Mindfulness / Self-Compassion to Calm Anxiety

loveyourselfmore-stencilSelf-compassion is part of Mindfulness, and it helps to reduce negative thinking and rumination (obsessive or repetitive thinking) while activating the self-soothing states of the brain.

A core component of self-compassion is the understanding that you are not alone in what you are experiencing.

Put both hands on your stomach and remind yourself that anxiety is actually a common part of the human experience.  You are not alone in what you are feeling and struggling with right now. In this very moment, there are thousands if not millions of people who are experiencing the same or very similar feelings. You are not alone.

(*Adapted from and thanks to Elisha Goldstein, PhD)

“Just Think Positive” Doesn’t Work

Negative thinking is a big problem with both anxiety and depression. It’s so easy for the mind to get stuck in habitual patterns of seeing the negative.  The mind can dwell, or even obsess, on worst case scenarios.  In fact, the fight-or-flight mechanism in your brain is programmed to do just that.

Have you ever been stuck in negative thinking only to have a friend or family member say “just think more positive!”  

Well…duh.  If you could do that, you would have already done it.

newmindset-dreamstime_xs_52555226It is possible to transform negative thinking, but you need to learn HOW to turn your thoughts around to get a new mindset. That doesn’t just happen automatically.  And it doesn’t happen by merely telling yourself to think more positive.

It’s pretty impossible to “just think positive” without learning some specific ways to reframe your thinking.  (This is the whole basis of CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

Bottles: Half Empty or Half Full?

My Vipassana meditation teacher told a story of a mother in India with three sons…

She asked her first son to take an empty bottle to the market and have it filled with oil and she gave him three rupees to do so. Her son had the bottle filled and on his way home, he stumbled and half of the oil spilled out of the bottle. He became very upset and ran home crying.  Because he thought he was a failure, he felt shame and guilt and he was afraid to tell his mother what had happened.

Next the mother asked her second son to take an empty bottle to the market and have it filled with oil and gave him three rupees also. This son also had his bottle filled, but the same thing happened. He fell on the way home and spilled half the oil. But this second son was so happy that there was still half of the oil left in the bottle that he ran all the way home smiling.  He told his mother: “Look what happened – I stumbled but I was able to save half of the oil!”

Finally, the mother asked her third son to do the same thing. Unfortunately, the same thing happened to the third son. He ran all the way home very excited. He told his mother: “Look what happened – I stumbled but I was able to save half the oil! Now I can just get an odd job tomorrow and earn enough money to refill the whole jar!”

halfemptyhalffull-stencilThinking: Half Empty or Half Full?

Were the bottles of these 3 boys half empty or half full?

Was their thinking half empty or half full?

The human mind is wired to see the negative first – the bottle is half empty.  But you can train yourself to also see something good in your situation.

• Gratitude is one way to shift out of a negative mindset.

The third son was surely upset about spilling some of the oil.  But he quickly found something to be grateful for in his situation.

Negative thinking keeps you stuck.  Gratitude opens doors to a new mindset. A new mindset is necessary to make change and to get new results in your life.

• Taking positive action is another effective way to turn negative thinking around.

By adding positive action (getting an odd job tomorrow) to a seemingly negative situation, the third son did not get stuck in half empty thinking.  He was able to turn his thinking around and move on with a new mindset.

Next time you find yourself dwelling on a half empty situation, ask yourself:

What is one positive action I could take any way?

One small action can create enough shift for you to start turning those thoughts around, so you can start seeing your glass getting fuller by the minute.

• Imagine a Silver Lining

Close your eyes and ask yourself:

• If I could dare to hope for just one positive thing in this situation, what would it be?
• If I had one wish that could be granted in this situation, what is one positive outcome, or positive aspect, that I would wish for?

Let yourself imagine it even if you can’t see how that one positive thing could actually become possible.  Imagination changes the way the neural pathways in your brain fire up, making way for new thoughts.

Stop Negative Thinking with CBT

cbtthinkingprocess-dreamstime_xs_36181364The best long term strategy for getting rid of negative thinking patterns is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

With CBT, you learn to:

1) correctly identify distorted, negative “stinking thinking”
2) shift negative thinking by refuting it with more accurate, logical thoughts
3) learn very specific tools and strategies to turn negative thinking around and lessen its power over you

By refuting negative thinking over and over again, the neural pathways in your brain literally change and the negative pattern diminishes over time.  Read more about CBT for Negative Thinking

Take Micro-Breaks

In all the busyness and doingness of your day, stress and anxiety continually build up. Your mind and body need more breaks.

Try taking micro-breaks many times a day, perhaps even many times an hour. Micro-breaks can last for just 5-60 seconds at a time. You can try many different things on your micro-breaks.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:cloud-stencil

• Stand up and stretch
• Stare out a window
• Close your eyes
• Breathe in through your nose and out forcefully through your mouth
• Step outside and look at the clouds
• Give yourself a quick hand massage
• Drink a glass of water
• Visualize the best part of your last vacation
• Imagine a peaceful nature scene – by mountain, lake, river, forest

 

Here’s what NOT to do on your micro-breaks:to-do-buster-stencil-default

• Do not multi-task
• Do not use any electronics
• Do not look at your To Do List
• Do not make a mental To Do List
• Do not eat junk food
• Do not talk to someone else

4 Steps to the Perfect Holiday

perfectionismsign-stencilStriving to create the perfect holiday this season? Let me suggest a different approach.

Let’s start with 4 simple mantras:

Repeat after me:
1. There is no perfect holiday
2. There is no perfect holiday meal
3. There is no perfect gift
4. There is no perfect family

Permission to Let Go of Holiday Perfectionism

The theme here is to let yourself off the hook this holiday season. So many people (women especially) feel stress and pressure to create some idyllic holiday for their families.

Having a lovely, fun, enjoyable holiday is a great goal, but this goal goes awry when it leans to the extreme.

Everything really does NOT have to be perfect to enjoy the holiday season.

1. There is no perfect holiday

It seems so obvious but there is no such thing as a perfect holiday. Let go of the Norman Rockwell or the June Cleaver holiday. After all, they ARE fiction.

You (or others) may reminisce about “perfect holidays” of the past, but you are probably using selective memory. Since there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, there undoubtedly were imperfections but they are forgotten. In the big scope of things, they weren’t important enough to register in your memory.

The details are not as important as you think, and imperfections are expected and are forgettable.

2. There is no perfect holiday meal

The meal really isn’t the reason for the season, right? Then why do many of us focus so much on having the perfect meal? Sharing a meal can be a great time of community and connection. But it’s really the community and connection that matters.

Sure, having the favorite holiday dishes is fun. Could the holiday be fun without the cheesy crab puff appetizer or the chilled shrimp or 15 different kinds of cookies?

At my house, if the mashed potatoes are lumpy (i.e. not perfect) someone will complain. Complainers can turn a meal holiday into a drag if you let them. Don’t let them. Just expect a complaint, and then choose to not take it personally. Chalk it up to a predictable complaining complainer and nothing else. Then choose to let that roll off your back.

3. There is no perfect gift

giftswhite-dreamstimefree_3679200One of my clients created anxiety for herself starting in November, worrying about picking out the right gifts and spending excessive (and unhappy) time shopping for those “perfect gifts.”

She felt pressure to get it right, and guilty if she didn’t. Where is the joy in that? That kind of pressure and emphasis on the “perfect gift” deprives yourself of the joy of giving.

One way I’ve made gift-giving easier and more joyful for me is to request a specific gift list. My niece even sends me web links to items she likes, including size and color. My family knows that if they don’t provide a list, they may not get a gift. So…they give me lists!

I love the joy of easier shopping, and knowing I will be giving something they want. And if they need to return or exchange it, I give them the receipt and I don’t take it personally. All is well.

P.S. Don’t forget the most important person on your gift list: YOU! http://wellnesscounselingmilwaukee.com/gift-yourself/

4. There is no perfect family

familystickdrawing-dreamstimefree_4342789While holidays traditionally are family times, family dynamics often cause stress. You are not the only one who does not have a perfect family. Is there such a thing? The version of “perfect” that most of us dream of is probably not realistic.

You are who you are, and your family is what your family is. A “perfect” holiday or meal or gift isn’t going to change that. Finding some peace and acceptance of that allows more joy into your holiday. Resisting what is, or wishing your family was different, only creates more angst for you.

Perfect Imperfection

The best holiday de-stressor is to let go of any conscious or subconscious pressure to create a picture-perfect holiday. Let it be what it will be. Look for the places you can find joy. And peace. Do your best to focus on what is really important to YOU. Do your best to let the rest roll off your back.

The “perfect” holiday is actually the one where you embrace and allow imperfection.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

laughingoldman-stencilYour brain gets feedback from your face—so if you force yourself to smile, you may actually feel better. There’s lots of research showing that smiling (even fake smiling) actually causes a happier mood.

Anxiety and worry causes lots of frowning which creates tension in the face, neck and jaw. Smiling lightens things up as it takes less muscles to smile than to frown, plus smiling uses different muscles which reduces tension.

Learning from a Dog about Anxiety

cosmokarenMy friend Karen Gill (Personal Chef, Owner of Down to Earth Chef) went to special dog training classes with her rescue dog, Cosmo. Karen believes Cosmo had some bad experiences before being rescued and now he has anxiety. When Cosmo gets anxious, he barks a lot at many different things and gets himself agitated.

When Cosmo barks at something he sees outside the living room window, Karen says in a very calm tone: “Not your business, Cosmo.” Through this training, Cosmo has learned to turn away and goes back to his own business.

Keeping his attention on his own business helps Cosmo reduce his anxiety and stay calm.

Where is Your Attention?

Is your focus on you, your life, your desires/wants, your choices, what makes you happy?

Or do you focus more on others and what they think, what they want, what they’re doing, what they want you to do, what they think of you?

What You Can Learn from Cosmo

Focusing on yourself (your own business) really can help reduce anxiety.

When you focus too much on other people and other people’s business, some dangerous things can happen (all of which cause anxiety):

1. You can start comparing yourself to others, feeling not good enough, feeling like you’re not keeping up with the Joneses, or feeling bad about yourself.

2. You judge others more. She “shouldn’t” be doing that. He “should” be doing that. It’s easy to get caught up in what you think other people should or shouldn’t be doing. Then you can lose focus on yourself and doing what is right for you.

3. You can get caught up in the need to be right, which results in you using your precious energy to prove another is wrong. The need to be right creates black and white thinking, which usually causes upset and increases stress and anxiety because life is actually full of shades of gray.

4. You can get easily overwhelmed focusing on other people. Who made it your responsibility to get involved with their business? Do you have people in your life who try to lure you into their problems or their drama? People who want you to solve their problems for them?

5. You can get caught up in trying to control other people, or control situations. This always increases anxiety because it’s impossible!

“Not Your Business, Di”

Let me give you a personal example. When I went to my first Vipassana 10-day silent meditation course, I had a roommate who didn’t follow all the rules. She showered or napped during our designated meditation time. She closed the door when we were instructed to leave the door open, and disregarded many other rules.

I got quite upset about this. I was quite irritated and kept thinking:

Di Philippi, Wellness Counseling Milwaukee; Busy creates overwhelm and anxiety• “She should be following these rules!”
• “She shouldn’t be doing that!”
• “Why won’t she do this the “right” way?!?!”

I was very bothered. She was not. In fact, I don’t think she was upset at all.

My focusing on her business only got ME worked up. It only harmed ME.

Finally, I realized that my only business was to do my best with my own meditation and my own following of the rules. I had to remind myself “Not your business, Di.” Only then did my stress, anxiety, and upset subside. Then I could really do my best with my own meditation.

How to Be More Like Cosmo

Be aware of your thoughts and where you putting your attention. When your focus is more on YOU than on other people, you will feel calmer and have less stress and anxiety.

Ask yourself some questions:

• What is really my business in this situation? What isn’t my business?
• Am I worrying about what other are saying, doing, or thinking?
• Right now, is my thinking or talking about other people’s business causing me more or less anxiety?
• What is one thing I can do right now to stay focused on ME?

Floatation Therapy for Anxiety and Stress

If you’re as old as me, you may remember old TV commercials with the slogan “Calgon, take me away” as someone is floating along in a bubble bath. I loved that slogan. I could imagine all my stress floating away.

floatingawayIn 2016, floating now has a whole new meaning. Floatation therapy is an emerging relaxation treatment, with research supporting its effectiveness for stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, muscle tension and more.

Float centers are popping up like hotcakes all over the US. We now have three in the metro Milwaukee area. I love floating and I float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls (more about my float experience below).

Your Senses Deserve a Break Today (R.E.S.T.)

Another old commercial slogan used to say “You deserve a break today.” What we all really need these days is to give our senses a break.

Our busy, 7*24, technology-filled world gives us constant stimulation of our senses of sight, sound, and touch. Constant sensory stimulation negatively affects the nervous system and contributes to anxiety.

Floating gives your nervous system 60 minutes of R.E.S.T. (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique), sometimes referred to as sensory deprivation. In the most positive way, floating creates a very peaceful, sensory-limited experience.

The Float Room

Your senses of sound, sight, and touch are calmed by a warm, quiet, dark floating environment. Some float centers have float tanks or pods, while others have float rooms (which I love).

float_poolA float room (I think of it as a float pool) is approximately 8 feet long * 5 feet wide. It holds about 10 inches of water with about 1000 lbs. of dissolved Epsom Salt, which enables you to float automatically. Epsom salt is made of magnesium which has many health benefits as well. 

Water is heated to an average skin temperature (93.5F) which reduces the sensation between body and water. All light and sound can be eliminated to allow your brain and body to relax completely. Often there is ambient light and/or relaxing music available if you prefer.

Backed by Scientific Research

In the 1970s, Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie began to explore the therapeutic benefits of floating. A study in the late 1990s found that more than 90 percent of people experienced feelings of relaxation. A 2014 study found that twelve 45-minute float sessions over seven weeks reduced anxiety, stress, and depression.

brainwaves-theta-stateResearch suggests the effects of a one hour float session are equivalent to eight hours of sleep! Floating quiets your brainwaves from the active beta and alpha waves, to theta brainwaves which are more calming, meditative, and restorative. 

Brain imaging shows calming effects in the brain (the amygdala calms down – that’s the fight or flight part of the brain). Blood testing shows reduced levels of cortisol (one of the primary and problematic stress hormones).

In addition to all of the above findings which show how floating can be great to help reduce stress and anxiety, floating is also good for pain, muscles, blood pressure, circulation and more!

Check out this Time Magazine article about floating and find a lot more floating research HERE .

My Floating Experience

floatingabettermeI float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls, the only float center in the area which has float rooms.  There’s a very comfortable, private suite that includes a changing area, shower and the float pool itself.  

 

floatsuite

From the shower, you open a door and step right into the float pool. Lay down and you will automatically float because of all the Epsom salt. Adjust (or turn off) the lights and music, and float for 60 minutes.

During my first float, I found it “strangely relaxing.” Strange because it is such a unique experience, and also because I wouldn’t have expected it to be as relaxing as it actually is.

My husband said it was the most relaxing thing he ever did!

Finally, a break from all the stimuli, multi-tasking, to-do lists, and interruptions of a typical day! Permission to relax…

At first I found myself full of thoughts about the float itself: how do I move around and what is most comfortable, do I like the music or not, do I like the neck pillow or not, what am I supposed to do now, how many minutes have passed, etc…

After a short time, my brain slowed down and I reminded myself to relax. I focused on my breathing, let go of body tension, and became meditative. At the end of 60 minutes, a dim light goes on to signal completion. Then you step right into the shower. Ahhh… I felt amazingly relaxed.

Floating is like pressing a “Reset” button for both mind and body. Another calming, self-care tool to add to your wellness toolbox!

Write Down All Possible Silver Linings

Cats always land on their feet when they fall (even big, unexpected falls). When you are anxious or worried about a situation in your life, imagine you are the same way.  Tell yourself you will land on your feet – you will be okay in the big picture of life.

writing-stencilTo help you step back from the problem, sit down with a paper and pen and don’t get up until you have written down at least 3 possible silver linings that might possibly come out of the difficult situation. 

Three is minimum – more is better.

Example: if you have anxiety or worry about losing your job, what possible silver linings that might possibly come out of that? 

 

1. Maybe you’d be happy to be rid of stress from that overly stressful job…

2. Maybe you’d end up finding a job you like equally well or maybe even more.

3. Maybe it presents the chance to go back to school… maybe you’d decide to follow your dream of starting your own business…

Maybe…

What’s Up with the Adult Coloring Book Craze?

Mindfulness, Relaxation, and Stress Reduction! Good stuff!

coloringbook-stencilAdult coloring is actually a mindfulness-based activity that is good for quieting a busy mind, calming down, and refocusing.

The repetitive motion of coloring, the limited space of the page, and the small lines/shapes all help your mind to focus on doing one thing at a time – a relief in our multi-tasking world. I love books with patterns, which are especially helpful in creating a locus point around which thoughts can revolve and let go.

It may sound silly, but my clients consistently surprise themselves with how much they enjoy it. Try it!

Part 2: Stopping Crazy Busy

Last month in Part 1: Stopping Crazy Busy, I explained how Crazy Busy really comes from what you are THINKING.  That’s because what you DO is always a result of what you THINK.  Thoughts, conscious and/or subconscious always precede our actions and choices.

So the root cause of being continually Crazy Busy really comes from what you are thinking.

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

We looked at a few of the most common inaccurate thought patterns that lead to Crazy Busy:

1. Busyness = Importance
2. More is better
3. Less is not good enough
4. Comparing yourself to the Joneses
[Did you miss Part 1: Stopping Crazy Busy?]

More Thoughts that Create Crazy Busy

5.  Doing nothing is a waste of time

In our culture, we have told ourselves that this is true because we are so uncomfortable with Stillness. We don’t know what it’s like to be with our selves.

Can you just stop reading this now for a full 30 seconds and close your eyes and be with yourself while you aren’t doing something?

We have created so many constant distractions that all of us now have brains with a cultural form of ADHD.  Even as I’m writing this I realize I am distracting myself to check my email, my phone, put on lip balm, take a drink of water, scratch a mosquito bite, and get a snack!

The antidote to this form of ADHD is to spend some time doing nothing.  Doing nothing is so valuable to your nervous system, your brain, your psyche, and your emotional state!  But for the most part, we have labelled doing nothing as a waste of time.

6.  THE MOST HARMFUL THOUGHT OF ALL:  I don’t have a choice

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking you “have to” do all of these things that make you so Crazy Busy.  Society makes you think that.  Your family makes you think that. Your kids make you think that. Your neighbor’s (the Joneses!) make you think that.

It is your life, not anyone else’s, and you always have a choice.  You will harm yourself every time you give up your own power with the belief that you don’t have a choice. 

It is your life, not anyone else’s, and YOU always have a choice! 

But YOU get to evaluate every possible choice and decide what YOU really want.  A choice to say YES to everything creates a consequence of Crazy Busy.  Is that what you really want?

As you choose among the bazillion things you could do with your time every single day:

• Don’t live unconsciously doing what you think everyone wants from you. 
• Don’t live unconsciously doing too much thinking you’re not good enough unless you do it all.
• Don’t live unconsciously thinking you cannot make choices to be happier and less chaotic.

Getting Off the Crazy Busy Bus

• (CBT) Cognitive Behavior Therapy

success_failure-signs-istock_000003986459xsmallYour own subconscious thoughts are like blind spots – you just can’t see them accurately. CBT gives you a process and an objective person to help you identify thoughts that actually cause you stress.  And more importantly, CBT is a process to help you train your brain to think differently.  CBT helps you see all of your choices.

 

• Choose carefully

Don’t give away your own power by telling yourself you don’t have a choice. 
Ask yourself what you really want. Make conscious, thoughtful choices which are loving to yourself.

• Single task

It is a myth that the brain likes to multitask. Switching back and forth makes us tired, less efficient and more error-prone. When you do one thing at a time and get rid of distractions, you will actually feel less busy.

• Distinguish between important and urgent

Stephen Covey teaches this principle. Some things are important, and some things are urgent.  Know the difference.

Sleep and self-care are important.

Our phones and instant messaging create the illusion that everything is urgent.

• Believe in yourself

You are good enough. You know enough and you have enough. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone else. You don’t have to say yes to all the things that other people want you to do.