Want The Best Medical and Mental Health Care?

All patients have the right to expect good treatment from medical and mental health professionals and staff. However, the way you are treated has to do with how you interact with these professionals.  Patients and their families need to be involved in their own care, but they also need to be cognizant of to whom they are asking questions and expressing concerns.

Here are some useful tips to get the absolute best care from medical and mental health professionals and staff:

  • Take a moment to think about what you want to ask or say so you can explain yourself clearly, completely and honestly.
  • Act and speak respectfully with all staff no matter what your condition or level of pain or discomfort.
  • Acknowledge that communication is a continuous, two-way, process which means taking turns and listening carefully to family and staff.
  • Remember that “Please” and “Thank You” go a long way.
  • You must be your own advocate, but watch your tone and loudness level; avoid being rude, crass or obnoxious.
  • Try learning your regular staff member’s names, their talents, interests and even children’s names.  Show that you realize they are people too.
  • Accept that the hospital or medical office is a very busy environment, momentary interruptions and delays are unfortunate but will likely occur from time-to-time.
  • There are usually other members of the health care team that can likely assist you with many procedural questions, e.g. in hospital a nurse manager or supervisor, or the director of nursing. Additionally, you have consumer affairs departments to reach out to if needed.

References

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-get-the-best-care-from-the-hospital-nursing-staff-1467649623

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=5792231

https://www.amazon.com/Hospital-Warrior-Best-Care-Loved/dp/099734542X

http://www.assertivepatient.org/how.html

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Avoid Going Numb

If all your limbs suddenly went numb it would totally freak you out. But when we can’t feel our feelings, it could be sign that we are emotionally in deep trouble.  Emotional numbness has been associated with acute stress, trauma, anxiety and depression.  Some common numbing agents include the internet, excessive work, over sleeping, and TV.  More dangerous forms of numbing escapism are associated with alcohol, pills and sugar. Unfortunately, none of these give us permanent relief from the painful feelings we wish to avoid.

Shame and inadequacy are common emotional culprits that most people would rather ignore.  It would be great if we could just stamp out these unwanted feelings and just keep our pleasurable ones, but the emotional center of our brain doesn’t work that way.  When we turn off the brightness in one feeling, the lights go out in all the rest.  Emotional numbing hurts us more than helps us.  We may momentarily get rid of our insecurities, but we also lose out on fun and freedom.

The key is to stop robbing yourself of the moment, self-awareness and the ability to move forward.  Here are some steps to get the most out of your negative feelings.

Know your triggers

You are your own best researcher and problem solver.  All it takes is making the decision to notice, rather than ignore, the patterns that keep you stuck.

Deal with discomfort

Remember the saying “what hurts can only make you stronger.” Try sticking with accountability and moving away from avoidance when it comes to looking inside yourself.

Let go of victimization

We all stumble in the face of adversity. By embracing, rather than wallowing in your pain, you can create and witness positive change.

Rejoice in staying mindful

Accept that your condition is temporary, just like most things in life. Judging just inflames your hurt and forces you to numb.  Instead, seek new horizons by giving yourself permission to simply, and passively, feel whatever comes up.  All feelings are finite.  Once you allow yourself to feel and accept your feelings, you can learn to let them go.

Facing your emotions that you trying to numb can help you identify where they are coming from.  Once you know the source of your pain, the healing process can begin.

References

https://www.7cups.com › Q & A › Managing Emotions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/…/stop-numbing-out-and-awaken-your-life

http://www.thejdnation.com/what-is-numbing/

“Calm” and “Sleep” books now available at Barnes & Noble

My two books on “Calm” and “Sleep” are now available at Barnes & Noble, in store and online (click on titles below).

These books (the first two of a planned series) contain 50 simple cognitive behavior (CBT), emotional brain training (EBT) and mindfulness/visualizations/relaxation (MBSR) exercises to help readers learn coping skills. Each book focuses on a particular topic and is beautifully printed with rich illustrations and exercises.

They also make an excellent and thoughtful gift!

Calm: 50 Mindfulness Exercises to De-Stress

We can’t escape stress and, in fact, some stress can be helpful to us (“Fight or Flight”).

Humans are equipped to cope with small amount of stress. It can serve as a motivator, keep us focused on our priorities, or help us to detect danger. Misery replaces growth when we are bombarded by stress and can’t escape it. Unrelenting stress deprives our bodies of the homeostatic experience we need and crave.

Many of us are in search tranquility and calm, but this is hard to find when so many are combating stress related illnesses. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) the impact of stress on the USA population has substantially risen in the last decade.  The toll stress has taken on people’s live has contributed to 77% health and 73% psychological problems.  Compulsive eating, alcohol/tobacco abuse, and drug addiction are too often used to curb stress but they only compound the problem.

Rather than turning toward nonproductive methods of coping, this book offers ways to unleash our mind and bodies from the negative cycle of stress.

Fortunately, our brain, bodies and beliefs can be trained through daily practice to embrace peace while protecting us from harmful stressors.

Sleep: 50 Mindfulness Exercises for a Restful Night’s Sleep

One of the most troubling behaviors that effect one out of every 3 people is sleeplessness. So why do we need sleep? First it occupies so much of our 24 hours each day! According to the National Sleep Foundation our bodies need sleep for restoration and rejuvenation. Similar to nutrition, sleep helps our body repair itself on many levels. Sleep has been touted as a necessary luxury, but research shows that we need sleep to function both mentally and physically at our peak levels.

We do know is that our sleep can improve with treatment. Medication does help, but, in most cases, sleep sufferers do better with psychotherapeutic strategies and suffer fewer (or no) side-effects.

Sports and neurological research points out that mental imagery can have a positive impact on our mental health.

The next two books in the series “Happy” and “Courage” are currently in press.

Office Clients Note: I have a small supply of the “Calm” and “Sleep” books as well as my book  “Presence of Mind – Mindful Affirmations” available in my office just for office clients.

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 12 — Turn Self-Bashing into Mindful Self-Compassion This Holiday

Turn Self-Bashing into Mindful Self-Compassion This Holiday

During the holiday everyone thinks they have to be ho-ho-ho! but sometimes faking-it-until-you-make-it-so, doesn’t work.

Does your life look like it is falling apart or just falling into place? Either way, the holidays have a way of overwhelming us unless we take charge. Consider inviting, rather than resisting, the stress around you. If we take a mindful, non-judgmental, look at our situation, we may find ourselves more relieved and less doubtful.

Remember that you can change anything by facing it and embracing it. Too often self-compassion slips by us and we get down on ourselves for the slightest infractions. We need to break with the past to reclaim our courage. Being forgiving can open the door to self-love which leads us to create possibilities.

Mindful Self-Compassion

Mindful self-compassion is the ability to be aware of our despair and yet to be gentle with ourselves in the way we deal with it. Every time we knock ourselves down, we lose self-esteem points. Yes, we all realize that everyone has problems and bad days, and we tell ourselves that we need to be there for others. We’re conditioned to forgive others before ourselves.

In fact, most of us bypass self-compassion by being stressed out about work, getting upset with our mates, and having no patience for our children. To find self-compassion we need to not be impressed by our emotions, look at things as they are, encourage change and let go of preconceived notions.

Turning Self-Bashing into Mindful Self-Compassion

In order to become truly self-forgiving it important to not get caught up in our emotions. They are part of us but not all of us. If we become too impressed by them, we lose perspective about the importance of the moment. The first step to self-compassion is “loving awareness;” which means acknowledging negative emotions, but still looking at yourself the way you look at the loveliest rose or the sweetest baby.

Like our emotions we can get caught up in our thoughts which can easily derail us. The second step to achieve self-compassion is to accept life on life’s terms. This means to embrace the idea that everything is a journey and not a destination. The key here to know that not all journeys lead to rewards, but rather they all lead to great lessons.

Fear is the antithesis of love. It is bred from the assumption that life owes us something if we do this or that. So the third step to self-compassion is to abandon binary, black and white, thinking and replace it with healthy risk taking along with realistic expectations. The fastest way to disappoint yourself is to be expecting something with absolute certainty. Remember adopting a colorful attitude about life is a lot less boring and will help you let go of things you can’t fix or control.

One of the most mindful things you can do for yourself is to be kind to yourself especially when you mess-up. All of us miss cues, forget things, fumble, or just make mistakes. We can choose to suffer when these things happen or we can learn from them and move on. Taking things out on ourselves and making ourselves feel worse for it will only leave us with shame and not the relief we need. If we feel bad for messing up, why would we want to make ourselves feel worse?

Unfortunately, we all do this even though we know at some intuitive level we really shouldn’t. It is almost automatic, but being self-compassionate can be learned.

It seems that our society has taught us that self-criticism is the pathway to doing better: We need to focus on what is wrong with the way we act and/or appear in order to strive for perfection.

But there is no such thing as being perfect! What is wrong with simply being regular or “good enough,” as noted in the article 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy, According to Neuroscience in TIME magazine? We’ve learned from an early age that shaming leads to kindness and humility, but this is just not the case. According to Dr Neff, who has dedicated her practice to self-compassion, beating up on ourselves only leads to a chronic lack of confidence and an increase in displaced anger.

There are Mindfulness authors like Dr Chris Germer who believe in the healing power of self-compassion. Folks who can acknowledge that they are suffering in a loving way are more likely to take action to relieve that stress rather than make excuses for why they should stay in a suffering state. For example, people who are in intolerable living circumstances, abusive relationships, or self-imposed confinement and believe they deserve to stay there are not exercising self-compassion.

Vision

According to Marianne Williamson, we can choose to get out of our predicament or, better yet, create a vision to lead us to higher places.

People with true vision have learned that giving is getting. These folks are not self-serving, but think about how things will impact others. Compassion for others can deepen our capacity to be humble and self-loving.

When we are able to say “I value you/myself enough to know that I deserve better” we can begin the process of change.

References

Barker, TIME

Blog: World of Psychology Archives

Germer, The Mindful Path To Self-Compassion

Neff, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind

Williamson, Our Deepest Fear

SLEEP and CALM Books to be Published January 2016

SLEEP and CALM books by Arlene K Unger, PhD to be published January 2016 by Sterling Publishing

Watch for my two new books to be published by Sterling Publications on CALM and SLEEP in January 2016. Each has 50 exercises based on various psychological techniques and methodologies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), and emotional brain training (EBT). They are beautifully illustrated as well. More details later. Thanks for your support.

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 11 – Dealing Mindfully with a Breakup

 Dealing Mindfully with a Breakup

Breakups are unarguably painful. Mindfulness theory asks us to accept romantic pain as a part of life and then let it go, meaning not bringing the pain forward. In the land of Mindful, people can live with loss and still live a life of hope. There are no winners in breakups. Everyone loses and gains in some form or another.

Breakups are sad, but they all have some sort of silver lining. We can continue to fret about being alone again, or we can find gratitude in what we learned from the relationship and how it will raise our intuition for next time.

When you’ve been dumped, give yourself sufficient time to heal. Try to gently distract yourself from reaching out to your ex-partner. Texts or phone calls only serve as a temporary fix. Your hurting heart needs more than a band aid. If you happen to run into him/her, understand that it may bring back some hope, but be mindfully aware that you are still vulnerable. What would it be like going through another breakup with the same guy/gal?

Magical thinking is when you believe you can single-handedly turn love around, but this is doing the opposite of living in the moment. Initiating a reconnection to see if he/she still feels something for you may only bring you more heartache in the end.

If he/she wanted you back, they would have made attempts to reach out and let you know they had a change of heart. Mindful folks know that love is beautiful, but along with the ecstasy, there can, and will be, some agony. So if you still want to contact him/her, acknowledge beforehand that you may be hearing an angry voice on the other side. Accept the truth that persuasion in this regard will a probably not end well for either of you. As you do that, remember that they have come to know that there is not much they can say or do to make things better. It is your turn now to do the same. The best you can do for yourself is nurture and revisit the love you have for yourself while leaving your ex-partner alone.

Change Your Shoes for a Minute

Now, try putting yourself in the other person’s life for a moment. If you were the one that ended things, how would you take it if they tried to contact you? Chances are you would not take their initiation very well. You may want to use this mindful tool when the urge to speak to them comes up. If it does, just let it come up and gradually let it out of you. That’s where a good cry can come in and save more embarrassment as well as pain.

There is nothing like being around people who love and admire us. Friends and family can be there for you during this hard time. They can be instrumental in keeping your mind busy in the moment. Gratitude goes a long way here, so if you are whining too much, or treating them disrespectfully, you might find yourself once again being shut out. They want to see that you can help yourself too. The best thing to do with them is to be active.

Recovery

Planning a get-away, going on hikes, and window shopping are just a few activities that can get you through rough patches. Avoid any mood altering substances. Since you are already feeling down why add alcohol or drugs to that? We need to expose our hurts rather than hide them. Living in the now is a choice and it is time to get out of the house and be in the world. Throwing yourself into a project, work or hobby is the best remedy for managing your woes about your ex-partner.

Even though you might not feel like it, you can still embrace change and take healthy chances. Yes, you may have entangled your life with your ex-partner, but you can find new forms of emotional security, it doesn’t have to just come from one person.

Mindful people know that change has its ups and downs, but nonetheless it helps you grow. If you let change naturally happen, you’ll see that you can grow beyond this and thrive.

Some people, no matter how much they try, can’t get over a break-up. If this should be the case for you, seek professional help.

In the meantime, know that rejection is one of the hardest things to cope with. You’ll be stronger for it though by hanging in there and letting the joy flow back into your veins.

Suggested Readings

The Breakup Bible, by Rachel Sussman

It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 10 – Arguing Mindfully

Arguing Mindfully

People argue — even in the most loving relationships. The image of Mindfulness is one of peace with oneself and the world, but that is not reality. So how do you argue mindfully?

It may sound counter-intuitive but conflicts can lead to closeness.  The only exception is when people become deliberate or malicious in their intent to hurt one another with their temper, tone and words.

With that said, arguing typically occurs when our requests for nurturing, reassurance, or space fall on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, too many couples start arguing when they are either hungry, tired, bored, overwhelmed or lonely.  Under these conditions, arguments that start off as calm disagreements can easily degenerate into swearing and yelling matches.

This kind of arguing can leave each party feeling emotionally barren or wounded. More often than not, mismanaged rather than mindful arguing can easily mess up our future plans, happy occasions or even a good night’s sleep.

There are no winners in these kind of disputes.  Sometimes they can last for hours, days or even weeks.  Running away from arguments altogether actually can make things worse for everybody.  Stockpiling mental ammunition against the other usually leads to withdrawal.

Unresolved arguments are no better.  They can deepen resentments, cause festering, and drain our motivation to be mindful.

How to Argue Mindfully

The key to mindful arguing is to shift attention from nasty fighting to gentle conflict resolution.

Mindful arguing can occur when the couple accepts responsibility for their emotions and avoids blaming, judging or shaming.

Besides shifting your focus away from the person to the problem, owning your part of the argument, and saying sorry when you screw up, try practicing the mindful mnemonic “LOVED” below.  In doing so, you’ll likely feel more energized and cared for by your partner.

Being mindful when arguing takes practice, but isn’t rocket science.

The LOVED Mnemonic

L:   Listen how your partner expresses their concerns

O:  One at a time, take turns breaking down the problem

V:  Validate and reflect back what you see and hear your partner say using “I” statements

E:   Express why this issue is important to you right now

D:  Discuss with calmness and ease how things can be made different and decide on a possible solution to test out

 References

William Harley, PhD. How to Create Your Own Plan to Resolve Conflicts and Restore Love to Your Marriage. www.MarriageBuilders.com.

John Kabat-Zinn, MD. Mindfulness Based Stress Management.  https://psychalivemedia.pivotshare.com/media

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 9 – Fitness and Mindfulness

Staying Fit Supports Mindfulness

The old adage “sleep begets sleep” applies to exercise too: the more active you are the more active you’ll want be.

According to the staff of the Mayo Clinic, every time we move we’re essentially relieving stress. Scientist have shown that any form of exercise can boost our endorphins and keep our daily worries at bay.

But, not everyone is an athlete, or even athletic, for that matter. Even if you don’t have a gym membership or belong to a yoga group, just walking, house cleaning or yard work are all forms of aerobic activity. You just have to do enough of it, and with the right mindset.

So how can the act of moving prevent burn out and keep us mindful? Burn out is the imbalance of inputs and outputs. If we put out too much energy and have little or nothing to show for it, we feel depleted because there is no corresponding mental balance to offset the physical effort. Exercise can replenish us because it is something good that we are doing for ourselves and, in turn, we receive direct benefits.

The adrenaline can pep us up but, more importantly, afterwards the endorphins can relieve our daily tensions and make us feel good.

Lately, the medical literature has noted that mindfulness is a key ingredient to being happy. In a special report published by the Harvard Health Publication “Mindfulness” is referred to the practice purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment.

A key goal of any mindfulness activity is to achieve a state of alert relaxation by deliberately paying attention to our thoughts and sensations without bias. Mindfulness uses meditation as a technique to calm the body and ease the mind from racing thoughts.

Being “In the Zone”

Likewise focused exercise has been shown to clear the mind of unnecessary distractions and stressors. Regular, focused exercise can definitely support mindful practice by emptying our mind of what we can’t control and allowing our mind to refocus on what we are actively doing.

Athletes sometimes call this “being in the zone,” which is similar to mindfulness concepts (see my earlier blogs).

Here are some ways that staying fit can bust through our stress, prevent burnout and keep us mindful:

  • Motion is like meditation. Activity can help you forget the traffic jam you were in this morning and concentrate on your body in action.
  • World becomes clear: Fitness can give us more optimism and bandwidth. Our inner world feels calmer and everything around us more clear.
  • Mood over madness: Exercising regularly acts as a relaxant while giving us more life satisfaction and wellbeing. It can stimulate positivity and lower the effects of depression or anxiety.
  • A runner’s high: Exercise helps pump up our endorphins (as well as adrenaline), our feel-good brain transmitters. You don’t have run to experience this high; there is also hiking, gardening, volley ball and mopping the floor. Just concentrate and keep your hear trate up for a few minutes a day.
  • On top of the world: Making fitness a top priority also gives us more command over our life circumstances and body. It is the only “medication” that reduces our frustration, opens our senses, makes us aware of our bodily sensations and increases our capacity to stay present.

If you are thinking of adding exercise to your regime, consult your physician, start gradually, make it a labor of love and repeat on a sensible schedule.

Whatever you do, don’t think of exercise as “have to,” but rather make it enjoyable. You deserve to unwind, stay in touch and ease your stress levels.

References

Positive Psychology: Harnessing the Power of Happiness, Personal Strength, and Mindfulness, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications

Book: Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle Stress Management Publication

How to Reduce Stress with Exercise (video)

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 8 – Compulsions

Conquering Compulsions Mindfully

Compulsiveness affects millions. It gives us a false sense of being content, but ultimately supports our avoidance or escape from a bigger problem or emotional pain. Compulsive behavior is a huge challenge because while it reduces tension, it can lead us to more temptation. Its repetitive nature keeps interfering with our healthy habits.

According to Licensed Psychotherapist Gloria Arenson compulsive behaviors may include shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling or obsessive-compulsive thoughts. She believes we suffer from a compulsion when we are no longer able to control when we begin or stop the behavior. She states that we can become trapped in a repetitive whirlwind of irrational thoughts and rituals.

Some researchers view compulsiveness as outlet so that we never have to confront our real problem. Our addiction to compulsive behavior keeps us stuck. It may lead us toward repeated feelings of guilt and shame.

Compulsive behaviors are typically the result of stress, and eliminating those stresses with the help of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) developed by Gary Craig or Acceptance Tuning In and Meeting Needs Tools (AMT) developed at BYU may help eliminate the behaviors.

As a Licensed Psychologist I have observed how bad feelings about ourselves may make us keep these rituals as dark secrets and lead us more acting out. If we stop buying into the belief that we are worthless, or bad, just because we have compulsions, we can begin to unravel the cycle.

Regardless, there are no immediate solutions to compulsiveness but knowing that we can’t always singularly overcome our dependence and physical urges can move us toward recovery. Compulsions may, in the moment, help us cope with our stress or unmet needs, but it is a poor substitute for not being productive, proactive and prosocial.

Nonetheless recovery is possible but it will take patience and time.

The Role of Mindfulness in Conquering Compulsions

The cornerstone of mindfulness is that things have a natural progression and we cannot force things along as much as we want.

Acceptance is an important component of mindfulness. So accepting that your compulsion is essentially numbing and distracting you from experiencing upsetting feelings is a critical first step in letting go of its hold on your life.

Compulsive behaviors may only temporarily fill, or distract, us from an unmet need, but it usually leaves us feeling worse. Ultimately, compulsions disconnect us from ourselves and others. Awareness of our inner-most feelings and thoughts is another essential component of mindfulness. Thus, being aware of our negative as well as our positive emotions is another critical step to destructing the rut compulsions gets us in.

Feelings of shame and isolation are very common with compulsive behavior because of the indulgent aspect of the behavior. Shame based behaviors may lead us to a declining sense of control, very low self-esteem and discouraging relationships. When we are in the throes of a compulsive cycle, we need to constantly increase our compulsive cycle to deal with our shame, emotional letdown and secretiveness.

Concealing our compulsions can further deepen our attraction to them and bring about “real self.” Sharing our “real self” is an important feature of mindfulness. It may be impossible to even consider the idea of sharing our compulsive rituals with someone who cares about us or who may help, but this may actually prevent us from acting out again. Thus, that’s why joining an anonymous group can be adjunctively very beneficial.

Those that struggle with compulsions know how powerful and menacing they can be. Most who struggle have tried repeated to restrict themselves by telling themselves they just to more will power or to white-knuckle it. The mindful person knows that they need input and help from others and stops making the assumption that they are just too broken to get fixed.

Here are some helpful mindful tools to break down the denial and assumption making associated with compulsive behaviors:

  • BREATHE & RELAX … rather than let yourself get sweep in by compulsive behavior cycles
  • TUNE IN … rather than let yourself check out of your feelings
  • OPENLY ACKNOWLEDGE … that you are being tempted and pulled into acting out again
  • CONSIDER YOUR CHOICES … before you act out try asking yourself what else can I be doing to relieve my stress or boredom right now?
  • STOP JUDGING YOURSELF IF YOU ACT OUT OR RELAPSE. You are not bad or perverted just self-neglectful.

Stress, restlessness, poor self-confidence, and fatigue can all undermine our attempts to gain self-control.

Forgiveness, setting limits, relying on others as well as making a plan have helped suffers. If you can’t make head way with any of the above, please know that professional help is either a thumb click or phone call away.

References

www.byui.edu/counseling-center/self-help/ocd
www.amazon.com/Gloria-Arenson/e/B001IGONWQ
eft-help.com/intro/EFThistory.htm
www.amazon.com/Freedom-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder-Personalized/dp/042519955X

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 7 – Relocation

A Mindful Approach to Child Relocation Culture Shock

I have lived and worked abroad as a young adult on two different occasions.  It was a frustrating and overwhelming experience since I did not know the languages well enough to communicate.  As much as it was exciting to leave behind everything that was familiar in my USA community, I realized pretty quickly that I missed the comforts of my home.  There were a lot of mixed emotions that went along with my being in a strange, new place for the first time.

Looking back, it would have helped me immensely if I had a parent to pave the way for me.

Today as a Psychologist, I apply three key principles of Mindfulness when working with military families who have to move to strange and unfamiliar lands. I have found the Mindful concepts of Exploration, Listening, and Innocent Embrace apply to helping children and teens acclimate to different cultures.

Mindful Exploration refers to seeking out information without any preconceived agenda.  I refer to the initial phase of acclimation as the Jubilation Phase.  This is when everything that is different is met with excitement and curiosity. During this phase virtually everything—including the way people talk, eat, and work—sparks a delightful interest because it is so new.

To move children/adolescents through this phase, it is important to take advantage of your child’s inquisitive nature and to Mindfully help them explore their new surroundings.  This exploration might include visiting a local town, taking public transportation, or seeing artifacts at a museum.

The next phase of acclimation is referred to as the Uncertain Phase.  Whatever was exciting and new is now looked at with skepticism and/or criticism.  You might hear a comment like “that is sooo boring”.  Here your child might be not sure they are happy, or secure, in this new and different place.  In effect they may be letting you know that they are terribly homesick.

Mindful Listening is understanding without judging, and here, it’s important that parents do not panic, moralize or bring up how excited their child was just a month ago.  Instead, they should try to encourage communication and reflect back their understanding. Mindfully listening to what your child may think is now “boring” can definitely ease their stress.

Once your child feels heard and not judged, you can slowly begin to get them involved in physical activities offered in the new community they now live in.  Here the concept of Innocent Embracement comes in handy. Innocent Embrace means being open to and/or engaging in the possibilities that surround us. For instance, it might be a fencing class if they are in Scotland, or a cooking class if in France, and so forth.

The latter (food) is actually a great way to encourage your children to not only want to try, but to actually prepare the local foods right in their new home. It’s also a way to help your child feel more connected to the place he or she is now living in.

Belonging is the last phase of acclimation and Innocent Embracement can assist with this transition. This is the time your child may want you to initiate play dates or meet ups with children of the new culture. Parents can help their children by embracing these friendships rather than being suspicious of them.  Getting your child involved in foreign language classes or camps can foster their sense of belonging and help them develop a sense of home abroad.

Children and adolescents adjust much faster than adults, but need help in navigating through the extreme cultural differences, especially at the beginning.  In order to minimize a child’s culture shock it’s important to help them through each phase of adjustment.

There is no set time when your child will begin and end a phase, but the strategies mentioned above can help move things along for you and your children.

Reference

Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, Revised Edition by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

Google

Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 6 – Grief

A Mindful Path Through Grief

I am not a newcomer to grief.

At the age of 13 years old I lost my father, grandfather and great grandmother in a matter of three months.

What I “learned” then was to not talk about it and act like nothing happened.  These loses deeply affected me and still impact me to this day.

Ultimately, I had to face loss on my own and transformed my life goal to work with grief and transitional life concerns.  I have volunteered at Touchstone, interned at Children’s Hospital and consulted with many traumatized personnel and companies facing huge layoffs.  Over the years I learned so much from my grieving patients.  These “lessons” include, but are not limited to: it’s okay to say nothing, it’s okay to cry or laugh, or reach out.  Conversely, I “learned” that it’s not cool to be too clinical, self-absorbed, directive and distant.

With that said, there is no way to truly escape grief.  It will happen to virtually everyone sooner or later and that is, unfortunately, a fact.

We can neither fully prepare for it nor rush through it, but many of us try to resist it. Undeniably grief is the most painful emotion to experience.  It doesn’t matter how we prepare ourselves for it, grief has a way of taking over every aspect of our lives for a time and leaving us feeling drained, barren and overwhelmed.  Loss of a loved one often leads to feelings of panic and despair as well.

Grief, however can also show up when we go through common transitional happenings such as job loss, illness, financial woes, divorce, or our children growing up or moving away.

Despite this, I have noticed in my 30 years of counseling individuals and families how many of us try to resist or deny the pain of grief which becomes worse when we hold on to our judgments and create unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

A Way Beyond Grief

However, by adopting a mindful approach to grieving, we can openly embrace grief, better navigate through our losses and discover more fulfillment for living.  According to Jon Kabat-Zinn being mindful calls upon us to stay open, aware, non-judging and present which all defy resistance, but encourage resilience.

Here are some mindful strategies that have helped many of my patients and their love ones find a more peaceful path through grief.

Accept and set boundaries:  Grief brings with it tons of new demands and decisions.  Being mindful means doing one thing well at a time.  You are not supposed to tackle everything that comes at you all at once.  It is perfectly okay to say this has to take a backseat or “this is all I can do today”.

Rest up: Grief in any form is jarring to our mindset.  Our time, energy and mental capabilities are all being taxed.  Staying mindful means listening to your own needs first before attending to others.   Adjusting your schedule to fit in stretching, health snacking or even napping can give you a renewed perspective and help you face more unpredictability.

Stay flexible: Our whole belief system changes when we are thrown into grief.  It is normal to one minute like this and the next minute not.  Such mood fluctuations are frequently reported and not to be thought of as bad.  It is mindful to give ourselves permission to plan just for the moment.  Actually, spontaneity can bring relief and reduce unwanted anxiety.

Reach out:  Talking about what we experienced through loss not only helps us, but others.   We’re not alone, but if we don’t allow ourselves to get support, we may very well be (or become) alone.  People going through grief can be our strongest supporters.  And even if our neighbors don’t know what to do or say, just knowing they are sorry may be enough.  Optimism is the cornerstone of mindfulness.  So believing that those around us are doing their best can give us more hope.  Now is the time to reinforce our connection to the world despite how vulnerable we might feel.

Ease back into life:  Our brains, and being, are in a very different places than they were prior to our loss. It may even feel non-operative at times and that is why hitting the door running may not be our best bet.  One of the tenet of mindfulness is to slow now.  So, here’s your opportunity to expect to be slower and carefully plan your entrance back into your old, active, lifestyle.

Focus:   When we lose something, or someone, we tend to obsess about what is missing now that our home, money, person, and/or job etc. are gone.  By doing so we deepen our misery as well as our dependence on things to keep us numb (like over-eating or drinking).  Mindfully it is important to focus on the good times we’ve had, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve grown will help us feel empowered and reduce our overall stress.

Forgive yourself:   It is natural to turn our anger about the loss against yourself, others or the universe. If we can, for a moment, mindfully acknowledge what we and others have endured through this loss, we can gradually move away from blaming our character flaws and find new meaning to our existence.

Your Grief Is Not My Grief

There is no single right way to grieve … grief is like a tidal wave.  We can’t predict our every reaction, or plan for how we’ll handle it in any detail, when it comes our way with tremendous force.

What we do know is that grief is as unique as we are and our lives are different for having faced it (which can actually be a net positive for us).

Jealousy and feelings of rejection don’t need to replace our feelings of abandonment.  There is an easier way to deal with grief and mindfulness allows for it.

Reference

Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness… by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh

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Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 5 – Mindful Practice

Raising Your Life Balance Through Mindful Practice

Our attitudes shape the way we fit in, interact and see the world.

The good news is that we can change our attitudes by adopting the capacity to be open to, or better yet, “Mindful” of our experiences.

We can arrive at a more Mindful existence when we:

  1. Learn patience
  2. Stop denying and start accepting
  3. Express ourselves with feelings and logic
  4. Have and show compassion
  5. Experience instead of force outcomes
  6. Observe rather than criticize
  7. Look for possibilities and not problems
  8. Trust the process

As we have used the term (mindfulaffirmations.com), Mindfulness does not mean a mystical tuning-out; it can be a coping mechanism for dealing with reality on a day-to-day basis by really tuning-in.

The key to staying Mindful is paying close attention, knowing our intentions and cultivating our curiosities about life. Basically we are exercising Mindfulness each time we attempt to raise our awareness or consciousness of reality.

Most of us operate from our lower consciousness by doing just what is required of us. Our higher consciousness is what enables our passion, keeps us motivated and creative.  Illness, stress, and fatigue have a way of gnawing away at our ability to stay present and use our higher consciousness.

There are questions, however, we can ask ourselves as the first step toward raising our awareness and regaining life balance.

In the last two weeks have you:

       Taken a walk just because you felt like it?
Appreciating and connecting with the great outdoors can support a sense of being at one with nature.

       Made time for true friends?
Spending time with close friends who accept you for you are moments to cherish.  These times can foster a sense of wellbeing especially when they are habituated.

       Spoken your truth with respect?
Being true to yourself and others can lead to greater compassion.

       Emptied your mind of all your “want to do’s”, “should do’s”, and “have to do’s”?
Meditating can renew your energy and give you inner peace.

       Taken the initiative to learn more about a subject that caught your interest?
Pursuing intellectual interests can expand our awareness.

       Done some form of exercise that got your heart pumping?
Exercising is not only fun but helps restore healthy neurotransmission.

       ­­Made any health related decisions?
Being decisive is not only a way to empower yourself but to gain greater self-control.

       Sought out a way to solve a problem or help another in need?
Finding your life purpose is the way toward sustained inner happiness.

       Tried something new or thought of something in a different way?
Keeping an open mind can lead to more energy and enlightenment.

       Treated yourself and others with the utmost respect?
Acting with consideration supports self-love and mutual trust.

       ­Did something at the spur of the moment?
Leading a more flexible life can open us up to more enriching possibilities.

       Apologized and practiced forgiving yourself or others?
Holding on to negative feelings only stunts are emotional growth and lowers our awareness.

       Expressed gratitude?
Being complimentary as well as thankful is contagious and self-satisfying.  

       Challenged your old belief system?
Changing the way you act, feel or think can lead to positive self-enhancement.

       Sought out positive people?
Being around people who can lift your spirits can be so helpful when we’re feeling down.

We become more conscious as human beings when we inject these Mindful activities into our lives. Living either a very undisciplined or overly-structured lifestyle can be overwhelming and can lead to a lack of self-fulfillment.

By taking the time to appreciate what is inside us and around us, we can cultivate more emotional stamina and raise our awareness.

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Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 4 – Adolescents

 In Search of Your Mindful “I”

During our formative years we tend to focus on our “Me-ness.” What my parents can get Me?, why Me?, what do others like about Me? and what is good/bad about Me?

By puberty, we gradually shift our attention to “Myself-ness,” It’s the time when we need to show ourselves, and the world, that we are worth something.  We must prove that we can do it by ourselves and for ourselves without the interference from others–except may be our peers, but certainly not our parents.

By adulthood we have rambled through enough of life’s ups and down that we hopefully start developing what I refer to as the Mindful “I”.  This is our wise-sage self which is accepting, nonjudgmental, unassuming, and doesn’t try to predict our outcomes.

Basically, our Mindful “I” knows what we need and keeps us on a safe life track.  For instance, we may “want” to go party with friends, get smashed, or buy that cute outfit, but our Mindful “I” helps to redirect us to what is in our best interest with gentle firmness.  One’s Mindful “I” may say “Yes, it would be fun to get blitzed, but you need to catch up on your sleep as well as get to work tomorrow!”   Our Mindful “I” keeps reminding us that success is predicated on how well we know ourselves, use our inner resources, accept our limitations and believe in the concept of “I can.”

Living yours Needs is the key ingredient to living mindfully

This means knowing how to not only listen to your Mindful “I”, but following up on a daily basis.   Each day try to balance your should do’s and want to do’s with your need to do’s.  Essentially, this means balancing your kid/adolescent ways of thinking/feeling with your adult ways.

To keep your Mindful “I” active, continually ask yourself: does it need to be done?, does it need to be done now?, and does it need to be done by me or only me?

The only thing in life we can truly control are our choices, behaviors and attitudes. The more we exercise our Mindful “I”, the more regulated and fulfilled our lives will be.

Regardless of how traumatic our past, we all have a Mindful “I”, but sometimes we need outside guidance to help us get it rebooted, on track, or simply more active.

References

Erickson, E., “Life Cycle Completed.”

Kabat-Zinn, J., “Wherever You Go There You Are.”

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Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 3 – Abusive Relationships

 Can Mindfulness Free Us From an Abusive Relationship?

A Mindful approach to living may afford us the opportunity to free ourselves from the ravages of an abusive relationship. By practicing the ABC’s of Mindfulness: Attention, Balance and Concentration) we gain the clarity to find peace and move away from drama.

The A in ABC means that our ATTENTION is necessary to stop acting out of fear and to stop avoiding our own needs. When we don’t attend to our self-defeating behaviors, we stay stuck in our denial and convince ourselves that things can be a whole lot worse or they can only get better,

Although, we may not have caused the abuse, staying in the relationship keeps us emotionally unregulated and off-balance. The B in ABC pertains to our need for BALANCE in spite of our chaotic existence. Accepting our need for equilibrium will lead us to replace the abusive dynamic with one that is more aligned with our personal values. We are out of balance when our lifestyle doesn’t reflect what we truly need.

Lastly, the C in ABC stands for CONCENTRATION. Without positive concentration, we are not able to separate ourselves from the abuse. By focusing on hope, we can start believing that we don’t have to be the victim for life and that we not only deserve a healthier relationship, but that there is one actually within reach.

Self responsibility without judgment is the cornerstone of Mindfulness. It moves us toward self-empowerment which in turn helps us heal from the hurt. As we take steps to save ourselves, the healing process begins and we become open to the wealth of supportive resources around us. This may include, but is not limited to, turning to family, clergy, close friends, therapy (face-face/online) and/or self-help groups. Such avenues of help will hopefully illustrate that love alone is not enough to stay in a controlling relationship.

Along with love we also need results, healthy intimacy, and respect. Second to financial stress, the thing that mostly traps us in abusive relationships is the overwhelming concern about what others might think, or say, about us. Our fear and distorted belief system gradually fades away when we develop realistic expectations. For example, we may think that we can only be happy if we are with someone despite how bad that person may be for us. By forcing ourselves to look in the mirror, we can admit that being in an abusive relationship is not only keeping us disconnected from those we love, but from our inner selves.

Once we begin to assume responsibility for the life we were given, we can improve our existence even if it is by being by ourselves. Choosing an Mindful path allows us to observe our hurt instead of acting it out. Staying open to possibilities and taking life as it comes can help us move away from self-sabotaging behaviors and live our truth. This process, although not immediate, allows us to choose conscious living over our need to stay stuck in a toxic environment.

Over the years I have heard many of my patients say that staying in abusive relationship because of finances was far worse than having nothing, starting over, and being free.

Adopting a Mindful stance helps us remove the blindfold often associated with abuse and to stop hiding behind our shame. Most victims of abuse learn from an early age to pretend that nothing was really amiss. By using the ABC’s of Mindfulness mentioned above, we can stop living a lie and seek the immediate professional help we need to get well.

The poet Jose Harris eloquently sums it up for us:

“There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living.”

 

References

Rebecca Adams, “Free to Soar: My Journey Out of Abuse to Freedom.”

Megan Kennedy Dugan, “It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence.”

Jose Harris, “There Comes A Time…”

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Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 2 – Parenting Adolescents

Parenting Adolescents

Parenting is one of the most fulfilling roles we’ll assume in our lifetime. When it comes to parenting adolescences though, the very sense of satisfaction we experienced with younger children can sometimes become tattered. The way we approach these turbulent times can often set the course for the type of relationship we’ll develop with our teen from then on.

Without the daily ability to manage stress during this developmental phase events at home can go haywire. It is easy, as parents, to lose all perspective as well as hope.

Thus, I have come up with ten Mindful things parents of teenagers can do to reduce stress and restore balance during their interactions. They are based on the concepts of being in the moment, openness, focus, being non judgmental and finding balance:

  1.  Be at your best… Your teen may be all over the map emotionally or not want to budge, but lead by example and not just words. Take a moment to relax, reflect and rejuvenate
  2.  Be open … Your teen may carry on about something they want right now, but before you flat out say no try to put yourself in their shoes. Once you see the world from their eyes, you’ll know where to pick your battles.
  3. Be realistic … Your teen just isn’t following up on 10th request, but before saying it for an eleventh time, check to see if what you are expecting is, in fact, realistic given today’s circumstances.
  4. Be accepting … Your teen will show you over and over again that they are nothing like you, but try to accept rather than squelch their uniqueness. By doing so, you’ll be saying to your teen that “you are your own person and I can live with that”.
  5. Be quiet … Your teen may use the foulest of language, but you’ll get more respect when you reply from a higher place of quiet than of out-of-control yelling
  6. Be attentive … Your teen may be impulsive, but they still want you to be their rock. Sometimes just paying close attention to their habits can help you decide your very next interaction with them.
  7. Be kind … Your teen may need you even though you want them to grow up now, but sometimes putting your needs on hold in service of them can bridge a communication gap.
  8. Be forgiving and apologetic … Your teen deserves an apology when you mess up, or forgiveness when they do. If you do this for them, they’ll be more likely to do it for others as well as themselves.
  9. Be clear … Your teen may push your buttons, but avoid being docile or over controlling. They need to witness and trust your personal strength not power.
  10. Be resilient … Your teen brings daily drama expect it and learn to manage it by trusting your intuition and finding the gratitude as well as the balance in living.

References:

Andrea Fox in Imperfect Mothers Conscious Parenting How to parent in the here-and-now and leave the past behind.

Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting

Mindful Parenting by Shelly Birger Phillips. “Awake Parent,” Helping You Relax So Your Kids Shine (Newsletter)

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Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 1 – Introduction

There are many modern authorities on, and definitions of, Mindfulness.  A westernized concept of Mindfulness refers to non-judgmental thought and present-in-the-moment, awareness (Brantley, 2003).

Bishop et al (2004) referred to Mindfulness as momentary concentration with non-judgmental acceptance. To cultivate Mindfulness one needs to allow each moment to unfold instead of being either combative, or intensely attached, to ones emotions. To paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990):

“Mindfulness is the art of relating to the world with friendly curiosity. The more open we are the deeper our understanding of the world.”

But the concept of Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years starting from early Buddhist teachings. Zen masters taught Mindfulness (“awareness”) to enlightened monks in the ultimate passive acceptance of their own existence. Mindfulness has been used in meditative practice where pupils are instructed to pay attention only to their own body sensations (Shapiro &Carlson, 2009).

Therefore, the old vs new definitions of Mindfulness can lead to confusion when reading the literature, especially over the issues of spirituality.  Even some modern practitioners of Mindfulness tend toward the spiritual side.  However, spirituality is not a necessary part of Mindfulness.

Ask Not What Reality Does To You, But What You Can Do With Reality

Thus, I’m using Mindfulness here (in a westernized, psychological interpretation) as the skill of living in the moment and relating to the world in a reflexive (“friendly curious”), rather than passive or reactive fashion.  This is not an inwardly focused mysticism or spirituality, rather it is what you calmly do with reality and not what reality does to you.

Mindfulness is simply an introspective method for grounding your thoughts, emotions and behaviors in the reality you are currently experiencing, so you can stand back, observe, understand yourself more fully and take care of your needs (see our article #13 in Resources tab, or click HERE).

This type of Mindfulness can be used daily, without years of practice, and can be compatible, as well as useful, within almost any modern human activity.

It will take some practice to witness your thoughts popping up and then going away without self-criticism, but it can be achieved by most people without extensive training, just daily practice.

With Mindful practice, you can learn to remove the tendency to jump to conclusions, make assumptions and idle judgments, center and calm yourself, and recognize that your negative or positive feelings are coming from you and not the external world around you.

Mindfulness has been shown to bring calmness and patience to those who embrace the practice. People who practice Mindfulness every day are processing life rather than analyzing its content. The ultimate state of Mindfulness is mental resiliency and clarity.  Problems can be embraced and solved with a calm and clear head.

Also, an increasing number of controlled studies have shown that Mindfulness techniques can have significant and reproducible benefits and applicability to psychological treatment (Davis & Hayes, 2012).

Future blogs will apply Mindfulness ideas to common life problems (“Mindful Living”(tm)), starting with Parenting Adolescents, where we left off with the problem of finding life balance when dealing with adolescents and parenting styles (see our earlier blogs).

Be sure to check out our Resources section for my other articles on Mindfulness and Mindful Affirmations.  These articles also describe, briefly, how to “do” Mindfulness training (#13).

ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)

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Parenting Adolescents: Part Three

Your parenting style can often be a good predictor of how well your teen will fair academically, assimilate with his/her peers, and develop key psycho-social competences to succeed in today’s world.  Below are just a few of the possible behavioral consequences of the four typical parenting styles discussed in Part Two.

Firm but Affectionate:  Your adolescent may show early signs of independence, social confidence, responsibility and contentment. Teens from these families tend to feel supported and see their parents as instrumental to their self-worth.
Easy Come – Easy Go:   These teens might show signs of unruliness, aggression and insensitivity. Their impulsive nature could target them in the classroom as underachievers and behaviorally disruptive.  Outside the classroom, however they are typically more socially adept and have better leadership qualities than their peers.
Strict and Unyielding:  Teens from this parenting style may become irritable, moody and passive aggressive. They usually get by in the classroom, but outside have poor self-image, high levels of anxiety/depression and difficulty relating to others.

Out of Sight and Mind:  This parenting style typically fosters teens who are rebellious, hostile and tend to lie just to get what they want.  Their performance in all developmental areas is below par.

Again, these are just typical patterns to guide your thinking … were life so simple!
Your particular situation will most likely be a blend of these typical patterns and outcomes which are not known causative standards.  They are typical results based solely on my clinical experience and observation.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many factors that contribute to the creation of a well-functioning future adult, and parenting style is just one component. For example, the child’s peer group has been found by researchers to be extremely important in character development.
Above all, finding balance in your parenting style is most important.

 

Finding Balance

Stay tuned for my next series of blogs on “finding life balance” through Mindfulness, which has applicability beyond just parenting skills.
To get started, see my Resources section for some reading materials on Mindfulness; also visit my website MindfulAffirmations.com.  We’ll quickly review some of this material and then start to go beyond Affirmations (a tool) toward broader issues (a lifestyle).

 

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Parenting Adolescents: Part Two

All parents have a style of parenting, but some are more effective parents than others. Is your style of parenting ready for an overhaul? Below are the four most common styles.  These are somewhat idealized types (“archetypes”) that represent the corners of a map of all the possible parenting types.
Firm but Affectionate:   Consideration and flexibility are the cornerstones of this style.  These parents get down at their teen’s level to listen, to explain rules, and show them respect. The teen is included in family decisions, but the ultimate decision is made by the parents.
Easy Come – Easy Go:  These parents are very friendly, relaxed and informal in their approach.  They allow their teen to make their own decisions and to learn from their mistakes.  Rules are very few and far between.
Strict and Unyielding:  These parents make rules that are to be followed and not broken.  Punishment is believed to keep teens in line. Negotiation is not an option and their teen’s opinion is neither solicited nor encouraged.  Rewarding good behavior is rare.

Out of Sight and Mind:  The parent-teen bond is usually broken or nonexistent. Children are better off being scarce and know from the get-go that they are in the way. There is virtually no meaningful dialogue between the teen and their emotionally disconnected parent.

In our next post, we’ll discuss guidelines as to what teen behaviors to expect from each parenting style.

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Parenting Adolescents: Part One

Even under the best of conditions, most parents face challenging times while parenting their quickly developing children.  There is no instruction manual that comes for their unique child, only a bewildering array of books and articles on what to do in general.  This is especially true for adolescents.

I have even heard parents refer to this period as “riding a tidal wave”. The most well- meaning parent, out of total frustration, usually resorts to what they learned from their own parents (whom, at one point, they swore they would never be anything like).

I have found that parents that question their own style of parenting, and its effectiveness, do much better in keeping open communication with their adolescent than do those that assume an authoritarian approach.

Basically, there are four schools of thought on parenting teens, and each type typically yields predictable adolescent responses. In my next blog I will discuss the four schools of parenting which may help you decide if it is time for a change in your parenting style. These are not iron clad rules. Instead, they serve as guidelines for predicting your teen’s emotional, social and academic well-being. Each style suggests, rather than assumes, how adult behavior can shape an adolescent’s development.

It is my hope that after reading this blog parents will discover what style works best with their particular tolerance level and their particular teen.

In the meantime, check out Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens by Laura S Kastner, PhD

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