Truth Joy Beauty

Just my thoughts and reflections about living and loving in the post-post modern age.

Archive for the tag “Mindfulness”

7 simple ways to change your mind…mindfully!

The news is out!  We are not victims of circumstance or biology. No matter what your past history entails, the good news is change is possible. Our brains are flexible and wired for change and adaptability.

Here are seven ways that you can change your mind, and life, for the better with the help of mindfulness practices.

1. Live mindfully

…that is, consciously, with awareness and conscious choice. Living mindfully means bringing conscious awareness to everything you do. It doesn’t mean you have to spend hours a day meditating but even a few moments of pausing, breathing and noticing what you are experiencing without overthinking can help improve mood and manage daily stress.

2. Relate to experience directly

Try using your senses rather than through thinking, analyzing or judging all of the time. Take a moment to stop, notice and check in with your self. A simple mindfulness exercise is the 5×5 pause. Going through your five senses and noticing the first 5 things you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. (Taste is sometimes a difficult one, unless you are seated at a sushi train…yum!) However, by the time you get to taste, you will have mindfully checked in with yourself.

3. Stay in the present

Resist the urge to dwell on past events or worry about future “what ifs”. Staying present involves noticing and accepting your day to day, moment to moment experience as real and valuable. Whenever you find yourself time travelling in your mind try a simple 5×5 meditation or simply stop and notice your breathing for a few moments, to bring you back to now.

4. Avoid avoiding all unpleasant feelings at any cost

Try to welcome all feelings and emotions as temporary messengers who have something to tell you. Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are and they do pass. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating our truest needs, desires and wants. We don’t have to follow our emotions or do what they tell us to every time, however, acknowledging your feelings is the first step towards honoring our truth. Knowledge is power after all.

5. Accept things as they now are and go from there

Instead of how you would like them to be. Don’t waste energy or time on struggling with discontent. The more you struggle with feelings of frustration, unfairness and anger regarding those things that you cannot change, the less energy you have to put into changing those things you can.

6. Learn to see your thoughts as just thoughts, not facts or reality

Some thoughts are factual, some may have elements of truth and some may be completely incorrect – learn to choose which thoughts are most helpful to you rather than focusing on whether they are true or real. Focusing on thoughts gives them undue power – choose your thoughts wisely.

7. Practice self-compassion daily.

Be kind to yourself. Learn and practice how to be your own best friend and treat yourself with the kindness, compassion and respect you really want. Watch what you say, do and how you treat you. If you find yourself saying, doing or treating yourself in a way that you would never treat a friend then that is a sign that you need to be more loving to you.

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Yoga for stress reduction & anxiety

Yoga is one of those things I’ve dabbled in on and off since I can remember. It is something I do for a while, and while I’m doing it I love and really enjoy the benefits of, but then for some reason or another I just stop. And then, after a while I start to feel crap again, disconnected with myself, tense etc and then I remember…oh yeah! Maybe I should do a yoga class.

Since I’ve discovered the benefits of mindfulness practice, this has bought a whole new dimension to my understanding and appreciation of yoga. There is really no better way to connect the mind with the body than to connect the breath with movement. Yoga really is mindfulness in action.

So, having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to find this infographic appear in my inbox this morning from the wonderful people at Happify.  It’s an infographic of 7 yoga inspired breathing exercises and poses to instantly destress any time of the day. And you don’t have to be a yogi to do any of the poses, as they are very simple. This is something I am definitely going to be sharing with my anxiety clients so I just wanted to share it here with you’all.

Here you are:

7 yoga poses for stress reductionOh.. and if you want to get into yoga again in the comfort of your own home none the less, I really recommend Yoga with Adrienne’s YouTube channel. She has heaps of yoga videos for whatever mood you happen to be in, and if you really want kick start your yoga journey, I highly recommend taking her 30 days of yoga challenge.

Namaste y’all for now!

5 things I’ve learned about anxiety from a bunch of anxious peeps

I’ve recently finished co-facilitating two rounds of a 12 week therapy group aimed at helping anxiety sufferers conquer their fears. The ‘self help’ group, as it is called, is basically an exposure based 12 week program which encourages members to face their fears by gradually ‘exposing’ themselves to the source of their anxiety bit by bit. It’s called the stepladder approach and is based on basic behaviour therapy.

The aim of the group is to guide members, after explaining what exposure is and how to construct a stepladder, towards conquering specific fears or phobias. It’s not really structured for those who are diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), PSTD or depression for example. There is only so much you can do in a group context. That was the theory behind the group, however, the reality proved quite different. We had a few members that had a specific phobia or fear such as public speaking, or a specific social phobia such as fear of eating in public, but most of the members’ anxiety was not that specific. Most seemed to be suffering from a general malaise and in some cases extreme uneasiness in public, social phobia in general or just a case of debilitating shyness. Some had depression as well.

It soon became clear that the prescribed ‘stepladder’ technique was not going to work with these people. One could still go over the basic idea of the stepladder, that is, expose yourself to your fears, little by little. Take baby steps. But a definitely rigid approach was not going to do. So, I did some research and also, concurrently, I started an online course on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) but mostly, I learned from the group members themselves. Hearing their stories week by week, their awkward to embarrassing moments, their small and seemingly tiny triumphs and major breakthroughs…they taught me more about how to manage this thing called anxiety, which we are all faced with to some degree, than any text book or peer reviewed article I have read.

So here’s what I learned about how best to deal with anxiety from my research and from those that know best:

1. Accept anxiety as part of life.

Most people who come to a group such as the one I have just described have been struggling with anxiety for a long time before seeking help. Some for years. What they want most when they first come to the group or seek help is for a ‘cure’ that will somehow make their anxiety ‘go away’. But what is most freeing or a revelation for some is when we explain that anxiety is a normal part of being human, and that it will always be present to some degree. Struggling with it only makes it seem stronger and bigger than it really is, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away either… However, acceptance of anxiety is something altogether different. Acceptance allows for dialogue, it allows for a two-way exchange between the person suffering from anxiety and the message that anxiety is trying to convey. It is the first step towards healing, it signifies a willing to listen, to engage.

2. Face and then embrace your fears.

Whatever it is that makes you most anxious, that is where you need to start.  Jumping in head first is not a good idea, however a measured, stepladder if you will, approach really does work if done consciously, with self-awareness and with self-compassion. A step is still a step, no matter how small….however, there is a qualifier and the qualifier is as follows:

2a. Face your fears, only if they serve your greater good. That is, face and accept anxiety only if it serves your values. There is no point putting yourself through all that pain and anxiety for no good reason, if it serves you however, and helps you to achieve your goals or be the person you really want to be, then there is a very good reason.

3. Know your values.

One session, after learning about the importance of values in ACT I asked the group members to share with me their reasons for coming to group in the first place. They looked at me blankly at first, as if it was a silly question but then I explained… Yes, I know it’s because you wanted to get help with managing your anxiety but WHY? Why does that matter to you? Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay home, live with your anxiety to a degree and not push yourself to come here, or go on working through your stepladders each week? There is a reason why you do that, come to group each week, something you want to achieve or a way you’d like to live, and that reason should give you a big hint as to what your values are. Values guided action makes anxiety meaningful. It adds another, very powerful dimension to the how of exposure based therapy. The why.

4. Listen to what your anxiety is trying to tell you.

Anxiety is not always blind fear and anxiety is not a one size fits all broadcast. There are different types of anxiety. There is helpful anxiety and not so helpful anxiety. Sometimes, it is steering you towards something, sometimes it is telling you your off track. There is the anxiety that comes with moving forward, and the anxiety that comes with staying stuck. Only the individual can know what their anxiety means to them, or what it is trying to say. Mindfulness is one way of getting tuned in to what your anxiety is trying to tell you by displacing some of the static that most of us walk around with every day, without realizing it most of the time.

5. You are what you do most.

All the skills and techniques broached in the 12 week course (and in most CBT based therapies including ACT) are all pretty sound, yet none of them will work if we only pay lip-service to them. There is no magic pill or cure for anxiety or any other mental illness. Medication helps to a degree but it really only treats the symptoms, or helps with balancing out chemicals that have become imbalanced in the first place because of what the individual has experienced, reacted to and consequently how they have been behaving for many years. It takes dedication, practice and conscious choice to over-ride what have become automatic behaviours or ways of responding for many anxiety sufferers. The more you practice these new behaviours, thoughts, techniques and ways of being, the more they will seem natural.

 

So that’s pretty much it. (Well not really it, but a sizeable chunk, and besides, I’m getting sleepy!)

All good things take a little time, but like all good things, they are truly worth it in the end. As has been my journey towards becoming a qualified counsellor…it’s been a long 3 and a half years and in a few weeks I will be done with this first long stretch of road. Yes, in just a few weeks I will be qualified! However, while I feel I have learned so much, it gives me a certain amount of anxiety to realize that I have still sooo much more to learn. But, I’m pretty sure it’s the good sort of anxiety…

The parable of the shower-head. A reflection on acceptance.

I am doing my very best with what I have

A while ago I wrote a post on my old blog titled, Am I Futurizing?  In which I reflected on the term as it related to my relationship. Basically, futurizing in a relationship context involves wanting to fast track a future without fully appreciating things as they are in the present. It’s like you have this idea of a happy ever after in your head and you are impatient to get there. Understandable, but so much so that you negate the present and are constantly feeling ripped off or anxious. It’s like there’s a kid in the back seat of your mind constantly asking, “Are we there yet? Are wee therree yettt?? Yes, it is annoying.

Since I wrote that post however, I have read a lot more about things like mindfulness and existential therapy and the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and the ability to be more in the here and now. And, so I have since found an answer to my question. Yes, I was futurizing…. oops!

So, where does the shower-head fit in to all this? Well, thing is, I don’t really love my apartment. It’s a bit of a dump really. The kitchen cupboards don’t all close properly. Someone has done a shoddy job of painting the place. All the light fittings have paint on them, and the bathroom has a hole in the ceiling. The water used to trickle out of the shower and to get your whole body wet you had to do this weird kinda twist like dance step. At the time, however, I was desperate to find a place and was running out of time, so I took it. I remember crying the day I moved in to this shoe box which looked worse than I remembered it from the time that lapsed between the inspection and my moving in. Still, I told myself, it’s only temporary…So confident was I of that fact that I only signed a six month lease. I thought by the end of that year my boyfriend and I would be moving in together for sure. Well, here we are more that a year later and I’m still here. We are still together, and yes there have been vague discussions about a future cohabitation occurring at some point in the future but no concrete plans yet.

For over a year I put up with that shitty shower. My boyfriend and I would attempt to shower together and we would have to take turns getting wet and invariably, one of us would be standing shivering while the other rinsed off. He kept saying, Why don’t you get the real estate to look at it? I’d say, Yeah I’ll do it today. But I kept putting it off or forgetting about it. Until the next morning when I’d be standing in the shower recess feeling resentful about how displeased I was with my shower and what it represented. I allowed the bitter semi hot water to dribble over me and I’d feel annoyed every morning. Not a great way to start your day…

This went on until last week, when I finally asked myself, So what is the meaning of my resistance to getting a new shower-head? And then the realisation dawned on me. I was still futurizing. I was unwilling to change my shower-head because it represented my suffering in the present moment and for some reason, I had become attached to that suffering. Like, there was something noble in it? What was noble about having a shit shower every day? Nothing. I was just resisting accepting how things were for me in the present because I was still living in the future somewhat in which everything would be perfect, supposedly.

Well, past experience has taught me this: The future and the past are many things, but they are rarely ever perfect. Why suffer anymore than you have to in the present. Why play the victim? That day I emailed my real estate agent and the next day I had a shiny new shower-head which covered my whole body in a steady, hot and steamy stream of heavenly water.  I stood there in my new luxurious shower, in my shitty bathroom thinking…FFS why did I wait so long??

So, the moral of this story is. Don’t wait too long to change your shitty shower-head! Live in the present and enjoy it as best you can. I’m sure most of us have a shitty shower-head in their life. What’s yours?

 

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