Anxiety

STOP: The Surprising Power of Waiting

Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it's best to fill that time with something... anything. Whether we're in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor's office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web.

However, the belief that waiting has no value is mistaken. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life and even success, lies in learning how to find peace with waiting.

We've all heard the famous adage, "Patience is a virtue" or "Good things come to those who wait."

Easier said than done, why?

We're not in control of our brains

Because underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of waiting is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you're alone that means you're not being protected by your clan and it's a threat to your safety. In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to "be with" so you're not alone anymore.

In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you're not. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run our brain, the stronger it gets - or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says, "neurons that fire together, wire together."

Using waiting for good

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General

Happiness: It’s Like This…and This Too

Ajahn Chah was the spiritual teacher to many leading mindfulness teachers. He had a wonderful saying when it comes to being present in life, "It's like this." This saying always stuck with me as a great truth and a way to bring me back to the moment when my mind was spinning due to something stressful or difficult. In 2011, I realized that not only is "it like this," but my mind would quickly begin swimming again and I would then say, "ah, and this too." When I said, "and this too," it brought me back once again to being here.

However, recently I found a new, practical and powerful use for the phrase, "It's like this...and this too" that has everything to do with cultivating perspective and happiness.

It's like this...

There's nothing like the uncomfortable emotion of negative stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, guilt or disgust to get the head spinning. It's natural, the brain is trying to figure out how to balance us. So it jumps to the future thinking of worst case scenarios so we can be prepared, or it ruminates on all the negative facts of the past so we can use our history to mine for optimal decisions. At best, this auto-pilot mental looping keeps us stuck and at worst exacerbates the difficulty.

In that moment, when we say, "It's like this," this moment is exactly like this, we're pausing to see the mental looping, the emotion, the physical sensation, the urge to engage in this destructive behavior. Neuroscience shows that when we note things it down-regulates the amygala or alarm center of the brain and brings activity back to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the emotional regulator.

So at that point the body starts calming down a bit, we're no longer in the throws of the mental and emotional looping and have widened the
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Anger

Four Questions to Happiness (And Video Interview with Byron Katie)

A while back I decided to try an experiment.

I interviewed over 20 top leading experts in the field of happiness to ask them what that word actually meant and in their professional experience, what are some practical ways to begin making it a reality.

This was called the Uncovering Happiness Symposium and some of the people interviewed included Sharon Salzberg, Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, Dan Harris, Kelly McGonigal, Tara Brach, Byron Katie and more. Byron Katie struggled throughout her life with deep deep depression and ultimately found a path that led her to a simple way to break free from the internal negativity and into greater states of freedom.

She defined this as happiness.

Here are the four questions to ask ourselves to help challenge compelling negative thoughts:

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Anxiety

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: An Interview with Toni Bernhard

One of the essential commonalities we have as human beings is that at some point or another we all experience some form of suffering. This isn't meant to be a downer, it's simply a fact of being human. Today, you're going to hear from an incredible woman, Toni Bernhard. She is the author of the award-winning book How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers and How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Her newest book is called How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. She also writes a great blog called, “Turning Straw Into Gold."

Today Toni talks to us about why the path to peace begins with facing difficult realities, how mindfulness can help with chronic pain and illness, and some of the key lessons she's learned.

Elisha: How is this book different from your other book on chronic pain and illness, How to Be Sick?

Toni: The new book is broader in scope than How to Be Sick, and it’s organized differently. How to Be Sick is organized around concepts and practices to help people learn to live with grace and purpose despite the limitations imposed by their health.

By contrast, the new book is organized around specific difficulties and challenges that people face, such as dealing with others who don’t (or refuse to) understand; making the best use of your short time with the doctor; coping with isolation and loneliness; handling mood swings and painful emotions; the difficult challenge of being young and chronically ill. The new book goes beyond my personal experience because I draw on the thousands of people who’ve written to me about their health struggles.

What the books have in common is a liberal use of personal anecdotes, easy-to-learn practices (such as mindfulness and self-compassion), and my conversational style of writing. People tell me they feel as if we’re sitting in the kitchen together chatting over coffee or tea.

Elisha: In the introduction, you say the path to peace begins with facing life’s stark realities. What do you mean by that?

Toni: I’m referring to some of the inescapable realities of the human condition. First of all, we’re in bodies and they get sick and injured and old. Coming to terms with this opens the door to
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General

What is Optimal Media Exposure for Children (and Adults)?

As a Dad of 3 young boys I'm always interested in what the latest research says on how we should be introducing screens to our kids. Screens are a part of daily life now for almost everyone, they're not going away, nor should they. Most adults don't have a good handle on their screen use, so it's easy to wonder how can we even be a model to our kids? Even so, knowledge is power and so I want to share some interesting research with you that gives some answers to the question:

Is it possible to overstimulate the developing brain?

Dmitri Christakis is a pediatrician, parent and researcher who had looked into this quite a bit. He reminds us that watching screens not too long ago wasn't something we introduced to kids until later in life. At the moment, the average 5 year old is engaged with screens about 4 hours per day.

Additionally, the content they are exposed to is far more fast paced then ever which keeps them engaged, but can have major negative impacts on their ability to pay attention. Compare past programs like Mr. Rogers with current cartoon programs like Pokemon or Powder Puff Girls.

In a Tedx talk Christakis says, "Prolonged exposure to rapid change can pre-condition the mind to expect high levels of input which leads to inattention later on in life. "

Here's the Tedx talk to watch (Warning: Images will not be rapidly changing, so if your brain has had prolonged exposure to screens you may not have the attention span to watch this - just kidding - sort of).

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compassion

Depression: New Mindfulness-Based Online Treatments

Let's start with the bottom line: 

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been shown to be equally as effective in preventing relapse as anti-depressant medication. 

This came from a study conducted at the University of Exeter where researchers randomly assigned 424 people into a group simply taking anti-depressant medication and another group going through an 8-week MBCT course. In this course participants learned mindfulness skills, how to relate to negative thoughts differently, and how to recognize signs of relapse and take action.

The MBCT group were offered four follow-up sessions within the year and after two years many had tapered off the medication.

The results found that the relapse was similar (44% for MBCT group and 47% for anti-depressant medication group).

This doesn't mean that if you're on anti-depressant medication you should get off of it, but it does provide hope that we have the power within us to train our brain with natural anti-depressants.

These are incredibly hopeful and encouraging results and it's been accepted as a primary intervention for depression in England and Wales.

The Bad News

MBCT is still hard to find for a lot of people. While an increasing amount of people are being trained in it, it's still largely unavailable to many of us.

The Good News

The Center for Mindful Living is now offering an 8-week live online MBCT course. The next course begins September 27th and the class is only open to 15 participants.

More Good News: Building Natural Anti-Depressants. 

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General

Has Mindfulness Gone Too Far?

The rise of mindfulness has been incredible.

In part it seems like many of us are responding to a radical fast pace of living where we're in a constant state of doing, doing and doing some more and longing for something to help us create balance in our lives. The answer has been a variety of mindfulness programs that place a heavy emphasis of  "being" to balance out the "doing."

Mindfulness is a fundamental skill for anyone in this day and age and yet at the same time it can go too far.

In the formal practices of mindfulness we do meditative exercises like breathing meditation, the body scan, or an open awareness practice. All of these focus on training the brain to "be with" experience. We need this training because the alternative is the brain's default to try and fix our stress by kicking into auto-pilot and constantly planning in the future or looking to the past to figure out the present.

This juggle between the past and future only adds stress to our mind and body. Learning how to "be with" helps turn the volume down on all this thinking and can often bring us into a state of balance.

Sometimes this state of balance teaches us important lessons, like in life all things come and go, otherwise known as the law of
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Addiction

10 Quotes for Mindful Living

Last year when my wife Stefanie Goldstein, PhD and I started The Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles, our intention was to provide a space for people to integrate mindfulness into their lives for healing and growth. I've found over the years that pictures and quotes have the power to move beyond explanations and speak directly to our hearts and minds.

Here are 10 Quotes for Mindful Living, with some having links back to blog posts where I have explored the quote. There is a lot under these links, so feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it over and again.

Note: One way to go through this is to pause, do a mindful check-in, and then read the quote slowly. See what you notice.

Enjoy!

"You can hold back from suffering of the world,
you have permission to do so,
and it is in accordance with your nature,
but perhaps this very holding back
is the one suffering you could have avoided." ~ Franz Kafka
 "Don't turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That's where the light enters you." ~ Rumi
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Anxiety

12 Striking Photos Depicting Depression and Anxiety

We live in a time where there is simply too much to pay attention to. Our nervous systems are overloaded leading many people to disconnect and now we're seeing rising levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, there isn't a single person I know who hasn't experienced these in one form or another. But when you try to convey what anxiety depression really feel like, words never really do it justice.
"depression is when you can’t feel at all. anxiety is when you feel too much. having both is a constant war within your own mind. having both means never winning."

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Anger

Four Steps to Freedom from Negative Thinking

A number of years ago I created a free email-based program called "Daily Now Moments."  Every day people get an email into their inbox that is meant to inspire a moment of mindfulness or give some practical guidance in the direction of emotional freedom and happiness.

One of the practices is called "The Freedom Practice" and I wanted to share it with you because it can be so useful in gaining freedom from styles of thinking that don't serve us and keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression and even our addictive behaviors

Sometimes I call these styles of thinking "Mind Traps."

Mind traps are styles like catastrophizing, blaming, exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive or just your most common negative thoughts.

The Freedom Practice


When you first notice a mind trap or common negative thought, first stop, take an intentional deep breath and from this more mindful space, move through these next four steps (Name, Feel, Release, Redirect):

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