4 Mindfulness Practices for Your Family

Mindfulness may be a term you have never heard or hear all the time. Regardless of how familiar it may be, it is often hard to define. When I introduce mindfulness into therapeutic work, I use Jon Kabat-Zinn’s simple definition: Paying attention, on purpose, without judgement. This perspective allows for full appreciation and engagement with the present. 

Imagine the benefits of being just a bit more present-focused and mindful in our lives, work, school, and especially in relationships with ourselves and others. I have included a few mindfulness practices and resources at the conclusion for families with people of any age to foster awareness, acceptance, and connection.  Breathwork

1 – Breathwork

Imagine paying attention, on purpose, without judgement to your breath. By being mindful of our breath, we can begin to realize the power that it has. The breath is the most effective way for us to affect our nervous system. Each inhale engages the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and each exhale engages the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Bringing awareness to our breath can have a direct effect on our entire nervous system in an effort to bring it into balance when feeling dysregulated. We often encourage children or adults to “take a deep breath” in overwhelming situations without being mindful of what that looks and feels like. It takes practice and practicing as a family can further solidify its effectiveness. 

Belly breathing – Place your hands or a stuffed animal on the belly while lying down. Practice breathing into your hands or making the stuffed animal move up and down. In this way you are taking a true deep breath by expanding the lungs completely so that the diaphragm pushes the belly to move. 

Ratio breath – Ratio breath acknowledges the different parts of our nervous system that an inhale and exhale engage. By working to extend the exhale to be longer than the inhale, we engage our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Begin by breathing in for 4 seconds and breathing out for 6 seconds. Adjust this ratio as needed to practice extending the exhale.

2 – Yoga/Mindful Movement 

Imagine paying attention, on purpose, and without judgement to your body and what it may be trying to tell you. Research shows the tremendous benefits yoga has on the mind, body, and connection between the two (The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk). Whether yoga is familiar or new to your family, it is accessible to everyone. I have included free resources to reference at the conclusion, but also feel free to define what yoga or mindful movement looks like for your family. My favorite option is to let the child(ren) lead the class and choose what postures feel most comfortable, challenging, and relaxing.

3 – Guided Imagery/Meditation

Imagine paying attention, on purpose, and without judgement to our thoughts and feelings. Guided imagery and meditation are grounding practices that encourage mindfulness, stillness, and relaxation. This can become a part of your morning or night routine by listening to or creating moments of stillness as a family. 

Guided imagery can be used in combination with a total body scan or progressive muscle relaxation by imagining a warm light traveling throughout the body, recognizing, and releasing any physical tension along the way. Another accessible option for all ages is a counting meditation. Start by simply counting your breath and each time a thought or feeling comes up, pause to notice and then start over counting from 1. See if you can count 10 or 20 breaths uninterrupted. Finally, the following is a short grounding meditation focusing on the 5 senses to bring our awareness to the present moment. 

Identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste or say aloud 1 positive self-statement. 

4 – Nature Walks 

Nature is therapeutic as it is. Taking a walk outside and paying attention, on purpose, without judgement to what nature has to offer can benefit all the parts of ourselves and our ability to connect with others. While enjoying a nature walk with your family, I encourage mindful curiosity which could look something like the following: 

  • Having a conversation about what parts of nature stand out on the walk for each person and why. 
  • Creating a family sculpture with natural objects found in your yard, a walk through the neighborhood, or a local park. 

Online Resources

written by Emily Koenig, LMFT-Associate, Supervised by Kirby Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Meet Emily!


Do You Suffer from Religious Trauma?

When you hear the words “religious trauma,” what do you think of? You’re maybe thinking something along the lines of Catholic priests and altar boys. And while that’s certainly one of the most egregious examples of religious trauma, it can be much subtler than that. 

In 1993, Marlene Winell, a psychologist and former Christian fundamentalist, coined the term Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) to specifically refer to “the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” The definition has been expanded and now includes spiritual trauma for those who may not have identified with a specific religion (e.g. cults). 

You may be thinking, my religious upbringing wasn’t that bad. And you may be right. But you may want to think about if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms of RTS:

  • Confusing thoughts and reduced ability to think critically
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, anger, lethargy
  • A loss of a community (family, friends, romantic relationships)
  • Feeling isolated or a sense that you don’t belong
  • Feeling “behind the times” with cultural happenings
  • Experiencing significant shame, guilt and/or low self-esteem
  • Addictive or compulsive behaviors
  • Sexual difficulties
  • “Black and White” thinking (e.g. something is either good or bad; no room for “grey”)
  • Perfectionism
  • Inability to tolerate the distress of participating in any kind of organized religion and avoidance of religious environments, people, and reading material.
  • And many other symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, emotional difficulty, etc.

RTS might show up for you in your relationships with others and yourself. For example, you may struggle with being in a relationship with someone from a different religion. Or, you may beat yourself up after doing something that would have been considered “bad” or “evil” in your religion or your family of origin. You may feel uncomfortable being your authentic self in front of loved ones. If you are experiencing this, you are not alone.  

Most people don’t come into therapy to deal with their religious upbringing, but depression, anxiety, relational concerns, etc., may have been how your body has learned to deal with trauma. 

One of the benefits of recovering from religious trauma is that you get to choose whether you practice your faith. (In fact, the freedom to choose your own path in life may be the greatest benefit of all.) You may develop a different, healthy relationship with religion, or you may decide to leave religion behind. You may learn to create or join a community that serves your needs, rather than changing yourself to fit the community. You could develop ways of connecting with something greater than yourself without feeling guilt or pressure to behave a certain way. 

But it may be necessary to work through the trauma to tap into any spiritual growth. 

If you are struggling with religious trauma, you may want to consider speaking with your therapist about it. Research suggests that talk therapy can be one of the best ways to work through religious trauma.


When heroes need help

firefighters in action

byMaria Vanillo, M.S.

My father has been a first responder for over 30 years. His profession has come with numerous sacrifices both he and our family have made. From sleepless nights to difficulties with facing everyday stressors, we all struggled. I learned how difficult it is to ask for help, the misconceptions of receiving assistance, and the ripple effect a problem can have when it goes unsolved.

5 Steps to Asking for Help

Acknowledge there is a problem.

When it comes to family matters’ there is a false belief that a single person is to blame for all the negative aspects of our lives. Therapists who work from a family systems perspective believe that an occurring issue is not because of an individual but the family unit as a whole. Both positive and negative behaviors, thoughts, and emotions are reinforced within families. The negative beliefs loved ones have passed down about mental health, asking for help, and the misconception that vulnerability is a weakness is hurting us. Just because these thoughts are loud and feel true does not make them correct.

Identify safe individuals to speak with.

Finding helpful resources can be frustrating. To find a counselor that suits your needs searching Psychology Today or Inclusive Therapists allows you to specialize your search for a mental health professional. You can also speak with your primary care physician to ask about local referrals and support groups. 

Be vulnerable and share what is happening.

Once you have found a clinician you trust, SHARE! Share your thoughts, from fears of what therapy is to what brings you joy. Clinicians are not mind readers and are not making attempts to declare insanity. We ask questions to understand what is happening in your life and provide resources that best suit your needs.

Give yourself grace when working on steps to solve the problem.

It can take years for someone to reach out for help. It takes time for a clinician to provide tools to help you solve the problem. 

Set boundaries.

If you are not ready for the world to know you’re in counseling, that is okay. Voice your concerns to your clinician. They can help you create boundaries when discussing personal matters with others. Privacy is of the utmost importance when conducting sessions. What is shared and what is kept confidential will be discussed during the first session with your clinician.

Reminders

  • You are not alone, and many people are struggling with the same problem you face.
  • Talking to a mental health professional does not make you a burden.
  • Ignoring the problem does not fix it.
  • Not asking for help is scarier than receiving it.

Written by

Maria Vanillo, M.S., LPC-Associate, Supervised by Molly McCann, M.S., LPC-S
Clinician

Meet Maria!


1 2 3 4 77