The Process of Therapy

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Medicine go Down

(A Life Hack worth Knowing!)

A lot can be accomplished in a 50 minute counselling session. In order to keep the momentum of progress in healing, it is important to take some time to reflect on the session rather than shutting it out once you leave the safety of the counselling room and re-enter the busy-ness of daily life. For this reason, Counsellors often suggest “homework” to clients: small things a person can do between sessions that will help them to stay connected with their healing journey.

This is especially true when I am working with folks experiencing symptoms of anxiety. The “homework” I give is often about getting grounded in the present moment: a healthful way to cope with the strong emotions. We now live in an age where there are apps readily available to help with this. While many of these apps are fantastic, some cost money, and some are a little confusing to use. I’d like to share a strategy that I stumbled into – which is both free and user-friendly!

Many people use Instagram to stay connected with friends. However, what if every time you opened Instagram, you were flooded with beautiful words, uplifting images, motivational quotes, and messages of hope? It truly is that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down – in this case, the medicine is acceptance of the trials and tribulations that we as humans are bound to come face-to-face with at some point, and the sugar is our ability to cope with it – or ride the waves of strong emotion.

Want to give it a go? Here are 3 simple steps to get started:

  1. Create an Instagram account (skip this step if you already have one)
  2. Use the search button to add as many people and businesses as you can that reflect positivity. You may need to do a bit of research here, and don’t feel bad about removing someone if you discover they aren’t posting the positivity you had hoped for.
  3. Open the app daily and scroll through the posts to get your daily dose of happy!

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • dailyom (Mindfulness quotes)
  • brenebrown (Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection)
  • eckharttolle (Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher)
  • donmiguelruiz (Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements)
  • beherenownetwork (mindfulness quotes)
  • thichnhathanh.bot (Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes)
  • jack_kornfield (Jack Kornfield, (author, Buddhist Practitioner)
  • happy_maven (mindfulness and positive psychology quotes, therapy dog)
  • puppology (photos of dogs that, if you like dogs, is sure to make you smile!)
  • tarabrach (Tara Brach, psychologist and mindfulness teacher)
  • mygrateful.life (gratitude and mindfulness quotes)
  • insightla (mindfulness quotes)
  • drdansiegel (Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist, author, mindfulness teacher)
  • drpeterlevine (Peter Levine, author, somatic experiencing teacher)
  • stevefarber (motivational speaker)
  • melrobbinslive (motivational speaker)
  • theellenshow (Ellen Degeneres)
  • calm (mindfulness quotes)

Have more to add? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Credits:
– “A spoonful of sugar” quote – Mary Poppins
– Instagram image – Thich Nhat Hanh
– Instagram image – Jack Kornfield
– Instagram image – Dailyom

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.

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Affect Regulation

Focusing in the Present Moment

Taming your Monkeymonkey mind

Learning to be focused in the present moment can be challenging. I don’t believe this is just the case for those who have experienced trauma, of for those with anxiety. I believe it is a symptom of fast-paced society, where we are driven to do more and where flashy technology and advertising vies for our attention. Often when we try to concentrate, our minds have a tendency to wander. It just takes some focused attention (and patience with yourself) to learn to be present and in the moment.

A distracted mind has even been referred to as ‘monkey mind’. I imagine this as having a monkey contained in a room – he’d be jumping from one piece of furniture to another, climbing the ways and hanging on the curtain rod or blinds – and all the while chattering incessantly. It is in this way that our minds tend to do the same: engaging in an endless flow of dialogue, jumping from topic to topic. If you are trying to focus your attention in the present moment, please do not be discouraged if your mind wanders! It is natural. Everyone has ‘monkey mind’ from time to time!

Reassure yourself that iI takes practice to become mindful: to be in the moment and aware of your thoughts without judgment.  If you notice while you are doing any of containing and grounding strategies that your mind wanders, be patient with yourself. It’s hard to learn a new skill; do not put yourself down or call yourself names. Most likely there have been enough people across your lifespan who have done that. Simply notice that it happened, be kind to yourself, and return to where you left off.

Resources:

Tolle, E. (2003). Stillness Speaks.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Guided Mindfulness Meditation, Series 1.