My George

When I was first in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, my therapist gave me an exercise: draw the anxiety. It ended up looking a little like E.T. but with a sour disposition. I named it, “George.”

The purpose of naming the anxiety wasn’t to adopt it permanently into my psyche; it was to have something that was NOT me to “blame” for anxious thoughts, feelings, etc. Though I don’t have panic attacks or much anxiety anymore, I still call George out when negative or illogical thoughts come to mind, causing me distress. This is a technique that I have shared with clients, most with success.

Here’s an example:

Jan works in an office with several other people. Because of her upbringing and low self-esteem, Jan believes that people don’t like her very much. In her quest to feel better about herself, Jan started therapy and named those ugly thoughts, “The Hulk,” because they feel angry and green.

On her way out to lunch, Jan passed her co-worker in the hall. Jan smiled, but the co-worker’s face did not change from one that looked a bit angry. “Oh no!” Jan thought. “Sheila is mad at me! What did I do?” Recognizing the angry, green feeling of her “Hulk,” Jan started questioning her thought.

“Have I had any interactions with Sheila that would cause anger on her part? No. I haven’t even spoken to her in a few days. Could there be another explanation for Sheila’s mood? Of course! She could be irritated or frustrated with a number of things that have nothing to do with me.”

As Jan focused on these questions, her “Hulk” turned back into mild-mannered Bruce Banner, who is way more manageable than his alter ego.

If you deal with anxiety, depression or just negative thinking, what does your “George” look like? What color, shape and texture is it? What is its name? By having a third party to “blame” for these thoughts, you are living healthier – for you are NOT your thoughts. And your thoughts do not have to direct your behavior. I have taken away George’s power to control me, and I’m much healthier for it!

Namaste’

 

“Climb Out of Darkness” to Reduce Stigma of Mental Health

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Last week, I blogged about “Teens Tackle Depression Stigma,” and what two Michigan teens are doing to reduce stigma about what I call “emotional health” conditions (depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar, eating disorders, etc). Click here to view the post.

This week I want to mention two events that are occurring in June also aimed at reducing stigma. The first is “Climb Out of Darkness,” sponsored by Postpartum Progress.  This event, started by Katherine Stone, focusses on raising awareness and diminishing the stigma associated with “emotional health” conditions affecting pregnant and postpartum moms.

“Climb Out of the Darkness is the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis and pregnancy depression. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with these illnesses.” Click here to learn more about it, find a climb near you, and register.

The other event , “KNOCKOUT STIGMA,” offers St. Louisans a fun, interactive platform to raise awareness about mental illness, one of the most unrelenting human diseases. While raising awareness to combat the negative effect of STIGMA, this event will connect our community to the worthwhile work of Independence Center. Held at The Title Boxing Club in Rock Hill, participants will enjoy a fun one-hour workshop while benefitting a good cause. Click here for more info.

DID YOU KNOW? One in five people worldwide have a “mental” disorder at some point in their lives. Over 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.Treatment works, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek help from a licensed professional. STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION and NEGLECT prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental illnesses. (World Health Organization Report, October 2001)

While we’re making progress in reducing stigma, there’s still to do. Please help support these events, and those you know with “emotional health” conditions.

Namaste.

 

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.

 

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 

May Mindfulness Marathon Starts Thursday

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Stacey and I like having monthly themes now and again, so we’re inviting you to join our May Mindfulness Marathon. We’ll be posting about our experiences with mindfulness, and would welcome your submissions for posts too. If you have any mindfulness resources you’d like to recommend-websites, YouTube videos, books, inspiring quotes and such, please pass them along as well. To help you get a mindful mindset going, here’s a poem from Hafiz from “The Subject Tonight Is Love” collection.

At This Party

I don’t want to be the only one here

Telling all the secrets-

Filling up all the bowls at this party,

Taking all the laughs.

I would like you

To start putting things on the table

That can also feed the soul

The way I do

That way

We can invite

A hell of a lot more

Friends.

Join our May Mindfulness Marathon and make time each day to stop, take a breath, and reconnect with the present moment. When you’re stopped at a stoplight, getting into bed at night, putting your make-up on in the morning, or anything you do daily, pause and reflect on the moment you’re in. Savor the sweetness of where you are not where you’re going. Feed you soul, and let’s have one hell of a party!

Namaste

Join Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s Meditation Challenge

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Last week, I started the newest Oprah/Chopra meditation challenge with some of my Mindful Mom students and counseling clients. I like this one very much although one of my friends who’s new to meditation, couldn’t quite figure out what to do. So, I suggested she listen to my YouTube video on 5-minute breathing first and then go back to the challenge. If you’re new to meditation, you may find this helpful as well.

Click here for 5-minute breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWmHn_YMsp8

If you choose to participate in the challenge (and we hope you will), here are a few other reminders. First, meditation is about having a simple experience. It’s not about reaching nirvana or feeling “relaxed” 100% of the time. It’s learning to direct your attention so that you can create opportunities to let go of stress and step out of the thought stream. Whether it lasts a few seconds, moments or more, committing the time to taking a breath (or two) and being still is health enhancing. It also counts as self-care. Bonus!

Equally important, do not judge how well (or poorly) you’re doing. As with mindfulness, approach this meditation experience with self-compassion. Remind yourself that these practices do not come naturally to those of us in the western world, and that your participation is enough. This is not a test. Whatever happens, you are still wonderful and deserving of lovingkindness. Remember this, always.

Stacey and I will be participating too so if you have any questions or comments while the challenge is in progress, let us know. Please, click on this link to get started: https://chopracentermeditation.com.

Namaste