As we step into the New Year we start thinking about big plans and resolutions, but how often do we actually employ change in the long term? And how helpful is the idea of a “resolution” in order to spark growth?
Turning the Mind
By: Katrin Steinert
It is human nature to want to avoid painful emotional situations and turn towards comfort. Avoiding pain can become automatic and in emotional situations it can be easy to seek comfort in maladaptive behaviors. Accepting painful psychological moments can become mentally taxing and become a big commitment. Turning the mind is a conscious decision to accept the reality of the situation and cope accordingly so it does not turn into denial. Turning the mind requires the act of choice, it is like hitting a fork in the road. The decision to accept is one that takes an inner commitment. The commitment does not mean acceptance has to happen first; it just means the road towards acceptance is the choice that has been made. To the turn the mind means the commitment must be made over and over again. The commitment must be conscious and consistent in order for the wave of pain to dissipate. Some examples of when to use turn the mind is when you are between a rock and a hard place. To choose the more effective choice can be very difficult when the maladaptive choice is the more comfortable choice. The maladaptive choice could be impulsive, not aligned with overall goals or can cause more suffering in the long run. The choice to reduce suffering can be a difficult one, which is why the commitment to acceptance is crucial.
By: Stella Michon
Most of the festivities we enjoy during the holidays surround family, friends and above all else-food. Spending time cooking and sharing traditions with loved ones is a beautiful way to connect, but can be stressful to those who struggle with their relationships to food and body image. Challenging family dynamics, travel stressors and the pressure to eat big meals are just a few factors that make this time period particularly triggering.
Below are a few ways to encourage a peaceful relationship with food for the rest of the Holiday season.
Be aware of diet culture: Messages like “new year, new you”, “eat healthy during the holidays without sacrificing fitness goals“, and advice on how to” make up for”/ “reset” after eating throughout the holidays can have damaging effects on those who struggle with food. These messages often convince us that the way to achieve happiness and fulfillment is through changing and shrinking our bodies. I urge my clients to challenge these ideas and search for joy through self-acceptance and trust in your body.
Clear boundary setting: Put a stop to others comments about your food or body. Remarks like, “ do you really need more?” “Have you lost/gained weight?” “What about trying ___” or listening to loved ones discussing their diet plans can make your holiday food experience anxiety provoking. I suggest that clients come up with a simple script each time they encounter this issue. You can practice kindly explaining to others that diet and calories are not topics you want to discuss or try requesting to change the subject.
Create like-minded community: Perhaps you have a friend of safe person who is also working on making peace with food- can they attend holiday events with you? If not, are you in touch with a community of people who are on the same journey? I suggest starting by checking out accounts like @trustyourbodyproject, @chr1styharrison, and the @intuitive_rd to start this community online.
Change the focus of your health goals: You can still prioritize health and well being without traditional diet and fitness goals. For example, consider reframing your goals from weight loss or body changes to increasing strength and aiding in stress relief and sleep. The goal here is to step into food choices and exercise from a place of self-love instead of self-loathing for a more restorative and compassionate experience.
IMPROVE the Moment
By: Katrin Steinert
“When life throws you lemons make lemonade” but how do we do that? A lot of our instincts when something does not go correctly is to react impulsively with strong emotions. Some situations require us to react emotionally and some require more of our rational brain. In order to help calm our emotional reactions we can employ a skill called IMPROVE.
Imagery: Transports your mind to a space that makes you feel calm and serene. Visualize imagery that helps soothe your sense and relaxes your muscle’s. Some examples could be your favorite childhood space, beach or even your own room.
Meaning: Find meaning in a distressing situation can help shift the perspective. By tapping into your values, it will help see the silver lining in a situation that may otherwise feel meaningless.
Prayer: Prayer does not have to have a religious connotation. The meaning of prayer is connecting with something that is greater than yourself. By focusing on a mantra, image or song can create a sense of peace in the moment.
Relaxation: Focusing on relaxing the tension in muscles can reduce the pressure build of distress. By reducing the tension in your muscles will help elevate emotional pain.
One thing at a time: Being mindful is focusing on one task or thought at a time. This can be a powerful tool to slow down the thoughts and worries that are popping up. By letting go of the future worry will allow space to focus on the moment.
Vacation: Vacation does not mean take an actual trip. A vacation is a brief respite from the monotony of daily life. An example of a vacation can be taking a different walking route, meeting friends or exploring a new part the city you live in.
Encouragement: Words are very powerful and that includes the words we tell ourselves. By practicing positive self-talk and self-encouragement can help give us the boost we need to take a distressing moment.
The Power of Breath
Breathing. We do it all day, every day, and have done so since we first entered this world. Take a deep breath—pause—and exhale. As you drew your breath in, you supplied much needed oxygen to your body and organs, and as you pushed it out, you removed waste products and toxins from within. In fact, around 70% of our toxins are released from our body through our breath. Yet breathing is something that we hardly ever think twice about.
The connection between breath and our mind runs even deeper. Have you ever noticed that when you are anxious or upset, your breath becomes short and quick? By taking a deep breath, you actually cause your heart rate to slow down, creating feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Paying attention to your breathing can help you tap into your emotions and gain an understanding about your triggers. Pay particular attention to signs of “bad” breathing such as:
When you feel yourself doing any of these things, pause, slow down, and take a few deep breaths. Pay attention to how you feel and remember it the next time you notice yourself exhibiting patterns of “bad” breathing.
Practicing deep breathing can have several beneficial effects including:
Helping Your Teen with Anxiety
Adolescence is always a confusing time – add in the challenge of navigating new experiences, the modern pressures of social media, and heightened competition for colleges, and it’s no wonder so many teens feel nervous, overwhelmed and anxious. How do you help your teen when you see them struggling with anxiety?
Normalize and validate their anxiety. Anxiety is completely normal. Let your child know that everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. Also, let them know that their anxiety can be overcome, and that by learning coping skills, they can learn to manage their anxiety in the future as well.
Engage in Mindfulness. Did you know that studies have shown that mindfulness has similar effects on the brain as exercise? Educate your child about the benefits of mindfulness exercises and encourage them to try them out. With apps like Headspace and Insight Timer, it’s easier than ever to get started with mindfulness practice.
Avoid pressuring your teen. Your teen needs to be able to go at their own pace. Overcoming anxiety does not happen overnight. Avoid comments such as “just snap out of it already” and questions like “you’re still worried about that?” Instead, ask your teen how they’re feeling and provide encouraging responses that validate their experiences.
Know when to seek help from a mental health professional. If your child is in distress or if their anxiety is keeping them from doing day-to-day activities, it may be time to seek professional help. Professionals can help your teen talk through and process their anxious feelings. By providing coping skills and resources to manage anxiety more effectively, a professional can be a very beneficial for your anxious teen.
Do You Get Enough Quality Sleep?
I hear so many people tell me about their lack of quality sleep nowadays. Whether it be stress, anxiety, or too much time sitting in front of a computer screen, there are many different factors that contribute not only to your ability to fall asleep, but also to the quality of sleep that you actually get. Lack of sleep can increase your risk of obesity by 15%, your risk of cardiovascular disease, and your risk of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Being awake for twenty hours or more has a comparable effect on your brain as being intoxicated. Here are some easy things you can start doing to not only get yourself to sleep, but also to improve the quality of sleep you’re getting!
Exercise. Getting exercise is one of the best ways to promote continuous sleep. If you find that getting to sleep is harder when you exercise later in the day, make sure you exercise before 3pm.
Avoid screen time. Make it a rule to avoid any screen time at least an hour before bedtime. Research shows that the blue light from phones, computers, and even TVs interferes with falling asleep and makes it harder to get into quality REM sleep.
Separate work and sleep areas. Avoid doing any work in bed. This even includes checking emails or making phone calls. Our brain makes associations between doing work and our environment, so reserve your bed for sleeping and relaxing.
Journal/Meditate. Journaling and meditating are great ways to unwind from your day and bring yourself into the “here and now”. While trying to fall asleep, your mind can be plagued with incessant thoughts. Getting these thoughts out of your mind through journaling, and following this up with some quiet reflection or meditation, is a great way to slow yourself down and help ease yourself into a restful night.
Quick Tips to Combat Stress
While stress can be a normal part of life, too much of it can be unhealthy and take a toll on your body. Getting sick often, or feeling sluggish, overwhelmed, dysregulated, can all be signs that you might be stressed out. Start using these easy techniques in your daily routine to stay ahead of your stress!
Be present. Check in with yourself and your body. It’s not uncommon to be running on autopilot. Close your eyes a focus on what your body needs. Being mindful can help slow you down and help focus on the ‘here and now’.
Make time for yourself. The days where you think you have no time for yourself are the days you need it the most. Whether it be ten minutes or an hour, make time to do something for yourself every day.
Get moving. Physical exercise can be one of the best ways to relieve stress. Figure out what you like to do, whether that be to run, hike, dance, or swim, and get out there and do it. If you can get outdoors—especially in nature, even better!
Meditate. Take some time every day to meditate. There are many different apps (Headspace, Calm.com) that can provide different genres of meditations. You do not need to spend an entire half hour meditating—it can actually even be done just a few minutes every day!
Remember, even a few minutes of any of these activities can work wonders on your stress level, and the way that you feel. Take a minute to close your eyes and listen to your favorite song, step out of the office and take a brisk walk outside, do a 5- minute meditation. When it comes to self-care, any amount is better than none. Your body and mind will thank you!
Practicing Self- Gratitude
It is so easy to look back at the end of a day and be critical over the way you looked, the things you didn’t get accomplished, and things you wish you had done better. But how often do you look back and think about all the positive things, or give yourself a little pat on the back? My guess is not nearly as often. What if I told you that making some small changes every day could have a profound effect on not only your mental health, but your physical health as well?
Practicing self- gratitude can not only boost self-esteem and confidence levels, but can also improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, your relationships, and even your immune system. Let’s take a look at some easy changes to start implementing today so that you can start practicing self- gratitude and take advantage of these benefits!
Compliment yourself. Find a couple times a day where you can give yourself a compliment. If you’re in front of a mirror, tell yourself something that you like about your appearance. If you’ve just gotten out of a meeting, take a minute to recognize something you’ve done.
Practice self-care. It may be challenging to find the energy to compliment yourself when you don’t allow yourself the time to do what you love. Find time every day (even if it’s only twenty minutes) to do something for yourself!
Learn to take compliments. Ever felt uncomfortable when someone gives you a compliment? Accepting a compliment can be challenging in the beginning, but practice saying “thank you” and sitting with that compliment, and acknowledging the feeling that it brings – you may soon realize that you enjoy it!
Keep a Gratitude Journal/ Gratitude Jar. Take time every day, maybe at night before going to sleep, to write down some positive affirmations about yourself either in a journal or on some piece of paper that you can save and look at. Linking behavior change to something tangible is the best way to hold yourself accountable and make it stick. Lasting change will happen before you know it as you begin to experience the benefits of self-gratitude.
What does it mean to be mindful? This is a question I come back to a lot on my own, and also one that my clients ask me often. There are so many ways to be mindful and to meditate, and there is not a one size fits all for any person. The key to living in the moment and learning to be more present can come from starting with the little things. Enjoying your coffee in the morning, taking a ten-minute walk after work, combing your hair and washing your face before bed. It is easy to go through the motions- it is harder to do these things with intention. Taking five extra minutes to sit down when drinking your coffee and not sipping it as you rush out the door. Taking a walk without your phone and paying attention to the beauty and nature around you, instead of making an internal list of what you need to do when you are back. Combing your hair and washing your face and recognizing that this is a way you care for yourself, instead of rushing through it because you feel its another thing that needs to be done.
We can so easily live out of habit instead of out of intent. Being able to stay in the present and make changes requires this intention, and being able to live in the present (or be more mindful!) is what leads us to feeling happier and more content with our life. It can feel overwhelming to feel like we have to be mindful all of the time. When clients come to me and want to start being more present, I always remind them to start small. Form habits and create the time in your day to enjoy what is and just be. Being able to implement this will lead to more lasting change and present moment awareness. Even as a therapist, being mindful is something I am always trying to work at and implement into my life more. Paying attention to what I need and what feels right is important as well and has helped me to take more time for myself and think about what I want for my life in a more intentional way. “The Mindfulness Journal” by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport is a great way to help with the process of becoming more mindful and can help with beginning to create that habit into your daily life and practice. I highly recommend this to anyone who is wanting to be more present, aware, grateful and intentional.