You’re hearing it in schools, in the workplace, and on social media, this idea or concept of being “mindful” or “mindfulness”. So, what exactly is this “new” technique that everyone is talking about?
The concept of mindfulness has been around for centuries. Mindfulness provided the way in early Buddhism to liberation, “constantly watching sensory experience in order to prevent the arising of cravings, which would power future experience into rebirths”. It is believed that the practice of dhyana, which is a series of cultivated states of mind that lead to a “state of perfect equanimity and awareness” may have been the original core practice of the Buddha, which aided the maintenance of mindfulness.
Today in modern psychology we look upon mindfulness as the process of developing the skill of bringing one’s attention to whatever is happening in the present moment. To really allow ourselves to experience what is happening to us and around us at an exact moment in time, to “stop and smell the roses”.
Although it can sometimes seem very challenging to tap into ourselves at certain moments, with practice through a series of different skills and techniques, such a meditation and deep breathing exercises, you can learn how to be present in the moment, which can have a profound impact on your mind, body and soul.
The act of being mindful can lead to a reduction in stress and anxiety and provide an overall sense of calmness when done regularly.
I have used mindfulness techniques and skills throughout my therapeutic practice to help clients feel more centered and aware of their emotional state. The wonderful thing about some of these techniques is that they can be applied anywhere at any time, allowing us a moment to regroup and reset in a sometimes very hectic day.
One technique that can be used anywhere is Anchoring. It is a wonderful way to calm yourself and refocus your thoughts. You start by directing your attention into the lower ½ of your body. Begin by focusing on your feet and how they feel inside your socks or shoes and against the ground. Expand your attention to include the sensations in your lower legs and then your upper legs. Do they feel heavy or light? Warm or cold? Tingly or numb? Now move upwards to include the sensation of your breathing, really focus and concentrate on relaxing as you exhale each breath. Continue to do this until you feel you have centered yourself and are in a calm state.
This is a great exercise you can do any time with your eyes open or closed, while sitting, or even as you are walking around. This exercise can help you be mindful of your own body and what you are experiencing at that moment. It allows you to let go of negativity and center yourself in a positive calm state of mind.
So, the next time you are feeling stressed or just need a moment, be Mindful, anchor yourself and then breathe.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month – what do most people think of when they think of mental health? Most often it is celebrities such as Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, or Kurt Cobain. This often becomes the most visceral and public face of mental health awareness. The truth, however, is that the true face of mental health awareness is your neighbor who has trouble attending social events since his wife passed away. It is your cousin who has a great deal of difficulty getting out of bed each day. It is your brother who avoids family situations because of debilitating anxiety. The real faces of mental health awareness are the everyday folks who are having a tough time.
Part of the challenge of Mental Health Awareness Month is removing the stigma that is still too often associated with seeking help. The truth of mental health awareness is that we all encounter difficult times in our lives. There are times when we are functioning really well…and times when we are functioning less well. That’s just human nature! The good news is that a well-trained mental health professional can help just when we need it most.
There are a number of misconceptions that can get in the way of us taking advantage of this kind of help. Let’s talk about a few of those:
Misconception #1: “If I go into “therapy”, it means I am really, deeply flawed.”
Reality: Have you ever needed a medical professional’s help recovering from the flu? Have you ever needed Physical Therapy for a shoulder or a knee that wasn’t working quite the right way? No difference here! We all have times when we aren’t functioning at our best and good therapy can often get that fixed much more efficiently and quickly than trying to do it on our own!
Misconception #2: “Therapy takes years.”
Reality: Most people engage in the therapeutic process for a short time, often a few months at most. Some choose to continue for a longer time to work on new and different things, or because they enjoy the process, but the majority of “problems” can be worked through fairly quickly.
Misconception #3: “My therapist will think I’m “crazy” and I’ll look bad.”
Reality: You would be shocked at how “not alone” you are in facing life challenges. In fact, many of the folks that you know are likely facing issues of their own, but are afraid to get help with those issues. The reality is that your therapist is likely admiring you for taking proactive steps to help yourself. Many therapists have spent time in therapy themselves, so they’re very likely to have a real sense of what you are dealing with. They may even have been through something similar. The good news is that you now have an expert to help you to navigate this situation.
Misconception #4: “Therapy is expensive and I can do this on my own.”
Reality: The odds are that maybe you can do this on your own, but why should you have to? In therapy, you have an expert helping you to consider the most relevant factors in the situation, your own feelings and values, and your own solutions. Not only do you have an expert on board, you also leverage that expert’s considerable experience. Most people who work through an issue in therapy report that the issue is more fully resolved and less likely to recur than when they try to go it alone. They also report that issues tend to be resolved more quickly when in a therapeutic environment. Additionally, the therapist is an unbiased person, and can help see things that often we can’t see ourselves when we’re “in it”, so to speak. In short, therapy can be the most efficient way to work through issues. You invest in things every day, a few dollars invested in your emotional and cognitive well-being is money well spent. Who better to invest in than yourself?
So, the next time you wonder whether you are alone in having challenges, look around you. There are very likely others wondering the same thing. The next time you wonder whether a mental health professional can help, think back on the realities outlined above. You may just find that having a highly trained, neutral person in your corner may be the ticket to living your best life. We all deserve that.
Written by: Steve Knight
As I drive through our communities, I see decorations for the holidays everywhere. Hanukah or Kwanzaa candles, Christmas bows, garlands, and lights everywhere often make me smile, but just as often it makes me pause. I pause to think about the fact that this may be the first set of holidays for many of us who have lost a partner, a best friend, or a child. I think about the loved ones who we can’t call any longer, and a house being less full because someone has passed on.
These holidays are not the only reminders for us, of course. We think of our loved ones throughout the year, but somehow holidays seem to be more impactful. Painful memories such as a deceased loved one’s birthday or a wedding anniversary feel more manageable, because they are quiet, private days of remembrance—but the winter holiday reminders are everywhere: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Santa at the mall, lighting kinaras or menorahs, dreidels on store shelves, bright lights shining on everything, television advertisements, co-workers talking about the vacation plans, businesses closing, holiday parties for your office or neighborhood.
Please know that you are not alone in your feelings of grief, sadness, and loss. Others have lost loved ones and they, too, may think they can’t talk about it because they don’t want to upset others. Cultures and traditions throughout the world vary in their ways of remembering those who have passed on. We don’t have one set of rules that govern how we handle these feelings around the holidays. If you take the lead in normalizing the conversations around missing your loved ones, you may find that it allows others to do the same.
At Whole Health we talk about these feelings. We encourage our clients and our colleagues to share funny stories as well as the painful moments. We do know that any one thing doesn’t help everyone. We know that some of us find relief through sharing with others, by gathering with friends or spending time with family. And sometimes we need quiet alone moments to express our feelings through art, exercise, in writing or in tears—alone.
How do you cope at times like this? Please call us if we can help.