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Mindful Monday Tip #3: Use Nature to Combat Sensory Overload

Are you living in sensory overload?  It could wind up your anxiety by taking your body where you don’t want to go.  After all, our bodies process whatever we take into them – from substances we ingest to high stimulation from the environment.  Read my article here  about how changing intake can reduce anxiety, and try today’s tip.  Maybe it’s time to cultivate presence by becoming mindful of nature.

Mindful Monday Tip #3: Observe Nature

For a few moments each day, pay close attention to one aspect of nature.  (Do not attempt to multitask during this experience).  That’s it.

When I gaze into the star studded sky from the edge of a sand dune on Lake Michigan, a peaceful sense of presence fills me.  Pesky worries retreat and chaotic mental chatter flees from my mind.  A similar calming effect occurs as I mindfully gaze  at a tall tree in my Northern VA  backyard.

What might you discover by observing nature for few moments each day?

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How to Improve Communication with Teenagers

Last Friday night, my teen daughter and I watched as Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  For too many parents, talking to teenagers can feel like walking on a tightrope (minus a safety tether).  How can you avoid this feeling and find a connection with adolescents?

 Here are some suggestions to help keep your feet on solid ground:

  1. Calm your body.  If your heart is racing and your gut is churning, you may need to take a few deep breaths before proceeding to communicate with your teenager.
  2. Be present and tune in to your teenager’s inner world.  You hear and see what she’s doing, but really listen and think about what she may be experiencing inside.   Too often we misread clues: I’ve mistaken anxiety and fear for obstinance.
  3. Maintain your own emotional balance.  Your excessive emotional reaction can incite communication chaos and a rigid cold reaction won’t promote a healthy connection.
  4. Pause before speaking or acting.  This might save you from impulsively putting a parental foot in the mouth.
  5. Face your fear.  During the pause consider if the anger and irritation you feel is driven by your own fear and not your teenager.  Sometimes our parental fears are irrational.
  6. Show empathy.  Try to see the situation from your teenager’s point of view.  Can you sense his intentions and imagine what something means in his mind?

Maybe it’s less about what our teenagers bring to the table and more about how we respond.  We have little control over the former and most control over the latter.

 What helps you communicate with your teenager? 

What are your challenges?

 

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Mindful Monday Tip #2: Tune into Your Body

Remember when we had to adjust the rabbit ears on a TV in order to get a clear picture and undistorted sound?

Mindfulness is basically about eliminating distractions so we can tune in to awareness of the present moment.  Today, dear readers, we  focus on tuning in to the body.  Many of us move through our days on autopilot without awareness of how our bodies move until something doesn’t move or work properly.  When we have a stuffy nose, we miss our ability to smell and taste.  When we sprain an ankle, we miss our ability to run.  When we burn a finger, we miss our manual dexterity.  What might we learn if for a few days we pay attention to how our bodies move?

Tip 2: Mindful Movement

This exercise is about observation and becoming mindful of how your body moves (Albers, 2012).  Don’t change anything, don’t judge, just observe your natural movements in these situations:

Observe how you eat at meals.
o How much food goes in your mouth at one time?
o How fast do you eat?
o Do you mix foods together or eat one thing at a time?

Observe how you sit.
o What’s your posture like?
o Do you shift around or sit still?
o What do your legs do while you sit?
o How long can you comfortably sit in one place?

Observe how you move while talking.
o What do your hands do?
o What do your legs do?
o How close to do you stand to another person?
o Where do you look while talking?
o How loudly do you speak?
o What are your nonverbal expressions communicating?

Observe how your body moves you from one place to another.
o Discover the sensations of walking.
o Become aware of how your legs move – notice their rhythm and pace.

Observe how your body reclines.
o Do you lie down on your back, side, or stomach?
o Do you shift, roll over, or remain motionless?

Observe how you balance.
o How hard does your body work to keep your balance?
o Notice when you shift your balance or lean against something.

Observe your internal sensations.
o How do your joints and muscles feel when they move?
o Notice when they feel sore and when they feel good.

What changes for us as we learn to move mindfully?

Reference:

Albers, S. (2012).  Eating Mindfully.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

 

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Mindful Monday Tip #1: Mindfulness on the Tip of Your Tongue

I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness lately, and realizing just how often we eat, drink, communicate, spend money, or live without awareness, in a mindless manner.   To challenge each of us to live in the present moment, I will post a Mindful Monday Tip each week.

Tip 1: Palm to Tongue

 

I discovered this tip when I worked as a mental health intern:

  • Place a bite-sized  piece of food or candy in the palm of your hand. I used dark chocolate.
  • Observe the food and become aware of what you see.
  • Touch the food and notice what you feel.
  • Bring your hand up to your nose, close your eyes, and observe what you smell.
  • Close your eyes and place the food on your tongue.
  • Become mindful of the texture and taste of the food on your tongue.
  • What bursts of flavor or sensations do you experience as the food sits on your tongue?
  • Now slowly chew and swallow and focus on what you experience.

What did you learn from this mindful experience? I learned that savoring a small bite of dark chocolate is more satisfying than mindlessly consuming a whole bar in mere seconds.

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East, West, and Chocolate

“In the sky, there is no distinction between east and west, people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true” (Buddha).

When I look up in the sky from my front yard, I see no indications of direction.  Taking a few steps down my driveway, I see a somewhat rusty reminder of North, South, East, and West.  The sky above me wears no labels, but the ground below has plenty to go around – and so do our minds.

Think about foods: many of us label some foods good and other foods bad.  Yet I would argue that the real problem is not the food itself, but the way we consume it.  Chocolate is not my inherent enemy, but mindless consumption of handfuls of chocolate chips gets in the way of healthy eating.  Think about dogs: some people distinguish between good and bad breeds.  Yet I would argue that the way a dog is raised is what matters most.  Many people are prejudiced against Pit Bulls, but our cousin has raised a very loving, gentle, and affectionate one.  Think about people: how many distinctions or prejudices have  harmed humans?  From the religious leaders of Jesus’s day to modern hate groups, dogmatic beliefs distinguish between who is in and who is out, who is accepted and who is not.  Yet Jesus did not accept the dogma or distinctions of the Pharisees; he claimed that all laws of importance were summed up in two things: (1) love God first, and (2) love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:34-40).

I think it’s wise to become mindful of the labels we so easily assign.  We may find that they are inaccurate.  Sometimes dropping inaccurate labels opens up pleasant possibilities: we may discover a healthy way to consume chocolate, a safe way to raise a loving pet, or a new way to make a friend.  When we look up in the sky, may we remember to ask: what  inaccurate distinctions have I created in my mind?

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Wine, Music, & Relationships

Relationships can be a struggle.  Sometimes they age like a fine wine; other times they sour early in the vintage.  Some moments we dance in beautiful sync to music we and our partners love.  Other moments, it feels like someone drags us to the floor and compels us to dance to music we abhor.

What compels us to keep tasting wine long past it’s prime?  

What makes us dance to the tune of someone else’s music?

If tasting wine and dancing to music are metaphors for relationship styles, a typical answer to these questions is codependency.  In a codependent relationship one partner is unhealthily manipulated or pulled onto the dance floor seemingly by another.   In a broad sense, the person being pulled depends on the needs and the control of the puller, consistently ignoring his/her own needs and dismissing his/her personal sense of control.  It’s as if she cannot say, “No thanks, I’ll skip this dance.  No thanks, I’ll pass on that wine.”

In my perspective, codependency is less about specific behavior and more about a partner’s inner need to accommodate someone else’s needs at the expense of his/her own needs.  It could look like this: (1) a wife sacrifices her sleep each night in order to “manage” her husband’s nocturnal anxiety attacks, (2) a 16 year old son curtails his social life in order to “change” his father’s drinking or depression, or (3)  an octogenarian exhausts her retirement account after years of compensating her adult son’s penchant for bad business deals.  Isolated instances of waking up in the night, staying home from a date,  or lending/giving money are not necessarily codependent behaviors.  Codependency lurks in the inner pull which propels us onto the dance floor against our better interests.

How do we break the spell of that inner pull?  Maybe a first step is to become aware of ourselves and our needs.  Maybe we learn to pay attention to the neglected dance partners – us.  Maybe we begin to acknowledge the taste of wine we enjoy.  It’s not about getting a new dance partner.  Rather than give up wine, music and relationships, we learn  a new way to relate to ourselves, and in the process,  discover a healthier way to relate to others.  

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Abandon Ship! Abandon Self?

We usually cheer at scenes in movies when someone yells, “Abandon Ship!” and crew and passengers safely jump to lifeboats in order to escape a sinking ship.  Understandably, we are shocked and disturbed when someone abandons an adequately safe and secure seaworthy vessel facing no peril.

Sadly, some of us were conditioned to abandon ourselves when we navigated the uncertain seas of childhood.  At some point, we abandoned the ship of Authentic Self, and jumped into the lifeboat of Conditioned Self,   where our awareness was directed away from our authentic identity and inherent value. Below is a little story about how self-abandonment once occurred without any terrible trauma.

 How Beautiful Baby Abandons Ship

Once upon a time, an unwanted baby was conceived in a troubled family.  When her prenatal presence was discovered, a discussion occurred in which Aunt asked to raise the baby.  At birth, however, Mom took one look at Beautiful Baby and loved her enough to keep her.  This heart-warming tale was often repeated to Beautiful Baby as she grew up, but it left her feeling a bit empty.  In a family where her practical needs were provided in spades, Beautiful Baby often felt ignored:  grownups focused on other things or people, not her.  To register on family radar, Beautiful Baby learned to please others, work hard in school, and entertain with humor.  Her focus was all outward.

Focusing all that attention on others still left Beautiful Baby feeling empty inside, so she learned to satisfy inner hunger with lots of yummy food.  This process worked so well that by kindergarten she got a new name: Too Big Girl.  Family talked about Too Big Girl’s weight all through elementary school, often using sarcasm to motivate weight loss.  But it was hard to lose weight when the family eating habits did not change.  In 5th grade, Too Big Girl’s mother came up with a solution to fix her daughter: Mom asked Pediatrician to prescribe diet pills for Too Big Girl.  Alas, the solution failed: Too Big Girl could not sleep and felt jittery all day long. The diet pills stopped, but Too Big Girl learned to reject her big body and denigrate her inner value.

By middle school, Too Big Girl knew that she had to work really hard to be loved and to matter in the world.  By high school, she had slimmed down a lot, but her name was stuck like glue.  Too Big Girl lived in the shadow of thinner girls, and although she was starting to feel kind of smart, she was sure that others were smarter.  She was one of several student speakers on graduation night, but only learned later that she had graduated at the top of her class.  By then, it didn’t mean so much because her rural school was very small and her feeling of emptiness very, very large.

This fairly true tale shows how one Beautiful Baby reached adulthood without exploring her innate value and Authentic Self.  Along the way, she was conditioned to devalue her body and dismiss her awareness of self, so she took on a new name – Too Big Girl – which reflected that she was just not enough.  Decades later, aided by a wise therapist, our heroine discovered that she had been wondering around adult seas in the Conditioned Self.  In therapy, she began the process of reclaiming her Authentic Self.  Her journey began with self-awareness.  Welcome home, Beautiful Baby.

What’s your ride on the high seas: Authentic Self or Conditioned Self?

 

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Mindfulness: Being in One Place at One Time

In  A Walk to Remember, Landon shows Jamie a painless way to be in two places at once.  In reality, many of us experience this dynamic without straddling a state line: our minds draw us away from the present moment.  Maybe it’s not so stressful when we daydream while driving, but it could be dangerous.  And our bodies and behavior may change in uncomfortable ways when anxiety directs our awareness to the future, or when regret focuses our awareness on the past.

What can help us focus awareness in the present moment – so we can be in one place at one time?  We can practice mindfulness – the state of being fully present in the moment in which we live.  Below is an exercise I learned as a mental health intern.  It has helped me and some clients recognize that the present moment can be a safe place.  I’ll write it as I do it.  It’s all about focusing on the answers to three questions: 

  1. What 5 things do I see in this room?
    1. A Green Cheeked Conure
    2. A laptop
    3. A tribute to my deceased Bedlington Terrier
    4. A Staple’s bag
    5. A library book bag
  2. With eyes closed, what 5 things do I feel?
    1. The comfort of jeans with spandex
    2. The weight of my watch
    3. The pressure of my left palm on my laptop
    4. The softness of carpet on bare feet
    5. The crispness of my shirt
  3. With eyes closed, what 5 things do I hear?
    1. The refrigerator’s hum
    2. My Coonhound whining
    3. Family talking
    4. Outside evening noises
    5. Ding of the microwave

Nothing magical has happened as a result of completing this exercise, but my awareness was engaged in the present moment – not engaged in worries.   What helps you to be fully present in the moment in which you live? 

   

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Positive Affirmation: A Dog’s Tale

Leroy, Ambassador of Positive Affirmation

I love our Black and Tan Coonhound, Leroy.  He has a good relationship with everyone in our family – except for Mrs. Claws, our cat.  She grew up with our former Bedlington terrier, Lance.  Weeks after Lance’s death, Mrs. Claws was unwilling to befriend our new big puppy.  Two years later, at 75 pounds, and with no aggressive bone in his body, Leroy wants to play, but Mrs. Claws still hides on the lower level of our home.

We have used a lot of praise and affirmation to train Leroy.  Daily, despite sometimes stinky ears and breath – he is greeted with “What a good dog!” or “Good boy!” And he lives up to this positive affirmation.  Sadly, many of us treat ourselves with less regard.  We daily greet ourselves with internal messages that are the equivalent to “What bad girl!” or “Bad boy!”

Maybe other times we hide from our true value, much like Mrs. Claws hides from Leroy.  What if we take a cue from humans’ best interactions with pets? What if we choose to recognize our inherent value, even when we have accidents and make mistakes?  What if we throw some positive regard our own way?  I expect Earth would still revolve around the Sun – and we might actually feel better.   Leroy suggests that we give it a try.

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Point of View is Worth 80 IQ Points

Linda Stone ·

via Point of View is Worth 80 IQ Points.

I like the story Linda shares in her post.  It has applications for numerous fields, even mental health therapy.  As a therapist, I embrace the need to approach each client with an open and curious mind, resisting the pull of attachment to a specific outcome.

Now think about daily life: what solutions might we discover if we approach everyday problems with an open, curious, exploratory frame of mind?  What would it be like to hold loosely to what we know and become willing to explore new possibilities?

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