blue skies
DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Meditation Saves Lives



This is my all time favorite representation of the power of meditation. I encourage you to watch the video and reflect on what it could mean for you. When he gets overwhelmed with the multiplying flies (his thoughts, which only multiply when you refuse to let them be) and places his hands over his ears, I am moved to goosebumps. It helps me see that I am not the only one who gets overwhelmed with racing thoughts and I am not the only one that has an INCREASE in racing thoughts when I first sit down to clear my mind.
If you can embrace the thoughts for what they are, blips on the radar and not feed into them, you will find that they settle on their own.

A few great FREE resources for new meditators:

https://www.mindfulleader.org/meditate-together
Insight timer app
YouTube guided meditations

woman in red t shirt looking at her laptop
DBT, Inspiration, Journaling, mental health

STUCK.

What do you do when you are stuck?

  • Stuck in a meeting
  • Stuck in traffic
  • Stuck in line at the store
  • Stuck at home
  • Stuck at the airport
  • Stuck in quarantine
  • Stuck in the parent pick-up line

The reasons for stuck-ness are many…mandated attendance, weather, the person in front of you can’t move; however the feeling is typically the same.  Anger.  It may start off as slight irritation, moving into annoyance and frustration before moving into full blown anger; however typically, being stuck makes us mad!

So how are we going to get through this UNENDURABLE situation?  To start, stop exaggerating! It’s not unendurable.  It’s not typically as bad as we make it out to be in our head.  Let me give you an example:  I like Starbucks (fact), but the line at the drive through is absolutely ridiculous (opinion).  My problem solving skills lead me to park and go inside every time I go there.  I was very content with this decision.  One day, while inside, I was so excited to see that there is a screen for the baristas that tells them how long people have been in the drive-thru.  I expected to see 10 minutes….15 minutes…FOREVER, because let’s face it…waiting in that line is AWFUL! To my amazement, the longest wait time was 2 minutes 45 seconds.  Really??….the line was LONG when I walked in…like wrapping around the building and almost to the main road! Then it hit me: I’ve been inside for about 3 minutes too! Why is it that being trapped in my car causes me to perceive time moving so much slower?  I felt stuck!

How to guide to get unstuck:

  1. Realize that the trick isn’t actually to get unstuck, it’s to change how you feel about being (what you perceive as) stuck.
  2. Stop judging. Words like should, always, terrible, OMG, worst, never…are typically attached to a judgment.  Instead, be descriptive.  Explain how you feel and why. Ex: Repleace “this is the longest line EVER, I ALWAYS get stuck in long lines” with “I am sitting in line at Starbucks, this has happened before”
  3. Observe your posture. Ex: Take your fingernails out of the steering wheel, let your shoulders fall from your ears back to their relaxed state, remove the scowl from your face…
  4. Consider other possible alternatives to catastrophizing Ex: I finally have time to respond to those text messages (safely while not driving), I can plan the next few hours of my day, I can sit here and remember a positive memory to improve my mood, consider things you are grateful for.
  5. Stop fighting reality. In conjunction with #4, the reality is that you are in a situation that you can’t immediately get out of; catastrophizing is an example of the situation worse.  Accept that you are where you are (this will reduce suffering).

I am wondering if you are willing to give it a try?   It’s amazing what changing your interpretation of a situation will do for your mood!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The OTHER Antidote for Depression

If you’ve experienced depression I am sure you’ve heard (once or twice) that you should exercise to improve your mood.  That advice isn’t wrong; and yet, it isn’t easy.  I am here to let you know that there is another very powerful antidote for depression and it takes the form of the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill of BUILDing MASTERY.

Build Mastery is a very small skill in the DBT manual (which makes me sad) but it packs a powerful punch.  To build mastery is to spend time developing a skill/talent/hobby/activity.  It is important that you understand the following table:

Too EasyNo effect, could backfire and make you feel infantilized
ChallengingBuilds self-worth/self-esteem
Too HardLikely leads to you feeling incompetent

The task that you choose to work on (let’s take running a 5k as an example) needs to fall in the middle row: challenging.  If you decide, with no prior training to run a full marathon (too hard), you will injure yourself, fail and probably feel worse about yourself.  If you choose to walk to 10 paces forward (too easy), you won’t feel any sense of accomplishment because that’s too easy! You won’t continue to work toward your goal of running and therefore will feel like the exercise was pointless. The sweet spot involves breaking your goal of running a 5k into reasonable and tangible steps (such as researching and purchasing running shoes, finding local trails/parks, downloading Couch 2 5k or joining a running club, sharing your plan with others, beginning to work up to short jogs and slowly lengthening the distance.

Lets say, you hate running and now you’re angry that I suggested that. Fair enough…you can build mastery in almost any area!

  • Gardening
  • Cleaning
  • Sewing
  • Painting
  • Learning a language
  • Computer coding
  • Playing chess
  • Cooking
  • Any sport
  • Reading (longer books, more complex books)
  • Home repairs
  • Budgeting
  • Crafting

I think build mastery is an attainable skill over this quarantine! I have been brushing up on my watercolor skills as a way to reduce stress and practice a challenging activity.  Take some time to think about what you could work on!20200318_1633398414760588646284697.jpg

photo of abstract painting
Inspiration

Truthbombs about Being Judged and White Privilege

How do you handle being judged because you are different? I can tell you that my go-to is to judge “them” right back. I can tell you that my go-to is anger. I can tell you that I’ve had to WAKE UP about this in recent years…and it was a rough awakening.

I thought I was pretty woke when it came to stigma, racism, homophobia, being accepting, not judging, etc…but then my white privilege started to show and I had to do some work on myself.  (Don’t stop reading).  I didn’t even know what white privilege really was until a few years ago, in fact, the topic used to bother me because I felt like I was being judged for something that wasn’t my fault.  In short, white privilege is the freedom I was able to experience because I never had to experience the looks, stares, comments, eye rolls, and judgments of others over my skin. I never had to worry about whether people thought my parents were lazy because I acted like a damn fool (and I did act like a damn fool).  I never had to wonder if I would be asked to get out of my car when pulled over.  I KNEW in my heart that I could cry my way out of a detention in 6th grade (and I did).  These are not freedoms granted to persons of color and I woke up to this when I adopted my daughters, who are not white. I thought that because I had plenty of friends who were black, that I understood what their experience was.  I thought that because I earned an advanced degree in social work, that I knew about stigma.

I was not ready for the ceaseless comments about them, our family, their “situation”, etc.  I was so ignorant to the systematic racism that still exists and 5 years ago I would not have believed you if you tried to tell me.   I was not ready to experience (secondhand) the judgement of my kids by their peers, their teachers, the public…

Stay with me…

My first reaction was to judge them as ignorant. Live with anger. Try to shield my kids. But that was MY ignorance.  Ignorance is not an insult in this sense. Ignorance means “lack of knowledge” and I did have a lack of knowledge that led me to believe that my truth was the only truth and that my judging other people would somehow inspire them to change.  I was SO wrong. SO VERY WRONG.

So how do you become less angry when people judge you? You educate yourself. YOU educate YOURSELF. You learn about the other person’s point of view.  You need to wake the hell up to their reality and only then will you be able to have an understanding about why their truth has truth. Only then will you be able to put your own judgments aside and possibly have a relationship with the other person.

American culture is at quite a crossroads in my opinion.  We currently have people alive and interacting with one another that lived through segregation and integration. The criminalization of and decriminalization of gay marriage, women earning the right to vote, a first black president, the fear of radical Muslims after 9/11 and our current movement toward inclusion.  We are a nation divided on topics of sexism, racism, homophobia, religious freedoms, left vs right, etc.  I can tell you that the answer is not to judge and blame. The only way through this mess is to openly discuss our differences and WHY there is truth to “our side”…WHILE looking for the truth in “their side”.

Beliefs from childhood are very hard to change. So if someone is judging you, remember it isn’t personal…it’s likely that something about you is foreign to them and they aren’t sure what to do with it…so their natural inclination is to push it away/judge it/make a face of disgust. That is the same way you would probably react to something new/different/foreign.

anonymous young lady paddling boat in lake during trip in mountains
DBT, Inspiration, mental health

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.

If you tend to be an anxious person, progressive muscle relaxation is a simple and easy tool that can take your baseline from an 8/10 to a 5/10 which will improve focus, improve sleep, decrease racing thoughts, release muscle tension…all for free!

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. 

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Breaking Down the Confusion Surrounding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not only a hot topic in our culture today; it is a fantastic tool that anyone can utilize to gain immeasurable benefits.  Many people equate mindfulness to meditation.  This is accurate and inaccurate at the same time.  Mindfulness is a large umbrella concept, meditation does fall under the umbrella; however so do many other techniques.  Mindfulness is merely choosing to focus all of your attention on one thing, one task, or one thought.

Under the mindfulness umbrella, there are two main techniques:

  1. Focusing your attention ON something or some task.
  2. Clearing your mind

Frequent feedback that I get is that the first type of mindfulness is easier.  In our culture, focusing on something is much more acceptable than focusing on nothing.  There is a judgment that focusing on something is still accomplishing something, while clearing your mind is a “waste of time”.

Focusing on SOMETHIING can take almost any form:  purposeful conversations with eye contact and no cell phones, choosing to read a book with limited distractions, painting, doing a puzzle, breathing techniques, body scan, yoga, fully throwing yourself into a sport or exercise etc.  The goal is that you control your attention as opposed to blowing through the breeze at its mercy.  When being mindful, you may notice distracting thoughts or urges; however you choose to let them pass.

Clearing your mind may indeed be more difficult; however the benefits are life changing.  What I hear most often is that it’s weird or the people don’t “know how” to do it.  Clearing you mind can happen in many forms.  Zen mindfulness suggests sitting upright and comfortable in a meditation position.  The only goal is to sit upright and still.  Thoughts will rise and fall, we don’t judge or cling to them if possible.  Sitting periods can be anywhere from 60 seconds to hours at a time.  There are of course other ways to meditate: prayer, reciting mantras, contemplating an issue, chanting, listening to classical or calming music etc.

So why should you buy into this? Because it works!  I will admit I was a skeptic at first.  I thought people would make fun of me or judge me (and perhaps they do…). I didn’t think I could “make time”…I was too busy!  I began practicing as to not be a hypocrite.  The benefits I experienced are right in line with the numerous studies out there and include: boosted mood, mental clarity, improved ability to problem solve, increased feeling of connection, increased wisdom, improved productivity, optimism, and confidence to name a few.

I urge you to give it a try.  Start with stopping several times per day to intentionally focus your attention on the task at hand.  If you are walking, walk.  Feel the knee swing through, the weight transfer from foot to foot, and stop ruminating.  If you are working, work.  Stop multi-tasking, pay attention to the ink on the paper, to your fingers on the keyboard, to the voice on the phone.  If you are watching TV, watch TV.  Stop eating, stop folding laundry, put your phone down and just watch TV.

Once you feel confident in your ability to control your attention in those ways, begin several times per day to stop and breathe.  Just stop what you are doing and take 10 deep, slow breaths.  Center yourself, and then carry on with the task at hand.

Finally, intentionally choose to block out time in your day to practice a formal sitting meditation practice.  Whether 5 minutes or 50 minutes, just take time to sit and be still.  What have you got to lose?

Inspiration, mental health

Coping At Your Desk Job

If you find yourself stuck at a desk for much of your day, I’m sure you are familiar with the slump and boredom that can take over as the day goes on. You might find that you come into work in a decent mood; however, as you sit all day and your posture suffers, you might also find that your mood suffers as well! Sitting in a slumpped position restricts blood flow and communicates to your brain that you have no energy and need no energy. The mind-body connection is real and powerful!

I have two secret weapons to overcome the monotony of sitting all day, remember…as a therapist, I sit on my butt all day…I’m a pro!

Secret weapon #1: your joints

Your joints? Yes! Dictionary.com defines a joint as: the place at which two things, or separate parts of one thing, are joined or united, either rigidly or in such a way as to permit motion. I especially want you to think about the last part of the definition. Joints can keep you rigid or help you move, which do you want to be described as? If you don’t move your body, you will become physically and mentally rigid/stuck as the day goes on. I suggest you get up and move every hour; squats, yoga, stretching, walking, jumping jacks, wall push-ups, etc.

Your joints are your friend. They allow you to move and achieve your goals. You can be their friend and encourage them to move and flex. Treat your joints as if they are your best friend because they fulfill many of the same roles as a best friend does! Friends and joints both:

  • support you
  • lift you up
  • help you grow
  • enable movement
  • allow you to reach things

Why would you ignore and sabotage a friend that helps you in so many ways?!

Secret weapon #2: your five senses

Let’s go back to basics. Your five senses are: tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing. When you are emotionally dysregulated (angry, irritable, anxious, sad, uneasy, worried, depressed, etc) it can be hard to just “snap out of it” from sheer willpower alone. If it were easy, “just relax” would be great advice instead of the start of many fights. This is where your second set of secret weapons comes into play: using your five senses.

Your five senses are always with you and can mostly be used “on the sly” in “ninja-fashion” which relieves any pressure that you might look weird. My desk is covered in items that will help me regulate my emotions via my sensory system! Here’s a list of what I have within arms reach:

  • iced water
  • gum
  • scented and unscented lotion
  • affirmation cards
  • visually pleasing paintings
  • essential oil inhaler
  • essential oil roller
  • squishes
  • compression gloves
  • wrist rest
  • snacks
  • gel pens
  • hard candy
  • stone with quote on it
  • singing bowl

When I am feeling anxious, I am quick to reach for lotions, essential oil items, and ice water. When I am sad or depressed, I am likely to use invigorating scents, affirmation cards and hard candy. When I am angry, my “go to” is calming lotion scents, doodling with gel pens, and using my singing bowl. Over time, you will learn which types of items help you in different situations. It’s important to go into it with an experimental mindset, open to any possible outcomes, and engage fully in the experience.

Move and soothe. That’s my suggestion, try it for a week and let me know how it goes!

woman girl animal dog
DBT, mental health

How to Meditate

Everyone has questions about meditation. How to do it, why to do it, when to do it…

Formal Zen meditation is the specific 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! In fact, most people avoid meditation because they’re afraid they will do it wrong or they will be bad at it (just like any other hobby); practice is required with any new task before you can feel competent at it.

The basic components of Zen meditation are:

  • Sit upright and still on meditation cushions (zafu and zabuton) with three points of contact with the floor to stabilize you.  I often sit in the position shown below “on a stool” but using cushions instead of a stool. My three points of contact are shin, shin and butt. Any position you choose needs to 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 or your legs falling asleep. Having your rear end elevated (by a cushion, stool or chair) is recommended to reduce any blood flow issues.  Frequent shifting is discouraged, I recommend that you experiment with different positions in your first few weeks.
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  • Clear your mind as best you can and focus on either nothing or your breathing. When you are anxious, your mind and body are detached from one another. Focusing on your in breath and outbreath can help realign them.
  • Practice non-attachment and non-judgment 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! Meditation is more about strengthening your “coming back” muscle than your “staying present” muscle!
  • 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. I encourage you to start with ten minutes and stay with that time frame until you get comfortable, then challenge yourself to 20!

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 (look up group meditations in your city and/or on Zoom). 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!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The Right Kind of Fun

Are you having any fun? Are you having the right kind of fun?

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), we talk about “accumulating positives” as a skill to reduce vulnerabilities. What the heck does that even mean?? A vulnerability is something that happens in life that makes you more susceptible to falling into emotion mind (being overly emotional/impulsive). This factors are often things from that day: poor sleep, hunger, physical pain, argument with someone, traffic, etc. but they can involve historical events/traumas/memories. I think of these as the “straws” that build up and ultimately “break the camels back”.

Accumulating positives can help you to build up a coat of armor against the vulnerabilities that will inevitably happen throughout our days and weeks. Have you even noticed how much more emotional you are when you are physically ill or in pain? The same irritability starts to creep up when we go longer periods of time without socializing, engaging in hobbies and/or having fun!

Accumulating positives is split into two portions: short-term and long-term. Below we will look ast each idea!

Short-term:

First you must evaluate what things you enjoy in life! What is clearly fun to one person in life does equate to fun for another. You can find a list of pleasant/fun events here which could be a useful guide. For short-term accumulating positives, it’s important that the choices are realistic (climate, time of year, your financial situation, etc) and could be available without much delay. It is also very important that you throw yourself into actually enjoying the activity! We are very good at worrying… about whether we deserve it, what else we should be doing with our time, whether we can afford it, if we look silly and are being judged, etc. In order to reap the benefits, we need to give our brains a break and really allow ourselves to mindfully enjoy the experience!

A few of my personal favorite ways to accumulate positives are:

  • hiking
  • reading
  • laying in the hammock
  • taking a bath
  • creating art
  • writing

If we don’t make time (yes, schedule it), it’s unlikely to happen, which results in our moods dipping slowly and steadily over time. Depression and irritability will slowly creep up on you and before you know it, you’re not a very fun person to be around!

Long-Term

Accumulating long-term positives takes a little more effort to plan. First and foremost, you need to identify some of your core values! Luckily, values lists are fairly easy to find online…you can check out this one, this one or this one! It can be tempting to choose 20-30 values because they all sound so good; however, I encourage you to pick no more than five core values. My family has chosen our five core values and we posted them up in our dining room, when making major (and minor) choices, I try to be sure the decision aligns with one of our values.

After you identify your core values, DBT has a great format for walking you through the steps of breaking ONE identified value down into goals, steps and baby steps! After all, we don’t get anywhere overnight!

  • Step One: Pick one of the values to work on first (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Two: Identify some goals associated with the value
  • Step Three: Pick one of the goals (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Four: Identify some steps needed to work toward that goal
  • Step Five: Pick one step to work on now (this does not mean the others are not important)
  • Step Six: Identify any baby steps that might be needed to work toward that first step
  • Step Seven: Pick ONE action to take THIS WEEK!

When you start taking steps toward larger goals that are aligned with your own values, it’s called values-based living and it is a huge leap away from depression, low self-worth and lack of identity. Values-based living will also help you feel insulated and protected from negative events because your confidence, self-worth and self-esteem will be intact!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The Other Antidote for Depression

If you’ve experienced depression I am sure you’ve heard (once or twice) that you should exercise to improve your mood.  That advice isn’t wrong; and yet, it isn’t easy.  I am here to let you know that there is another very powerful antidote for depression and it takes the form of the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill of BUILDing MASTERY.

Build Mastery is a very small skill in the DBT manual (which makes me sad) but it packs a powerful punch.  To build mastery is to spend time developing a skill/talent/hobby/activity.  It is important that you understand the following table:

Too Easy No effect, could backfire and make you feel infantilized
Challenging Builds self-worth/self-esteem
Too Hard Likely leads to you feeling incompetent

The task that you choose to work on (let’s take running a 5k as an example) needs to fall in the middle row: challenging.  If you decide, with no prior training to run a full marathon (too hard), you will injure yourself, fail and probably feel worse about yourself.  If you choose to walk to 10 paces forward (too easy), you won’t feel any sense of accomplishment because that’s too easy! You won’t continue to work toward your goal of running and therefore will feel like the exercise was pointless. The sweet spot involves breaking your goal of running a 5k into reasonable and tangible steps (such as researching and purchasing running shoes, finding local trails/parks, downloading Couch 2 5k or joining a running club, sharing your plan with others, beginning to work up to short jogs and slowly lengthening the distance.

Lets say, you hate running and now you’re angry that I suggested that. Fair enough…you can build mastery in almost any area!

  • Gardening
  • Cleaning
  • Sewing
  • Painting
  • Learning a language
  • Computer coding
  • Playing chess
  • Cooking
  • Any sport
  • Reading (longer books, more complex books)
  • Home repairs
  • Budgeting
  • Crafting

I think build mastery is an attainable skill over this quarantine! I have been brushing up on my watercolor skills as a way to reduce stress and practice a challenging activity.  Take some time to think about what you could work on!20200318_1633398414760588646284697.jpg