What is mindfulness and how can it help me?

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD., the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health, Care, and Society, defined it as “paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” The Center believes that Mindfulness is “consciously and systematically working with your own pain, stress, illness, and the challenges of everyday life.”

So, what does all of that really mean? When you are being mindful, you are not letting your life pass you by, you are living in the present, allowing your thoughts and feelings to come to you, but not judging them as either good or bad.

How can Mindfulness help me?

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the MIND:

  • Lower levels of psychological distress, including less anxiety, less depression, anger, and worry
  • Reduced ruminative thinking
  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Feeling less stressed, more joyful, inspired, grateful, hopeful, content, vital, and satisfied with life

Research on mindful meditation’s effect of the BRAIN:

  • Helps to influence areas of the brain involved in regulating attention, awareness, and emotion
  • Significantly improved the efficiency of executive attention during a computerized attention test (good news for ADHD)
  • Increased grey matter density in the hippocampus which is important for learning and memory
  • Decreased grey matter density in the amygdala which plays a role in anxiety and stress; activated regions of the brain that are associated with positive feelings towards others

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the BODY:

  • There is scientific evidence to support the therapeutic effect off mindfulness meditation training on stress-related medical conditions including- psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain
  • Reduces symptoms of stress and negative mood states and increases emotional well-being and quality of life, among persons with chronic illness

Research on mindful meditation on BEHAVIOR:

  • Better ability to quit smoking, decrease in binge eating, improved sleeping quality, and reduced alcohol and illicit substance use.

How do I do Mindfulness?

Here are some examples to get you started:

Mindfulness Meditation

Find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for a few moments. To begin, you might want to set a timer for about 10 minutes, but after some experience you should not be too concerned about the length of time you spend meditating.

Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment by noticing your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and then leaves your body. Notice the cool air that enters, and the hot air that exits. Before long, your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That’s ok. Notice your thoughts and feelings as

if you are an outside observer watching what’s happening in your brain. Take note, and allow yourself to return to your breathing. Sometimes you might feel frustrated or bored. That’s fine–these are just a few more feelings to notice. Your mind might start to plan an upcoming weekend, or worry about a responsibility. Notice where your thoughts are going, and accept what’s happening. When you realize your mind wandering, return your concentration to your breathing. Continue this process until your timer rings.

Five Senses

The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses.

What are 5 things you can see? Look around you and notice 5 things you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or a knick-knack in the corner of a room.

What are 4 things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.

What are 3 things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.

What are 2 things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn’t have to be a nice smell either: maybe there’s an overflowing trashcan or sewer.

What is 1 thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. “Taste” the air to see how it feels on your tongue.

The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each. Also, try this exercise while doing an activity like washing dishes, listening to music, or going for a walk.

 

Enjoy a Happy New Year!

New Year’s is a time where many people make resolutions.  “I’m going to lose weight,” or “I’m going to quit smoking” are two of the popular resolutions, but what about mental health?  Less commonly do people make resolutions for their mental health beyond a simple phrase such as “be happier.”  But, if you are one of the 43.8 million adults in the United States who experiences mental illness (NAMI, 1999), you might benefit from some resolutions toward improving your mental health. 

Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes.

Here are some possible changes to pursue:

  1. Make sleep, diet, and exercise a priority.  Snickers has a popular series of commercials where a celebrity is acting in an angry, irritated, or frustrated manner until they are given a Snickers because they become emotional when they are hungry.  After taking a bite of the Snicker bar, the person returns to his or her typical self.  While I (and I’m sure our dietitians) would agree that sugar isn’t the answer, these commercials do have a point: our physical health impacts our mental health.  When we are tired, hungry, fatigued, or inactive, our mental health suffers.  Resolve to make simple changes to your habits this year: get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, go on more walks.  Try to build on choices you make that are already healthy.
  2. Think positive.  This sounds cliché, but there is evidence to suggest that optimism improves our life.  The Mayo Clinic reports on their website that optimism has been connected to longer life span, decreased depression, decreased distress, reduced cardiovascular disease, and improved coping skills.  Unsure of how to start thinking in a positive manner?  Begin with creating a daily affirmation for yourself.  Waking up and saying “Today is going to be a good day,” can lead you to viewing the day in a more positive light.  If you have a specific stressor you are worried about, trying envisioning how that problem will go well instead of how it can go wrong.
  3. Seek help.  In 2012, ABC News reported that only about 60% of people with mental illness received professional help.  Professional help is available in a variety of ways, from counseling to medication to support groups.  If you are unsure where to go or what method is best for you, start with speaking with your doctor about the issue.      

Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes.  Even if you aren’t dealing with mental illness, perhaps pursuing one of the above resolutions can make your 2017 a more positive and enjoyable year.

 

Dealing with Holiday Grief

For many people, the holidays are a season of happiness, celebration, and family gatherings.  For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times. How can we celebrate a holiday while also mourning the loss of someone close to us?  Here are some tips for getting through the season for facing grief during the holiday season.

For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times.

 

Plan ahead:

Typically during the holidays, we can predict the days that will be most difficult for us.  Do your best to plan ahead; set aside some time alone if necessary or schedule your trip to the cemetery.  If you know certain parts of the holiday won’t be the same, create new traditions or incorporate times of remembrance.

Externalize your grief:

Grief.com has some positive ideas about how to mark the loss of a loved one.  Some of these ideas include lighting a candle or saying a prayer for the loved one before the holiday meal.  You may also choose to include others by having everyone share a positive memory or funny story about the person.

Take a break: 

Grief.com also suggests cancelling the holiday.  The beauty of holidays is that they come back every year, so if you decide you need a year off from hosting Thanksgiving dinner or you are just not up for traveling this December, take some time off.  It is important to remember that any feeling shouldn’t remain stored up inside.  Choosing to cancel or postpone a holiday celebration is not selfish but rather a positive form of self-care.

It is important to remember that the holidays are a time of celebration but can also be a time of difficulty.  Be aware of your own feelings and also the feelings of others.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one who may be struggling this holiday season and be sure to take care of yourself.

Happy Holidays!

Brian Gazdziak, LCSW

Resource http://grief.com/grief-the-holidays

 

 

Laughter is Still the Best Medicine

Have you ever noticed how getting an unexpected laugh in the middle of a stressful workday can help relax you and lift your mood? I’ve heard it said that humor is often created by a combination of tragedy and surprise.

Have you ever noticed how getting an unexpected laugh in the middle of a stressful workday can help relax you and lift your mood?

This makes sense when I remember an incident during a very stressful day at a previous job. After seeing several clients and trying to catch up on a ridiculous amount of paperwork, I was feeling stressed and worried about all that still needed accomplished for the day. I rushed to the front desk to pick up some papers off the printer when I saw the director of the company lean over to the speaker of our fax machine, and yell, “I’m trying to fax something to you!”. I had just witnessed his first fax attempt and it was hilarious.  

Stress? Gone! Worries? Gone! Nothing seemed to matter as it had five minutes earlier.

Finding a balanced amount of humor in the workplace and in our lives in general is beneficial to our health, productivity and work relationships.  On the job, humor can strengthen relationships, enhance teamwork, and when used appropriately, it can diffuse conflict.

The benefits of laughter to our physical health include a boost to immunity, decrease in pain, lower stress and relax muscles. Laughter benefits our mental health by decreasing anxiety, fear and stress, increases energy and helps you to stay focused. Humor helps you to put things into perspective and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Some ways to find humor when you are overwhelmed by problems and stress:

  • When you hear laughter and when time allows, move toward it.
  • Laugh at yourself and share embarrassing moments
  • Surround yourself with pictures, posters or other reminders to lighten up.
  • Ask yourself if the situation is really worth being upset or upsetting others about.
  • Spend time with children.                

Jeanne Armour, LCSW
                      

Do you have an anxiety disorder?

Everyone gets nervous, anxious or worried from time to time by things like public speaking, major life changes, financial issues, and difficulties with work or home life. For some people, these worries become so bothersome and intrusive that they can take over their lives.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn't always clear.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn’t always clear. Take a look at 9 common symptoms below. If you experience any of them on a regular basis, it may be worth having a conversation with you primary care physician or make an appointment with someone you can speak to.

  1. Excessive Worry
    Worrying too much about everyday things, both large and small.
  2. Sleep Problems
    Trouble getting and/or staying asleep. Chronically lying awake with racing thoughts about something specific or nothing at all.
  3. Irrational Fears
    Fear becomes overwhelming, disruptive, and/or disproportionate to the actual threat.
  4. Muscle Tension
    Clenching your jaw, balling up your fists, constant tension in neck and shoulders.
  5. Digestive Issues
    Stomachaches, cramping, gas, constipation and/or diarrhea.
  6. Self-Consciousness
    Feeling as if all eyes are on you, difficulties eating/drinking around others.
  7. Panic
    Experiencing sudden feelings of helplessness, pounding heart, sweating, difficulty breathing, tingling or numbness in hands, feelings of being choked.
  8. Perfectionism
    Constantly judging yourself, worrying about making mistakes or falling short of expectations or standards.
  9. Self-Doubt
    Constantly second guessing oneself, problems making decisions asking “What if?”.

Mercedes L. Kent, LCSW