Mindfulness has been defined as “the quality of being conscious or aware of something.” Mindful.org refers to mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are, and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Practicing mindfulness and incorporating this way of being into your life can improve one’s physical, social and psychological wellbeing. The benefits are well worth the amount of time it takes and are as follows:
Increase one’s ability to decrease anxiety and depression.
Helps one to pay attention and observe thoughts and feelings without judgement.
Promotes relaxation and calmness.
Reduces negative emotions and stress. Improves memory.
Boosts the immune systems ability to fight off illness.
Encourages one to eat healthy and cope with cravings allowing them to pass.
Alleviates physical pain. Develops a sharp focused mind.
Improves relationships. Increases work satisfaction.
I know most of you started reading this in hopes of finding the magic bullet for dealing with your child’s misbehavior. You should know, that’s not the type of grounding we are talking about. While you won’t be getting any discipline tips, the mindfulness grounding techniqu
es presented here pose many benefits for you and your child, including allowing your child to be more present especially when becoming behaviorally or emotionally dysregulated.
The goal of grounding is to calm the emotional and irrational part of our brain so that we can begin to think more logically about what is going on. Grounding exercises allow individuals to:
Remain calm and present when we become over stimulated or experience a flashback from a negative past experience
Begin to feel and express big emotions such as anxiety or anger
Catch our self in a whirlwind of worrying thoughts.
One helpful grounding exercise is bring our mind to what we are sensing in the present moment by carefully observe our surroundings and noticing what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. This draws the mind away from worries, concerns, or large emotions and grounds us to the current space we are in.
One specific grounding technique I use with families and their children involves Lego mini-figures. Using a Lego mini-figure for this technique is not required; however, it is nice as it can have unique details and is easy to bring along anywhere you go. When the child gets upset they begin to describe the details they see on the mini-figure and what it reminds them of. Often children will describe the figures facial expression, specific cloths they are wearing, and discuss memories of playing with the figure. After the child has done this, I will have them take a deep breath before checking in with their parent or going back to play. While most children can do this on their own, I recommend the parent to participate and do this with the child in the beginning. By doing this with them, the child will become more comfortable at using this technique when they are upset.
It is important to note that while this specific technique is geared towards our children, it can also apply to us as adults. We as adults can look at our surroundings and describe what we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. If we apply this, and other mindfulness techniques, alongside with our children, we will feel less anxiety and stress and will find that escalated situations will deescalate more quickly.
If you, or your child,would like to learn more about other helpful grounding techniques and strategies to positively manage your child’s emotional or behavior challenges, please contact us at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555. We can provide a more specific approach to meet your individual or family needs.
Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who the person staring back is? The feeling of not knowing who you really are as a person separate from the roles that you find yourself cast in. How often do we define ourselves generically by descriptors of those roles rather than by our character traits? A mother, a wife, a father, a son, a daughter, a coworker, etc. These terms describe our relationships, but there is more to us than simply who we are to other people. Is that really how we want to be seen by those around us? Flat, non-dimensional characters in the play called life? Where we are content taking a supporting cast role rather than starring in our own lives? Sadly, often that is exactly what happens for many of us. We become so busy that we forget to truly live and are left wondering where the time went and who we are.
Recently, my just-graduated from college daughter was having an “existential” crisis in our kitchen. Like so many of us, she’s struggling with how to identify herself. She’s technically no longer a student, though graduate school applications are in process, and she isn’t yet working in her field of study. She has described as “feeling adrift.” There is no longer a label that she can slap on to describe herself succinctly that feels adequate. What’s a 22-year-old to do? Or a 32-year-old? Or a 50-year-old? Or a 103-year-old? See, this isn’t a question of age or experience, but a question of perspective. How do we see ourselves? How do we want to be seen? How do others perceive us? Do all these different perspectives align?
I’ve noticed when I pose these questions that people (clients, friends, family) are often taken aback when they contemplate their answers. Often, they find that how their loved ones, coworkers, or acquaintances would describe them is similar to how they would like to be perceived but, not surprisingly, their self -perception is much more negative. Why is that? Why are we so quick to look outward for a measure of worthiness but so harshly judge ourselves, and our contributions, as inadequate? I wonder what would happen if, as a society, we spoke more kindly to ourselves and left self-recrimination out of our personal narratives? Would we be happier? Less anxious? Less depressed?
Positivity, gratefulness, and mindfulness are all ways that we can choose to treat ourselves with more care. These practices can help ground us and keep us focused on the good in our lives and ourselves to help us better weather the storms that life hurls our way. So, take a minute, look in the mirror, and tell the stranger you see there all the things that you want, hope, and desire for them. Treat that stranger as you would your best friend, coworker, sibling, or child that needs a little boost. Encourage that stranger to find their inner passion and foster it. Tell that stranger how much they are loved, and one day, you just might believe it.
Here is a list of some of my favorite recommendations for books and podcasts to help keep the therapy going outside of therapy. These books and podcasts cover a variety of topics, from brain and behavior, child care, depression, and mindfulness. I particularly like Tara Brach’s mindfulness podcasts, as she offers listeners a dose of humor along with insight, and guided meditation.
As I work with clients, I often find myself recommending various techniques to help manage our behaviors, emotions, or thoughts. So I’d like to spend some time sharing these tools with you. This is the start of a blog mini-series of things we should all know to improve the quality of our lives and mental health. We live in a fast paced, instant gratification world which often leads to stress in our work and personal lives; so, our first topic will be on a helpful tool to de-stress and bring focus to our lives: mindfulness.
Meditation, or mindfulness, have vast benefits for mental health. While we may not have time to become yoga masters or visit the idyllic mountains of Nepal to meditate, we all have time to practice simple mindfulness techniques. Jeffrey Brantley, the author of Five Good Minutes, reminds us that we do have time because meditation can be done within a few minutes. When used regularly, meditation can be beneficial to our mental health and physical health and can bring the following results:
Improved attention span
Help with self-awareness
Stable emotional health through regulation
Better stress management
Promoted brain growth
There are various ways to meditate, and you will want to try a few to find what works for you. One method that works well for me is from Brantley’s book Five Good Minutes and is called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the process by which you can modify behavior through negative or positive reinforcement.
Let me share one of my favorite examples of operant conditioning: During one of the early episodes of the hit television show “The Office,” Jim continually restarts his computer. Every time it reboots, it plays the classic Windows jingle, and each and every time this jingle plays, Jim gives his co-worker Dwight a mint. After a while, Jim restarts his computer and Dwight holds his hand out instantly for a mint and states, “Hmm… I now have a horrible taste in my mouth.” The technique that I am going to discuss avoids sounds and mints, but it does condition your brain to have a positive response when you need it most. This specific technique uses positive reinforcement to train your brain to have a positive emotional response to happy healthy memories through touch. This technique can be done when you are calm or when you are having a stressful time to regain control of your thoughts and relax.
Here’s how to do it:
First, choose on object to use for this technique. You can also use your fingers, because you always have them with you! As you practice this technique, you will be thinking of pleasant memories. Try to capture the feeling and essence of the memory as you practice, rather than simply running through the memories themselves.
To begin, touch the object you have chosen. If using your hand, you can touch your index finger to your thumb. While doing this, remembering a time you felt a healthy sense of satisfied exhaustion, such as from physical exercise or work. For me, one memory in particular stands out: After completing a mountain race in which we summitted a tall mountain peak before returning back to the finish line, I was mentally and physically drained. I remember feeling exhausted, but at the same time feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment. When I think back to that sensation, I can almost feel the same as I did that day.
Second, touch your middle finger to your thumb and remember a time when you felt truly connected with someone important to you. This can be when you felt trust, love, or empathy with that individual. During a difficult time in my life, I connected with a friend. That trust and friendship is something I value to this day as I look back on that experience that helped me to feel connected to him.
Third, you will touch your ring finger to your thumb. While doing this, think back to a memory when you received a special gift or a kind gesture. For me, there is nothing better than the comfort and feeling of a well-loved pillow case (which, I might add, drives my wife crazy because I won’t let her buy new pillow cases). At one point, my favorite pillow case was torn, and I thought it was done for. While my mom came to visit, she had snuck it away, fixed it, and returned it to me as a gift. This was a kind gesture that I still cherish to this day.
Last, while touching your thumb to you pinky, recall a time when you witnessed the most beautiful place you have seen or pictured. Remember how breathtaking it was. When I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, I was in awe. Its majesty and grandeur is not something you can imagine until you see it in person.
You do not have to perform these steps in order, or do every step. To begin, start with one memory.
As you regularly practice this mindfulness technique your body and mind will become conditioned to relax during this meditation. Doing it consistently can help improve your mental health and help you control your thoughts through meditation.
When this or other meditation is not enough, please come and see me. We can define and work towards goals that you want to accomplish. Please do not hesitate to contact me at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.
Nathan Watkins, AMFT
Brantley, J. (2011). Five good minutes: 100 morning practices to help you stay calm and focused all day long. Readhowyouwant.com.
Seppala, E. (n.d.). 20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today. Retrieved March 18, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today
Mindfulness is all the rage right now. There are a million pins teaching you how to be mindful, and just about as many books or articles. The problem is trying to find the time to be mindful! I’m trying to balance three children, my husband, work, dance class, homework, preschool, nap time, volunteering, self-care, my own hobbies, and the list goes on. I could write a whole blog post about everything that I have to do, and I’m sure your list is just as long (if not longer). The last thing on our list is to take some time to ground ourselves so we can continue to move forward with the many responsibilities we have. Here is a small but effective grounding, or mindfulness exercise to try. So put a show on for your kids or lock yourself in the bathroom and give this a try.
Take three calming breaths and look around while identifying:
5 things that you see
4 things that you feel
3 things that you hear
2 things that you smell
1 thing that you taste
Find a good time in the day and set an alarm on your phone to do this exercise. You will be surprised at how five minutes of reconnecting with yourself can help you throughout the day.
Anxiety is a unique mental health symptom because it is something that in some way affects everyone. Yes, everyone! Anxiety does not care who you are; it can have its effect on you. Anxiety can strike at a variety of times. Many people may recognize some of the physical symptoms before they are mentally aware that they are anxious. Learning to recognize the warning signs of anxiety can help us find relief before anxiety spirals out of control.
I previously worked with a young woman who was highly ambitious, extremely successful in school, was social, seemed to have it all together, and… had anxiety. Her anxiety symptoms were primarily physical: chronic vertigo, sleeplessness, and lethargy. Because of their physical nature, she was not aware they were linked to her mental health, and they went untreated for far too long. For this young woman, the start of her treatment was learning to recognize the warning signs; which, for her consisted of worrying, angst, and over stretching herself by not being assertive with peers. Learning to recognize our warning signs can help us to manage our anxiety appropriately.
Some physical warning signs of anxiety consist of the following:
Increased muscle tension
Increased blood pressure
Feelings of numbness in limbs
Nausea or Diarrhea
Feelings of fatigue or weakness
You might be asking yourself, “Well, I have some of these symptoms. What can I do to overcome them?” Thankfully, there are a number of things that we can all do to manage anxiety appropriately.
Therapy is a great way for anyone to be able to explore these symptoms and what might be causing them in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Having a therapist who you can discuss these anxious feelings with and determine possible causes can bring symptoms of relief. During a session, the mental health counselor will discuss an individual’s’ specific situations and possible solutions. A study done by Quast (2014) found that therapy has a positive effect on the reduction of symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety can also be treated at home with a few simple things. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere anytime. This technique allows individuals to bring more awareness to their current situation by assessing their thoughts, feelings, senses, and how their body feels. The more people practice mindfulness, the easier it can be to overcome anxiety. Mindfulness tool can be found in phone apps; such as, Headspace. These apps provide a great way to begin a mindful daily structured routine. Mindfulness can be as simple as yoga, meditation, coloring, or drawing. The use of mindfulness alone has been shown to reduce worrying and helps to prevent the negative effects of anxiety (Hoge, Bui, Goetter, Robinaugh, Ojserkis, Fresco, and Simon, 2014).
Deep belly breathing can be an easy way to overcome anxiety in any situation. At times when I get frustrated or anxious, I stop what I am doing to take three deep breaths. While taking these deep breaths, make sure the amount of time you inhale, hold the breath, and exhale are five seconds or more. During these breaths, ensure that your breath is coming deep from your stomach and rather short breaths from your chest. While working with children, I recommend that they “fill their balloon” which is their diaphragm, or stomach area. If you have done yoga, this is like abdominal breathing or ujjayi breath. After completing these breaths, your body will be back in a more relaxed state.
The young woman I mentioned above could overcome many of the physical symptoms of her anxiety by seeing a therapist who helped her recognize her triggers, negative thoughts, and by building healthy habits; such as, mindfulness and deep breathing. Anxiety should not be the one in control in your life. You can take back control by utilizing the techniques mentioned above.
If you continue to struggle with managing your stress or anxiety, do not hesitate to contact us at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555. Together, we can learn further tools to help you through your specific challenges.
Quast, A. (2014). Yogerapy: An Integrated Yoga and Cognitive-Behavioral, Family-Based Intervention for Children with Anxiety Disorders in High Achieving Environments. Ph.D. of Pyschology. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, 2014. Print.
Hoge, E., Bui, E., Goetter, E., Robinaugh, D., Ojserkis, R., Fresco, D., & Simon, N. (2014). Change in Decentering Mediates Improvement in Anxiety in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research Cogn Ther Res, 228-235.
In a society where we are all required to do more, sleep less, perform better, get richer, and find room for others, it’s hard to find the “me” in much of anything. So much of daily living is performing where our minds are constantly racing to the next thing. Sleep is interrupted by alarm clocks and delayed by late nights. No matter what the reason, whether it’s family, work, or school, it seems there is never enough time in the day.
Reports of declining mental health is increasing in depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and addiction. The big question is: How to cope? Is it really possible to find time for you? To build a way to relax, think, and rejuvenate without any artificial replacements?
I say, absolutely! The way to finding “me” is through ME-ditation.
Meditation means different things to different people. Renowned psychologist Marsha Linehan defines mediation as the ability to open the mind and acknowledge thoughts and senses, without showing judgment or analyzing, while embracing the unknown, through daily practice.
The benefits of meditation far outweigh any screen time on a smart phone. These include reduced depression, lowered anxiety, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, improved relaxation and sleep, and the ability to find spiritual connection. Meditation is also used in addiction recovery. Perhaps the biggest evidence of the benefits of meditation is that it improves emotional intelligence!
John Cabot Zin outlines the ABC’s:
A-Awareness: Becoming more aware of the mind and body. Thinking and doing.
B- Breathe: Allowing yourself to be with your experience. Create your story without reacting or responding. This can create compassion for yourself and others.
C- Compassion: By creating a pause between the experience and our reaction, we can make wiser choices.
Research is beginning to show that mindfulness and meditation increase our emotional intelligence and the way we monitor the emotions in others and ourselves.
Here Are Some Tips For Your Meditation Practice:
*Acknowledge you need “me” time.
*Find a quiet space
*Sit or Lay down
*Put your hand by your side
*Clear your mind
*Close your eyes, or try a sleepy gaze
*Breathe in through your nose for 5 counts
*Pause or hold for 5 counts
*Exhale through your mouth for 5 counts.
If thoughts come into your mind during your exercise, sweep them from your mind. Be aware of your body and sensations. Focus on your breath. Feel the air in your nose or mouth as you inhale and exhale. Acknowledge what you hear or smell. Feel your body relaxing. And breathe. Start with 5-10 minutes daily. The key to prolonged benefits, is to practice, practice, practice. If you fall asleep during your exercise, that’s good! You need it!
If you enjoy this simple meditation, seek out our trained therapists to deepen meditation skills and other powerful approaches to mindfulness.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions effectively and positively. Kids who understand their emotions, can name them, and can manage them are better able to cope with stress, manage relationships with others, and communicate more effectively.
There are four main characteristics of emotional intelligence.
Emotionally intelligent people are self aware. They recognize their own emotions.
Emotionally intelligent people can self-regulate. They can control how they react to their emotions instead of letting their emotions control them.
Emotionally intelligent people are empathetic. They understand other people’s emotions.
Emotionally intelligent people have social skills. They can build connections with others.
The best way to teach children emotional intelligence is through modeling. Parents who take time to develop these characteristics in themselves will gain the benefits of emotional intelligence in their own lives, but will also pass these traits on to their children. To help learn these skills AND pass them on to your child here are some activities to do together:
1. In order to be aware of emotions children need to be able to name them. Younger children can look at flash cards depicting various feelings and copy the faces as parents tell them the name for that emotion. Older children can identify times they felt that emotion and what they did about it. (Flash cards can be found by googling “emotion flash cards”, or you can make your own.)
2. Using an emotion thermometer (again, google is your friend), you can teach children how to recognize what it feels like when they are experiencing strong emotions, and provide them tools for “cooling down the thermometer”. These skills can include: talking to a friend or adult, asking for help, counting to ten, taking five deep breaths, or practicing some mindfulness. There are lots of mindfulness for kids clips on youtube or available as apps on a smart phone.
3. One great way to instill empathy in children is to get them involved in regular acts of service. Afterward, listen to your child share with you how the act of service made them feel? Discuss how the service made the recipient feel.
4. Social skills are best developed by lots of practice. Create plenty of opportunities for your child to interact with other children. Go to parks or children’s museums, set up play dates, get to know the kids in the neighborhood. Give your child space to explore and interact with other children. Give them opportunities to work out problems themselves, and step in with guidance when they need it. If your child needs extra help developing social skills, contact our office at (801) 944-4555 for information on the next available social skills group for kids.
There are lots of ways to develop theses characteristics, the important thing is to regularly incorporate these kinds of activities into your child’s life. Doing so will help them (and you) manage stress and anxiety, communicate more effectively, and build stronger relationships with those around them.