Archive of ‘Mindfulness’ category

Back to School: Fall 2020 Edition

With summer quickly coming to an end, the back to school preparation looks a little different this year. In fact, this year has looked a lot different than any other year so far. Because of all the changes that are occurring I wanted to give my Back to School list of resources for families.

Talking, again, about COVID-19

COVID-19 has taken a toll on families in the shape of illness, job loss, life loss, staying at home with the whole family, the changing of school structure, and so much more. It is exhausting trying to keep a “normal” with so much chaos and change. It is SO important for families to focus on connection. Connection can be small moments of checking in or intentional moments, like a family dinner or meeting. By maintaining connection in the family, you are allowing natural moments of empathy and understanding to occur. These connection moments can let a family adapt through change by knowing where every family member is emotionally. Below are some resources to help families set up time to connect, how to connect, and what to connect about.

Families and Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has created a lot of conversations in families and communities. Talking through questions like:

  • What is racism?
  • Is reverse racism real?
  • What is white privilege?
  • What is systemic racism?
  • Am I part of the problem?
  • How can I be part of the change?
  • In what ways can I support Black Lives Matter?

These questions can feel overwhelming. Connection, again, is a key ingredient in creating conversation with your family in how to research, educate, and answer these many questions. Below are some resources to help families talk through how to educate themselves, their family, and support Black Lives Matter.

General Resources for Your Family

The below include general resources/suggestions for you and your family to practice self-care, in general. Remember–there is not a right or wrong way to practice self-care and to feel your feelings as long as you’re giving yourself the opportunity to do so!

The above resources are a collection of books, podcasts, words of encouragement, documents, and websites from myself and by my colleagues in the therapy field! Thank you to all of my friends and colleagues in the therapy world to help me create this back to school list. I also want to note that the resources are not exhaustive by any means; there are MANY tips, tricks, tools–this barely scratches the surface. However, it felt like a great place to start and a necessary tool to share with families. Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns!

By: Julie Smith, LMFT


Self-Care During COVID-19

For curiosity sake, I searched “what to do if I get covid-19”.  In 0.77 seconds (because Google tells you), “about 8,280,000,000 results” populated.  Various questions that were included in these results included:

  • What to do if you are sick? 
  • What should I do if I think I have been exposed to coronavirus? 
  • Can you recover? 
  • Does drinking a lot of water help flush out COVID-19?
  • Can antibiotics treat the coronavirus disease? 
  • What should you do if you live with someone who has coronavirus? 

Without a doubt, these questions are important and should be asked and are included in the top results for a reason.  Someone I know shared on her Instagram feed that she was tested positive for COVID-19 and the conversation was, I’m summarizing, something along the lines of “Hi, you’ve tested positive.  Now you need to quarantine for (however many) days.  If you experience severe symptoms, go to the hospital.”  Of course, that was (and is) important information for her to know.  However, nothing was discussed regarding the emotional impact of COVID-19 (whether it’s the collective/societal impact of the virus or the personal impact of testing positive).  Below are a few things to consider when thinking about the current pandemic. 

First…Let’s Talk About Shame

Several months ago, someone I know was exposed to COVID and was tested as a result.  When she received her test results (they were negative), she shared how excited she was because there is so much judgment around it.  She said, had she gotten positive test results, people would have likely judged and/or blamed her for clearly not following the rules of social distancing.  Similarly, a friend of mine found out she was positive for COVID and shared that when she told people she had come in contact with that she was positive for coronavirus, she felt like she was sharing with the world that she had a sexually transmitted infection (which there is a LOT of shame around those…that’s a blog for another day.  In the meantime, check out this poster from UnHushed, that provides accurate & direct information about STIs). 

Oh, And Fear

There is SO much uncertainty with COVID-19 and how this virus impacts people.  Whether someone is asymptomatic, has minimal symptoms (my friend I mentioned earlier only lost her sense of smell & taste), or has severe symptoms (e.g.: has a high fever and difficulty breathing), there is truly NO telling how you will be affected until you are actually experiencing symptoms…if you, in fact, experience them.  Because the CDC is constantly learning new information, we do not have a clear idea of a lot of things…which, is NO fault of the CDC (I want to be very clear about that!)  This takes an already scary situation and makes it that much scarier…because we don’t have clear information about it and what it entails.  If that’s not scary, then I don’t know what is. 

What About Grief? 

While shelter-in-place/quarantine/social distancing (fill in the blank of what language you’ve been using) has been happening for almost 4 months now (woah), it’s been difficult…to say the very least.  Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, humans, by nature, are social creatures.  Thanks to technology (social media, texting, video calls, Zoom…oh, Zoom), snail mail, social distance outings (if/when they feel right), people have found ways to stay connected to those that are important to them….which is great…AND there is a huge amount of loss that is affiliated with that.  You don’t need me to tell you everything that has happened as a result, but to sum a few major things up…

  • Graduations were, essentially, cancelled
  • Weddings have been cancelled and/or postponed
  • People who are pregnant are going to their appointments solo…and when they give birth, minimal people are allowed to be with them
  • As people died (whether it be COVID-related or not), loved ones had to grieve alone…or at a socially distant place
  • Vacations were cancelled

AND SO MANY OTHER THINGS.  Some of you may look at that list and think “Woah…vacation being cancelled is in the same list as people dying alone?”  And to that, I say “Yes”.  Grief and loss is not something that can or should be quantified.  At this time, the world (truly…everyone in the world) is living a collective trauma related to covid-19.  Whether you’re 17 years old in Texas…or 42 years old in Indonesia…or 5 years old in Australia…or 81 years old in Finland…we are all experiencing grief related to the coronavirus…on top of any and all stressors that life is presenting us at any given moment. 

So…What Now? 

Ready for a buzz-word?  Self-care.  Yup…it’s as “easy” as that…which, surprise, is not easy at all.  There isn’t a right-or-wrong way to practice self-care as long as you’re doing what is right for you.  The suggestions I’m about to provide are 100% just suggestions and is definitely not comprehensive at all. 

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings 

A lot of us, at various times (I’m generalizing here), have experienced anger.  What we often fail to see, though, what’s below anger…whether it’s worry or disappointment or guilt or trauma (or any or none of those things), anger is often just the surface of feelings people are experiencing. 

Similarly, there is a quote, that I love that states “I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief.”  When you sit with this…it really reveals how complicated emotions, particularly anger, can be.

In no way am I trying to invalidate anger, however, sitting with your emotions and allowing yourself to feel your feelings is an incredibly valuable way to take care of yourself. 

This Anger Iceberg gives an explanation (and visual) of what I’m talking about. 

Practice Mindfulness

…Buzz-word #2.  Not sure where to start?  That is OKAY.  Check out this blog I wrote on 5 Mindfulness Tips & Tricks.   

Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break! 

We are inundated with highly emotional information on a daily basis…whether it’s about coronavirus, politics, murders of innocent black members of our community, or anything else–it’s OKAY to take a break.  Admittedly, this has been harder for me to do (I’m human…what can I say?)  But if you don’t allow yourself to take a break from the emotional weight of this information, you are not going to be the best version of yourself when you need it most.  Whether taking a break involves turning off the news or social media and reading a memoir about your favorite Queer Eye member (ahem, JVN), do what’s best for you and know that it is okay (and extremely valuable) to take breaks. 

Lean On People

Cue “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. 

The words of this song (yes, I listened to it as I wrote this) state:

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

People, again, I’m generalizing, often feel hesitant to ask for help.  Whether it’s fear of looking weak or not wanting to be a burden or not wanting to be disappointed…we tell ourselves SO many lies as to why we shouldn’t or couldn’t ask for help.  Rather than listening to those lies, remind yourself, as I said earlier, humans are social creatures by nature.  Whether it’s your friend, a family member, your therapist, your former teacher, your neighbor…whomever it may be…ask for help.  It might be scary in the moment, but I can assure you it will be worth it. 

By: Julie Burke, LPC
Follow her on Instagram!


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!


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