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Something You Should Know: Meditation and Mindfulness

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

 

References

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

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Preventing Holiday Burnout: Mom Show on KSL Radio

Preventing Holiday Burnout: Mom Show on KSL Radio

 Are you feeling overwhelmed by high expectations and “shoulds”? I sat down with Lindsay Aerts, host of KSL Radio’s The Mom Show to share tips for moms to prevent holiday burnout. Here are a few topics we cover during this interview:

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There and Back Again: How To Create Your Own Red Book of Westmarch

canstockphoto0610845

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but journaling can actually improve your quality of life. If you’re like me, you may be thinking “Yeah right like I really have the time to sit down to a bureau with my feather pen dipped in fresh ink to write in a red leather-bound book about all my adventures like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins” but in actuality you have more time than you think.

There are three common myths about journaling that I’d like to dispel in this particular blog:

Common Myth #1: I Don’t Have Time To Journal – Believe it or not, journaling doesn’t have to be a four-hour long engagement with you and your thoughts on paper. It can be a quick couple of lines jotted down to describe your day or some lingering thought you had or perhaps just a reflection on something you heard or experienced (I mean that’s pretty much like being on social media where you already work wonders easily with 140 characters or less).

Common Myth #2: My Life Isn’t Interesting Enough – Rubbish. You are a human being, exisiting in a world full of so much good, bad, and downright ugly where you interact with people all the time whether it be colleagues, family, or friends and you’ve yet to cease to live to tell the tale! You have more going on in your life than you think and it’s great material from which to

Common Myth #3: Journaling Is For Great Writers – Nay! You do not have to be a Pulitzer Prize-winner to be qualified to keep a journal. Journals do not judge you for having poor grammar or incoherent run on sentences nor should you! So feel free to write whatever comes to mind and don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t have to.

The cool thing is journaling has adapted to the digital age. This means for those of you who are tech savvy and prefer the electronic alternative to the old pen and paper method, you can download free journal apps on any of your mobile devices. As for myself personally, I enjoy the best of both worlds so I bought a journal and I downloaded an app for when time is sparse.

Journaling has a myriad of benefits. Just the idea of keeping track of your thoughts, reflections, and experiences can be very rewarding for your posterity who may not have had the opportunity to know you while you roamed the earth. It can be a source for inspiration and creativity when those moments of genius strike. According to a widely cited study by James W. Pennebaker and Janel D. Seagal, “Writing about important personal experiences in an emotional way…brings about improvements in mental and physical health.” Proven benefits include better stress management, strengthened immune systems, fewer doctor visits, and improvement in chronic illnesses such as asthma.

Needless to say journaling has endless benefits and you can always use something that will benefit you.

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2 Minute Tips for Stress Management

Woman Relaxing Yoga

In a TED Talk from 2012, Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy explained how our body language not only shapes our interactions with others, but how it can have profound effects on how we feel about ourselves. She suggests that by simply changing our posture for 2, yes only 2 minutes, we can dramatically shift our brains response to stress and begin to feel and act more confident.

Take a moment to notice your body language right now. Are your arms crossed in front of you or resting by your side? Is your chin lifted or tucked down? In her research, Cuddy and colleagues found that “closed” body language, like crossing your arms in front of you and looking down at the ground, can actually increase the release of the stress hormone cortisol in your brain. When we have higher levels of cortisol in our system we feel less confident and more reactive and avoidant. Cuddy found that by simply lifting the chin, unwrapping your arms from your chest, and lifting your heart, cortisol is deceased and testosterone begins to flood the brain. This is a good thing because testosterone can increase feelings of optimism, assertiveness, and confidence.

Is it really that simple? Yes. In practice with my clients, I have found that having them shift their body posture, or even having them get into a gentle and supported “heart-opening” yoga posture, can help them feel more comfortable talking about and addressing their issues and moods. Changing what signals your body sends to your brain changes how you feel about the situation and about your ability to manage it.

I offer this challenge to you, the next time you find you are holding your body in a “closed” posture, assess what your mood is. Then, for 2 minutes open your posture, elongate, spread out, and lift yourself up. Maybe even look at yourself in the mirror as you do this. Check back in and assess what has shifted your mood or perception.

Let your body teach your brain a simple 2 minute technique for stress management.

Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk by clicking the link below.

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

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Helping Over-scheduled Moms Scale Back

I recently chatted with Nicole Carpenter, founder of MomEntity.com, about ways moms can scale back the number of family activities and prioritize what’s really important. Here are a few of my helpful tips and quotes from the article.

“When moms are frazzled and over-scheduled, the first thing to be neglected is personal self-care — sleep, healthy eating, exercise or meditation/prayer. Moms who neglect their personal needs for a long period of time lead to exhaustion, irritability and impatience with family members.”

“Saying ‘no’ is also important to mother’s mental health. Research published in the Journal of child and Family Studies last month suggests that mothers with an intense parenting style have poorer mental health than mothers with a more laid-back parenting approach. One characteristic of intense parenting is the belief that good moms are always providing stimulation for their children, and I think that belief leads many moms to take on more and more commitments and activities.”

Read the entire article here…

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Are You Thick Or Thin Skinned?: Studio 5

Are You Emotionally Thick or Thin Skinned?

Has someone accused you of being “too sensitive” or suggested that you “grow a thicker skin?” Or maybe you’ve heard that you’re “hard to read” or that you’re a “tough nut to crack?“ Those comments may be clues to your style of processing emotions. how much of your environment you let into your being and how aware you are of your feelings.

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Relaxation Tips

Haylee Heyn

Haylee Heyn, MFT Intern

Stressed Out? MFT Intern Haylee Heyn gives tips to help you R – E – L – A – X in this mental health Q&A for AssociatedContent.com

“Stress can come from a number of different sources, mostly related to a person’s relationships and environment. Often times a person’s greatest source of stress comes from unresolved conflict in their lives, causing them anxiety. Change is another common factor. Humans are creatures of habit and therefore leaving a comfort zone or confronting something new and different can be a great source of stress for an individual. Changes in occupation, relationship status, family crises, conflict with morals and behaviors, and many more also contribute to anxiety. Stress will look differently to everyone. Individual personalities and reactions to stressful situations are more an indicator of a person’s stress level than the actual cause of the stress.”

For more relaxation tips read the entire Q&A article.

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