One of the best things we can do for our mental, emotional, and physical health is to simply live in the present moment. The phrase is becoming cliché, but that doesn’t mean its significance has reduced. Rather than living fully today, we often spend our entire day worrying about what’s coming up in the next one. Or, we waste away our lives regretting and lamenting what we have (or haven’t) done in the past. Neither of these strategies are helpful in getting the most out of the here and now. So, how do we stay in the present? Here are a few tips:
Do a little bit of writing (or reflecting) each day, preferably with a pen and paper
In our fast-paced world, we feel like we are working at a million miles per hour. Writing helps slow things down and clear our minds, which is very therapeutic. To write clearly is to think clearly. There’s a power in writing down our thoughts and expressing what we are thinking and feeling.
Put away the technology!
Smart phones, iPads, and computers are constantly distracting and “stimulating” our minds. Put them away! Be present where you are, especially if your children or those closest to you are competing for your attention. You won’t regret it.
Take time to breathe
Obviously, we are all breathing throughout the day, but sometimes its just enough to survive! We want to thrive, not just survive. Take a step back, and take a few deep breaths. Not only is this good for the nervous system, but deep breathing is a useful tool in grounding us and helping us develop a healthier perspective on life.
In conclusion…slow down. Enjoy the present moment. Soak it in. In our pop-tart, microwave society, we are always running from place to place, both literally and figuratively. Take some time each day to reflect, put away the technology, and practice being fully present in the moment.
Maybe I have been watching too much Kung Fu Panda with my boys, but like Master Oogway says: Yesterday is History, Tomorrow’s a Mystery, Today is a Gift…That’s Why They Call it the Present.
Please, if you have found other ways that have helped you stay present and joy in the moment, share in the comments or share with your friends. I would love to hear your ideas.More
A Therapy Blog Mini-series
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
- Reduced anxiety
- 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-todayMore
Many people that struggle with depression have tried a myriad of ways to manage it:
Some have tried the frequently suggested “boot strap” approach. You know, pick yourself up by the bootstraps and forge ahead. As if willing your way to work or school will cause the depression to just go away.
Now I am not suggesting that moving forward in a determined fashion isn’t a good idea. In fact, I believe that it can help and am a huge proponent of putting your best effort on the table. What I am suggesting is that there might be an overall better way. A way that you may not have not have considered as viable for you (0r your spouse or family member that struggles with depression). What is it?
It involves Healing Outdoors.
It involves making a concerted effort to be outside in Utah’s wondrous outdoors. It involves actually enjoying it.
Understanding that depression is difficult to manage or treat, I provide these 5 hopeful ways to beat depression outdoors.
#1) Get Outside in the Garden and YardMore
With our recent snowstorm, my ability to pretend winter isn’t a thing, has quickly evaporated. On sunny days I get through the winter by making sure I spend plenty of time standing in front of my south facing windows soaking up the warmth that shines through. On overcast days it can be more of a challenge. Add in the stress of holiday shopping and parties and expectations, and winter can be a bit of a downer (to say the least). Here are a few suggestions to help cope with winter blues:More
Q: I’m pretty sure I have depression, I mean I have most of the symptoms. But I have nobody to talk to me and my mum aren’t close. I cant see a doctor without my mum finding out. So I think I should go to one of my teachers but I don’t know how to start the conversation and what to say. I think I really need help because I’ve been self harming for over 2-3 months now. Please help. (13 year old girl)
A: Thank you so much for writing in for help. You are wise to recognize that you need to talk with someone about your pain and reach out for help. If you have a trusted teacher at school, or a school counselor, they may able to help you find a way to talk to your mom about your struggle with depression and self-harm.
If it seems a little easier to talk to your mother about physical health concerns you may want to try asking your mom to take you to your physician by saying something like, “I haven’t been feeling well for a while. Will you take me to the doctor?” Your doctor will be able to do a depression screening, rule out any physical illness, and give you some recommendations for therapists in your area.
I would recommend individual therapy to address your depression and self-harm, and family therapy to help you and your mom communicate better.
If you can’t talk to your mom, please talk to someone soon. Depression is treatable. You don’t have to continue to suffer.
Please, take good care of yourself.
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