The Beauty of Mindfulness

What do you think about when you hear the word mindfulness? Not losing your mind, being quiet, being attuned to social cues, or staying in the present?

Mindfulness as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; or the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”.

Why would someone exercise this practice at all?

In a person’s average day, thoughts and feelings that surface are appraised as either positive or negative. The thoughts and feelings appraised as negative typically are suppressed or avoided, which affirms them as powerful. This affirmation helps the thoughts and feelings develop into a disruptive part of a person’s framework. In the wake, lots of energy is spent on avoiding those negative thoughts and feelings at any cost. That can mean staying home, not engaging in enjoyable activities, or even self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness does not just help you relax, although that ultimately happens, but it also helps you acknowledge and accept the real time experiences in your mind and body without judging yourself for it. The hope is that as you acknowledge, accept and stop struggling to control every sensation, thought, or feeling, you realize its only a process that will pass on like a leaf floating on a stream. With enough practice, individuals can gain self-compassion and break the cycle of avoiding and self-medicating, which only maintains what could ultimately become anxiety or depression.

If you are calm, mindfulness can be relatively straightforward. And while it can be learned in many different ways, breathing exercises or eating exercises are probably the most common way to start. These exercises help slow down the restless mind and create an opportunity to focus on the simple act itself. During a breathing exercise, for example, individuals may be encouraged to be conscious of how the chest rises at inhale and falls at exhale, the temperature of the breath, the cold air as you breath in, the hot air as you breath out, the feeling of your arms hanging on your shoulders, or your bottom on a chair or on the floor. If thoughts arise during a breathing exercise, individuals are encouraged to look at them as non-judgmental observers, not trying to get rid of them or classifying them as good or bad, but just letting them pass on.

Mindfulness may not be as easy when you are not in a peaceful state of mind. Whether you are dealing with an overall feeling of anxiety, a specific trigger, or a fear of losing control, for example, mindfulness can require a great amount of discipline. And in the same vein, if negative thoughts arise during the actual mindfulness exercise, it’s easy for the person to become defensive and lose the intent of the exercise. However, it is these times that are arguably the most important to stay dedicated and re-center on the exercise itself and be a non-judgmental observer.

 

Know The Lyrics

I was listening to the radio when the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police came on.  Of course I sang along with the radio because it’s such a catchy song.  As I was singing, I actually began to pay attention to the words and freaked out a little. Just in case you don’t remember, here are the words:

“Every breath you take; every move you make; every bond you break, every step you take I’ll be watching you.”

A little stalker-ish right? So I researched the lyrics to check my hypothesis and I indeed was right. Sting did not mean for this song to be a love song frequently played at weddings. He actually wrote this song after separating from his wife and it is about a possessive lover! Yikes!

Of course it is meant to be sinister. Who would perceive it otherwise? Well I did, along with many others judging from how many times this is played on love song stations and in weddings. Just goes to show how we sometimes fail to distinguish healthy from unhealthy. The words are the same, the tune in the same, but our perception is based on observation, awareness and insight.

If it’s hard for us to recognize healthy versus unhealthy song lyrics, then it’s probably extremely difficult to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, especially when those relationships are family relationships or friendships.

So what makes a healthy relationship? Lots of things including good communication, mutual respect, trust, and honesty.  You are in a healthy relationship if that relationship brings about more joy and happiness than tension and sadness.  If that statement doesn’t ring true in one of your relationships then it is unhealthy.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • You often put yourself on the back burner for someone else.  You neglect your dreams, passions or even just basic self-care for the sake of another.
  • You feel forced to be or act differently.
  • Your relationship causes you to have low self-esteem.
  • You are not free to express your true thoughts and feelings without fear of repercussions; you find yourself walking on eggshells.
  • You build walls of defensiveness to protect yourself.
  • You are discouraged from growing other relationships with friends or family.
  • You do not trust the person you are in relationship with.
  • You experience abuse – verbal, physical, mental or emotional abuse.

Seek help for your relationship when:

  • You know you need help but you are embarrassed or fearful to ask for help.
  • You are unhappy in the relationship and you are having difficulty getting out.
  • You realize you are staying in the relationship because of fear of being alone or because of guilt.
  • You consistently find yourself in unhealthy relationships.

The key to a healthy relationship is to stop singing along with the music just because you are familiar with the words. Pay close attention to the words; assess your relationships often. Stop and listen, listen to your gut. Are you happy? Are you safe? Are you free? If the answer is no, then seek help and change your tune.

What Parents Can Learn from Pixar’s “Inside Out”

I’m going to go ahead and assume that most parents of young children in America have seen the recently released movie Inside Out, so I won’t bother yapping about spoiler alert. Like Disney’s Frozen, this movie depicting the psychology behind emotions and memory has taken us by storm. Unlike Frozen however, Inside Out has some major melodrama that I can get behind. Let’s put aside the fact that the main character, Riley, only had five emotions- Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness. Obviously, we are capable of experiencing a huge range of different emotions; not just these five. But for the purposes of this blog, I will spare you all my critiques of how this movie didn’t get it right. Let’s move on to the ways that it nailed it.

The main theme that I took from this movie was what the psychological community calls emotional congruence. This term basically states that what you’re feeling (your emotions) should match what you’re presenting (your behavior). For example, if you’re feeling happy about something, you may smile or laugh. If you’re angry about something, you may furrow your brow or frown (or go sit in your closet and scream into a pillow… No? Okay, never mind about that one). Point is, when Riley goes into her new classroom and feels a normal, healthy mix of excitement and fear, nothing bad should’ve happened. She may have stuttered in front of the class, spoken too quietly for anyone to hear her, or felt a little nauseous at the presence of those feelings. Let’s also not forget the sadness that she feels at the loss of her former life. But what does Joy go and do? Banishes Sadness to the corner and tries with all her might to keep Riley the “brave and happy girl” that her parents need her to be. This is where all of Riley’s internal emotions start to go haywire- when what she was feeling inside wasn’t congruent with the situation with which she was faced.

Think about the way you may react to your child feeling sad. Is your automatic response to say “don’t be sad”? Even if that is said in a sweet voice and accompanied by a bear hug, it may not be the phrase a kid needs to hear. Instead of trying to will your child out of sadness, or even attempting to fix the problem, try doing what Sadness did in the movie. When BingBong was upset and Joy failed to cheer him up, Sadness, knowing how important it was to be allowed to feel sad, just sat with him and patted his back until he felt better and was able to move on. She didn’t try to reason with him or explain why he shouldn’t feel sad or tell him to get over it. She just sat with him. Next time your kiddo is sad about something, just sit (or lay on the floor) with him or her. This super simple action acknowledges your child’s feelings and doesn’t undermine his or her expression of, in this case, sadness. Just take a second and imagine how you would feel if your spouse or bestie or whomever told you “Oh, don’t be so sad” or “Goodness, don’t cry!” Yes, thank you friend, that definitely makes me feel better. Right? Kids are told that all the time! Now, this is all assuming that you know your child well enough to distinguish between her being ridiculously dramatic and her being genuinely hurt about something (even if it seems silly to you). Let’s make a pact and change our automatic response from “don’t be sad” to “I’m so sorry you’re hurting”. It’ll change your life. Okay, maybe not yours, but definitely your kid’s.