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Mindfulness

Taking over: Your Summer, Your Life. Guide to Letting Go of Expectations and Enjoying Yourself

While summer can be so bright and happy for many, it may also have other tasks or mindsets associated with it, such as; time to take a vacation, time to reorganize my life so winter will be less stress, time to go outside in less covering clothes, time to have more fun, time when the kids are at home, etc. With all of that may come stress about finances, anxiety/anticipation to figure things out, body shame, time management stress and possibly other feelings about keeping up with the Jones'. 

When we have exactions for ourselves and for others we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed at times, and acknowledging that as an inevitable situation is key. The question than comes then to, what is reasonable to anticipate or expect, perhaps its that we are doing the best we can, and so are other people. The pressure to afford a huge summer family vacation or sign our kids up for activities or get our bodies in the best summer shape or reorganize our life during "downtime from school" can have angles or edges that don't feel so great. Perhaps it feels overwhelming, anxious from anticipation, or full of guilt and shame.

Of course Mindfulness is always a go-to, just sit with your emotions and let yourself experience them without holding too much attachment to your thoughts and the situations that present themselves. Practicing this can help you separate yourself from the thoughts, feeling and behaviors, while taking ownership for them. However that can feel perhaps a little too contained or intellectualized for some people. Also, its unrealistic for us to do that all the time, and we may find ourselves judging ourselves from falling away from that practice. Its bound to happen, taking a non-judgmental stance to both yourself, and the world around you can be incredibly beneficial as you radically accept the here and now for exactly what it is. Because we are creatures of habits, and we will become overly emotional and unwound at times, let that happen from time to time. Lets face it, we can't be perfect, and we will find ourselves landing left or right of center.

Let your children make mistakes, let yourself and your partner make mistakes. If you fall short of making that magical vacation happen, or slim down to that certain size, or don't prepare yourself for going back to school in exactly the way you wanted to,  or all the other summer goals you've created, thats okay. Enjoying your time, and your space each day is what makes a life worth living.

 

3 Mindfulness Exercises to Use at Home

1. The Walnut Exercise

In this exercise, which is great for beginners, that you can practice at home. Ask yourself these few questions by describing and observing these things:

  • The way the walnut looks
  • How it feels
  • How their skin responds to its manipulation
  • Its smell
  • Its taste

Focusing on the single object of the walnut is meant to bring the your mind to the present, to what is right in front of you.

2. Shower Exercise

In this exercise, prepare a shower, and rather than jumping in and doing your typical routine stop and think.

- Instead of asking your hair first, wash your face instead or instead of shaving last, shave first

Notice how that feels, what the water and soap feel and smell like, can you taste anything, notice was the water and soap looks like on your body and in the shower. 

3. Five Senses Exercise

All that is needed is to notice something you are experiencing with each of the five senses.

Follow this order of the practice

  • Notice five things that you can see.

Look around you and bring your attention to five things that you can see. Pick something that you don’t normally notice, like a shadow or a small crack in the concrete.

  • Notice four things that you can feel.

Bring awareness to four things that you are currently feeling, like the texture of your pants, the feeling of the breeze on your skin, or the smooth surface of a table you are resting your hands on.

  • Notice three things you can hear.

Take a moment to listen, and note three things that you hear in the background. This can be the chirp of a bird, the hum of the refrigerator, or the faint sounds of traffic from a nearby road.

  • Notice two things you can smell.

Bring your awareness to smells that you usually filter out, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant. Perhaps the breeze is carrying a whiff of pine trees if you’re outside, or the smell of a fast food restaurant across the street.

  • Notice one thing you can taste.

Focus on one thing that you can taste right now, in this moment. You can take a sip of a drink, chew a piece of gum, eat something, or just notice the current taste in your mouth or open your mouth to search the air for a taste.

 

After you've practiced these journal or meditate afterwards and see if you go through out your day with more awareness. 

What is the Window of Tolerance and Why is it Important?

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What Is the Window of Tolerance?

When a person is within their window of tolerance, it is generally the case that the brain is functioning well and can effectively process stimuli. That person is likely to be able to reflect, think rationally, and make decisions calmly without feeling either overwhelmed or withdrawn. Typically I describe this place of calm as being in "Wise Mind".

During times of extreme stress, people often experience periods of either hyper- or hypo-arousal.

  • Hyper-arousal, otherwise known as the fight/flight response, is often characterized by hypervigilance, feelings of anxiety and/or panic, and racing thoughts.
  • Hypo-arousal, or a freeze response, may cause feelings of emotional numbness, emptiness, or paralysis.

In either of these states, an individual may become unable to process stimuli effectively. The prefrontal cortex region of the brain shuts down, in a manner of speaking, affecting the ability to think rationally and often leading to the development of feelings of dysregulation, which may take the form of chaotic responses or overly rigid ones. In these periods, a person can be said to be outside the window of tolerance.

Getting back into the Window of Tolerance requires the practice of coping skills. Such as practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, positive affirmations, self-soothing skills, and yoga to name a few options.

Notice how your body responds to things differently as you begin to calm down, and then again when fully calm, and finally see how you can challenge yourself to stay within the Window of Tolerance the next time you face stress and/or uncomfortable feelings.  

4 Simple Mindfulness Practices for Anxiety

1). Observe an object you can pick up (five minutes)
Hold it in your hands and allow your attention to be fully absorbed by it. Observe it.

Notice things about its physical characteristics. For example, you could say to yourself, “I notice that this object is soft, light colored, thin and can easily bend.” Or, “I see there’s yellowish lines radiating out from the bottom to the top.”

Notice textures, colors, and shapes without judging them as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, ugly or beautiful.

Don’t assess or think about the the object. Just observe it for what it is. Do this simple mindfulness exercise for five minutes.

2). Mindful eating (four minutes)

Start off by taking a few deep breaths and begin the practice by feeling the food against the outside of you lips. Notice this without judgement. Eat the item and close your eats, allowing yourself to taste it, feel the texture of it, notice how it makes the rest of your body feel. Notice how you can savory the food, notice if you feel satisfaction, gratitude or any other emotion. Think abut perhaps where the food has come from, for you to eat it right now, notice your impulse to swallow and how that feels.  Do only this activity while taking deep breaths and nothing else for 4 minutes. 

3). Observe your thoughts (fifteen minutes)

Find a comfortable position. You can be lying down on your back or sitting. If you are sitting, keep you back straight. Release the tension in your shoulders and just let them drop. Close your eyes.

Focus your attention on your breathing. Simply pay attention to what it feels like in your body as you breathe slowly in and then slowly breathe out. Immerse yourself completely in the experience. Spend a few minutes here. Imagine you are “riding the waves” of your own breath.

Now shift your attention to your thoughts. Become aware of whatever thoughts enter your mind.

Try to view them as simply thoughts — they are only objects in your mind. They are just events happening inside your mind. You can imagine them as clouds passing through the sky, or leaves floating down a stream.

Notice them enter your consciousness, develop, and then float away. You don’t have to hold onto or follow your thoughts. Just let them arise and disappear on their own.

If you become aware you are getting immersed in a thought, notice what took you away from observing them and then gently bring your attention back to having awareness of your thoughts again. Getting immersed in a thought is completely normal. Just notice it and shift your attention back to observing.

Simply shift your attention back to your breathing after doing a few minutes of “thought observing.” Open your eyes when you feel ready.

4). Body Scan

Take some time to get into a laying down position, go ahead and be on your backs with you palms facing up and your feet falling slightly apart. If getting on the ground is uncomfortable this can also be done sitting on a comfortable chair with feet resting on the floor.

Next focus on lying very still for the time it takes to do the body scan and move with awareness if it becomes necessary to adjust their position.

Now focus on bringing awareness to the breath, noticing the rhythm, the experience of breathing in and expelling out. Try not to change or force the way you are breathing but rather just hold gentle awareness on the breath.

Bring attention to the body and how it feels, the texture of clothing against the skin, the contours of the surface on which the body is resting, the temperature of the body and the environment.  

Notice any parts of the body that are tingling, sore, or feeling particularly heavy or light, are there any areas of body where you don’t feel any sensations at all or are hypersensitive.

Next is to begin the body scan, and after each tense and relax notice the difference between the first noticing:                 

                 1. Notice toes of both feet, rest the feet tense and relax
                 2. Notice the Lower legs, tense and relax
                 3. Notice the Knees, tense and relax
                 4. Notice Thighs, tense and relax
                 5. Notice the Pelvic region- buttocks, tailbone, pelvic bone, genitals, tense and relax
                 6. Notice the Abdomen, tense and relax
                 7. Notice Chest, tense and relax
                 8. Notice Lower back, tense and relax
                 9. Notice Upper back- back ribs & shoulder blades, tense and relax
                 10. Notice the Hands (fingers, palms, backs, wrists), tense and relax
                 11. Notice the Arms (lower, elbows, upper), tense and relax
                 12. Notice the Neck, tense and relax
                 13. Notice the Face and head (jaw, mouth, nose, cheeks, ears, eyes, forehead, scalp, back&top of head), tense and relax

After the Body Scan is complete and you feel ready to come back to the room, slowly open your eyes and move naturally to a comfortable sitting position.

How Meditation Can Help Anxiety

Meditation helps with racing thoughts by quieting the overactive mind. The process of slowing down your mind allows you to silence thoughts that have you buying into your fearful racing thoughts. By meditating you can start identifying what silence can exists between every mental action/thought. This practice is just that, a practice, through time you will be able to practice mediation without the urge to run from the silence. In addition with regular practice, you experience that you’re not simply your thoughts and feelings. You can detach yourself from these to rest in your own being, in your own body. Many people are detached from their body, and mediations allows you to return to your body, and keep you centered rather than pulled outside by a thought or trigger.

 Anxious people often shy away from meditation for various reasons. “I can’t meditate” is code for feeling too restless to sit still or having too many thoughts while trying to meditate. However, anyone can learn to meditate. With being patient and having a guide, these objections and one like them can be overcome.

Numerous scientific studies have found meditation to be effective for treating anxiety.  One study, published in the Psychological Bulletin, combined the findings of 163 different studies. The overall conclusion was that practicing mindfulness or meditation produced beneficial results, with a substantial improvement in areas like negative personality traits, anxiety, and stress. 

All mental activity has a physical correlation in the brain, which has been studied in relation to anxiety. Chronic worriers often display increased reactivity in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with regulating emotions, including fear, flight/fight/freeze. Neuroscientists at Stanford University found that people who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks were more able to turn down the reactivity of this area. Other researchers from Harvard found that mindfulness can physically reduce the number of neurons in this fear-triggering part of the brain.

Mindfulness practices can be the first step to learning to meditate.

If interested in learning more about mindfulness practices continue to follow the blog as there will be follow-up post talking specifically about that.