Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Mindful Driver



The Mindful Driver

It seems like it is impossible to make my commute over I40 or I440 without seeing some type of accident, or the aftermath of one. This probably has to do somewhat with the fact that it is not hard to glance out your window and notice someone texting as they are moving along the highway.  In general, however, I think it would be fair to say that for many the commuting experience is one that is likely to provoke at least some stress and anxiety. Combine being in a state of stress with the many devices and concerns that pull our attention in every direction and you have a recipe for the micro-distractions that can mean disaster on the road. One method of pulling the driver back into a state of calm awareness would be to apply the principles of mindfulness to the experience of driving.

Stay connected to your experience:

Find small ways reconnect to your experience and remind yourself that you are the pilot of very heavy object going at high speed along with a lot of other very heavy objects. How does the steering wheel feel under your hands? Do you have a particular fragrance you use to keep your car smelling fresh?  Focusing on physical sensations would be like the practice of mindful eating, where you simply take the time to appreciate what is is you are experiencing. After all, it is pretty amazing that we can be the custodian of a device that can transport us a destination of our own choosing at speeds far outstripping the travel capacity of our not so distant ancestors.

Mindful Intention:

Where are you going? What is the next turn you will take? See if you can have your own mindful gps where you are intentionally aware of the next turn you will take on the road. That way you  can get in the right lane ahead of time and not have the stress of trying to get over to late. Make it a game to see how long you can stay focused on what it is you are doing right at that moment. While you may not do this 100% of the time, it is a good practice to help improve focus and ability to stay on course, hopefully avoiding the stress of a missed turn now and then.

Acceptance:

You are going to be late. You are going to run into traffic, or be delayed by a crash. You may take the wrong exit. A lot of times these factors are outside of our control, so we must meet them with some level of acceptance. Becoming stressed and trying to struggle against them, say, by driving on the shoulder of the road to get ahead of the other traffic, is fraught with not only legal peril, but physical peril as well.  Here again, it can help to again zoom back in on your experience. Yes you might be late, but you will still get to work. At that moment you are okay.


Breath:
If you are at a red light, or stopped in back up traffic. Take a moment to breath. Perhaps wiggle your shoulders and straighten your back. But remember to breath deeply, and start relaxing your nervous system and lowering your heart rate. Deep breathing helps calm down the nervous system and relax an individual out of the fight/flight/freeze response that can partially engage when faced with stress. Breathwork helps root us in the present and step back from stress that is largely future based. Being in the present is where we want to be when trying to stay safe on the road.

Summary:

Driving is something that becomes second nature, which makes it easier to take it for granted. So much so that we can almost go on full autopilot while distracted with future concerns or other activities. Yet, no matter how much our mind wants to jump to other topics, we have to be aware of what reality actually surrounds us. Being mindful of that experience, helps us navigate that reality far better than in a distracted state. Perhaps it can help with being frustrated in a traffic jam and prevent a traffic ticket or two as well.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mini-Series on Sleep: Part Three

Thus far we have touched on developing a sleep schedule and a before bed routine so you are really ready to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow. But what if you are doing these two things already but still having trouble falling sleep?




If you get in bed and it takes more than twenty minutes to fall asleep you should get back out of bed. That might sound counter intuitive but there is a good reason to do so, a couple in fact. 

First your body and mind need to associate your bed as a place of rest and relaxation. Likely if you have been struggling with sleep your bed may consciously or subconsciously be associated with stress, exhaustion, anxiety, or frustration. To help break that association you need to be sleeping while in your bed rather than laying awake wishing you could sleep. So after twenty minutes if you are still awake, get up. 

Now that you are up you need to do something slow down and relax so when you return to bed you can sleep. Maybe that would be reading, or perhaps drinking a cup of tea that does not have caffeine, or doing some light stretches. Whatever it is it needs to be something you find relaxing. Also this relaxation should not involve electronics like your phone, tablet, laptop, or television. All of these electronics can stimulate your body and mind due to the sort of light waves they put off. 

Finally if there is something in particular on your mind that is keeping you from falling asleep try to write it down so you can stop ruminating long enough to fall asleep. Once you have written things down and/or done some relaxing activities get back into bed. Hopefully you will fall fast asleep but if you find yourself awake in twenty minutes get back up and repeat. It may take a bit of time to rewire your brain to associate your bed with restful sleep but it will be well worth it when you are able to consistently get a good nights sleep!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mini-Series on Sleep: Part Two

Last week we touched on the importance of developing a sleep schedule. That is a great place to start but that is not the only thing that will help you get the healthy sleep you need. 



Developing an evening time routine that helps with winding down can also be very beneficial. This will look different for different people, the important part is to develop a routine that works for you. Individuals that are struggling with not being able to "turn off" their brain to fall asleep may benefit most from developing a wind down routine.

Do you need to start winding down 30 minutes before bed? An hour? Two hours? 
Find what works for you, it might take some time to find that sweet spot but it can make a big difference in the quality of sleep that you get. 

As I said this will look different for each person but here are some ideas to get you started:

- take a hot shower

- do some light stretching

- bedtime yoga practice (here's a great 7 minute video)

- meditation

- light reading

- cleaning/tiding up the kitchen or family room

- turn on your essential oil diffuser

- person hygiene activities



So let's put this all together in an example: 

Adrian has decided that to get the right amount of sleep they need to go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 7am. Adrian wants to make sure that when getting in to bed at 10pm they are really ready to fall asleep quickly without ruminating on what happened during the day or what needs to be accomplished tomorrow. 
Starting at 9pm Adrian straightens up the kitchen, wiping down counters if needed and setting out the banana they plan to eat in the morning. Adrian writes down the things they need to do tomorrow and leaves the list with the banana. Adrian grabs the book they have been reading and sets a 20 minute timer to ensure they do not lose track of time. After 20 minutes of reading Adrian heads to the bathroom to floss, wash their face, and brush their teeth. Once hygiene is done Adrian fills up a glass of water to have on the bedside table. Adrian spends 10 minutes doing some stretching and breathing exercises that they have found beneficial. Adrian gets into bed.


Develop your own routine and let us know what works for you!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mini-Series on Sleep: Part One

In this mini-series we will explore strategies that can improve sleep. One thing my colleagues and I hear often is that people are struggling with sleep. Sleep is essential to functioning at ones best! So if you aren't getting the sleep you need, you aren't able to be the healthiest version of yourself. Sleep impacts many aspects of mental and physical wellbeing, from metabolism to judgment to immune system health.




WHERE TO START?

Develop a sleep schedule! Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will strengthen your body's natural tendency to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. This means that on weekends, weekdays, vacations, etc. you should be going to bed at relatively the same time and waking up at relatively the same time. Once you have started purposefully trying to do this you will eventually notice that you start to become tired at that predetermined bedtime and you will start waking up without that alarm because you body has learned the pattern. While this may sound simple it can be an extremely important step in developing healthy sleep habits and patterns. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Intention in 2017

With 2017 right around the corner, New Year’s resolutions are a frequent topic of conversation. I have heard many clients, friends, and family members talking about ways they hope to better themselves in the year to come. One theme I have noticed has been, “be more intentional and help others”.

Intention and controlling the things that one can control is a subject I discuss with clients frequently. Not only in terms of their own actions and the impact on their lives, but also in terms of modeling healthy behavior for their children.
 
Teaching kids from an early age that, while they may be small, they can still make thoughtful, intentional decisions gives them a stronger, healthier sense of self. We can further aid the healthy development of a child’s sense of self by empowering them to help others. This not only shows them the impact they can have, even when they are not yet adults, but also helps them become more connected to their community. None of us live in isolation nor should we, so building community connections from a young age is just one more way we can encourage kids to make intentional decisions that will aid in healthy development.


All any of us can control is ourselves; the decisions we make, how we speak to people, how we manage difficult emotions, what we spend our time doing, our self-talk, who we let in our lives. We cannot control others ever, just ask any parent that has tried to get their two-year-old to eat broccoli, but we can control how we respond to others and how we respond to difficult situations or problems we see. Often times we make decisions on autopilot without thinking through the outcome. That is when intention comes in to play, slowing down, considering the implication of your actions and then acting with purpose knowing that your decision will move you closer to the desired outcome.




So how do we help children “be more intentional and help others”?


I imagine there are many ways, but the example I chose is one that resonates with me as a mental health counselor.

Little Voices Are Loud is a wonderful organization that set out to “…empower a generation to believe their voices have a place in the rhetoric of our world”. 

From a mental health standpoint, this is a wonderful thing to do for children because they will develop a healthy sense of self that will help them any time they face monumental challenges in childhood or adulthood.



This organization is the embodiment of the theme of this blog post “be more intentional and help others”.  The Changemaker Box provides the tools for children to help others, using their very own ideas. Little Voices are Loud has several Changemaker Boxes which focus on different facets of communities. The Peace box is "full of cause-related materials to help children create peace among their family, friends, and neighbors. The contents of this box encourage children to be intentional listeners, to practice mindfulness, and to show respect for everyone." The simple act of getting this box for your child reinforces your belief in their ability to make intentional decisions that will not only benefit their mental health but also provide them a platform to help others.


I hope in the coming year we can all find ways to “be more intentional and help others” and show kids that they are capable of that as well!!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Enough


Here is a reminder for anyone that may be struggling right now. You are enough. 

It is important to remember that you have to give yourself credit for what you ARE doing, as opposed to thinking negatively about what you are not doing.   If we focus completely on the negatives of our situations, it may feel like we are never good enough, never pretty enough, never smart enough, never happy enough, etc.  However, this is all relative, and measured based on opinion.  

When thinking about Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences (see more here), one can see that there are so many different ways to be "smart".  So, to assume that you are not smart because you score highly on musical intelligence as opposed to logical-mathematical, is simply a matter of opinion and what you place value in.  We must learn to recognize our own strengths and see the positives within ourselves, and not compare outwardly to the strengths of others.  

When we are able to stop comparing ourselves with others, not only do we experience inner peace by truly accepting ourselves, but we also feel less threatened by others.   In a time where the world is chaotic, and afraid, it would do everyone good to work on their inner peace, in order to promote more outward peace.  Why does a bully tease others? To make themselves feel less vulnerable and "appear" confident.  So why not create actual confidence by learning to become comfortable with ourselves and who we are. 

Let's start focusing on how we are enough

Let's recognize our personal strengths, and learn to love the person we see in the mirror.  

Let's face it, the way we treat others, clearly starts from the inside with how we feel about ourselves.  So let's start at the root of the cause, and learn to love ourselves so we can begin to truly love others. 

Be nice to yourself today, and prepare to see the change! 

-Lauren D. 



Saturday, November 5, 2016

Being Present in an Age of Distractibility


Let’s face it. It’s easy to get distracted, even when around people that we care about. Yet, the ability to be present while with your spouse, family, or even at work can be a critical skill to maintain relationships and get the most out of each moment. To be present, is to be grounded in the moment and aware of yourself and the world around you.  It denotes a sense of intentionality and commitment to whatever is in front of you, be that a person, a task, or a cup of tea.

In this sense, it is the opposite of being distracted. Imagine you are telling someone something very important and suddenly they start looking at their phone while saying, “Um-humm,” in response to everything you say. That might paint an exaggerated picture, but how many times have we all been “listening” to someone only to be thinking about multiple things at the same time? Often, this is not intentional. It’s been a long day, there are projects that need completing, bills that need paying, and your 7 year old has a dentist appointment tomorrow morning so you need to remember to pack your lunch the night before. There is no need to feel guilty being distracted when life gets busy. At the same time, cultivating the ability to regain the moment can be an important skill to have.  Being present with the people in our lives can enhance communication by helping others feel understood and heard. Being able to focus on one task at a time can reduce anxiety when facing a mountain of obstacles. You get the idea.

So what are some things we can actually do to start to build our capacity to be more present? Here are four steps that can help:

  1. Be intentional: being intentional is doing something with purpose. When you are trying to be present for something in yourself, remind yourself the “why” behind what you are doing. Do you need to focus on listening to someone intently because you love and respect them? Do you have religious or spiritual beliefs that make a certain activity really valuable to you as a person? Does the current activity relate to goals in your life? Sometimes, in the shuffle of things, we forget why the things we do on a daily basis are really important to us.

  1. Avoid excessive multi-tasking: this one can be hard.  When we have multiple projects going our minds can get into the habit of jumping from one to the other in rapid succession. Sometimes in our work or family life we have to shift our focus very quickly to adapt to rapidly changing events. Over time, however, having our mind running at such a pace can wear someone out. Plus, how many things can you actually do at one time? Often though, a task will emerge as a priority, such as specific appointment or a needed conversation with a family member. Just remember to be there while you are there, tomorrow’s tasks can wait for tomorrow.

  1. Find habits that keep you in the moment: there is no shortage of meditation and mindfulness techniques available. An important part of the equation is to find something that works for you at different times and in different environments. Will a cup of tea in the evenings bring you back into the moment? What about having a set of stretches you do in your chair at work? Perhaps a meditation where all you focus on is the sensation of breathing would be something to explore.  Find something that brings you into the moment and make it work for you.

  1. Present body language: body language can often tell much of the story without there ever being verbal communication involved. Part of being present can also mean being aware of how we are communicating with our body language. It may be as simple as making appropriate eye contact, or facing the person who you are speaking with. Avoid glancing at a screen or texting while communicating face to face with someone. A good rule of thumb is to aim for being relaxed and attentive; trying to concentrate on someone too intensely might making them uncomfortable.

Overall, being present is just a skill that takes practice to develop. Don’t sweat it when it’s not easy at first. Remember, you can be present for yourself too, and enjoy the good times in your life with a little less distraction.