Stop and Smell The Roses

I want you to try something.  Read all of this before doing it, of course, otherwise you’ll miss the rest of it!  Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing and only your breathing.  Feel as it moves your stomach up as you inhale and down as you exhale.  If thoughts come to your mind, acknowledge them, don’t judge yourself, and return your focus back to your breathing.  Do this for 5 breaths.

How did that feel?  Do you feel more relaxed and calm, or did it make you anxious?

garden

Mindfulness is a fairly new study, but one that many therapists and psychology teachers are using.  There are many ways to be more mindful in your life, but first I’ll talk about why it’s become so popular in the psychology field.

We live in a fast paced world.  Everything is virtually at our fingertips, and we have come to expect instant gratification.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Technology has brought us good things, such as better health care, the ability to communicate to others all over the world, and entertainment.  However, it also has some negative sides to it as well.

As I talked about in the It’s Okay To Feel post, your body is like a machine, and as such needs a tune up sometimes.  One of the ways you can take care of it is to do some mindfulness exercises.

I did a study abroad program in Spain last summer, and one of the things I made sure to do while I was there was become aware of my surroundings.  I knew that if I wasn’t in the present moment, and only thinking about my future or past, I would miss out on some wonderful things.  Especially when we explored the botanical garden, I took my time to observe what I saw, heard, smelled, felt, and even tasted.  At one point I didn’t want to leave but my stomach had other ideas :).

Even if you have 5 minutes in your day, use that time to do some mindfulness.  There is so much you can do, and you can find it anywhere if you google “being mindful” or “mindful activities.”  One of my favorites, though, is to just take a walk and observe everything around you.  The important thing to remember is to observe without judgment, but don’t judge your judgment if it comes up.  Just acknowledge that thought, and then move your thoughts to the mindful activity.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, just like a lot of things in this blog, it’s not for everyone.  Please seek professional help if needed and stop if it causes you distress.  Listen to your body.

It’s okay to feel

To me, society sometimes acts likes the control freak boyfriend/girlfriend who decides what you should do, how you should act, and other things.  This isn’t always a bad thing, actually, because running naked through the street may not be the best idea.  However, it has also stifled us in many ways.  Some of those ways affects our emotion health.

I was raised thinking that “it’s not attractive to be angry” and “you shouldn’t be so emotional because then people will think you’re weak.”  I’m sure you’ve heard these in your life as well, in different words.  However, this is dangerous to put into practice and can cause serious problems for you down the road.  Thankfully, though, you can learn how to adapt and change your way of thinking.  It will take time, patience, and loving yourself, but it’s possible.

I do want to mention that with just about anything else I talk about, this might not be for everyone.  Most everything on this blog is not one size fits all.  Also, keep in mind that I’m not a professional, and you may want to seek one and discussing your own personal situation.

You are allowed to feel angry.  You’re allowed to feel whatever you are feeling at that given moment.  Let that sink in for a few minutes before I continue.  Whatever you may have been told in the past, you are allowed to feel.  Not only that, but it’s important to feel.  I was told in therapy group that your body is just like the “service engine soon” light in your car.  You can ignore it for a while, but eventually something is going to break.  The more you suppress your emotions and ignore them, the harder it will be to hold them in and one day they will explode.

Another thing I learned in my therapy group is that your emotions are like waves hitting the beach.  They won’t last long, even if you feel like you’ll never be happy again.  This will pass, as long as you ride the wave at that time.

Just remember that emotions do not equal actions.  What you do with that emotion is extremely different than feeling it.  Don’t hurt yourself or someone else.  Later I’ll talk about things you can do instead.

Your feelings matter too.  It’s okay to feel.

Take a Hike!

A few weeks ago I finished up a class called Stress and Pain, and it was really good!  Hands down one of my favorite classes at Southern Utah University!  There is a lot to this class, and I’ll talk about parts of it later.  For now, though, I’d like to talk about Ecotherapy.

What is Ecotherapy?  Ecotherapy is a fairly new term in Psychology, coined by Howard Clinebell in his 1996 book Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth.  According to Clinebell, Ecotherapy is interacting with the natural environment to promote physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual healing.  

Have you ever heard someone say that they were so upset that they needed to go for a walk to cool off?  They were actually on to something.  In the book we used for the class: Managing Stress by Brian Luke Seward, Seward mentioned a few different studies where environment helped calm and even heal people.  In one study, people who were shown images of nature, their serotonin levels increased.  In another study, people shown these images of nature reported decreased sense of anger.

There was a lot more information in this book as well as countless studies on the subject, but you have to remember that a lot of this is theory.  You also have to remember that this isn’t a cure-all; and what works for one person may not work for another.  That being said, being outside in nature is probably the easiest and most accessible thing we have out there to break us out of a funk or help clear our minds when we feel a little overwhelmed.

Another point to keep in mind is that you can’t get the full benefit of nature if you’re not experiencing fully.  If you’re hiking and listening to music, texting or calling, or even just sleeping outside, you will get some benefits, yes.  However, you will get so much more out of it if you either put your phone away or use it to take pictures.  I’m not suggesting that all technology is bad, but take just a few minutes break from it and let all of your sense experience what nature has to offer.  You won’t regret it.

It’s Not Failure: It’s Room For Improvement

Just last week I decided to quit drinking soda, especially caffeine.  I know that I need to lose weight, but more than that, I need to be healthier.  My dad has heart problems and recently I’ve been realizing that I should take care of myself while I’m still young.  I also started walking again but not every day, but that’s something I want to start doing soon.

So the first couple of days weren’t too bad.  On Tuesday I had a slight headache but nothing intolerable.  However, Thursday I actually thought I was sick.  I was weak, my sinuses were stuffed up and I just didn’t feel well.  I decided to “screw it” and drank a can of Dr. Pepper.  I only slightly regretted it :P.  However, I didn’t have another after that.

At first I was very disappointed in myself.  I was beating myself up, saying “Liz, you were doing so well, why would you give in and make yourself start over like that?!”  However, I don’t think I have to start over.  In fact, I was feeling more alert and healthier on Saturday than I had on Wednesday.  I don’t know why, but I’ll take it!  🙂

I changed my perspective after that.  I realized I didn’t fail.  I’m not a failure.  We all make mistakes, but that’s okay.  That’s how we grow and learn.  So I saw it as an accomplishment, and my whole outlook changed.  I went from 3-4 Dr. Peppers a day to 1 in one week.  That’s amazing for me!

However, there’s also room for improvement.  If I just say “Wow, that’s amazing, look at me!” I might justify having just one this week.  Which will turn into two…and then I’ll end up where I started.  And that’s not good.

So if I say “Hey, I did amazing this week by only allowing myself one soda!  Let’s see if I can go without ANY next week!” I am much more likely to have results than if I say “Hey, I was amazing this week!”  Instead of beating myself up, I’m challenging myself to do better.  I’ll keep challenging myself.  I might be tired but I already feel better.  I don’t need caffeine, I just need sleep!  🙂

Change your perspective from ‘I failed!’ to ‘I have room for improvement.’  Maybe you had one piece of chocolate when you’re not eating candy.  That’s okay, you can do better later!  Sometimes in life, in order to move forward, you have to take a step back.  Life is like a cha-cha; as long as you keep dancing, you’re doing great.