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!

mental health

Float Loft

Float lofts are popping up all over major cities, in Cincinnati I am now aware of four different locations where you can “float”.  Floating is described as a type of meditation, pain management and stress reduction strategy.  Of course, I had to try it so that I can report back to you!

Upon arrival, I was given a brief introduction to floating.  The attendant described floating as “Flying” if medication is like “driving across country”.  I was ushered into my room where there was a float pod and a shower.  They suggest you put ointment on any cuts you may have as the salt content in the water is very high.  The buoyancy of the water is the key to floating.  There is a salt content is the same as that of the dead sea.  It allows the human body to float on top of the warm water within a sensory deprivation pod.  The pod had some soothing music playing for the first few minutes before it faded into silence.  The lid of the pod can be open or closed; you get more of a sensory deprivation effect with it closed as it is PITCH BLACK.  I am grateful that I do not experience any claustrophobia!

I agree that I felt like I was in a meditative “happy place” much quicker than I am typically able to achieve with meditation; however, after about 30 minutes, I lost my focus and was unable to regain it.  Observing the pod environment became distracting: my hair swirled around and tickled my arm, I bounced off the sides, my arms were coated in crystalized salt, I scratched my nose and then the salt burned…at that time I knew I was done!

After floating, a shower is mandatory due to the saltiness of EVERYTHING in that room! I had to use a ton of shampoo (which they graciously provided) to help clean my hair and I think I used a gallon of conditioner! They also provided a room with hair dryers and mirrors to get yourself re-ready for the day. 

I enjoyed the experience and would highly recommend it to anyone who is stressed out or experiencing chronic pain.  There are discounts at many of the float locations if you have documentation from a medical doctor about your potential pain issues.

Happy Floating!

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!

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Self Care

As a mental health professional, self care is paramount to my well being and ability to do my job well.  I often say that I won’t preach what I don’t practice, so I wanted to share with you five of my self care rituals.

1. Sleep.  My sleep is mandatory and highly schedule! I typically allow for 10 hours of sleep each night, knowing that sometimes it takes 15-20 minutes to unwind and fall asleep.  The longer block of time also allows for me to wake on my own (BEFORE the alarm startles me awake).  If my body happens to need more sleep, it is not difficult to get it with a 10 hour block.

2. Skin. I use a lot of lotion! I have a large bottle at every sink in my house, on my dresser, on my nightstand, in my purse and work bag, at my desk, etc.  I find putting on lotion to be a kind gesture to my body; whether it’s hands, elbows or feet.  It also allows me to pause for a moment several times a day just to reflect on the sensation.

3. Scents. I am an avid candle burner.  One of the first things I do when I get home is light a bunch of candles all over the house.  The warmth, flickering light, and scents are all very relaxing to me.  I also choose my body wash wisely, using a citrus in the morning and lavender in the evening.

4. Music. I always have music on. Records, playlists, Spotify, Pandora, radio, etc. Music to me is very soothing, both listening to it, searching for it, etc.

5. Me time. To me, this means scheduling time to explore.  From new stores, the library, trails, taking the scenic route or walking around the block.  I love to spend time exploring and learning about new places, people, and parts of the city I live in.

What do you do for self care?

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Websites for Support

Just as there are apps, there are also some great websites out there to provide encouragement and distraction if you are struggling with depression and anxiety.  Below are a few of my favorites:

http://www.gretchenrubin.com/ Author of The Happiness Project, this website/blog has some great encouraging posts and realistic challenges you can try to bring more joy to your life.

http://www.positivityblog.com/ “Happiness and Awesomeness Tips that Work in Real Life”

http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/ Realistic and uplifiting blog posts to improve your day/mood.

http://tinybuddha.com/ “Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives”…who doesn’t need that?!

http://thenicestplaceontheinter.net/ Need a hug? This is the site to visit!

http://www.thedailycute.com/ Something about cute puppies and kitties that just lightens the mood and makes it awfully hard not to smile.

http://www.calm.com/ Walks you through a calming experience

http://www.goodnet.org Information related to “good” causes around the world, can be uplifting to see the good things others are doing in the world

And of course this blog!! Don’t forget to check back often for new posts J

What are your favorite web pages to visit when you need a pick-me-up? Comment below so others can also check them out.

Inspiration

Apps for Support (Part 1 – Anxiety)

Anxiety encompasses several diagnoses: panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and social anxiety to name a few.  I may be a bit behind the times on this topic; however I am grateful to have recently discovered that there are many Apple and Android Apps aimed at helping those suffering from mental health difficulties.  I took it upon myself to download and explore many of them and thought that I would share my top picks with you all! All of these apps are free on Android.  Let’s first take a look at apps that target anxiety:

Virtual Hopebox – The “remind me” section allows you to upload personal photos, voice memos, songs and/or videos as a reminder of more pleasant things.  The “distract me” section lets you play word and number games or puzzles from the pictures you uploaded.  The “inspire me” section provides an array of uplifting quotes.  My favorite section is the “relax me” section which offers guided meditations, muscle relaxation and breathing audio.  Lastly the “coping skills” section reminds you to schedule pleasant activities into your week, add accountability partners and set reminders (it will sync to your calendar).

Relax Melodies- 16 relaxing sounds that can even be combined to find your signature sound.

Breathe 2 Relax – This is a fantastic app for paced breathing.  It allows you to set the length of inhales and exhales and offers great verbal assistance to breathe through your anxiety.

Stop Panic & Anxiety – This is a comprehensive anxiety treatment app.  It offers educational articles, coping skill lists, audio (relaxation, mindfulness and emotional training help) and diary tracking.

Self Help Anxiety Management (SAM)– Very user friendly and comprehensive anxiety treatment app.  Offers immediate audio assistance to work though panic, an anxiety diary, encouragement, psychoeducation, and a social network piece.

Mindfulness – Straight forward application, offers guided mindfulness exercises, timers and education related to the reasoning behind and benefits of mindfulness practice.

 

What apps do you use to decrease anxiety? I’d love to hear about them!!

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Do you love yourself?

It seems that negative self talk comes around much more frequently than self praise.  Our negative thoughts can seem loud and chaotic…as if they are overcrowding our brains and drowning out any tiny positive thoughts that try to bloom.    In fact, almost all of the clients I work with (starting at a very young age) describe the habit of self deprecation.  Much like the large trees in a rain forest, the thoughts we give the most attention to will rise up and choke out other thoughts. So what can we do about it?

1. Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true. Period. Let your thoughts come and go.  Notice thoughts without attaching yourself to them.  I prefer the imagery of a train: you have the ability to watch a train roll past you without getting on it right (even if it is annoying and making you late)? Do this with your thoughts…one train car may say “I’m stupid”, another may say “I’m worthless”, another may say “I wonder what’s on TV tonight”.  These thoughts may annoy you and get in the way of productivity; however you can practice the art of letting the thoughts enter and exit your brain.  Let the thoughts roll on down the track without boarding the train and trying to prove the thoughts true.  

2. Thoughts and feelings are two different things. You may THINK that you are worthless; however you are likely FEELING sad.  You may THINK that no one likes you; you are likely FEELING anger or sadness.  You may THINK you are a terrible person; you are likely FEELING shame or guilt.  Recognize thoughts for what they are (and practice #1) and recognize feelings for what they are.  Feelings will rise and fall, they will morph and change.  Realizing that they aren’t forever can help you get unstuck.  

3. Just as you practice any skill, practicing positive self talk is a skill that can be taught, honed, and improved.  I hand out this worksheet to my clients regularly…and regularly receive blank or partially filled out pages in return.  (http://jessicamullen.com/2011/02/19/the-daily-self-love-worksheet/) Do it completely and do it often.  Post what you have written on the fridge or bathroom mirror.  Remind yourself regularly of the things that you like about yourself and your life. Practice thinking content thoughts about your life and you may be surprise by the effect it has on your outlook.  

4. Remember that the Golden Rule works both ways…just as you should treat others as you would want to be treated, you can also treat YOURSELF as you would want others to treat you.  Lets call that the “Platinum Rule”.  

Are you willing to practice these suggestions? Are you ready to let go of the suffering? Are you prepared to be patient with yourself?  I urge you to TRY it…what have you got to loose?

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Mindfulness

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What is mindfulness? 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.  The concept is that you control your mind/thoughts instead of letting them control you.  Mindfulness has been around for hundreds of years and is often traced back to Buddhism.  The literal Sanskrit translation is awareness.  

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”, or what you need to do in order to be mindful, are to observe, describe, and participate.  The “how skills” 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.

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.  As you notice your self judgments, mindfulness tells you not to judge your judging! 

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Progressive muscle relaxation

I cannot express enough, the power and efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation. By and large, it is one of the best treatments for stress and anxiety.  For my clients struggling with chronic anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, and the stress of a chaotic lifestyle, I routinely recommend this type of meditation.  I encourage you to utilize this video as a way to sink into a calm mental place and enjoy the peace it brings.

Modern technology is quite a blessing in this regard. Gone are the days when you would have to purchase relaxation CD’s…using YouTube, it’s quite simple to find a guided meditation that works for you and your style.  Consider searching terms such as “progressive muscle relaxation”, “paced breathing”, loving kindness, and/or relaxation meditation.