What you can do in the next 10 minutes: The skill of radical acceptance

Acceptance is an option for managing really painful things when solving or fixing it is not an option. The next time you think “I just can’t stand this any more” consider trying acceptance based strategies for the next 10 minutes. If you want, you can even rate your distress before and after you try it. See if your stress goes down. Remember- the only way this works is if you do it willingly.

  • Try to remember that being able to accept the next 10 minutes is not the same as accepting your life. If you can be accepting for the next 10 minutes, then right now you don’t have to accept fate, hopelessness, or any foreboding feelings that this is the way things will be forever.
  • Try to think of acceptance as one small step. It is what you could do right now that will help you get through this situation better.
  • Consider acceptance as an exercise in acknowledgement: What is, is. When we can simply see what’s going on around us for what it is, it can help us to stop fighting reality. When we see reality for what it is, we will have more resources for addressing it.
  • Acceptance doesn’t mean that you don’t have to feel the way you feel. In fact, it may even be helpful to consider being accepting of what you don’t want to feel.
  • Try softening your body, facial expression, or muscles. Melt into the moment. Accepting reality will not make it go away, but if it feels better to get through the moment without clenched jaws and a big fight, why not take advantage of it?

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.

A guest blog post from Rachel Gargano: The food-mood connection

Rachel Gargano is a registered dietician practicing out of Stoneham, MA (www.rgnutritionandwellness.com). The following is a guest blog written by Rachel:

The Food-Mood Connection

Ever eat a meal or snack and end up feeling completely unsatisfied?  As though your stomach may be full but your mind is not? Contentment from food is linked to several things, including both what we’re eating and how we’re eating.  If we’re distracted.  If we don’t really want the food we’re eating in that moment.  If we’re with good friends or poor company.  If we ate just a bagel or a bagel with an egg. All of these factors can play a role in whether we walk away from the meal feeling great … or just ‘eh’.

Problem #1: Mindless Eating

Our society is so ‘go-go-go’ that many times we’re too rushed to pay attention to what it is we’re shoving into our mouths.  In reality, we simply cannot multi-task.  The brain can only handle concentrating on one thing at a time.  So when we focus on the computer or TV, our brain isn’t receiving the signals that we’re eating.

All of a sudden the food is gone and we’re left staring at an empty plate or bag thinking: “Where’d it all go?  I’m still hungry…”  And we may feel this way even though we’ve consumed all the nutrients and calories that our body needs.  Feeling so dissatisfied, we begin looking for other things to eat… chocolate things… or maybe salty, crunchy things. And so our cycle of overeating and guilt persists.

Solution: YOU Time

Even though we have bills to pay, work to do, emails to write, and kids to watch – there needs to be time in your day for you.  Because without a healthy you, nothing else matters. So give yourself 3 minutes when you want to eat a snack and 10 minutes (at least!) when it’s time for lunch.  Eat mindfully.  Turn away from the computer.  Turn away from work or chores.  Look at what you’re about to eat.  Smell it. Taste it.  Eat it slowly.  Enjoy it.  It’s only 3 to 10 minutes; give yourself the time you need to be satisfied.

During dinner, make the commitment to your family to eat at the table.  Enjoy the meal. It takes time to learn to eat more mindfully and slowly, but once you’re able to give yourself that time to enjoy your food, you’ll be much more satisfied and energized once you go back to your day.

Problem #2:  What to Eat?

Ever notice how when you eat that bagel for breakfast you get hungry again 45 minutes later?  That’s because carbohydrates will give you immediate energy, but they break down so quickly that all of a sudden you’re hungry again! When our blood sugar dips low, our body sends signals for us to eat.  The first things we crave are carbohydrates (bread, pasta, candy, sugar, chocolate, chips), which our body knows are broken down quickly to give us a boost.  The problem is that they also leave our stomach quickly – so we end up hungry again.

Solution: Combinations

Think of each eating occasion as a mini balanced meal.  You do want carbohydrates for that quick rise in energy, but you also want protein, fiber, and perhaps some healthy fats.  All three of these foods take much longer to break down, keeping us feeling much more satisfied.  They give us the lasting energy to make it through to dinner…. Or our next snack! To help prevent that dip in our blood sugar from making us ravenous, try to eat every 2 to 3 hours.

Here are some tips for choosing great food combinations:

  • When choosing carbohydrates, go for whole fruits and veggies first, then whole grains.  Quick, easy foods include apples, banana, oranges, berries, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, red bell peppers, whole wheat English muffins, and whole grains such as quinoa.
  • When choosing proteins, go for lean ones such as: low fat or fat free dairy (cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, cheese sticks), eggs, nuts and seeds, peanut/almond butter, beans, poultry and fish.

Once you start feeding your body often with good food combination, as well as with kindness and mindfulness – you’ll start feeling much more energized and ready to tackle your day!

Pleasant events and positive life experiences

One way in which we buffer negative emotion, stressful life events, and painful circumstances is to create opportunities for positive emotion, tell people about these opportunities, and plan activities and events in our lives that we look forward to doing.

One way of doing this is to build mastery. This means doing things that are challenging or hard and provides opportunities for growth and achievement. Building mastery generally gives us a sense of purpose, accomplishment, or an “Aha! I did it!”.  Not having enough challenges can make us bored, which can be a contributing factor for depression. Approaching something that we have been avoiding, taking an emotional risk in sharing what we are feeling, or speaking up when we usually don’t might all be ways of building mastery.

Another way to create positives is to really notice and experience the small comforts throughout your day. Small daily pleasures or simple “little” things often get taken for granted, ignored, or neglected when we are focusing on our pain. When we plan for pleasant events and opportunities, resulting positive emotions show up more often. Consider spending time with someone you care about, fostering a relationship, attending and listening carefully, or being emotionally present when you are with someone. Consider sharing recent pleasant events, ways in which you are building mastery, how you are working on short or long-term goals, or what you are looking forward to this week.

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.

Are you running the Boston marathon today?

 

Since this is the day of the Boston marathon, I thought I would write a blog post about running.

Running!

Some people spend their lives running. Running is a way of getting away from something. It’s a matter of going fast. It is a way of living life in fast forward. It is a way of being busy and not having stillness, quiet, or calm. It’s a way of being busy, distracted, and pre-occupied. It’s a way to move, skirt around, avoid, and leave painful sensations behind.  Some people run away in their hearts, their minds, or their bodies. Some people run because they are afraid that:

  • If they don’t run they will start crying, and if they start crying they will never stop.
  • If they don’t run they will become angry, and then do something they regret.
  • If they don’t run they will be anxious, and therefore they will stay anxious forever.
  • If they don’t run they will feel sensations in their body, and the sensations will overwhelm them.
  • If they don’t run they will feel things they don’t want to feel!

Do you have any idea about what you are running from?

 

When you get stuck in the spin cycle with your cartoon elephants (emotions)!

Some people spend their whole lives stuck in the spin cycle with their cartoon elephants- going around and around and around and around and around.

If this is you, it may feel as if getting out of the washing machine is simply not an option.

This is what you need to do: Notice.

When you start to notice, you may have to work hard on noticing things. One of the things you might start to notice is where the elephant is in relationship to you. If the elephant’s foot is stuck in your face, and it’s knee is under your armpit, then you are at least starting to notice something.

Noticing something is one step removed from noticing nothing. Once you start noticing the something you can try to notice if you can notice anything more. What characteristics, nuances, or subtleties can you pick up on? What else is it about the cartoon elephant that puzzles you, draws your attention, or keeps you focused on it?

You may notice that the cartoon elephant is stuck to you. It may feel like you can’t get away from the elephant, or the elephant is too close for your personal comfort. You may notice not liking or wanting the cartoon elephant around.

What is it about the cartoon elephant?

Often when I am confused, surprised, or agonizing over a particular emotionally charged circumstance I’m asking myself what IS it about this circumstance, or this situation, or this feeling…and I try to step back and get as much information as I can. If I pay attention carefully, without dismissing or judging, the feelings actually give me information.

What information can you get- even if it seems subtle or irrelevant- when you start to observe your cartoon elephants?

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!