Archive of ‘Meditation’ category

5 Ways to Find Peace When So Much is Changing

For nearly six months, our world has been swirling in a lingering state of uncertainty and change. Our normal routines were swiftly pulled from under us, and we’ve quickly had to navigate changes in our homes, our work, our income, our social interactions, and on and on.

Many of us are not moving as much these days, working from home and not driving as often.

So, why do we feel so exhausted?

Our Physiological Response

I came across a meme by Chani Nicholas the other day that read, “I’ve never done so little and been so tired.

She continued with this quote from Emily Baron Cadloff:

“Nancy Sin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says that in stressful situations like this, there are physiological responses in our bodies. ‘Our stress hormones increase. We prepare to fight or flee,’ said Sin. And as this pandemic continues and isolation drags on, ‘we’re having a lot of these physiological adaptations, each time we feel stressed, each time we feel worried. And over time, these repeated hits, physiologically and psychologically, can accumulate.’ That accumulation is called the allostatic load, essentially the damage on our bodies when they’re repeatedly exposed to stress. And while it feels like I’m doing nothing most days, my brain is still dealing with the anxiety and strain of this pandemic. I’m exhausted not because my body is working hard, but because my brain is.”

Uncertainty is Exhausting

While our bodies might not be as physically active at this time and while we might not have as many places to be, we are feeling the stressors of having to quickly adapt to so much change, while simultaneously holding the truth that we don’t know when this is going to end. 

Our brains are frantically searching for certainty so we can feel safe again:

When will work go back to normal?

What will school look like for the kids?

When will I have more freedom?
When will I be able to gather with friends again?

When can I relax at the coffee shop like I used to enjoy?

When will I be able to get on an airplane to visit family without worrying?

When will it all go back to normal and will things ever be the same?

That’s a lot to carry on a daily basis without getting any clear answers.

So…

First, we need to acknowledge the immense amount our brains and bodies are holding and have compassion for ourselves. This is a lot to navigate.

Second, we need to admit that self-care is not only a good idea, but essential at this time.

What might that look like?

Here are five nourishing self-care ideas aimed to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of calm and safety.

Be mindful of the energy in your home environment.

We are all spending a lot more time at home these days. Do you enjoy your home? Is it clean? Is it comforting? Does it feel like your own personal sanctuary (or at least do pockets of it)? I currently see clients from home and have been spending the majority of my day in this house of mine. As a result, I have been mindful of treating it differently. I clean my home more often. I use a diffuser that sprays essential oils into the air. I’ve purchased some new plants to fill my space. I want my home to feel ultra peaceful and comforting. I know this isn’t always possible and can be more challenging if you have young ones at home, but are there small changes you can make to create a more enjoyable home environment?

Intentionally create personal space.

BOUNDARIES are so important right now. Before quarantine, many of us had boundaries naturally carved into our lifestyles. We’d go to work and leave the home. The kids were at school for a large majority of the day, which meant parents had some time for themselves. So many of our normal boundaries have disappeared. This means less personal time to recharge. It is so much easier when our boundaries are automatically set for us. But when you are at home with everyone ALL the time, setting boundaries can be hard. Are you able to say no to your children or partner when you need personal time? Have you found new ways to create space for yourself? This is a group effort and may require creating a new calendar with new agreements. Maybe Mom decides she is not available to the family on Tuesday afternoons. She will be in her room with the door closed because she needs to take a bath or work on her own projects. The kids know that Dad is available for them at this time. Guilt can rear its head here. “Shouldn’t I be available to my kids all the time? Will they think I don’t love them?” This is about understanding that rest and personal space are necessary in order to recharge and be able to show up well for the people around you.

Double up on support.

Be proactive about creating consistent avenues for receiving support. We all need places where we feel like we can lean back and be held. Maybe this looks like meeting on a friend’s porch for coffee and conversation, going for a morning walk in nature, or finding a therapist or therapy group where you can be vulnerable. Aim for weekly support like this (the more the better).

Get in touch with your senses.

Be mindful of bringing activities into your life that feel nurturing and grounding. Anything that helps you get out of your brain and back into your body. More cuddling. Taking a slow evening to cook a homemade meal. Preparing a candlelit bath. Going swimming. Committing to morning stretching. Getting your hands in the soil and gardening. Getting in touch with our senses is beneficial on so many levels. It slows us down, brings us back to the present moment, and regulates our nervous systems.

Connect with something deeper than circumstance.

If we look to the state of the world to determine how safe we feel right now, we’re not really setting ourselves up for success. The chaotic nature of society is not going anywhere anytime soon. This period of time is asking us to find safety in something deeper than circumstance. It is asking us to find safety in our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others. How can you become more connected to yourself during this time? How can you be kinder to yourself? Maybe this looks like developing a meditation practice or starting to journal again or practicing any of the self-care activities I’ve mentioned here. How can you become more connected with others? Can you be more vulnerable with the people you love? How can you improve the communication in your household and find new ways to work together as a team? Are you able to find joy in the simple things again, like movie night with the family? There is beauty in this opportunity, and a lot of potential for growth as we learn new ways to be there for ourselves and others. 

No doubt, this is an unexpected time that none of us saw coming. So much change inevitably brings fear, grief, anger, stress, and fatigue. 

My hope is that you’ll acknowledge all you’ve had to navigate over these past six months and show yourself more love and compassion. Be proactive about creating the support you need right now. It’s essential, and you deserve it.

Looking for more ways to practice self-care during the pandemic? Check out this blog!

Written by: Jamie Alger, LPC-Intern Supervised By Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

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

8 Ways to Practice Mindfulness with Children

Often, when we think about mindfulness, we think about meditation or a formal, structured exercise that helps us tune into our thoughts or somehow clear our minds entirely. Perhaps you have heard that mindfulness is good for children, that you can even practice it with your preschooler. Maybe you have tried this and it worked, or maybe you tried and your child squirmed, wiggled, and complained that it was boring. For some children, particularly those who are young, have experienced trauma, or appear to be bursting with energy, sitting still for more than a few seconds may seem impossible. Today, I want to share some ideas for sneaking simple, fun mindfulness activities into everyday life and everyday play. While mindfulness can be a discipline, a way of moving through the world, it shouldn’t cause added stress or power struggles. 

So what is mindfulness?

According to Sylvia Boorstein, “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” It can be practiced at any time, in any place, during any activity, without changing a thing except the way that you relate to the present moment. 

Why practice mindfulness?

You might wonder, why even bother? I often have parents tell me that their children don’t seem to know how to calm themselves down, or they’ll explode, seemingly out of nowhere. When the parent asks what happened, the child may shrug, or say that they were mad. While they may have been angry, there were likely other thoughts or feelings that led them to express anger. If children (and adults) can tune into themselves in the present moment and notice their emotional and physical states, without judgement, they may begin to notice when difficult feelings are just starting to bubble up. How much easier is it to calm ourselves down when we’re just a little bit upset than when we’re hysterical? Mindfulness can help us connect the sensations in our bodies with our thoughts and feelings, thereby increasing our understanding of ourselves and our reactions. Further, research is showing that mindfulness can help children and teens who struggle with symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety. It gives them an experience of stillness and calmness. It helps them focus on the present moment without worrying about the future or lamenting the past. 

While mindfulness is less about the specific activity, and more about our relationship with the present moment, the activities below can help facilitate the practice of mindful awareness. Ideally, these are practiced when your child is calm, and then can be used to help them return to calm when they begin to feel anxious, angry, or frustrated. 

Mindful Listening

Tell your child that you are going to play a game. They can close their eyes if they’re comfortable doing so, or just soften their gaze. Tell them that you’re both going to listen carefully and see how many sounds you can hear. Pick an amount of time that you think is doable for your child, up to about a minute, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, compare notes on the different sounds you heard. This exercise could be completed on a nature walk or while sitting at your kitchen table.

Nature walk

Take a walk in nature and ask them to notice what they hear, see, feel, and smell. You can also have them find an object in nature and then explore it together with different senses.

Bag of Objects

Fill a bag with objects of different shapes, sizes, and textures. Have your child reach in without looking and describe what they feel. Have them guess what’s in there.

Bubbles

Blow bubbles together and notice the colors, sizes, and how/where the bubbles float. Blowing bubbles is a great way to practice breath awareness too–have your child take deep breaths, filling up their belly like a balloon, then breathe out slowly. They can even see how big or small the bubbles get depending on how quickly or slowly they breathe out.

Strike a Pose

Do a yoga pose together, such as tree pose. Have them imagine that one of their feet is rooted to the ground, and slowly lift the other until it is resting on their calf. See if they can raise their arms up to “grow” branches. Can they sway in the wind? You can ask them what sensations they notice in their body. If you or your child loses balance (which will probably happen), laugh together!

Rocking a Stuffed Animal

Have your child lie down on the floor with their favorite stuffed animal or doll resting on their belly. Tell them that you are going to rock their animal to sleep. Take slow, deep breaths together and notice how the animal moves up and down with their breath.

Chime or Singing Bowl

Tell your child that they are going to practice listening. Tell them that you will ring the chime or singing bowl and that you’ll both listen closely and see how long you can hear the sound. When they can’t hear it anymore they can raise their hand.

Engine Checks

One way to help children tune into the physical states is to have them think of their body like a car engine. Ask, what happens if a car is going too fast? They might say it crashes or runs off the road. What about if it goes too slow? It might cause a traffic jam, or stop all together. What if it is going just the right speed? How would that feel? Tell them that our bodies are kind of like car engines. Sometimes they feel like they’re going too fast, sometimes too slow, and sometimes just right. What is it like when they are going “too fast”? (Maybe they have lots of energy, can’t stay still, get in trouble at school). What about “too slow”? (maybe they are tired, lack energy, it’s hard for them to do things). What does “just right” feel like? (calm, focused, in control, etc.) Check in with your child occasionally by asking how their engine is running. Once they get used to this language, you can ask them when you start to notice that they might be starting to run “too fast” or “too slow.” When children are more aware of their physical and emotional states, they are more likely to use calming strategies like mindful breathing.

Any of the above techniques can be incorporated into everyday life. These tools will help your child (and you!) become more aware of the present moment and their relationship with the here & now. What mindfulness technique are you going to try today?

Written by: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

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