What to do instead of criticize yourself

Try softening your stance, gently relax your face, and allow your muscles to become loose and less tight. Put a hand over your heart with an intention of lovingkindness, and try repeating the following statements with a tone of voice that conveys self-compassion:

May I bear this pain with kindness to myself

May I safely endure this pain

May I accept the circumstances of my life

May I find peace in my heart

May I let go of what I can not control

May I remember that others are also suffering

 

A mindful approach to self-hatred and self-criticism

Often people with self-hatred, shame or self-criticism get “caught up” in a thought process that includes a fair amount of self-attacking. This thought process can include arguments with oneself, reasons a person should not be the way he/ she is, or a rationale for how he/she “should” be feeling. Sometimes this thought process is associated with muscle tension, headaches, the suppression of emotion, the inhibition of interactions, or the shutting down of expression and experience.

People sometimes think that by punishing themselves in a self-hating dialogue is an effect way to change thoughts, feelings, or reality. Almost as if they are somehow being “deserving” of “bad” things someone sets things right. The difficulty is, it typically is not an effective strategy for changing thoughts or feelings! It might temporarily suppress feelings, shut down hurt or sadness, make one feel more empowered or less vulnerable, or even distract from other problems. But the bottom line here is this: Does actually work to reduce suffering? Does it get rid of emotions in the long term?

Being mindful, or starting to observe this process, is really the first step towards making some changes in this process. Being able to notice the thought, step back, practice using a gentle tone of voice, and practice saying “I am noticing the thought that…” is one way to start to just notice thoughts, rather than try to change them.

Next, assess your willingness to “shift gears.” Often people who are stuck in a ruminative process somehow believe that if they keep ruminating, something will change. That’s not to say you have the power to immediately “stop” ruminating, it just starts to get you thinking about an alternative.

If you feel miserable, want to stop hating yourself, and invest a lot of unproductive energy into engaging in self-hating thoughts, the option of doing something different just might be appealing. Once you decide to try something different, you can try softening your facial expression and relaxing your shoulders. Consider being curious about the physical sensations in your body that accompany the thought. What uncomfortable sensations might you be pushing aside in order to invest in the thought? Practice accepting physical discomfort and think about how you might approach or move towards it instead of away from it. If you could be curious about your pain and your emotion, you might be able to work with it a little bit differently. Remember to stay non-judgmental.

Finally, try out the phrase, “May I be at peace.” Try stating this phrase quietly and softly to yourself. Make sure you keep your face and shoulders relaxed, and practice acceptance. Try doing these steps several times throughout particularly difficult days, knowing that practicing new behaviors (and getting “good” at them so they are more automatic) takes effort and rehearsal.

Three mindfulness exercises to use right now to quiet your mind and focus your attention

One of the reasons mindfulness is used is to get yourself calm. If you are a person with a lot of anxiety, your anxiety might get in your way of handling problems, thinking clearly, or addressing something with your full attention.

Mindfulness is one way to lower emotional arousal, center yourself, and help you get back on track. When emotional arousal returns to baseline, accessing the problem solving part of your brain becomes easier.

1)   Inhale to the count of one, exhale to the count of two. Keep going until you get to the bottom of six. Start over. Do this for about three minutes. If you get lost or distracted simply start over. The point is to have something to focus your attention on; which helps cut the distractions of your mind.

2)   Trace your hand. Inhale on the way to the tips of your fingers, exhale on the way to the crevice. This can be done with pen/ pencil on paper or with the finger of the opposite hand. This is a tactile way to “trace” your breath and focus your mind. Keep your attention on your breath.

3)   Pause for three minutes and focus your attention entirely on sound. Try to tune in to every possible nuance of sound. See what you can hear that you typically don’t pay attention to. If your mind drifts, bring it gently back to the experience of hearing.

Four brief ways in which mindfulness can actually be used to help you cope: Practical applications of being mindful.

Here are a few simple ways in which learning and using mindfulness can help people.

Quiet the mind. A simple mindful activity such as focusing on the breath for a few minutes can help people slow down racing thoughts, lower emotional arousal, and feel a bit more settled. If a person can take emotional arousal down a few notches, he or she may feel more prepared to face a situation that evokes anxiety.

Focus attention: When people are wholeheartedly involved in one task (focusing all of their attention on whatever they are doing), their mind is typically not racing, jumping, or scattered. Focusing on one thing can help a person feel less disorganized.

Become grounded, centered, or more connected to ourselves, our environment, or our surroundings. This can be important if you have a hard time relating, enjoying, or benefitting from pleasant experiences. Sometimes the focus of attention is on pain, threat, or impending crisis and it’s hard to absorb the stuff that makes us feel better.

Help you be clear on what you feel: We know what we feel because we sense it in our bodies. Some people spend a lot of time trying to ignore, hide, repress, or inhibit what’s going on inside. Being mindful can help us get back in touch with emotion, discomfort, and even desire.

Want to learn how to be mindful? Click here to try my 30 days of mindfulness program and receive one e-mail a day for 30 days with a mindfulness tip, suggestion, skill, or practical “how to”. If you’ve already done it, click here to do the 30 (more) days of mindfulness- for a total of 60 days of opportunities to learn mindfulness.

6 quick tips on mindfully navigating the holidays when you aren’t “feeling” it

Notice what you feel without judging. Sometimes people believe that if they don’t feel a certain way, they are missing out on some kind of grand, spiritual, or wonderful experience. I am reminded of the Charlie Brown Christmas special in which he doesn’t feel like he “should”.  Not everyone is awed, exhilarated, or spiritually “moved” this time of year.

Accept and acknowledge the mundane, the everyday, or the not-so-wow experiences this season.  Remember that the glue that holds us together in the smaller, everyday nuances of our existence and our relationships also has meaning. Foster the relationships that matter.

If you want to feel more connected and less detached, practice ways to participate willingly, go with the flow, risk being open, and become involved. Volunteer, show up for the holiday parties, attend services, and remain attentive and awake to what is going on around you. Although it is possible that exerting energy takes effort (and may not completely diminish loneliness), it gives you an option to temporarily shift your mood.

Find the stillness within– Crowds, shopping, to do lists, and holiday planning can be overwhelming. Finding stillness within yourself can help you cope adaptively, slow things down, find your wisdom, and stay grounded.  Bear in mind that you have the ability to find inner wisdom, but sometimes emotions and other people can get in your way of finding it. Try the suggestions below:

Find 2-5 minutes once a day from now until Christmas to sit quietly, observe your breath, and gently pay attention to whatever sensations arise within you. After sitting quietly, try writing: I notice… I would like… I feel…I sense…I think…I am aware of…I am most worried about…

If you are out shopping or involved in intense holiday planning, make sure that you don’t skip meals or shop on an empty stomach. Take periodic breaks that include sitting down and being away from loud noises, bright lights, and crowds. Consider what you need and the cost/ benefit of overestimating your energy and pushing yourself too hard.

What does mindfulness have to do with validation?

Mindfulness involves an ability to “get in touch” and be aware of experiences that are both going on inside (ie, feelings) and the outside.

In DBT, the ability to validate means not dismissing or attacking oneself. Self-validating is about paying careful attention to what is present in the moment; true, accurate, and real.  It’s about looking at how you do feel, rather than how you should feel or are supposed to feel. This involves a focus on internal experience and physical sensations. It means figuring out what’s really there- even when it is confusing.

People with extreme emotional reactivity often have difficulty believing that their opinions, attitudes, values, and perspectives count. They may spend a lot of energy worrying, not speaking up, or even attacking themselves for having a different perspective. They may have difficulty when asked about intentions, wants, or desires. In some cases they may be used to not offering input. They may have adapted to not expressing intentions or wants. They may be living most of their lives not really existing, or at least existing on the periphery of what their lives could be.

Are you someone who has a hard time figuring out what’s going on within?

The 30 (more) days of mindfulness program offers many options in finding ways ways to be in touch…to be mindful…and to increase awareness of that which is within and that which is on the outside.

It is just about finished! I hope to have it available by the end of next week. If you want mindful options to arrive in your e-mail inbox for 30 (more!) days, and if you’ve already tried the initial (30) days of mindfulness, you will not be disappointed.

Stay tuned!

Participating mindfully

Often when people are experiencing a high degree of anxiety their attention is pre-occupied. They may walk around in a daze, feel unreal or disconnected, and are unable to pay attention to what is going on around them. Internally they may be ruminating, worrying, or responding to high emotional arousal.

The skill of “participating” as a mindfulness skill is a very difficult skill- especially for people who have lots of emotional stuff going on inside of them lots of the time. The concept of participating is this idea that you throw yourself into the moment. In a way it is like shifting gears, going with the flow, and really working to put your attention to what is going on in the immediate environment. It is one thing to show up in your body, but it is another thing to show up with your mind. It can be effective to show up for the party, movie, meeting, or event even though something really stressful is going on. You can practice shifting gears to show up for the immediate moment or situation- and perhaps shift gears again when you go back to worrying about what is stressful! At the very least, notice how you feel when you are working hard to connect, participate, be part of, and include yourself. Notice how it feels when you are worrying, ruminating, stressed out, and under emotional threat- and possibly shut down to the world around you.

Using the skill of participating means keeping your eyes open to what is going on around you; listening, feeling, and being touched by the things that matter. When you put yourself out there into the world, you risk being vulnerable. Engaging, interacting, and participating in the world helps connect to people in meaningful ways, find people that share similar struggles, and feel more real. When people have extremely stressful situations, they may be able to mitigate the stressors by being present to the things that could be enjoyable despite being stressed out. Sometimes trying to participate doesn’t yield immediate rewards, and therefore takes a lot of effort.

Are there ways in which you are sitting back, playing it safe, and not participating? Consider what it would be like to share with someone how you really, actually feel about something. What would the risk entail?

Really putting yourself out there is hard.

Mindfulness, DBT, extreme emotions, and doing what works:

One of the DBT mindfulness skills includes being effective: Doing what works. Learning how to sit for long periods of time and focus on one thing, such as your breath, can have quite an impact on quieting the mind. However, sitting for long periods of time can be rather difficult for people who are learning how to “be mindful”, and may not be helpful in solving other problems (ie, communicating, reading one’s environment accurately, interpreting behavior).

The persons I tend to treat have difficult with extreme emotion- and sometimes tolerating a single moment can seem like an eternity. The skill of “observing” in mindfulness appears deceptively simple- and yet the actual doing of the observing when it’s needed in real life- as it applies to solving painful problems- is a whole different story.

Observing and describing the cracks on the sidewalk or the ceiling tiles may be a way to be mindful. But here is where it can get tricky:

  • It may be an effective way to be present in the moment, to become grounded and connected to what’s going around you, and prevent you from dissociating, “floating off”, or disconnecting.
  • It may be a way to distract, avoid, inhibit feeling, occupy the mind, and avoid relationships. If you can become overly focused on things and not people, you can avoid taking emotional risks, connections, and opportunities to address conflict. Noticing a tendency to avoid may be a more effective use of mindful activity.

I’ve been working hard on getting together my free 30 days of mindfulness for my mailing list readers. The approach for learning varies and the agenda includes suggestions for trying new and different things. It’s experiential- which means that you get to participate in the exercises. I’m hoping that it will satisfy those who are looking for ways on how to be mindful as it relates to real life.

All you have to do is click on the upper right side of this blog post where it says Get 7 free steps for sailing through emotional storms when you join my mailing list. Sign up!

The 30 days of mindfulness are going to start February 8, so you will have to sign up before then if you want to be included!

Practical mindfulness

In graduate school, I took a class on mindfulness.

I did not like it.

I had to sit for an hour at the beginning of each class and focus on my breath.

My butt hurt.

My back hurt.

We did not have chairs.

We were expected to notice the pain and return to the breath. I did this.

My butt still hurt.

My back still hurt.

I struggle to teach my clients a way of being mindful so they “get it”. In other words, apply it to situations that might help them bear pain, become clear and organized, pay attention to what their body is telling them, access important emotional information, and take note of what is actually going on both on the inside and on the outside.

Mindfulness is not easy. Practical mindfulness is being able to use mindfulness in such a way that it makes sense to do so. There is something to be said for the business of being, doing, and experiencing.

Why do we do mindfulness? While I want my clients to be able to return to their breath as a way to find stillness, I am not sure I would want them to sit for an entire hour with hurting butts and backs 🙂

Therefore, I am going to give you tips, instructions, and how-to exercises to help you learn, apply, and experiment with a very wide range of “how to” be mindful.  This will be interspersed with teaching points, common problems that come up for people first learning mindfulness, and different ways of thinking about the application of mindfulness. FOR FREE.

How do you get all this? You’ve got to go to the upper right side of this blog post and click where it says Get 7 free steps for sailing through emotional storms when you join my mailing list. Sign up! Then, sometime early in February, you will be given the opportunity to receive one e-mail a day for 30 days that gives you a specific mindfulness exercise, tip, or teaching point. Remember, you have to sign up before February to get in on the freebies.

And, if you’re on my mailing list (and only then) more good stuff just might come your way.

Mindfulness for the holiday season: Christmas and the New Year

December is a time of year in which our sensations can be easily bombarded. It’s easy to get stressed about Christmas shopping, overcrowded malls, travel plans, holiday parties, familial obligations, and in some cases, snowstorms.  The practice of being mindful is the intentional practice of focusing attention on one thing. Focused attention calms and settles the mind, and circumvents the rat race of disorganized, divided, and unfocused attention. It is a way to come back to the current moment and show up for everything the moment has to offer.

Here are three different ways of being mindful this holiday season:

Five minutes of breathing:

Sit quietly for five minutes and focus on the rise and fall of your breath. Every time you notice your mind wandering or your attention scattered, bring your attention back to the rise and fall of your breath. This may be a useful exercise to do after driving in bad traffic, being in a crowd, or after coming home from work.

Savor sensation: Take a few moments to take in the entire experience of the following:

  • The taste of peppermint. Do you really taste peppermint when you eat it?
  • Do you ever notice how the air changes as it grows colder? Try figuring out how the air smells or tastes. I’ve noticed the winter air to be crisp, bitter, biting, heavy, cold, damp, salty, and even woody.
  • Pay attention to tastes and smells that you enjoy- in other words, don’t pass them up or take them for granted when you notice them.

Show up for the moment…even if the moment brings pain

Sometimes people experience a great deal of sadness during the holidays: Spending holidays alone, spending a “first” holiday after losing a loved one during the year, or being reminded of recent losses or relationships ruptures.

If sadness is part of your holiday, consider:

  • Reflecting on what is important and meaningful
  • Allowing yourself to grieve deeply and fully, to cry openly, to acknowledge everything you experience with your heart wide open
  • Honor what has been lost
  • Be gentle and tender with yourself

Singing, carols, generosity of spirit, pageants, and performances can move people deeply.  If joy is part of your holiday

  • allow yourself to be moved to tears
  • fully experience, absorb, take in, and reflect on what you have
  • share with others what you appreciate or love
  • allow for the positive
  • recognize times in your life in which things have been difficult- and how different they are for you now.

Wishing you a holiday in which your experiences are rich and meaningful- I will be back at my blog posting in 2012!