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Mindfulness, Does it Really Matter?

by Christina Pettinato, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

RING! BUZZ! RING! BUZZ!

There is a moment when you realize the sudden pulsing light is not part of your sweet, slumbering dream. Grasping at the air with foggy uncertainty, you reach out in a flopping seal like motion to silence the sound of your morning wake up call. Rolling out of bed you manage to overcome the almost Quixotic task of lumbering into the shower, and within a blink of an eye you are sitting at your work desk wondering “How did I get here?

More often than you’d like to admit, you often find yourself pointlessly functioning in the world around you. Looking back at the days, weeks, and even months, life sometimes seems to be a blurry mess. With all the modern-day challenges, you try to stay afloat within the abyss of past missteps and worries of an uncertain future. It’s no wonder you may feel like your life is moving at the speed of light. So what can you do to slow things down and enjoy the present or maybe even remember what happened last week? Folks, there is a reason this is called auto pilot, and we need a way out!

Most of us have heard about mindfulness, but what is it really? When you think about Mindfulness you want to create a state of consciousness in which you are solely aware of the present moment. With a calm mind, you acknowledge and accept your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. The focus is on the present moment, and releasing your past and future dwellings. In short, you can look at yourself with intention and in a nonjudgmental way to integrate mind and body and spirit.

What I have for you today are three simple techniques you can use to introduce Mindfulness into your daily routine.

1 – One Minute of Mindfulness

Mindfulness doesn’t require hours of meditating like a Tibetan monk. Instead, you want to create mindful moments throughout your day. You are going to need a timer for this exercise. What you want to do is take a seated spot with your feet flat on the floor, your back resting comfortably, and your hands in a relaxed position. After you start the timer, it is your task to focus on your breathing for one minute.

You may close your eyes or keep them open during this exercise. There is no wrong or right way to breath. If you find yourself getting lost in your thoughts, bring your attention back to your breathing. Remember, if you notice a thought creeping in and you begin to move away from focusing on your breathing, it is Okay. Bring your attention back to your breathing as many times as you need. Refocus on connecting your body and breath. Move within the moment back and forth to bring your attention back to your breathing.

2 – Mindful Eating

As you sit down to eat a meal, do attempt to remove any distractions to bring full attention to your eating experience. You want to connect your body with each of the five senses during this exercise.

Before eating your meal, visually explore your food noting the colors, shapes, and textures that you see. Next, call attention to the scent of your food. Notice the aroma and the sensation you feel as the scents move through your nose. Then bring your attention to touch, listening, and lastly introduce taste. Be mindful for the first 3 bites of your meal. Focus on the smell, texture, taste, and any changes you may experience as you chew your food. Explore each of your senses. Savor the moment with an intention to experience solely through your senses.

3 – Pause and Observe

Choose a moment of the day and find a place that feels right for you. Once you feel you are ready, take a moment to pause and look at your surroundings. In this moment, you are intentionally choosing to focus on your environment.

Simply observe. Notice where your attention brings you as you use your eyes to observe your environment. Try to notice without judgment, without critique.  Continue to observe for as long as you like, and stay present in the moment. During this exercise allow enough time for your body to naturally adjust and relax.

Whether you are attempting to learn a new technique, to be more productive, or to find alternative ways to ground yourself in your busy lifestyle using mindfulness is a great tool to help you stop smell and the roses. Next time we will explore three additional steps to help you on your path to self awareness.

Avanti,
Christina

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All the Pretty Things

By Aurora Starr

Let’s be clear. I am well aware of my name. It’s Aurora Starr and, yes, I live in California. My parents were and still are crystal-loving, chakra-checking, tribal-drumming, planet-charting, sage-burning, New Agers who own just about every Windham Hill collection ever produced. The irony of it all is not lost on me.

Yet, call it what you will, a striving to rebel against my parents or other authority figures, but more accurately perhaps a blatant indifference for those who claim there is more to a sunset than the beauty of a sunset. I believe in good science, philosophy, love, kittens, The Beatles, great sex and experiential learning. It’s complicated (but not really), as it should be. So to say I have a hard time relating with the New Age set is not far off the mark. Not that they are bad people. Quite the opposite, they mean well. They are productive and, for the most part, trustworthy. Just like some of my Christian and Buddhist friends and acquaintances, they want good things to come to those who believe, meditate, pray and do unto others, etc. These are also things that I can adhere to or even incorporate into my daily routine. So what’s the problem?

Sorry, not sorry.

My friend’s New Age Train pulled out of the station a few years ago following her spiritual awakening. Since then, I have been exposed to lots of patchouli oil and other exotic scents from afar… lots. I quickly learned that my enchanted friend and her belongings will now and forever smell like some ancient temple in Upper Mesopotamia. Her very presence would probably remind you of Stevie Nicks’ public persona circa 1979, minus the Wild Turkey and cocaine.

I learned my first lesson in crystal ethics from her. NEVER, EVER, touch someone else’s crystal pendant (pendulum). You will strip the mineral of its magical cleansing powers. My friend recoiled in disbelief as I reached for her pendulum, “Oh, that’s so pretty.” Sounds benign, right?  I thought so, too, until I was quickly schooled in crystal etiquette.

It is imperative for you to believe that crystals are indeed magical and that they hold healing properties. She has crystals all throughout her apartment, so many, many pretty crystals.  Her ever expanding collection has made her life similar to Doris “the cat lady” who used to live above me. Oh Doris, good times. My friend makes me hold selected crystals (NEVER, EVER the pendulum) and asks me if I can feel their “life energy.” She insists that if I would “just relax, I would feel it.” I still don’t feel it, but I smile politely and repeat my original thought that they are certainly “pretty.” They can still be pretty, right?

Then it is time for us to go out for the evening. We had plans, but never mind this; the universe had plans for us, also. Our night out had become contingent on astrological charts. Somehow our friendship hinges on whether the tarot produces a death card or three swords or some other mystical combination. Consulting cards is not a way of planning a night of fun. It sounds like playing it safe and running away from personal responsibility. It is also akin to What Would Jesus Do? “He would have tacos, he would definitely have tacos. Now can we leave, please?

So we finally arrive at a lovely, local eatery. A waifish and shy young girl takes our drink order and probably wishes she had been assigned to another section for that evening. She is immediately questioned by my friend about which menu items are vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose-free, and caffeine-free. I can’t say I blame my friend. Hey, being spiritually-aware often means you are body-aware. Healthy body, health mind, healthy spirit, I get it. Unfortunately, so does the timid waitress counting the minutes until her shift ends.

And another thing…

So to all my enlightened friends, and I have many of them (Remember the whole I live in California thing?), I wish you lots of peace and love, but you are not Native Americans, Aztecs, Mayans, Druids, or some Eastern Mystics. Different time, different history, different culture and different race. You live in Emory. You are white. Appropriating or picking rituals without having first-hand experience of the culture or the intended meaning behind those symbols is just wrong at best, disrespectful at worst.

You don’t own it. You never could. We can all agree that Eric Clapton is a kick-ass guitar player and a remarkable artist and performer, but is he a Blues Guitar God as many have suggested (including my Dad)? No, because he didn’t live it. He grew up in England for Christ Sake. Mr. Clapton did indeed experience his share of hardships – alcoholism, drug addiction and personal tragedy. However, he was never a Black musician in an oppressive and often brutal society ruled by an equally oppressive set of laws and government. See the difference?

There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. Mr. Clapton likely knows this, but I doubt many of his fans do. Now, this blog isn’t about a Black and White thing. That’s for another day, but do you get the point or is it just me, and how the hell did Eric Clapton get pulled into this?

It’s me, not you. No, really, it’s you and that’s okay.

My charmed friend also believes everything is a sign, and she’ll live her life following these psychic inklings, often against better judgment. She is indeed a handful, but I regularly cross the threshold into her world of magic and healing and genuinely enjoy our time together. There’s a place at the table for all, at least there should be. If her beliefs bother me so much, why don’t I just walk away? Well, that’s just rude and maybe, just maybe, the door to my mind needs to have its hinges oiled from time to time.

Shine bright,
Aurora

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Don Laird

The Accidental Existentialist Issue 2

Read the SPRING 2018 edition of The Accidental Existentialist now or download it to read later. In this issue you will find great articles, including new works by mental health professionals Christina Pettinato, Morgan Roberts and Don Laird. Leave a comment below to let us know what you think – Enjoy!

TAE_JanFeb18_Issue1

From the Publisher: Our goal is to promote the human condition by advocating for the basic essentials of existentialism as a blueprint for the development of the human arts and sciences through the further study of meaning, metaphor, myth, freedom, isolation, spirituality, creativity and death. Let’s move our existential concepts back to their foundations and away from the world of prohibitive academia where they have gone to die a slow and rather uninspired death. As the walls of an empire begin to crumble we stand on the threshold of a new era. It is one that could produce great opportunities for individual enlightenment as well as a cultural renaissance. In short, let’s not blow it.
– Don

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Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Self Care (part 2)

In the last blog Self-Care (Part-1), meditation, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis were discussed as part of self-care and relaxation techniques in areas such as anxiety, grief, life transitions, as part of therapy, as positive daily coping mechanisms, and to assist in sleep. Part-2 of the segment discusses more active and physical aspects of self-care, the importance during life transitions, and touches on a few other areas.

Self-care is an important component of life-one that many grapple with.  Most times, implementing and allowing self-care improves overall quality of life and dually allows an individual to step outside of one’s ‘self’, which in turn, promotes a healthier outlook on daily life and increases capacities to give to one’s self, family, community and society as a whole.

Self-care, at times, is difficult even for those that practice with consistency. This is where having an array of self-care behaviors that are easily implemented into different environments and situations is beneficial to building lifelong adaptable habits and behaviors.

I was at the park with my child recently and began speaking with a female that was there with her grandchildren.  She began discussing how she had two grown children and a number of grandchildren. Each of her grown children, their partners, and her grandchildren were in the process of moving; one family was moving a few hours away and one family was moving out of state.  The reality of little time with each family; especially her young grandchildren became difficult for her to contend with emotionally.

She began telling me how she is retired and that she is hoping that her husband will retire soon, yet, isn’t certain that he is ready.  This is a significant part of transitioning into retirement for those partnered in a long-term relationship.  She mentioned that she has been struggling greatly with this transition and isn’t certain what to do.  During the conversation, we discussed things she enjoys doing and how to begin implementing things she enjoys back into her life.  I noticed her discussing the past and the difficulty in transitioning forward.  This is a process that many encounter when grappling with difficult transition periods throughout a person’s life span.  In part, she was contending with transitioning to retirement and was anticipating her husband’s retirement, which he may not be ready to transition towards at this point in his life.  A main source of difficulty was struggling with finding a major aspect of her identity without the opportunity to nurture and be a caregiver for her grandchildren.  There is loss and opportunity dually in this transition period.

In daily life, self-care is essential, and vital to mental health and wellness during the process of transition periods, that are most times, filled dually with positive and difficult life changes and adjustments. Self-care becomes key to minimize depression, isolation, and the onset of an array of behavioral health and mental health issues. During our conversation, I asked her about things she enjoys.  She discussed the possibility of joining a group, becoming more active by taking a fitness class, finding projects at home that would bring a sense of accomplishment, and rediscovering her passion for painting. Each self-care item appeared to bring focus to the present, and towards finding new ways to enjoy life moving forward. Presently, she is grappling with many significant areas in her life. Seeking out the assistance of a professional therapeutic relationship may be most beneficial in finding positive coping strategies, stress reduction techniques, and committing to where she currently is in life, while preparing for upcoming life transitions; as well as, in finding new ways she will be able to nurture and give in manners she finds rewarding.

Being engaged in activities including physical fitness is beneficial to a mental health and well-being. Physical activity has the potential to assist in increasing energy, improving mood, reducing anxiety, and alleviating depressive symptoms. This can be in the form of a walk outside in nature, a run, biking, cross-fit, weights, or an array of other fitness activities. It’s getting out there and starting.  Whether it’s a ten-minute walk or a half marathon, there is a sense of accomplishment in working towards and finishing a set goal.  For example, I enjoy running as part of self-care.  It is one of my favorite forms of self-care.  I am not the fastest runner- quite honestly, I pace slower currently than I did in the past. I had taken a break from running and looked forward to returning!  I could feel a difference when running was missing as part of my self-care practices.  I used to run by myself and more recently, I run in a group environment. For me, running challenges me, it’s a lot of fun, and is a great form of stress release. Plus, I enjoy consistently working to increase my pace and endurance levels. I recall running my first 5K.  I had run the distance of a 5K in the past, yet, in returning, I was working towards having my feet on the pavement for the distance I experienced in past runs.  I did decide to formally signup for a 5K.  My pace was slow and crossing the finish line was a challenge; however, the entire experience was exhilarating and beneficial to me as a human-being.  I continue to run and push myself in these areas.  I am also looking forward to my next 5K experience.

I have met numerous individuals that tell me they don’t enjoy exercise. If you’re one of these individuals ask yourself these few questions:

  1. What have you attempted?
  2. How were you feeling before engaging in the self-care activity?
  3. What were your feelings when reflecting on what you experienced during the activity?
  4. How did you feel after?
  5. What messages were you given throughout your life about physical activity, your body?
  6. What messages do you carry with you currently that hold you back from physical activity and healthy self-care habits?
  7. Which items are part of an outed cycle of thought processes that do not relate to who you are and how you see yourself as a human currently?
  8. What are you open to trying?
  9. What do you feel comfortable about when considering implementing new self-care habits?
  10. What is your discomfort in the self-care activities you’re considering?
  11. How will you overcome your discomforts? Note: you are able to engage in activities with the discomforts present; over time, the discomforts with decrease, and you’ll feel an internal sense of accomplishment that will carry with you as you tackle new activities and exposure to new environments.
  12. If you took a pause, what were your reasons? Note: if the break was due to an injury, working with the proper medical professionals towards a full recovery and being cleared to seek out a safe replacement, whether temporary or long-term has the potential to be a beneficial option for those that function better with consistent activity as part of daily self-care habits.

Each of the above questions is a starting point for you to begin exploring your personal experiences and feelings regarding self-care.  If you need further assistance, you’re able to talk with your therapist regarding the process of overcoming personal obstacles to improving overall mental health, behavioral health, wellness, and consistency with self-care.

This segment discussed physical ways to engage in self-care and touched on life transitions.  Clients and friends mention the level of guilt in taking time for self-care.  It is important to work towards utilizing energies for positive daily self-care practices that work for you and your family, which was touched on in Self-Care (Part-1), and to move away from guilt and shaming.  Treat yourself with kindness and allow yourself to engage in activities that you may feel a level of uncertainty and discomfort with at first.  Give yourself the time and practice to improve, while enjoying the benefits of creating life-long self-care practices.

Lastly, surround yourself with positive people that bring out your natural energy, and create a sense of pleasure and laughter in your life.  Self-care increases capacities to function in more desirable manners.  It is healthy for brain function and it is immensely beneficial for human-beings to experience the enjoyment of learning new ways of being engaged in self-care and being physically active.

Learn, grow, engage in self-care & enjoy,
Mandi

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Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Self Care

Self-care is an essential aspect of a quality life, yet, difficult for many.  This is important for many individuals.  Self-care is vital to overall health and well-being, and has the potential to assist with high levels of stress, daily stressors, anxiety, depression, grief, welcomed and unwelcomed life transitions, and many other aspects of being human.  For example, a professional that is balancing an array of responsibilities daily, benefits greatly from self-care. A stay at home mom or dad that hasn’t had any real down time or break for weeks, possibly longer, benefits immensely. A person that has recently retired and it adjusting to a completely different lifestyle and set of supports may have a smoother transition with self-care rituals. A child or adolescent that’s contending with growth and development, issues at school, or even the grief and processing of parents’ recent divorce has the potential to work through difficult emotions with the support of self-care. You may identify with one or more of these examples, know somebody with similar experiences, or have your own unique story and life circumstances.

For example, meditation, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis are each self-care techniques that assist with capacities to decompress, relax, and bring balance to an individual.  These techniques assist in relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system.  For many, this allows deeper slower breathing, which aids in increased oxygen to one’s brain, lowered blood pressure, and relief from emotional and physiological symptoms of stress.

I have encountered clients and individuals that enjoy relaxation techniques and those that have difficulty with gaining the discipline to practice relaxation as part of self-care with consistency.  It does take commitment, practice, and, at times, the assistance of a professional’s help and expertise.  Other times, it is as easy as downloading an app and carving out time to begin.  This is especially relevant for those preoccupied with anxiety.  It is difficult for many suffering with anxiety to step away from the anxiety experienced; especially those with generalized anxiety.  Many clients fear stepping away from anxious thoughts.  The thoughts will feel more manageable after practicing any combination of the self-care and relaxation techniques discussed.  At times, a therapist may utilize self-hypnosis with cognitive behavioral therapy when it appears beneficial for the client.  A therapist may also recommend a combination of each technique to practice at home in between sessions.

Additionally, mindfulness, meditation, and self-hypnosis have potential to be beneficial for a person (at any age) with sleep issues.  Deep breathing is a beneficial facet of relaxation.  Deep breathing is relevant to, for example, young children with fears that contribute to sleeping issues, as well as, for adults that fall asleep to the sound and lights of a television only to experience decades of interrupted sleep cycles and the difficulties correlated with these behaviors.  Engaging in these techniques assist with redirecting focus and aiding in a sense of well-being to assist in promoting healthier sleep cycles over time.

There are an array of meditation, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis techniques as part of self-care.  The benefit of having options is in giving more opportunities to find a combination of techniques for individuals to utilize at different times.  As a counselor, it is beneficial for my clients to have several different types of self-care techniques available. At times, I recommend starting with one technique, checking in with how the client feels, and with time, building towards having several positive self-care options available to choose from. Integrating a variety of self-care rituals in different environments gives opportunity to practice positive and consistent self-care habits across the life-span.  I engage in each of the techniques discussed, and many others as part of my self-care rituals.  I enjoy aspects of each; especially self-hypnosis.  For me, practicing each, dually relaxes and reenergizes me as a human-being.  In Part-2 of the Self-Care segment, I will discuss a different set of self-care techniques to utilize with what was discussed in Part-1. Self-Care Part-2 will include more active ways to manage stress.

Feel free to share some of your experiences of utilizing meditation, mindfulness, and/or self-hypnosis as part of self-care. Leave a comment with any questions or curiosity you may have for more information regarding meditation, mindfulness, and/or self-hypnosis as part of self-care.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi