Archive of ‘Emotional Regulation’ category

5 Mindfulness Tips & Tricks

It’s no secret that things are wonky right now…to say the very least…

  • When people go in public, they’re sporting a new accessory…the face mask
    • AND if someone isn’t wearing one, you definitely notice it
  • Overnight, parents became home-school teachers, activity providers, house keepers, workers/providers, partners, and caretakers…need I say more? 
  • 2020 graduates aren’t having an in-person graduation to celebrate a milestone of their lives
  • Iconic Austin restaurants are starting announcing permanent closures
  • Because of shelter-in-place & social distancing…regular facetime with friends, family, and loved ones is either REALLY limited or not happening at all

I could go on, however, that doesn’t seem necessary.  What is necessary, though, is how you feel in your body RIGHT NOW after reading that list.  That sensation (whatever it may be) is happening because everything listed above is a lot to manage…especially because nobody was expecting a pandemic, and even if we were, we are all first-timers at this and adjusting to new things is often scary.  There are a lot of big feelings that have been happening (for everyone) and those big feelings can be confusing…scary…unwelcomed…helpful…they can be all over the place, really, and learning how to navigate all of that is MUCH easier said than done, however, it is 100% doable with various mindfulness practices. 

In my dear friend, Katy Manganella’s, blog on establishing a mindfulness practice, she defined mindfulness as “simply the practice of coming into the present moment”.  Again…that can be a lot easier said than done, however, there are practical mindfulness tips & tricks below to help you navigate the world of feeling your feelings and looking for ways to ground yourself (especially during a particularly uncertain time). 

Breathe

…yes!  Start here!  While this may feel like a silly (and oversimplified) suggestion, it’s arguably one of the easiest ways to start practicing mindfulness.  Most of the time, we are breathing pretty shallowly…in fact, the last time a lot of us took an intentional deep breath was when a doctor had a stethoscope touching our chest or back and directed you to take deep breaths.  Below are a few easy, simple ways to practice intentional, mindful, deep breathing. 

  • Box Breathing
    • This is an easy technique that involves intentionally breathing in for a particular count (for example, 3)…so you breathe in (1, 2, 3) hold your breath (1, 2, 3) exhale (1, 2, 3), hold (1, 2, 3) and repeat.  This article has a great video for a guided visual for help with box breathing. 
  • Another way to intentional breathe is to inhale for a particular count (let’s say 5) and exhale for a longer amount of time (let’s say 7).  This is a GREAT way to help calm your nervous system. 

Some people may try these out and realize they are still breathing shallowly…a way to learn how to breathe deeply & intentionally is to lie down on your back, put a book on your belly (probably something not too heavy) and breathe in and out with the intention of making the book move.  This will require some work…and may not be the best technique for someone who has experienced trauma. 

Tune into Your Senses

Another mindfulness tip is to tune into your senses.  We are CONSTANTLY taking in sensory information and are typically in autopilot.  Give yourself an opportunity to focus on one of your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste) and focus ONLY on that one sense for 2 minutes (set a timer if you need to so you’re not focused on the time the entire time). 

For example, if I was focusing on touch in this very moment–I would notice:

  • My computer (not a very mindful thing…but figured I’d be honest)
    • The keys feel different than the touch pad
    • The texture of the couch I’m sitting on
    • The soft, fuzzy blanket next to me
    • My dog’s fur

…I was actively noticing those (although admittedly, I was distracted because I’m writing this), however, it was a nice moment to truly slow down.  Give yourself permission to slow down and notice things around you. 

Things to keep in mind: Taste may NOT be the best sense to focus on…and if you choose smell–know that it’s okay if you don’t smell anything.  Don’t force it.  Rather, notice what it’s like to not smell anything in that moment.  It sounds woo-woo (and maybe it is), but I promise there’s a method to my madness. 

Pay Attention to Your Body

…which is another tip that’s easier said than done.  For as long as I can remember, I have heard phrases like “I had a gut feeling…” or “…that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!”  It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I understood that that was our bodies communicating messages to us (I promise…method to my madness) and it wasn’t until my late 20s (and MAYBE even my 30s) that I truly understand what that meant. 

Even though I’m actively living what you are right now…a global pandemic…and I’m 100% aware of things that are happening around us, when I wrote the list out of changes that are happening all around us, I had a physical reaction to it…I felt a pit in my stomach and a heaviness in my chest…and as I sat with that for a while…I was able to name what was going on: feeling sad (about things happening around us), curious/anxious (about the future), and even a little stuck (because of the uncertainty of the future).  That can feel like an overwhelming amount of information to realize from simply noticing a sensation in your body…and some days, it is. 

However, the more you notice physical sensations that are happening, the more you can name what feeling(s) you’re experiencing, and the more you can access (and hopefully name!) what you’re needing…otherwise you might just feel foggy, agitated, anxious…or all of the above and feel like you just can’t shake what’s happening inside of you. 

Side note: The Emotionary is a book of words that don’t exist for feelings that do.  It’s NOT child-friendly and is a fun, great way to access some of the mixed/morphed/big feelings you have. 

Guided Meditation

What comes to mind when you hear the word “meditation”?  I called my best friend (a business attorney…so someone who is NOT in the mental health world) and she made a joke about lighting incense, holding hands, and chanting…while that can paint the picture of what meditation looks like for some people, that’s not what it’s always like (I promise!).  You can google “guided meditation” and be gifted with SO many options–which is great!  You can find meditations for specific purposes (e.g.: waking up or relaxing) or a particular amount of time (e.g.: 2 minutes or 20 minutes).  Mindfulness

Check out some of my favorites:

Practice Self-Compassion  

By definition, self-compassion involves “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering” (for more information on it, check out Kristin Neff’s work!)  I know I’ve repeated myself a few times now…but this is DEFINITELY easier said than done.  An easy way to start practicing self-compassion is simply by using the word “and”. 

  • I feel like a failure as a parent right now….AND I’m doing the best that I can
  • I feel really anxious because of the uncertainty around usAND thank goodness I have a therapist I can talk to about these feelings
  • I’m so upset that I don’t get to have a normal graduationAND I am grateful for ways I can celebrate in the future
  • I love my family, but am SO tired of being around them/I feel like I need a breakAND that’s okay!” 

See what I did that?  That’s self-compassion in a nutshell.  It’s SO easy to get caught up in negative self-talk (especially when we’re surrounded by stress, anxiety, and scarcity thinking)…rather than getting bound to black-and-white & all-or-nothing thinking, embrace the beauty of “and” andallow multiple experiences to happen at once.  After all, that IS the human condition…right? 

You might read some of the tips & tricks and think “YES!  This sounds perfect” and others you might be more like “Nope…no thanks”.  Both of those reactions are completely fine and to-be-expected.  Whatever tip or trick you gravitate towards, try incorporating that into your life on a regular basis…the more practice you have doing it on the daily, the more likely you will be able to pull that out of your toolbox when you’re feeling a lot of big feelings and are needing something to ground you. 

By: Julie Burke, LPC

Follow her on Instagram for more mindfulness tips & tricks and reminders/guidance for feeling your feelings!


The Misbehaving Student…and How to Help Them

It is the most difficult children who often need us the most.  We hear from people working in schools that consequences and suspensions do not seem to change their behavior.  Core curriculum, testing and other requirements are putting an incredible burden on teachers. These challenging students are often the tipping point for a class.

What these misbehaving children are really looking for is to feel like they belong in the class, and that they are cared about.

Many of the misbehaving children have had things happen in their young lives that cause them to distrust others.  They may not have been fed or had their physical needs taken care of as babies, so they do not understand “if-then” thinking – if I cry, I get fed.  If I act out in class, then there are consequences. Some may be dealing with abuse or neglect of them or a parent, drugs or alcohol in the home, or violence.  They may feel they always have to be “on guard”, to protect themselves. 

All it takes is one adult to make a difference a child’s life.

So what can be done to help?  Here are some ways to build relationships with these most difficult children:

  • Get to where you can speak face to face with them.   Speak calmly and slowly. If you remain calm, it will help them to calm down.
  • Express an understanding of how they are feeling, saying “It seems like you are really angry.  Tell me more.” And then listen.
  • Ask them what you can do to help them.  They may need a break from being in the class, so asking if they would like to bring something to the office or another class may help.
  • Focus on building the relationship.  As trust is built, they may question it, as they may not have had a trusting relationship with an adult before. 

It is important to have patience and give it time.  These children likely have had years of bad relationships with adults.  As the relationship builds, the whole class benefits. There will be less disruptions, and more teachable time.  You can be that “one adult” for this child!

Written by: Carol Dores

Carol is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer. She has worked with educators and staff of preschoolers through high school, as well as hundreds of parents of all aged children (prenatal to adult). She co-founded Positive Discipline of Connecticut, and served as Co-Chair of the international Board of Directors of the Positive Discipline Association. Carol has worked with schools in bringing Positive Discipline to whole school settings. She has two adult sons and a husband of over 35 years. Their relationships continue to grow and benefit from Positive Discipline.


How to Start a Mindfulness Practice

…for the people who are already rolling their eyes at the thought of it

Before we get started, I have a confession. It wasn’t that long ago that I was eye-rolling at the practice of mindfulness. I didn’t get it and it seemed to me, in my overwhelmed and often flooded state of mind, that anyone who thought mindfulness was going to do anything for me had no idea the type of stress I was under. Part of what made it feel out of touch was that it sounded unrealistic. I had a distinct picture in my head of what mindfulness was and who practiced it. That visual image was so far away from where I was starting that I couldn’t grasp how it could apply to me or my life. 

It’s been through my own journey that I have found: Mindfulness is unavoidable for those of us on the path to greater peace and groundedness in our lives. And in fact, those of us who don’t have time for mindfulness or think it doesn’t apply to us, might be the ones who need it the most. 

This blog is for anyone who eye-rolls at the very thought of mindfulness, anyone who doesn’t get it, and anyone who is curious but doesn’t know where to start.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply the practice of coming into the present moment. The challenge is that while our bodies live in the present moment 100% of the time, our thoughts and emotions rarely do. Our thoughts and feelings (arguably our defining human experience) are often rooted in the past or the hypothetical future. We spend most of our time processing events that have happened or ruminating on ones to come. The consequence for these habits are well-documented, as a quick google search on mindfulness will show. For the sake of keeping it straight forward, I’ll sum it up as this: It doesn’t feel good and it is incompatible with peace, joy, and gratitude.

The practice of mindfulness is like an antidote or a release valve. Do you have a pressure cooker? If you do, you know this moment. That’s effectively what a mindfulness practice does for our emotional, mental, and physical state. Mindfulness is the skill to hit reset from the busy-ness and the pressures of life.

Alright, that’s all fine and well, you say, but give me something tangible here. How do I practically incorporate mindfulness into my life? I’m glad you asked. Here are five simple places to begin.

1. Tune into your breath.

The most simple mindfulness practice is intentional breathing. Our breath is a metronome for our lives and most of the time, we don’t give it much thought. Intentional breathing is one of the easiest and most adaptable practices for coming into the present moment. For the sake of full transparency, I’m basically constantly practicing mindful breathing. In line at the grocery store? Yep. Driving? Yep. In session? You betcha. Writing this blog? Yes. It is incredible how easily our breath goes to auto-pilot and how healing it can be to reconnect with it.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try pausing and simply asking yourself, “Where is my breath right now?” 

  • Notice if your breath is shallow, fast, or choppy. See if you can slow and smooth the rhythm of your breath just a little.
  • Are you exhaling? Extend your exhales a little longer. See if you can exhale the tension from your chest or release any holding in your shoulders.
  • Try to direct your breath to your belly. As if you have a book rested on your stomach, try to gently move the book up and down. 

Give it 3-5 breath cycles (one inhale/exhale = one cycle). Within just a few cycles, you may notice feeling more grounded and calm. Notice what shifts in your experience by tuning into your breath. Our perspective can change subtly by re-connecting to our breath, and the ripple effect of the shift will have significant benefits. 

You can also check out visual breathing exercises like this video and this video

2. Go Outside.

If you have a couple of moments, step outside. Stand or sit in silence for just a couple of minutes. A great mindfulness hack is to connect with your senses (more to come on this with #4). If the weather is nice, connect with the earth by kicking off your shoes and standing barefoot on the grass. 

  • What do you hear?
  • What do you see?
  • What do you smell?
  • What do you feel?
  • What do you taste? (Okay, that one is kind of weird. But maybe!)

If you can’t get outside, go to a window. Just notice what is happening. It amazes me every time I pause and look at the nature around me. Have you noticed that trees are constantly moving? The leaves never stop moving. It’s incredible. Stand and ponder the subtle movement of nature around you. It will connect you to the present moment and get you out of your head.

You can learn more about the benefits of the outdoors in this blog by my colleague, Amber Jekot.

3. Don’t look at social media for the first hour upon waking tomorrow.

This tip is super directive and it’s all about strengthening intentionality. Give it a shot. Notice how your mood and perspective changes when you don’t immediately hop on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or whatever is your social media platform of choice!). Social media is great, but it can also trigger a domino effect of negativity. More than that, it immediately pulls you out of the present. After the first hour of being awake, intentionally make the choice about when and how you want to engage with social media.

How does your day start differently by making this mindful choice up front?

4. Engage your senses.

Engaging your senses is one of the easiest ways to come back to the present moment. The ideas here are endless and it can be quite a bit of fun to find new ways to use your senses mindfully. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Essential oils are having their day in the sun and for good reason. Create essential oil rollers with just a few supplies. All you need is a bottle, a carrier oil, and your favorite essential oil. I’m personally loving lavender and peppermint combined right now! Roll the oil on your temples, the back of your neck, or your wrists throughout the day. The scent does not last long, but each time you become aware of it, it is like a little reminder to slow down, reconnect with yourself, and breathe. You can also diffuse your essential oils if you really want to go all in.
  • Weighted or fuzzy blankets feel comforting and safe. While you probably don’t have time for a nap, you can easily wrap yourself up in a blanket, breathe for a couple of minutes, and then write that email. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try wrapping yourself in your favorite blanket and notice what happens.
  • Drink a glass of cold water. Drinking cold water might be my oldest mindfulness tool. Many years ago, a co-worker of mine (hey, Jola!) noticed that I drank more water on days when I was under higher stress. In fact, she named it before I realized I was doing it. My physical body was soothed by drinking cold water, and the irony is that my brain did not fully realize that’s what I was doing – but it was! The next time it all feels like too much, pause and have a glass of water. Notice any subtle shifts before you get back to the grind.

5. Meditation podcasts.

Alright, bear with me. I’m not about to suggest you take up full blown meditation (but maybe one day!). I get that meditation may feel like the furthest available tool from where you are today. But I am going to suggest that you give a guided meditation podcast a try-on. My favorite time to listen to a meditation podcast is while I’m driving. I am cracking up at myself just writing that. Use caution. You obviously need to be alert on the road, etc., but having someone direct your breathing at a time when you might otherwise be at the height of rumination on any moment but the present one is an incredibly helpful tool! 

My favorite meditation podcast is Guided Meditations by One Mind Dharma. You can find their podcast easily, however you access your podcasts. You can also check out two of my favorite episodes on YouTube. 

If you aren’t so sure about my tip while driving (ha!), other times you could listen that don’t require stillness: Walking the dog, washing dishes, folding clothes, or in the shower. Check them out and feel what happens. 

Summing it up.

Mindfulness, in short, is anything that brings you back to the present moment. If it pulls you out of the storm of thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing, even if only for a couple of seconds, it is a mindfulness tool. 

Mindfulness is not magic. It is a skill and it needs to be sharpened. It takes consistency and intentionality, but it does not take an abundance of time or resources. While you are building your mindfulness practice, it is important to notice any shifts you experience. Those subtle shifts are what builds the momentum. 

After each mindfulness intervention (for example, drinking a glass of cold water), pause to observe any physical, mental, or emotional changes. 

  • What cognitively changes for you? 
  • How does your perspective or outlook shift? 
  • How do you emotions change? 
  • What physical differences do you notice? 

The benefits are there, but you have to notice them. Your ability to detect those shifts will strengthen each time you mindfully engage with yourself.

If you are curious to learn more about the science behind mindfulness, The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a thorough resource. If you want to take your mindfulness practice to the next level, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh is an incredible guide.

You can also connect with me on instagram (after you’ve been awake for an hour) @counselingandyoga or via email at [email protected] 

Written by: Katy Manganella, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S

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