked to you in that way??? NO! You would avoid them like the plague.

 

So get with it and take a page from Hobby Lobby or Instagram’s book…
– print out those cutesy phrases
– follow inspirational people on social media
– splurge on that wall art that moves you
– set the backdrop of your phone and/or laptop to be motivational
– use a dry erase marker on your mirrors
– use bathtub crayons in your shower
– buy a positive though-a-day calendar
– buy the jewelry with the catchy calming phrase on it

self encouragement

Take control of that inner critic, silence the stadium full of nay-sayers in your head and BE NICE to you!

Feel free to share your favorite self-encouraging ideas, quotes and plans in the comments below.

 

Updated from original post on Edit“Self-Encouragement”

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Meditation 101

Formal Zen meditation is the type that I practice and encourage my friends, family, clients, etc to practice also.  Notice I said practice…yes, sitting upright and still requires PRACTICE! The basic components are:

  1. Sit upright and still on meditation cushions (zafu and zabuton) with three points of contact with the floor to stabilize you.  This should be a comfortable position and should not cause straining.  For example, if you cannot get yourself into lotus position, don’t! It is encouraged that you find a position that you can hold for the duration of the meditation without discomfort.  Frequent shifting is discouraged, I recommend that you experiment with different positions in your first few weeks.

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  1. Clear your mind as best you can and focus on either nothing or your breathing.
  2. Practice non-attachment when you notice your mind drifting (as it will) by gently bringing your attention back to your breathing. The reality is that your mind will wander and it will wander more when you are new to meditation and/or when your stress is higher.  We can acknowledge this without judging ourselves or the practice.  It is simple, not easy! Many people complain that they feel MORE anxious when they try to quiet their mind…which may be true because they have removed all of the distractions that they normally put between their feelings and their consciousness.  Ride that wave, calmness will follow. It reminds me of snorkeling in choppy water…the water is only choppy until you put your head under the water to see the reef below!
  3. Length of meditation varies, the magic isn’t in the number of minutes; rather it is in the willingness to practice steps 1-3 over and over and over.  Meditation is a muscle that most of us forget we have, thus it is out of shape and needs to be worked consistently over time.

The benefits of sitting practice are innumerable.  Science finds that:

Benefits-of-Meditation

You can really meditate whenever your want, where-ever you want, with whoever you want. I recommend group meditation in the beginning…think about how much you cognitively know about exercising and eating healthy vs what you actually do in your day-to-day life…? I find that group meditation holds you accountable and achieves better results just as group exercise does! Most major cities have group meditations or a zen center to provide this structure.

 

 

DBT, mental health

Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviors

ThoughtsBehaviorsFeelings

Thoughts, feelings, behaviors. They are all connected and the relationship is transactional.  This means that while one influences another, that change will in turn influence another factor.  None of the three can exist without the other two.

This begs the question, where do we make the change in our lives if we have suffering?  Do you change what thoughts you have, do you change your actions before or after the thoughts, or do you change how you feel about the situation?  The answer is ANY of the three will elicit change; however, I will tell you that I believe that it is easier to BEHAVE your way into thinking differently than it is to THINK your way into behaving differently.  Feelings will happen.

Think about it: You wake up to your alarm.  You are very tired as you didn’t sleep well.   You were up late crying, emotional about something that had happened.  Is it easier to get yourself to think “gee, I am so glad to be awake early! The fact that I have a headache from crying is no problem! I look forward to seeing people today who may ask me how I’m doing!” OR is it easier to get out of bed, turn on the radio to some upbeat music, and pour a bowl of fruity pebbles?  I imagine that if you try to change your thoughts, you may end up with anxiety, dread, sadness (and you may never get out of bed, at least not on time!)…whereas if you try to change your behavior, you may actually feel pride, competence and contentment.

We know it is one of the HARDEST things to do, to act differently than we may feel.  Think back to the last time you were feeling depressed, I bet it would have been REALLY hard to get you to go exercise!  The last time you were really anxious, I bet it would have been REALLY hard to convince you to go lay down and listen to a meditation.  And the last time you were fuming mad, I bet it would have been difficult to get you to go for a walk…and yet this is what I suggest! Why would I suggest something so radically difficult? Mainly because if you do, you will see how quickly it remedies the intensity of the emotion and thoughts.  I propose that if you do it a few times in a row, you will begin to trust the process…this is pretty much what all people with good habits say about how they stick to their routines!

So work on doing the opposite of your (ineffective) urge and see if the thoughts and feelings come along in a helpful way!

DBT, mental health

Smile

DBT has a skill called the “half smile”.  Even the name brings on a smirk from people; however I want to take a moment to really explain this one…

Half smile is NOT about faking a smile or having a weird Cheshire Cat/Joker type cynical smile.  If I re-named this skill, I’d call it “pleasant expression”. Basically you are relaxing your facial muscles and then ever-so-slightly putting a pleasant expression on your face, almost as if you were recalling a lovely memory. When we use certain facial muscles, our brain is tricked into thinking we really are happy and it will send us the feel-good chemicals associated! It is so powerful and packs a big punch for being such a minor task.

Half smiling is similar to Tyra Banks “smize”.  If you actually watch WHAT she is doing differently between her normal face and her “smize”, she has ever so subtle crows feet appearing at the corners of her eyes, and the corners of her mouth are very slightly being tugged toward a smile.  These are minuscule details; however, your body will pick up on them and adjust accordingly!

 

Half smiling can be done at any point in your day for a mood boost, it works faster than caffeine and sugar! I would especially challenge you to half smile when you are irritated, it really takes the edge off! Mona Lisa is another great reference, she has the look perfected!

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Researcher Paul Ekman has in depth research available on his website that covers the science behind the half smile if you are interested on a deeper understanding! https://www.paulekman.com/

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Validation to Improve Relationships

Validation is the ability to communicate to another person that they, their perceptions, their feelings and/or their opinions are valid.  Our world tends to be quite Invalidating, in that we are berated with the message that we aren’t enough and we don’t make sense.  It reminds me of the teacher that we all had, that would correct your response even if you read from the text the exact answer.  Validation is a skill that will instantly improve relationships, especially if you learn to validate and then STOP.  The STOP is about not jumping into problem solving.  Think about how it feels when people hurl solutions to you (have you tried____________??) without taking time to understand the problem or communicate to you that the problem is anywhere near valid.

Validation requires you to find the truth in another person’s point of view.  This means that no matter how ___________ (dumb, pointless, absurd, irrational) you deem their experience to be, if you want to expedite their calming down, it is necessary for you to validate something. Validating is not the same as agreeing with them if you truly do not.  You could say something like “I can see that you are really passionate about this” or “It sounds like you had a difficult day and it has you feeling really depressed”.  If you agree with them, you can be more validating by saying “I think it makes sense that you feel that way” or “given your background, I understand why his statement bothered you”.  Letting someone know that you hear them will aide in their ability to calm down and thus problem solve.

Some tips for validating

  1. Make eye contact, stop what you are doing and put your phone down. Communicate to the other person that they are important enough that you can give undivided attention
  2. Pay attention to their body language and whether it is congruent (think slumped teenager saying “I’m fine” and attend to the one you believe is more authentic
  3. Be open to correction. If I think you have your head down because you are disinterested in what I am saying, I need to remain open to you correcting me and telling me you have a headache
  4. Communicate to them with your words, that you think the make sense either because of their history or because ANYONE would feel that way given their circumstances
  5. In unique situations, share the feeling with them (not one-upping them, not taking the focus off of them) ie: when they get REALLY good or REALLY bad news

 

I have a feeling that if you reflect on who you like to spend time with, they are a fairly validating people! If you can channel that person, it may be easier to validate by thinking “what would _________ say?” Take time to practice!

DBT

Mindfulness of Thoughts

As bizarre as it may seem, you do have the ability to control your thoughts! By and large, this seems to be a difficult concept for most people to grasp…like a mystic urban legend. I’m here to talk to you about exactly HOW it’s done! As previously discussed, mindfulness is all about noticing and being aware of what is happening in and around you; while remaining compassionate and non-judgmental.

So how does this relate to thoughts you ask?? First things first:
1. You must become AWARE of your thoughts: their patterns, intensity, nature, etc
2. Take a step back and just pause. Breathe. Your breathe is ALWAYS there for you; use it as your anchor.
3. Observe any urges associated with your thoughts. Do you have an urge to minimize it, block it or suppress it? Do you have an urge to maximize it, exaggerate it or cling to it? Neither of these options is mindfully allowing the thought to pass. Just as you would a raccoon on a trail hike, just notice the thought, acknowledge it, and keep on walking. No need to taunt it, no need to kick it, no need to feed it either!
4. Make a choice to mindfully (with intention) re-enter your day. Make a choice to be effective in the scenario you are in. This may mean problem solving, it may mean having a difficult conversation, it may mean LETTING GO of nagging thoughts.

You have so many options with thoughts, it’s a shame to just give into every single one and be at it’s mercy. Just because you have a thought, does not mean you need to act on it (let’s face it…that could be pretty awkward in some situations!). Just because you have a thought does not make it a FACT. (come on…did any of us see Pluto getting his planet status revoked!). Just because a thought is intense or pervasive, doesn’t mean it’s more important than other less frequent thoughts.

I urge you to take some time and consider these concepts. You may not have the ability to control which thoughts pop into your head…you DO have the ability to control what you do with them though!