Archive for June, 2009

Too Afraid to Forgive? 3 Blogs that Can Help

Monday, June 29th, 2009

In a past blog Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free there was tremendous response and interest in the topic of forgiveness.  This is such a confusing and important topic for so many people. Janie wrote:

Hi! Well I understand about the need 2 forgive but what about this fear I have about the same thing happening all over again?

It’s natural to experience fear after you’ve been hurt by someone. That fear needs to be acknowledged and felt. It could be that the fear is trying to tell you something. For example, one person that inspired the blog, When You Can’t Forgive: Hope is Not Lost, asked how someone can forgive another after they have made the same transgression a “100th time” and just continue to do so. In this sense, maybe the fear is trying to tell us something, like “we need to create some boundaries because this person’s track record is really poor.”

Or if the fear is brought on by a trauma such as being raped or abused then there is a deep healing process that needs to take place that will most likely take some time and can be supported by a skilled therapist and/or group.

There is an important point here:

Forgiving does not mean condoning what had happened and it also does not mean forgetting what happened. For example, if someone had an affair in a relationship, forgiveness does not mean that you forget it and everything just goes back to how it was. That is unrealistic. The relationship has been affected, there has been a splinter in the trust and foundation of the relationship and it would be natural for the fear to still be there. That fear needs to be acknowledged, understood, and processed by the couple as it is now a part of the relationship, not just the person who holds it. The person who holds the fear would benefit from not judging him or herself, but instead understanding that it is natural to have this fear …


You Want Mental Health? Get into the Body

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Irish author James Joyce, once wrote “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” Well, Mr. Duffy is not alone as many of us walk around constantly in our heads with very little attention paid to the wonder of this body. This swirling of the mind often exacerbates issues of stress, anxiety, and depression. An increasing amount of people are now realizing that our heads are no longer disconnected from our bodies and that there is indeed a mind/body connection allowing for our body to play a key role in our mental health.

Just like we feel good when we’re loved, part of that includes loving our bodies. It can give us a tremendous mental boost if we are mindful of our bodies and recognizing not only the wonder that it functions the way it does, but also intentionally having gratitude for all the parts that work to facilitate that functionality.

For example, it took most of us a year or more to learn how to walk. How often do we take our legs and feet for granted? When paying attention to our legs all kinds of thoughts may come up, “my legs are too fat, too pale, too wrinkly, ahhh the cellulite.” In bring mindful attention to our bodies we’re trying to put aside our auto-pilot lenses of judgment and bring awareness to the actual part itself. So, if we’re walking, we’re noticing the sensations of walking

What to do: See if you can notice how the knees or any joints in the bodies are often the unsung heroes allowing us to bend and move. Or even the hands, allowing us to pick up, grab, or write. Feel into the stomach, lungs, and heart, the autonomic pieces that allow for digestion, ventilation, and circulation without so much an acknowledgment or thank you most of the time.

Try and come down from the busy mind and bring mindfulness to this body, becoming aware of it and treating it well.

If you are already doing good things for it like exercise, eating healthy, getting a massage, or doing yoga, see if you can have the mindful awareness that you are …


Mental Health: Break from Routine and Back into Play

Friday, June 19th, 2009

John Kelly, a Sociologist once said,

“Adults need to play. We are working creatures, we are bonding creatures, and we are playing creatures.”

Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association and author of Authentic Happiness, says that the three pillars of mental health are love, work, and play. In a recent blog in Beyond Blue, Therese Borchard, interviewed fellow blogger John McManamy to bring up the value of play in relation to our mental health. When we were all kids, play seemed to come so easy, but as our lives started to become busier and “more serious” it started to move lower down on the totem pole of “important” things to do and soon even off the list. He also notes that when adults engage in play nowadays, we may do it with ulterior motives to meet or network with a person which alters the true nature of play.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” As we get older this statement may seem too ring true more often, but it doesn’t have to be this way. With children, research has shown that play has a significant impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, and our social health. Why would it be different for us adults? There has been a growing trend in research in the field of Positive Psychology that is looking at the health benefits of adult play.  Play can engage that sense of flow, where your abilities meet the challenge of the task and cultivate positive qualities. Not only can engaging in play help reduce stress, but it can also give us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction or mastery which support us working with anxiety and depression. How can we engage play once again and come back in touch with the wonder of life which can be so healing?

Here are some tips:

1. No Goal Attitude – John McManamy, along with many others, have suggested for years, “play for the sake of play.” That’s right, don’t have a goal in mind when playing, just engage play and know you’re playing

2. Get on Your Hands and Knees – Somehow …


Are You a Perfectionist? Try this…

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

So many of us have this incessant drive to be perfect or to do things perfectly, even when it comes to our health. We place unreasonable demands on ourselves and then spread that out to our friends, family, and even our children. But doing things perfectly is just an idea in the mind and our identification to it causes immense suffering. Anything short of this impossible perfect goal creates feelings of pressure and sparks thoughts of disappointment and failure. It’s a set up!

The drive to be perfect has been found in a number of anxiety and depressive disorders. We think we need to do something perfectly. What if we were able to draw the way our mind and body worked on a wall. Imagine drawing a circle on the wall representing a thought that is popping up, “If I make a mistake, others will think I’m a failure, so I better do it right.” Then draw a line over to another circle that represents emotions and put the emotion of fear or anxiety there. Then draw a line from that circle to another circle that represents the body and put words like tension, tightness, pressure and achiness in that circle. Then draw a line from that circle all the way back to the thoughts circle and put in “I hate this, I’m so disappointed.” Here is a classic example of the cycle for a perfectionist.

One question we can ask when looking at that diagram we just created is, “how is that working for you?” For the most part it doesn’t and creates problems for us mentally and physically. In other words, it’s simply not effective in supporting us in our daily lives. It’s important to understand that this drive for perfection may have come from some deep seeded need for approval that we may have never received growing up and we’re still trying to play out today. The answer to “why” can be important as it allows us to realize that that was then and this is now and when it pops up, we can begin to identify with it less.

Another way of understanding this …


Twitter, Aliveworld, and Your Mental Health

Monday, June 15th, 2009

In a recent article Rick Nauert wrote about the probability of a web-based therapy for depression. I think the key point he makes is at the end where Professor Andrews reports that this is not really meant to replace current face-to-face therapy, but:

“Internet programs could be utilized extensively to enhance existing mental health services.”

This has been my feeling for quite some time. How can we harness the power of a medium that people are connected to on a daily basis to support mental health? I guess reading blogs is one way. There are also other sites that bring people through very cost effective standalone treatment programs like in Aliveworld. Aliveworld provides these cost effective interactive programs from leading authors to work with issues from stress, anxiety, anger, money, weight loss, to spiritual development. Other sites have created live programs such as emindful.com.

Even though I was a weary critic of Twitter, I have begun to realize how it can be effective in supporting people who want to integrate a more mindful way of living throughout the day. I created the Mindful_Living twitter feed where people receive mindfulness-based insights for the purpose of popping them into a mindful place at a point during the day. I believe that over time this will make it more natural to just become mindful throughout the day. To get more mindful living in daily life, go to http://twitter.com/Mindful_Living.

With my great support of web-based programs it’s also noteworthy that while there are great technologies that are arising to support mental health, at the same time it is vital that we use it in moderation and we know when to unplug. There is a fine line in becoming too absorbed with our gadgets and it is important to let go of the electronic leash sometimes and live life away from the web.

But go ahead and have a play, see how these programs work for you. When working with our mental health, it is good to create a supportive environment to do so and these types of programs can be part of your environment. At the end of the day, …


Cultivating a Meaningful Life

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Lying down at end of life, so many people say, “It all went by so fast.” I can even attest in my own life, the older I get the faster it seems to go. Now with the advent of the various web debris floating around our environments, it’s as if there is information overload at times and we can get to the end of the day often saying, “The day went by so fast.” Those of you who have been following my blogs can hear the echo of past blogs talking about how we can so easily get kicked into a state of auto-pilot not realizing this very present moment that is right here in front of us. Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” I would add, “Routine keeps us from realizing what is most meaningful moment-to-moment.”

I’ve never heard someone unhappy with having experienced a meaningful life. In fact, there is much debate about whether cultivating a meaningful life might be what’s actually most supportive to our mental health. We need to look no further often times than right here, right now in order to embrace meaningful moments.

Even if you are struggling with anxiety or depression, there are moments in your daily life that often go unnoticed that might be fleeting, yet meaningful. For example, holding your baby or that of another, walking by a beautiful garden, holding the hand of someone you care about, being present with your pets, talking to your parents or children, even living in your house. Why might these be meaningful? Because just like anything else, it often takes the act of something being taken away from us to really recognize the meaning of it. Think of someone passing away, of 9/11, or of the Tsunami. If we were able to go back in time, we might stand in front of the World Trade Center and be in awe of the buildings, or really pay attention to a person we lost. We can break out of our routines not having to wait until it’s lost to realize the meaning behind things.

Mary Oliver says …


Depression: 5 Steps to Prevent Relapse

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

If you’ve struggled with depression in the past, you are likely all-too-familiar with how easy and subtle it might be to slide back into a depressive state. It can sneak up out of nowhere, kick you into auto-pilot and before you know it you feel like you are “back to square one.” When working with depression it is very important to get in touch with our relapse signatures that are the tell tale signs that we are beginning to slide. When I ask people to think of their signatures they say that more negative thoughts begin to visit them, there may be a feeling of wanting to isolate from friends and family, or the phrase “what’s the point” comes up over and over again.

Here is a step-by-step process of increasing awareness of when relapse is happening and what you can do to pre-empt it:

1) Relapse Signatures – Take a moment right now or make a plan to write down some of your relapse signatures just to increase awareness when they’re happening.

2) Breathing Space – When you notice one of these signatures occurring it is going to be important to ground yourself to the present moment so you can increase you chance of making a choice in that moment. Here is where you introduce mindfulness and bring your attention to the breath to anchor yourself to the present moment. Then take a moment to sense into the body to check-in with how you are feeling physically and emotionally.

3) Thoughts are not facts - It is important to remind yourself that thoughts are not facts. We know this because the same event can happen (e.g., a friend walking by us without saying hello) and our interpretation would be different depending on our mood. Therefore, it’s important to remind ourselves that thoughts are not facts, they are mental events in the mind that are temporary and mood dependent. What is a fact is that negative thoughts are circling and however we are feeling physically and emotionally.

4) Take Action – Now that we are grounded to the present moment and have come down from the mental rumination, we want …


OCD & BDD: 4 Steps to Find Relief

Friday, June 5th, 2009

In a recent article Charles Elliott, Ph.D. does a very good job bringing to light the issue of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). He begins by reminding us:

“If you’re a human being and live on this planet, you probably can come up with something that you don’t especially like about your body.”

We may not all have BDD, but our minds are often running rampant in the background with ways we wish we were different than we actually are. It is so utterly difficult to accept ourselves for who we are and such a habit for the mind to drift into wishing we were somebody we are not right now and then searches for ways for us to “do it.” The more we allow the mind to try and “fix” the issue it has found, the deeper we sink. One way to begin to unwind this Brain Lock as Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. describes it is to become mindful of it, noticing and relabeling this obsessive thinking when it is occurring. With OCD, he suggests four steps:

  1. Relabel – He suggests relabeling it is a medical disorder or a lock in the brain, but even if you aren’t diagnosed with OCD or BDD, you can relabel your thoughts as “catastrophizing”, “busy mind”, or “brain lock.”
  2. Reattribute – With this there is the clever saying “it’s not me, it’s the OCD.” This allows the shame to slide off of it. Again, even if OCD is not there, the reattribution could be, “It’s not me, it’s my habit mind” or “That’s the critic inside.”
  3. Refocus - In this step we are already noticing that the mind has been wandering off and we’re beginning now to gently refocus it on whatever we really want to pay attention to in the moment other than what the obsessional or catastrophic thoughts are telling you to. The suggestion is to do this for at least 5-15 minutes, then reassess the urge. This is a difficult process and one that I encourage patience and persistence with. When you find that you have difficulty with this process, just “forgive” yourself for this and recognize that you are now present …

Can Mindful Eating Change Your Life?

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent-all must be tasted.
Chinese proverb

Whether you are a food lover or someone who wishes they could just take a food pill and get on with their day, food is an inevitable part of our lives and we can learn to relate to it in a way that supports our mental and physical health. More and more people are beginning to learn of a new way to relate to food whether they love food or not. Surprise, surprise, I’m talking about Mindful Eating. Here’s how to engage in it. While there is a lot of fervor over the benefits of mindful eating, my biggest suggestion is always to trust your own experience.

Here’s how to do it (This is an excerpt from the upcoming Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, New Harbinger Publications, February 2010 by Bob Stahl, Ph.D. & Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.):

When practicing mindful eating you can choose to intentionally be aware of the food you are eating during any meal or snack.  Begin each meal by carefully noticing your food choices before you eat them. Notice the colors of the food, the shapes, and the fragrance.

You can also reflect for a moment on the number of people who may have been involved in bringing the food to your table; the farmers, truckers, grocery workers, and others who’ve made it possible. In this way, you deepen your appreciation for the interconnectedness we all truly share. Below are five mindful reflections inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh that I’ve found to be meaningful and supportive when sitting down to eat.

  • May we receive this food as a gift from the earth, the sky and all the living beings and all their hard work that made it possible for me to nourish this body and mind.
  • May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
  • May we recognize and transform our unskillful ways, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
  • May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming.
  • May we accept …

Mood Taking Over Your Mind?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Every day we walk around interacting with people and media and every day we have some sort of reaction to them. We may feel tense, frustrated, elated, sad or a range of different emotions not even knowing how we got into this state. I’m going to relay two different scenarios to highlight the missing link that affects our moods.  

Version 1: Take a moment to just settle into a comfortable position. Now, imagine the following scenario and just pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as you continue. Imagine that you have just been criticized by a colleague and are really feeling upset and down on yourself. You are walking down a familiar street and get a sense for the sights, smells, and sounds of where you are. Now, imagine you see someone you know on the other side of the street, this is someone you are fond of. Take a moment to see that person there.

You turn to smile at this person and wave, while the person doesn’t wave back, but just continues on.

What’s going through your mind? Notice any feelings or sensations in your body.

Breathe in, breathe out…

Version 2: This time, you have been praised by a colleague for work that you put a lot of effort into it and it has really paid off. You are feeling light on your feet. You are walking down a familiar street and get a sense for the sights, smells, and sounds of where you are. Now, imagine you see someone you know on the other side of the street, this is someone you are fond of. Take a moment to see that person there.

You turn to smile at this person and wave, while the person doesn’t wave back, but just continues on.

What’s going through your mind? Notice any feelings or sensations in your body.

Breathe in, breathe out…

What happened?

Most likely you had different interpretations for each version. In version one, you may have though the issue lied with you. In version two, you may have thought the other person had the issue. Our interpretations are mood dependent and because the interpretations of the same factual …


Mindfulness & Psychotherapy



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