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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

A few years ago I was at the store looking for something unique to hang on the wall in my counseling office. Scouring shelves of artwork, I finally came across a piece with a butterfly near the top and the words “Patience in the present; Faith in the future; Joy in the doing.” I thought it was perfect for the type of work I do so I bought the piece and it has since been hanging in the office.

From time to time I’ll catch myself looking at the quote in between my sessions and wondering if I myself am having patience in the present, faith in the future and joy in the doing. The answer is sometimes, “no.” In a world where expectations are high and we have technology which we allow to keep us working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, having patience can be particularly difficult. We want to get things done. We want to achieve. We want what we want when we want it.

So, how can we teach ourselves to slow down and have patience when life is whipping by at lightening fast speeds? Here are three steps that can lead us back to the present, build our patience and help us to get more accomplished.

1. Breathe deeply!

How many times have you caught yourself feeling so rushed that you get dizzy or disoriented? It’s not uncommon for those who are impatient to subsequently experience heightened levels of anxiety and shortness of breath. Being on the go continuously, we can fail to notice that we’re not breathing appropriately. The number one skill I aim to teach my clients is to breathe! Deeply! Taking the time to slow down, breathe air deep into the lungs and out again, has been shown to lower the heart rate and can decrease levels of anxiety. I usually then ask them to try the following two steps…

2. Remind yourself that you are where you are for a reason.

There are so many times when I’m driving down the highway and I get behind someone driving well below the posted speed limit. I can’t always get around the vehicle and that’s when I may notice my impatience increasing. “Oh, come on!” I might exclaim as I’m forced to slow my vehicle. However, by shifting my thinking from “they are in my way” to “I’m right where I need to be in this moment,” I can focus on driving responsibly and having patience for the other person. I’ll also sometimes tell myself that I don’t know what is going on for the person driving the car slowly and that they may have good reason (new driver, difficulty seeing, car problems, a new baby on board, etc.). Once you remind yourself that you are where you are for a reason, then…

3. Bring your attention to only what you need to do right now, in this moment.

When we have demands coming at us from all directions, we can feel as if we’ll never catch up. This can lead to increased levels of anxiety and sleepless nights. If we pull our attention back to only what we need to do in the present, we can accomplish more and reduce our feeling of being overwhelmed. Something I ask clients who have trouble sleeping due to laying in bed thinking about all of the things they need to get done, is this: “What can you truly do about it at 11 p.m.?” I follow up by encouraging them to make a To-Do List during their day, mark off the things they complete, and when they lay down in bed at night, all they have to do is sleep. The rest of the list can wait until the next day.

The next time you notice yourself rushing around, unsure which end is up, try breathing deeply while reminding yourself that you are where you need to be in this moment. Then focus only on what you need to do right now. By practicing these three steps, you’re training yourself to become mindful and in turn can lower your level of impatience.

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candleThe hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here and many of us will soon finish our shopping, attend seasonal events, or visit with family and friends before awaking Christmas morning, sitting around the tree in pajamas, sipping coffee and enjoying the blessings we have received.

But for some, this time of the year is more difficult than enjoyable. It may be a time when we remember a loved one who is no longer with us or we struggle to be around the various foods that will be before us. It could be a time when we realize how last year’s Christmas was bigger and better because we recently lost a job and could barely afford to purchase more than a candy cane for someone’s stocking. Or perhaps just being around family is awkward or stressful. Whatever the reason, the holidays can be challenging.

So what can we do to help ourselves get through a time of year intended to be merry and joyful? I’ve compiled some suggestions based on a mix of my personal experience, as well as my knowledge as a counselor. However, I realize that not everyone can find the peace they are seeking this holiday. To help, I encourage all of us to:

1. Stay in the present moment and try not to dwell on what has happened in the previous days/years. This helps us to not miss out on the experiences that are right before us; the memories that are creating themselves today.

2. Focus on the positive aspects of your life. Even when we can’t or don’t want to see them, we all have positives in our lives and this is a great time of year to remind ourselves of the things that have helped us feel good throughout the past 12 months.

3. Call a family member who lives far away and is unable to directly share the holidays with you. Calling my aunts, uncles, cousins or grandmother who all live in Rhode Island gives me a feeling of warmth and love. The phone call may be short, but it reminds me that there are many more people in this world who care about me and about whom I care.

4. Reach out to someone who may not have anyone at all. Perhaps you can stop by a local nursing home and provide Christmas cheer to a man or woman who is lonely or buy a cup of coffee or a muffin for a homeless person you see on the street everyday on your way to the office. Evidence shows that helping others can increase/renew our sense of purpose and feeling of hope.

5. Laugh. Laughter truly is one of the greatest medicines and the best part is that it’s FREE!!! Who doesn’t enjoy a good chuckle now and then? If you’re alone this holiday, there are many websites that have funny videos posted, so why not Google such videos and give yourself a chance to laugh out loud.

6. Practice deep breathing. This is probably the number one skill I teach to my clients, no matter what their age, because it works. When we’re experiencing tough emotions, such as anxiety, taking deep breaths in through our nose and out through our mouth, slowly, can produce a calming effect and is actually proven to slow the heart rate.

7. Listen to your favorite music, even if it’s not holiday related. Music, like laughter, is shown to help increase mood. When you start to stress or the noise of all the kids in your family starts to bring up negative emotions for you, pop in your earbuds and turn on your MP3 player. If you don’t have a MP3 player, head to a quiet part of the house, turn on a TV or a radio and allow yourself to relax.

8. Give yourself grace and know that it WILL be Okay. I’m thinking specifically of those who struggle with food concerns and how much anxiety can be present for those individuals during this time of year. Know that it’s normal and okay to take part in holiday meals and that if we pace ourselves, while practicing some of the above skills, we will get through.

9. Watch a holiday movie. Whenever I see that “Elf” is playing on TV, I instantly feel better. Ironically, the first time I saw this movie I was in a very difficult place in my life. However, it’s a movie that is hilarious and brings to me positive, happy feelings and truly gets me into the spirit of the holiday. There are others that are just as good, such as the old Charlie Brown movies. Whatever you choose, let yourself enjoy it!

10. Pray or talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Coping with the challenges of the season is in no way easy and I’m a believer in prayer and in talking about what’s going on. In those moments when I truly don’t know what to do, I bow my head and say, “God, I need you. Give me strength to get through.” I’ll also quote Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God,” which reminds me that I don’t have to know all of the answers to why things are the way they are and I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. He is there to guide me and to provide that which I cannot provide myself. On another note, if you are having trouble handling a family member, go to that person and gently express your concerns. I use a structure that I also teach my clients: “When you (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank). I need (fill in the blank).” An example? “When you crack jokes about me being unemployed, I feel angry because I worked very hard. I need support and compassion as I try to find another job.” Make sense?

Some additional things we can do to improve our holiday experiences include cooking, baking, crafting, playing in the snow, taking winter/holiday photos.  Maybe you’ll be able to practice at least one of the above and certainly feel free to let me know how you did.

With that I’ll say, try to have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Photo taken by Maggie Wright of Wilmington, Ohio.

Humans have a natural tendency toward worrying. When we don’t know what is going to happen in any given situation, we may start to feel ourselves getting keyed up and thinking the worst possible outcome will come into existence. We may lose sleep, no longer have a normal appetite and becoming irritable without intending to do so. That’s what worry does.

A former co-worker of mine told me during a spiritual conversation one day that worry is a sin. He mentioned how the Bible instructs us not to worry and how God is in control, we just have to have faith. When I heard this, it helped change my perspective about the excessive worrying I had done my whole life. Yes, I was dubbed a “worry wart.”

This, along with becoming familiar with acceptance and mindfulness, has transformed my worry into productive energy. Acceptance-based interventions are part of a treatment modality known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, developed in the 1970s by Marsha Linehan. Counselors and psychologists across the country use this as part of their treatment (and insurance companies love that).

Part of the goal in DBT is to work toward acceptance of what IS and even what WAS. So often we can fall into the mindset of “I wish…” or “I should…” rather than looking at what we are thinking, feeling and doing right now. Adding mindfulness to our lives takes acceptance of the here-and-now, this moment, and allows us to be fully present where we are.

Sound complicated? It’s actually quite the opposite, but it does take a conscious effort to alleviate worry and practice acceptance and mindfulness. However, it DOES work. At least, that’s my experience. When we can stop “shoulding on ourselves” and move to a place where we can be okay with what is in front of us in this moment, we can then start to realize that there is no need to worry about the next moment. It will take care of itself.

Let me give you an example of how I use these practices in my daily life. My schedule is overwhelming as I am finishing graduate school and sometimes I look at my planner thinking “How in the world will I ever get all of this done?” Then I start stressing out and feeling like I want to give up because it seems impossible to complete all of these tasks. It is in that moment that I stop, take a deep breath or two, remember where I am (i.e. work or school) and re-focus on what I must do in the moment; what’s the task at hand. If I have a paper due in three weeks, of course I don’t want to wait until the last minute to finish it, but if I’m at work and there is nothing I can do to complete the paper while I’m there, I’m able to notice the stress coming up, feel it, not judge it, and let it go (also known as having a “teflon mind”). I can then stay present in the moment and my worry subsides.

At first I thought there was simply no way I could stay in the moment. Worrying is what I did… always. I was turned off by the idea of accepting what is and being fully present where I am because I “don’t have time to practice all of this stuff. I have too much to get done.” Yet, those were the reasons it was crucial to implement such skills.

DBT skills extend beyond acceptance and mindfulness, but I will spare you and not get into all of that. You can Google DBT to find a wealth of information that may help you stop worrying for worry’s sake.

In this moment, I am finishing this blog and heading out the door for work.

Until next time…

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