Inspiration, mental health

What if?

I’m sure you’ve heard of affirmations and positive self-talk by now. I am sure you know that on some level, they are useful tools to build your self-worth and self-esteem; however, I am also sure that there are times in which the statements are too much of a stretch for you. If the gap between your current mentality and the positive affirmation is too wide, you are likely to give up and avoid practicing. So, what’s the answer???

The answer is “what if”.

What if you believed them. What if you added “what if” to the beginning of the affirmation as a bridge to cross the wide gap? Take a look at the affirmations below and I’ll show you below how to implement the “what if” strategy!

You may struggle to believe “I have the power to control my thoughts”, especially if you struggle with anxiety and rumination. If it feels like Susie Sunshine is harassing you in reading that first affirmation, try reading git like this:

“What if I have the power to control my thoughts?” …does that feel any more realistic? I feel like it can make a huge difference in the choices you make because if there is a chance that you DO have power and control over your thoughts, you might be less likely to give into your next impulsive urge!

Let’s look at the last one on the pink page for a second example: “I am worthy of good things”. If you are struggling with that idea, try stating internally “what if I am worthy of good things?” and let your day unfold from there!

What do you think…are you more likely to use affirmations if you could add “what if” as the bridge?

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. 

accomplishment action adult adventure
Inspiration, mental health

Do the hard work!

I have found that most of us do not want to do the hard work.  We are impatient and want instant gratification.  We want the quick fix and as soon as our symptoms of distress are alleviated, we regress right back to what we were previously doing…despite evidence to the contrary, despite knowing what got us in over our head in the first place. 

Take some examples:

How many of you take your antibiotic prescription AS PRESCRIBED for the entirety of the recommended prescription? A lot of people quit taking it about 75% of the way through the recommended course.  A large percentage of these people also get mad when their symptoms return (with vengeance) and they need another doctor appointment and stronger medications the second time around. Furthermore, not taking antibiotics as prescribed is one of the top 5 causes of the antibiotic resistance we are seeing in the medical field. 

How many of you like commercial breaks? I remember when commercials would come on network TV during childhood (before DVR!!!) and it was NO.BIG.DEAL.  Yet now…how infuriating are the 30 second ads on Youtube or Hulu! We can’t handle having to wait. Fun fact: a study by Nielson found that 45% of DVR recorded commercials are still watched. 

How many of you would say you were a good driver when you started out? Always vowing to fill the car with gas when it hit ¼ of a tank, always wearing your seatbelt, never texting when driving, always abiding by the speed limit? And on how many of those things have you slid back from? According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of deaths from distracted driving has been steadily increasing, up to over 3400 in 2015.

How many of us have a “bedtime”, a “diet plan”, a “workout routine” …and how many of us keep them? The amount American’s spend on dieting each year continues to rise, up to $65 Billion in 2010 and 90-95% of dieters regain all of their weight. We reach for and pay for a marketed quick fix and (shocker) it doesn’t actually work, we never change our core habits related to our physical health and thus end up on a viscous cycle. If you actually want physical health, you have to live a physically healthy lifestyle every day.

As a culture, we have grown pretty lazy and entitled! We want all the results without the hard work!  We want what we want, when we want it!  Part of real therapy (the kind where you truly get better) is a willingness to do the hard work and a willingness to hear the hard stuff from your therapist without heading for the door.  I am asking your, begging you rather, to do some self-exploration on this topic.  Are you willing to delay gratification and learn to tolerate being uncomfortable for the betterment of your future?

GOALS THAT ARE WORTH REACHING TAKE WORK. HARD WORK. 

photo of white and purple painting
Inspiration, mental health

A short list of ways to increase happiness at anytime

1. If the task can be completed or mess can be cleaned up quickly, do it

2. Drink more water

3. Text someone (or 5 someones) “hey, I was just thinking of you! How are you today?”

4. Hug someone, if no one is available: hug a tree

5. Get 8-9 hours of sleep

6. Don’t watch TV

7. Go outside for 5 minutes and just observe nature, in whatever form you can (sky, birds, blades of grass, tree branches)

8. Eat a balanced and healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner

9. Wake up 20 minutes before you “have to”

10. Exercise. Even 10 squats before climbing into bed.

11. Look at funny memes/comics

12. Read something

13. Reflect on one happy memory

14. Fantasize about travel

15. Eat a piece of candy or chocolate

16. Unsubscribe to/unfollow something that annoys you

17. Subscribe to/follow something that inspires you

18. Write down 3 things that don’t suck today

19. Call a relative

20. Dance

21. Choose a few items you can donate

22. Tell yourself, seriously, that you are doing a great job

23. Open your mail instead of throwing it into a pile

24. Meditate (consider trying an app or guided meditation on Youtube if you’re new to it!)

25. Play a board game

26. Sing along to your jams from a simpler time

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

Busy Isn’t Cute

How are you?

  • Things have been so busy, you?

How’s life been?

  • You know how it is, busy!

How’s the family?

  • Oh you know, busy, busy!

Do these brief conversation snippets sound familiar?

We live in a culture and time that seems to place value on productivity and outcomes more than values. Many industries even place productivity requirement and pay for performance mandates on their employees for “motivation”. We brag to one another about how much we have accomplished rather than sharing about our down time. When people ask how we are, the socially acceptable answer generally has something to do with how busy we are (as shown above). We over-enroll our children in extra curricular activities starting in preschool and we overbook ourselves at the same time. Gone are free weekends, gone are lazy Sundays, gone are snow days (hello virtual learning) and summer vacations.

I regularly see people wearing shirts that say things like:

“Hot mess express”, “I run on coffee, chaos, & curse words”, “But first, coffee”, “This is my circus, these are my monkeys”, “I can’t, busy doing mom things”, “my brain has too many tabs open”, “you must be exhausted by watching me do everything”

…and it seems that (while the shirts are good for a laugh) they tend to glamorize being overly busy and living a stressed out life. I am willing to be the bearer of bad news for you: it’s not cute. It’s not cute to overwhelm yourself, it’s not attractive to wear your physical and mental health into the ground, overbooking yourself and/or your family isn’t something to brag about, I don’t envy your lifestyle of being late and surviving on Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks.

Mindfulness is a key component to living a life that is more enjoyable and serenity; adopting a “busy” identity is not compatible with mindfulness. Being busy is the epitome of living on “auto-pilot” and living in a way that leaves you avoiding your emotions. When you are consistently running around and panicking about the logistics of your schedule, you don’t have any time for introspection or self-exploration. The result of this will likely be a very anxious baseline and perfectionistic tendencies. When you DO have free time, it will likely be uncomfortable and you will fill it with other task-oriented behaviors – rigid vacation itinerary, spring cleaning, taking on DIY home improvement project, etc. — and if you can’t do task-oriented behaviors, you will likely have an emotional breakdown of sorts because you don’t know how to handle down time.

Does this sound familiar? Do you want to live differently?

Task oriented behaviors live on one extreme —-Emotionally fueled behaviors are the other extreme. Noticing that they are two ends of a spectrum can help you see that there is a lot of grey zone in the middle! Just because you aren’t tackling things off of your to-do list doesn’t mean that you are an impulsive mess! Just because you feel overwhelmed, doesn’t mean you aren’t getting things done in your world. The grey zone is the goal. Finding ways to honor your emotional experience while also honoring your goals each week. Overly identifying with either extreme is dangerous and risky.

My challenge to you is to take a quite moment to think about how you have been living. How would you answer the first three questions in this post? What changes could you make to slow down and enjoy moments each day? Don’t start with a whole day yet, we don’t want any emotional breakdowns….you can work up to longer time frames. Some ideas might be:

  • listen to calming music
  • take a bath
  • allow yourself to sit and read
  • give yourself a manicure
  • get a massage
  • go for a walk
  • sit outside in the morning and enjoy a mug of tea
  • sit outside in the evening and enjoy a mug of tea
  • stretch

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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!

Inspiration, mental health

DO HARD THINGS

So, I did a hard thing recently: I left my kids for a week and backpacked over 25 miles in 4 days around the Pacific Northwest in Olympic National Park. None of that was easy. There were seemingly a million things in the way of me leaving:

  • The kids got shigella (parasite, sick, ew) and I missed two weeks of work, three weeks before the trip which took a toll on my work, my finances, my sanity, etc
  • I have a connective tissue disorder (just think really wobbly joints) and I’m not “supposed” to do that kind of strenuous exercise
  • There were two mass shootings in the 12 hours prior to our flight, I did not want to get on that plane
  • I have food allergies that make it really difficult to eat when traveling….much less when backpacking!
  • Due to the kids’ illness, I hadn’t been conditioning like I should have been…

I’ll just pause there, on top of all the normal stress of traveling, there were a lot of things that made it seem “too hard” to follow through on this trip. And yet, I went. There were times that I was SO tired (oddly, sleeping by a rushing river kept me awake!) and SO sore (I mean…so many miles with 30lbs on my back), and yet I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The visual rewards were my favorite, it was impossible NOT to stay present with all that my eyes were taking in. I found that the solitude from social media and texting were a refreshing reset on my priorities. I’d encourage you to fast periodically from electronics to get clarity on what you really want to focus on, not on what your notifications tell you to focus on! Time away from your kids (or family) is also difficult (to be honest, this was my biggest struggle!) but I reminded myself that I want them to be strong independent women, and for that to happen, I need to model being a strong independent woman to them!

Please enjoy some of the peaceful moments I captured!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Get out there…literally

I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoy nature. There is something about being out in creation, alone or in company, that is truly awe inspiring and recharges my batteries.  What you may not know is that I am a generally fearful person…I am afraid of heights, speed, water, fish, large mammals in the wild…the list goes on…

In the spirit of trying new things and being out in nature today, I went kayaking for the first time! I have been boating, jet skiing and canoeing, but kayaking had always intimidated me because of the close proximity to the actual water and the increased (at least in my mind) risk of flipping! Today was the day though, I went…I paddled…I conquered!

Sitting so low to the water was incredibly peaceful. Being in the “rapids” (they were choppier, faster and deeper than I’d hoped for…) was exhilarating. Mindfulness was not a hard state of mind to achieve when paddling or floating down the river.  I spotted turtles, geese, ducks and numerous architectural oddities too!

DBT teaches us to accumulate positive events, which means to schedule fun stuff! As a mom of 3 that works full time, it’s hard. It takes effort. AND IT’S NECESSARY! If you want to have a relationship with yourself and others, you need to build into yourself and into your relationships.  I challenge myself to take off one day each month to just be.  It looks different every month; however, each month it’s crucial to reduce burnout and improve relationships. DBT teaches us to be mindful.  Mindfulness allows our brains to get a break from all of the STUFF that is ever-circling.  Mindfulness allows the dust to settle so that we can see clearly upon re-entry into our daily lives.

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Take time. 20190603_124220

Be present.

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Try new things. 20190603_134649

Accumulate positives in your life!

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!