Mindfulness- Let’s Begin

Let me start by saying… I have SO much to say!

I can talk about mindfulness forever.  I can talk about therapy FOREVER.  So, you can only imagine how much I have to say about mindfulness AND therapy!  BUT, in an earlier post I made a commitment to you all that I wouldn’t go on and on.  So, just know that this is the beginning. There will be many more mindfulness posts, many. I’m going to start with the basics today.

I’ll admit that mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword right now.  This happens in therapy (and life), things become trendy and all of the sudden everyone is diagnosed with something, or training in something, or buying something for their office, you get the idea.  The irony of this is that mindful practice is almost as old as the mind itself.  But then again everything I wore in middle school is back in style; so I guess everything has its time and then comes around again.

So what is this new (old) thing we call mindfulness?

Well, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) defines mindful awareness as “the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences”.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (and a HUGE deal in the community) describes mindfulness as an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.” It’s about being connected in the present moment, and further, being connected to your body and mind in the present moment.

Here’s the trick. We may think we are connected to our mind and body.  You may read that and think “I know my head hurts right now” or “My body feels fat in these pants today”.  It’s a different kind of relationship. It is a relationship without judgement, in fact, this relationship asks for acceptance.  Can you feel these sensations in your mind and body without judging them?  Without even thinking about them?  That’s why we use the phrase “bring your awareness to…”  If you have a headache can you bring your awareness to it without thinking about it (I must be dehydrated) or attaching feeling to it (I’m worried this won’t go away).  Just be aware of it, allow it to be what it is, sit with it. (A little secret: you might find that it gets better or goes away, but that’s for a different post).

What can mindfulness do?

Well, research into mindfulness is still new, and some of the kinks are still being worked out.  I won’t bore you with research talk, however results are coming in!  In their book, Fully Present, Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston write that research is beginning to show that repeated mindful practice can:

  • Reduce Stress
  • Reduce chronic physical pain
  • Boost the immune system
  • Assist in coping with painful life events
  • Assist in coping with negative emotions
  • Improve attention or concentration (also supported by a study from Smalley et. al)
  • Enhancing positive emotions
  • Enhancing performance
  • Changing brain structure in a positive way

That last one is my favorite! So many people think therapy and therapeutic techniques are “all in our heads”.  That it isn’t real.  But mindful practices can actually change the physical structure and connections in your brain!  I like telling clients that mindful practices are like weightlifting for your prefrontal cortex (I’m a nerd, don’t judge). It also shrinks the grey matter in your amygdala, the part of your brain that contains the fight or flight response, but I don’t want to get to “brainy” on you!

How can you start?

We can start right now.  Take a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Now take another one but try to feel that breath in your nose, maybe even down through your windpipe and into your lungs, and then try to feel the breath as it leaves your mouth.

You just had a mindful moment.  Congrats!

Mindful meditation consists of doing what you just did for an extended period of time.  Find somewhere quiet (or if you are a parent like me, relatively quiet will do), breathe normally, and focus on the feeling of the breath, whether it’s in your nose, chest, belly, or mouth.  If thoughts enter your mind just gently and non-judgmentally direct your attention back to your breath. Start small and work your way up to longer meditation times.

Please remember that it’s called a practice for a reason.  You aren’t supposed to be good at it at first, there is always room for growth.  Don’t let it be a time where you beat yourself up.

We’ll talk about more ways to be mindful later, for now here are some awesome resources to help you get started:

Websites

Mindful Awareness Research Center Free Guided Mediations

Mindful

Apps- Available in Google Play and App Store

Stop, Breathe, and Think

Calm

Insight Timer

Books

Fully Present

How to Train a Wild Elephant, and Other Adventures in Mindfulness

How To Talk To Your Child About Difficult Things

I wrote this post a few weeks back and never published it, but in light of the devastating events in Las Vegas last night, I decided to publish it today.  I hope this helps facilitate some of the difficult conversations that may come up in the days ahead.

Please take care of one another.

~Abby

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A lot has been going on lately. From the devastating storms in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico, to political feuds, there is no shortage of difficult topics out there; and it can be a lot for our children to take in.  So how do we go about addressing these things with our children in a way they can understand?

Let me first say that a lot of this is less therapeutic discussion, and more parenting choice.  You as the parent know what you kids can handle and what may be too sad, scary, or overwhelming.  Use your intuition as to what’s best for your child, in terms of what they are capable of understanding and processing.  Taking the path of “they need to know or should know this can be damaging if your child isn’t ready.  Issues or events may be incredibly important to us personally, but that doesn’t mean your child is ready to hear or learn about them.  If you need help assessing your child’s readiness, answer the following questions and use the results as a guide:

  • Why do I feel compelled to share? (ex: it is important for them, it is important to me, they are asking questions, etc…)
  • What will my child gain from having this information? (ex: safety, increased understanding, increased knowledge, nothing?)
  • Can my child handle this information?
    • Is my child sensitive?
    • Does my child scare easily?
    • Does my child worry excessively?

If you’ve gone through the questions and decided to discuss with your kids, or if they got to the information prior to this process, here are some helpful tips:

Plan Your Discussion

 Think our what you want to say ahead of time.  Sometimes in the middle of a difficult discussion we realize it opens the door to other difficult topics we weren’t prepared to address.  Plan your main points and try to anticipate questions your child might have so you can be prepared to answer them.

Use Age Appropriate Language

 Make sure your child can understand the words and concepts you use.  This will keep the discussion simple and understandable for your child.

Be Honest, but Prudent

 Children look to their parents for a safe, trusting relationship.  It is crucial to be honest, but also purposeful with what you sharing and why. Your child may not need to know it all.

If your child asks, it may be helpful to acknowledge that bad things happen and sometimes we don’t know why.  Reassure your child that they are safe and that there are people in their lives who work hard to keep it that way.  If your family is religious, it may be helpful to discuss your particular religion’s perspective here.

Keep it Short and Leave Room for Questions

 Often, the more we talk, the less kids listen.  Sometimes all that language can be overwhelming. Make sure to pause, ask your child if they understand, and provide your child the opportunity to ask questions.

Check In

Check in after the discussion, children take time to process things and may have questions hours, days, or weeks later.  Honor those questions, answer them thoughtfully, and encourage them to keep asking questions if needed.