Mindfulness is For Everyone

When my daughter got to 6th grade, things quickly turned ugly for her. This was the year that the 4 hours worth of homework, advanced classes and extracurriculars began. Neither of us were prepared for the onslaught or how it would trigger her anxiety in such a big way.

I remember those days vividly, even though they happened 3 years ago. Nothing makes me feel more helpless than my upset child. But this was even worse than that. Picture an 11-year old girl weeping and screaming hysterically because she’s paralyzed and overwhelmed with anxiety. Nothing could calm her down except time and distraction. It was obvious that the DNA that my husband and I gave her had kicked in…the anxiety genes!

I took her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with GAD and OCD. She began taking Prozac when she was 13 years old. She had barely even gotten her period (though I’m sure the hormones helped aggravate her dormant symptoms, too)! Fortunately, the medication helped her. It took the edge off. I took her to counseling, but she could not seem to form a rapport with any of the folks I took her to. I refused to “be her therapist,” but got her a couple of books on coping skills and spoke to her about some of the techniques.

Of all the different coping mechanisms I went over with her, including reframing (looking at things in a different, more healthy way), positive self-talk, breaking down tasks into steps, time management and deep breathing, mindfulness ended up being the thing that helped her the most!

She said that there was just something about knowing that she can handle things right now,even if the future still frightened her. It resonated with her that life is a series of right nowsand that the future is just an abstract construct in our minds. We don’t know what’s going to happen in 5 minutes much less 2 weeks.

Three years later, my daughter still turns to mindfulness when she feels overwhelmed. She hasn’t given meditation a fair shot yet, but she says it’s something she wants to try during the summer months. I look forward to practicing with her! Her experiences just reinforce the importance of mindfulness for me. I hope that her story will help you as much as it did me!

Namaste.

Back to Mindfulness AND Self-Care

By Diane Sanford, PhD

May turned out to be a “too busy” month for me. While our double graduations, my mom and daughter’s birthdays, my anniversary, and Mother’s Day all went well, I’m realizing today that “too much of a good thing” is still too much. Despite a busy life, like many of you who follow us, I usually have enough time to sit on my porch or walk around our lovely neighborhood, all of which restores me and helps maintain my health-mind, body and spirit.

Not this month though which was supposed to be our “Mindfulness Marathon which led me to two important insights. First, I need to keep practicing self-care whatever is going on because this is the foundation of my health and well-being. As a psychologist, I talk about four pillars of health-exercise, nutrition, sleep/rest and stress reduction. Even with my regular mindfulness practice when these are lacking or diminished by life’s busy-ness, I’m more out of sorts, short-fused, reactive, and “crabby” which my daughter informed me yesterday.

The second insight in the absence of self-care, “mindfulness” does prevent me from losing perspective altogether and falling into an abyss of unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, from which I struggle to return. Throughout the month, there were many times I was able to observe my experience and my changing thoughts and emotions and know that “this too shall pass.”  I had moments of joy and elation peppered with frustration and irritation and more neutral times, “living the full catastrophe” over and over again.

So, back to mindfulness AND self-care. For me, and maybe for you, I’m reminded that I need both for life to go well. What happens to you when you lose sight of either one or both? What can you do to practice each this week? Let us know.

Namaste.

 

And Now for the Rest of the Story

Am I the only one who misses Paul Harvey? I bet not.

I digress. Sorry about the missing Thursday post! Life has been busy…isn’t it always? I volunteer a lot of my time at my local Police Department, and we had our giant yearly fundraiser on May 10, followed immediately by National Police Week activities. Thursday, I was wrapping muffins and preparing for the annual Police Banquet!

I offer this not as an excuse, but as a beginning. I am blessed to have so many things that I am passionate about in my life. Many people have problems finding one passion, much less several! These things bring purpose and fulfillment to my life, at least right now. It wasn’t always this way, however, and probably won’t be this way forever. The one thing we can always count on to stay the same is change!

I think back to when my daughter was born back in 1999. Like many of you, I had an unrealistic view of what motherhood would be and was thinking about finding a way to be a stay-at-home mom. It sounded ideal to me! I could raise my child my way, save on daycare and not have to work, at least outside of the home (we all know that SAHMs are some of the hardest working ladies out there!). I was assigning raising my daughter to be my purpose in life.

Many mothers, grandmothers, dads and other caregivers have found fulfillment in this for thousands of years – I figured that I could, too. But I was wrong. And because I was restless, depressed and felt purposeless, I didn’t enjoy my time with my baby girl. Instead of looking at changing my situation, I blamed my discontent on myself as some sort of character flaw. I thought that ALL mothers naturally felt such joy with their babies and something was wrong with me because I didn’t. Those thoughts snowballed into a severe, suicidal depression with a nice, juicy side of panic.

I can look back now and understand that there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with me…I was just trying to make myself fit into a box that was a different shape than I needed. Over time and with therapy and medication, I got to that understanding, went back to work and felt much better. And, of course, as the years passed and my daughter got older, my preferences and passions have changed into something I never really expected. That’s the awesomeness of life at work – if we stop trying to force ourselves into boxes and instead just roll with things, doors will open that we have never even considered!

I knew that y’all would be cool with me being late with this post because we’re all Living Self-Care here! Now, my challenge to you is to sit with yourself and try to identify your life passions and purposes. Are you living them? Do you even know what they are? If not, use mindfulness to observe when you are truly content and in the flow…where time passes without notice. Those are the things that you LOVE to do and are PASSIONATE about. Life is too short not to have passion in your life. Whether it’s a hobby, a part-time job or a full-time career, fulfilling your true purpose is essential to basic good health, well-being and Self-Care!

 Namaste

Being in the NOW

By Diane Sanford, PhD

I loved Stacey’s post from last Thursday about how her hand surgery helped her bring her attention back to the present. It’s so astonishing when that happens although our thoughts quickly drift back to what’s ahead or behind us. Two weeks ago I was deep in worry about what was ahead of me-a combined graduation party for my two daughters and Mother’s Day celebration which my family hosted yesterday.

Instead, the weekend was relaxing and fun. There was still time to get my walking in, sit on my porch and enjoy all the greenery blooming around me, spend time with my daughters before and after, and get everything done. My older daughter who was planning to get in just before the party started, discovered on Thursday that a graduation event she thought was happening Saturday night was Friday so she came home early. An unexpected pleasure.Then one of my best friends stopped by to drop off some potato salad for the celebration. Because I didn’t have a “million things to do” like I’d thought two weeks prior, I had time to visit with her. Very pleasant indeed. Next, my sister who thought she’d have to work, called and said she had the day off and could join us, and then another friend who I thought was going out of town, called to say she could also make it by.

So, here’s the lesson. We really don’t know how any experience will be until we experience it. Instead of suffering from our fears of the future or regrets from the past, greet life as it’s occurring. Truly, it’s the only choice we have and as this weekend taught me once again, often much more delightful than what we’ve imagined. Namaste 

Mindfulness Marathon: Let’s Get This Party Started

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Stacey and I have decided as part of Maternal Mental Health Month to sponsor a “Mindfulness Marathon,” so here’s an exercise to get you started. If you’re new to mindfulness, it’s defined as “paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement.” Now, if this sounds like something more to put on to your to-do list, it’s not. One benefit of mindfulness is that you can practice it while you go through your day without adding anything. All you have to do is to pay attention to what you’re already doing.

We call this “informal” practice. For example, when you’re showering, direct your attention to the sensory experience of taking a shower-sounds, touch/feeling, smells, sights and taste (well, maybe not taste although when shampoo gets in my mouth…). If thoughts occur, note them by saying “Thinking-Planning-Overthinking, etc,” and then re-direct your attention back to the sensory experience of the shower. At first, you may spend most of going from thought to sensation, thought to sensation and back again. Don’t worry, that’s completely normal. The idea is to let whatever happens happen without judgement or self-criticism.

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This week your assignment (should you choose to accept it), is to pick one activity you do on a daily or regular basis, like showering, doing the dishes, driving to work, and focus on your sensory experience of the activity rather than the thoughts or “tickertape” running through your head. Do this without judgement, understanding that your mind is likely to drift from thought to sensation and sensation to thought frequently. Remember, mindfulness is realizing your mind has wandered, so when this occurs, stop, take a breath, and re-direct your attention to the moment you’re in. That’s it!

Namaste

Postpartum Progress Hosts Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health

mothers-day-rally1On Sunday, May 11th, we’ll be celebrating our 6th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health here at Postpartum Progress. That day we’ll feature 24 letters to new moms, one posted each hour on the hour, from great writers who’ve been there. They know how it feels. 

Read more…

Be Your Own Advocate

What a great Self-Care Challenge we had! Thank you to all who participated! Diane and I will announce winners and prizes next week, as I am on my way to a training today. We put ourselves first, and instead of rushing and scrambling to get things out this week, we are moving it back. It is always our hope to be good role models for you!

As I write this, I am in the Emergency Room at a hospital in the Houston Medical Center with a good friend who fell ill this morning. As I talk to various healthcare professionals, it struck me just how important advocating for your own healthcare is. Not only do we need to supply information, but we need to ASK for information. If a doctor or nurse wants to treat you with something, it is your right to ask them exactly what they are doing. If you don’t want that treatment or if you have questions about an alternate treatment, speak up!

It’s only natural to feel at the mercy of a doctor. Our society teaches that folks such as doctors, lawyers, police and teachers are authority figures who can’t be questioned. The truth is that your healthcare team is actually working for YOU. Use critical thinking and ask questions; try to get past any feelings of intimidation. And if someone is rude or mistreats you, make sure you take action by reporting that person to their supervisors or filing a complaint with a Patient Liason.

Hopefully you won’t see the inside of a hospital anytime soon, but if you do, remember that YOU come first!

To read more, check out this article from The Hospitals and Health Networks.