Mindfulness

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Rarely do we truly have control. But, the illusion that we do sustains us in our daily life. It gives us a sense of the world around us as a predictable place. Right now as our world is battles with the COVID19 virus, we don’t have that sense of predictability. And that can leave many folks worried, fearful, and desperate. I’d like to offer a few simple ideas for you to consider bringing into your daily life. In the face of uncertainty, these mindfulness-based tools can assist you in returning to the present moment.

Please know that these ideas are not ‘one size fits all’. Please take what works for you, adapt it, or grow it to make it more suitable to your daily life.

Stay-Well-during-COVID19-3

Start your day with a Reflection: Take a quiet moment before the action of your day amps up. Listen to meditation on your smart phone, or just draw your attention inward and ask yourself what you need to stay well this day. Then, set your intention for the day. Setting an intention can just foster an area of focus for the day. For example, it could be “Today I will be present and kind”. It creates an anchor for you to return to throughout the day. Writing down the intention and placing it somewhere you will see it throughout your day can help ensure your bring your attention back to it as needed.

Get out of Bed and Get Dressed: If you are isolated or in quarantine at this time, and your daily life has been interrupted (you are no longer going to work, to school, etc.), please still get up and get dressed. Maintain your morning hygiene routine, or start the one you’ve always wanted and never had time for.  Your mental health with benefit from the day being bookended with getting up and getting dressed in the morning, and washing up and putting on pyjamas at the end of the day.

Daily Goal Setting: Regardless of your living situation, set 3 small, achievable goals for each day. These goals can range from “I will get out of bed at 8am and take a shower this morning”, to “I will sit on the floor and play a game with my child today”. Set 3 small goals every morning, and take a moment to reflect on them each evening. Achieving the small daily goals will build self-esteem and integrity with yourself, because you accomplished that which you intended to accomplish.

Go Outside: If you are socially distancing or in quarantine, take a few moments to go outside. You don’t have to be in a public place to be outside. Take a short walk or even just sit outside. The change of scenery will help bolster your mood.

Connect with Love: if you are living with children or have a spouse, make sure to connect with them with love each day. These are uncertain times for them as well, and they are likely also feeling fearful and/or worried. Try speaking their love language at least twice a day. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of love languages, check out: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/

Don’t Stop Connecting: If you live alone, please maintain your social connections. Call, text, or e-mail with at least one person a day. Do not go this alone.

Take care, and please stay safe.

Mindfulness

Settling Activation with Intention

savingPNG-3We humans are attuned to each other in very complex ways. We can feel uplifted by a person who’s in a good mood, understood by a person showing compassion, and even anxious when someone else is anxious.

Be the conscious creator of your mood. If you start to feel ungrounded in the company of others, take a moment to assess what’s going on. What is the conversation about? What body language and tone of voice are those around you using? What energy are you picking up on from them?

Then, take a moment to connect with your breath, and the connection of your feet on the ground. Breath in deeply and fully through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Acknowledge your ability to be kind, and to live with intention. Project that outward, and watch what happens. Chances are you will start to influence the energy of those around you. And, you’ll feel way more grounded in the process. 🙂

Mindfulness

The Shortlist Series: How to get Unstuck from Negative Looping Thoughts

The quote in the image above describes an idea that is so simple and yet not very easy. When we find ourselves stuck in negative looping thought-patterns, we often need a way out – a life preserver of sorts to pull us to safety. Here are  four suggestions that might help you exit those negative thought cycles. And as always, if you have a strategy that works for you to healthfully exit negative looping thoughts – please add it to the comments.

unstuck

1. Anchor to the Present Moment

When we find ourselves stuck in negative thinking, we may be ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. We can not change the past, and when we worry about the future, we are robbing today of its strength. Returning to the present moment may be just what you need to let your nervous system settle. Once you shift out of that worry or fear loop, your problem-solving brain can come back on-line, and the negative loop is interrupted. Not sure how to get back into the present moment? Here are some ideas:

5-4-3-2-1: Look around the room you are in, and carefully describe 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch (actually move around and touch the items), 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.

Ground with Colour: Look around the room you are in and take notice of everything you can see that is blue. Go slowly, pausing to notice what the item is and its particular shade of blue. Move on from blue to notice everything that is green, then orange, and so forth until you have gone through all the colours or until the looping thoughts have settled.

Letter Association by Word: Pick a word any word, and then break it down letter by letter, coming up with as many other words that start with each letter of your chosen word. (For example: if your word is COPING, start by thinking of as many words as you can that begin with the letter C, then O words, then P, then I, then N, then G.)

(These strategies are helpful because they focus our attention in a directive manner, and thus can interrupt the negative or looping thoughts that so often accompany anxiety. And the result? You return to the present moment, and the looping thoughts are interrupted.)

2. Connect with Compassion

When we are caught up in negative looping thoughts, our heart tends to be closed off. In other words, we might be thinking about the worst-case scenario, putting ourselves down, feeling as though things will never get better, and even thinking negatively of those in our lives. To exit the negative loop, try mixing in some compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff writes, “instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”. Having self-compassion means that you honour and accept your humanness – not self-downing but just being present with loving kindness. Not sure how to connect with self-compassion? Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk kindly to a small child
  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk kindly or encourage a friend or someone you care deeply for
  • Try this breathing exercise for self-compassion: As you exhale, picture yourself exhaling stress, anger, worry, and frustration. As you inhale, picture yourself inhaling peace and acceptance. Continue slowing and deepening your breath, exhaling the worry, etc., and inhaling what you need.
  • Look at a picture of yourself at a younger age and remember you were once a child deserving of kindness and understanding
  • Look at a picture of a loved one (or look at them if you are near them) and think of 3 things you love about them
  • If you have a pet, take a few minutes to pet or play with them, and soak up some impromptu pet therapy!

3. Refreshen Self-Awareness

What is beneath your upset? Are you feeling unheard, unworthy, or unaccepted? Sometimes when we are caught up in a negative cycle, we start telling ourselves things that serve to keep the cycle going. These might be called thinking traps, negative core beliefs, or psychological defences. Regardless the name you use – take a moment to deepen your self-awareness and tune in to the narrative you are telling yourself. If it is negative, take a few moments to breathe deeply and return to the present moment with loving-kindness. You might want to question that negative narrative. For example, is what you are telling yourself 100% true, 100% of the time? What would you rather be telling yourself, or what could also be true instead? The latter question will start you down the road of connecting with the positive belief you would like to build.

4. Let it out

Sometimes talking it out can help. Is there someone in your life that you could vent to? Not for advice (unless you want it) – but rather a sounding board who can witness your tidal wave and be waiting on the shore as you ride the surf out. Emotional settling can occur when we connect with a caring friend or family member and feel heard.

If no one is around, try venting by writing out what you are feeling. You can also draw, doodle, scribble, or paint. Click here if you haven’t used writing to vent and want to hear some ideas on how to get started.

Have you discovered some ideas that help to healthfully shift out of negative looping thoughts? If so, please add what works for you in the comments.

Mindful Parenting · Mindfulness

Turn your Internal Compass Toward Loving Kindness

loving_kindness_meditation

I first learned the loving kindness meditation during a training course. I had been so taken by it that I immediately began integrating it into my personal life. Over the years, I have brought it forward into my counselling practice.

The loving kindness meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition as a means to develop compassion. Its simple sentences aim to foster unconditional acceptance, love, and compassion for self as well as for others, with no expectation of anything in return.

In this post, I am sharing two versions of the loving kindness meditation. The first one is longer and may take approximately 10 minutes, and the second one is abbreviated for those days when we feel pressed for time.

Here are some suggestions on when to use the loving kindness meditation:

  1. To get centred in the morning and set your intention for the day. Take a few minutes each morning, and create space for loving kindness in your life.
  2. To tune your heart. Elisha Goldstein writes about using compassion to tune the heart, and places this action in the context of a natural antidepressant.
  3. To let go of the emotional journey of others, and still feel as though you are helping. There will be moments when we want to help those in our lives, but we can not carry their emotional suffering for them. The loving kindness meditation creates space for you to connect with compassion for others, in a way that honours their strength and ability.  I have often directed my loving kindness meditation to my children, when they have appeared to be struggling with peers or with the pressures of adolescence. I have directed it toward my husband, when I have known he was entering into stressful times at work. I have directed it toward family members, when I have been keenly aware of the miles between us and my inability to reach out and hug them. When sitting with the loving kindness meditation, picture the individuals in your life, their inherent goodness, and their desire to be happy. Wish the words of the loving kindness meditation to them, with an open heart, unconditional acceptance, and without judgment.

The loving kindness meditation can help you cultivate compassion for self and others. Challenge yourself to use it daily for 2 weeks, and notice with curiousity the beneficial impact it can have on you and your relationships!

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Resources:

  • The loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the first image) was shared with me by Counsellor Mahara Albert, in Vancouver BC, during the Stopping the Violence core training by EVA BC (2008)
  • The shortened version of the loving kindness meditation (as depicted in the second image) is by Jack Kornfield

Prefer to have the meditation read to you? Check out these options:

 

Mindfulness

Authentically You

Avengers

All too often we get caught up in trying to be someone or something we’re not. That is why when I was watching the new Avengers movie recently, this quote really jumped out at me:

“Everyone fails at becoming who they’re suppose to be Thor. A measure of a person is how well they succeed at becoming who they are”.

There are many reasons different reasons why each of us might become caught up in someone else’s expectation of us. But take a few moments to think about your expectations for yourself. Yes-   you are going to have to quiet that inner critic for this exercise!

Take some time to ponder the following questions, as a way to truly get to know you and the driving forces in your life that originate from your own heart:

  1. What causes you to connect with joy?
  2. What are 3 values you live your life by, and where do you think these originated from in your life?
  3. What are the general themes that tend to cause your inner critic to scream out?
  4. What (or who) enables you to connect with love?
  5. Who and what are you most grateful for in your daily life?
  6. If you could plan the perfect day, what would it look like?
  7. If you could plan the perfect day to spend with just yourself, what would it look like?
  8. Are there some areas of your life that fear is stopping you from moving forward? What are they, and what would need to change for that fear to be a little less?
  9. What are 3 short-term goals you currently have in your life? What is the driving force behind these goals?
  10. What are 3 long-term goals you currently have in your life? What is the driving force behind them? If it isn’t you, who is it and why?

Living in the shadow of who you think you’re supposed to be can be a big source of stress. I hope you take the time to explore and discover and accept the wonderful person that is you. Remember, we are all works in progress, so go slow, and go with intent.

Mindfulness · The Process of Therapy · Trauma Therapy · Uncategorized

Living Life: Even on the Tough Days

On the darkest of nights, when there seem to be no options – no solutions to the despair you feel, how will you find your way? When it seems like there is no hope left, will you hold out hope for your own fire?

I’d like to write about suicide, and the option that takes just the tiniest spark of hope: living.

Ask 10 people for their thoughts on suicide, and chances are you will receive 10 completely different responses. Suicide is a word packed with 100 times more emotion than syllables. And even in sitting down to write about it today, I had to wait for the whirl of emotions to slow before I could hear the one constant resounding  thought: I value life. 

I value life.

I didn’t always though. I was once an impulsive and shy kid with few friends, the target of ridicule by classmates – once or twice even by teachers. I knew rejection. I knew loneliness. I even knew the pain of grief when cancer claimed my mother . I knew feeling directionless. Feeling unsure of myself. Of having no one to turn to who would truly have my back.

One day, during my Masters degree training, I took a class on suicide risk and intervention. After learning crisis intervention and theory, we were required to demonstrate our suicide intervention abilities by role playing client and clinician. When it was my turn to play the role of the ‘client’, I  harnessed those many years past from my youth, when living another day felt unbearable. And while I could still acknowledge the pain of those days, I could barely get the words out in order to “act” suicidal in the moment. And that was when it dawned on me: I value life. I could not even pretend for one moment that I didn’t want to be alive.

I have bad days and sad days. I have lonely days and grumpy days. But I also have good days and joy-filled days. I have peacefully quiet days and blissfully calm days. I have days when I feel invisible but I have so many more days when I love and value myself. The thoughts and emotions that awaken thoughts of suicide are a signal that you are in pain. That you are hurting and feel powerless to create change yet that you desperately need to create that change in order to be ok. Sometimes it might feel as though that change is impossible. Sometimes it might feel as though the energy required to act on creating that change is just too much. So what can you do?

We need to get out of our own heads. The view one takes of the world when feeling depressed or anxiety-ridden can become a habit and can breed more thoughts that are characteristic of depression or anxiety. We need to really look at the people in our life and ask the tough questions. We need to turn towards the people who care and we need to let them care. We need to be kind – even to ourselves. We need to listen. We need to be present. And in doing so, we can ignite the tiniest spark of hope to keep going, to find your fire – because this life really can be good.

If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. Call, text, email, talk. You have more worth than you know.

If there isn’t someone you can talk to, or a Crisis Line in your area, check out The LifeLine App in the App Store.

SG blog

 

Mindfulness

Where did I just go? Developing Mindfulness in Exercise

Physical fitness has long been a go-to stress reliever in my life. However, at times I have to admit: I wasn’t full present during workouts. My thoughts can be loud, especially the ones that centre around things I “should have” done differently, or to-do lists for the day. The more these nagging thoughts would get in, the more I would lose my mojo and want to end the workout. Then I would feel bad, and stress would actually increase during the very thing that I was doing to decrease stress.

Sound familiar?

When we get caught up in thoughts of the past or future, or get stuck in negative thoughts, we actually set off a stress response in our body. And, the part of our brain we rely on to keep us engaged and focused in the present moment goes off-line. Our thoughts and emotions change our awareness. If we suddenly found ourselves ruminating on negative thoughts, our outlook will shift and we will lose energy and focus for the task at hand.

Mindfulness is all about being fully in the present moment, with loving kindness in our heart, and without judgement. When we take the time to cultivate mindfulness, we learn that we do not need to “get hooked” by our thoughts. We learn that we can watch the chatter of our mind, to extend compassion to ourselves as needed, and become better able to shift focus back into the present moment.

Returning to the Present Moment: Daily Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness

There are books and workshops and retreats designed to help individuals cultivate mindfulness. These are all brilliant ways to start a new habit. But they can take time. Here are a few strategies you can use right now to bring mindfulness into each day and ultimately, into each of your workouts.

Make a plan: When we are learning something new, we are far more likely to successfully learn it when we have a plan, and when we create time for practice.

Create your plan: one way to cultivate mindfulness is to take a moment each day to focus on your breath, to get fully into the present moment. If you need help getting into the moment, or need guidance on slowing and deepening the breath, try an app. Some good ones are Calm App and Mindfulness Daily App. If you do not need guidance but find that you don’t remember to check in, set some alarms on your phone to go off during the day. Give these alarms descriptive names such as: Now is a great time for 1 minute of deep breathing, and Daily Check-in: how are you feeling in your mind and body?

Make time to practice: Life will always be busy.  The world of today has conditioned us to hurry, to multi-task. The cost is this lifestyle is that we constantly feel rushed. If we do not learn to pause, we risk living every day with a sense of urgency, an urgency which on it’s upside enables us to be productive but on it’s downside breads anxiety and seeds a sense of inadequacy. Slow down, allow yourself to pause: we can all afford a few minutes each day to connect with mindfulness. Take the moment to focus on your breath and to return to the present moment.

Set your intention before you workout: before you being your workout, take a moment to breath deeply and set your intention. Setting an intention will give your workout direction. Think of it as a road map: we might not need it on our road trip, but if we get lost it sure is necessary to get us back on track. Today during my spin class my intention was “I will just be present and do my best”. Each time I noticed my mind drifting, I was able to return to my intention with loving kindness. What does that look like? It is noticing my thoughts had drifted by saying “there I go again…” and then repeating my intention.
Use a mantra: Mantras are statements we say repeatedly and which have significant power in impacting our attention, outlook, and mood. You can use any statement that works for you to bring your attention back to the present moment. What words do you need to repeat to yourself to stay in the moment of your workout? It could be “Right Here Right Now” or “Strong and Fit”. If you listen to music while working out, use the beat of the music as your repeat the mantra to yourself.

When all else fails, count: When we are counting, intrusive thoughts are less able to enter our awareness. That is why knitting can be so grounding for people: they have to count stitches. There are many ways to use counting during a workout. You can count your reps; if you are walking or running you can simply repeat 1-2-1-2-1-2 as you shift your weight from foot to foot.

Our thoughts will always be there. Mindfulness just lets us choose when and how we will attend to them. Using a few simple mindfulness strategies when exercising can enable you to derive more enjoyment from it while also cultivating compassion and self-acceptance. You might even experience an increased sense of accomplishment because you were fully present for something you set out to do.

spartan_c_6

Affect Regulation · Mindfulness

You want me to do What??! A Recipe for Creating Presence

I recently started an on-line parenting workshop. My motivation for taking it was 2-fold:

  1. I am a parent, and often have moments of complete bewilderment. I read a quote recently that completely sums it up: “Parenting is like looking both ways before crossing the road, and then being hit by an airplane”
  2. I often work with parents in my counselling practice, and want to ensure I am knowledgeable on age-appropriate approaches and research

It is a brilliant program – based on theory first, with the goal of inspiring parents to work from a philosophical approach that acknowledges both child developmental needs and attachment theory – then branching out to assist parents in understanding how to apply that theory. I am really enjoying it.

However, I have noticed that while the approaches are fantastic, there isn’t mention of why parents often are not able to stick with their best parenting intentions. I’m talking about how often child behaviours can trigger a parent. When a person is triggered, they are no longer in the moment. When a person is triggered, they are experiencing emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts from a past time when perhaps they were hurt in some way. These are the moments when our reactions do not fit the situation at hand. These are the moments when we tend to say things we regret. And these are the moments that as parents, we stray from our best intentions.

Working through our painful memories and experiences in therapy is certainly one way to end the power of triggers. Deep breathing is another tool that is super powerful at moving a person out of a trigger and back into the present moment. I’d like to offer another tool that can be used right away. It’s a form of mindfulness meditation that when used daily, can take both the power out of the trigger and also reduce the chances of your child’s behaviour triggering you. It’s called the Loving Kindness Meditation. While there are many versions, I’d like to share one that was written up by Jack Kornfield, a leader in mindfulness writings.

Here is how it works:

Take a few moments every day – perhaps in the morning, or before you go to bed at night. Read each of the following lines, pausing after each to genuinely visualize what that would look like for you – without judgment, and with loving kindness in your heart. Once you are finished, read the lines again, this time pausing to visualize your child. Genuinely wish these things for your child, without judgment, and with loving kindness in your heart.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe from internal and external danger.

May I be well in my body and my mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

Hint: when reading it with your child in mind, change the phrases to read “May you be…”. Taking just a few minutes each day to shift your focus into loving kindness can have a profound impact on how you handle those tough situations. Give it a go – I’d love to hear how you find it!

Loving Kindness meditation from Jack Kornfield,
https://www.jackkornfield.com/meditation-lovingkindness/