Attitude of Gratitude

Shauna Shapiro, clinical psychologist and world-renowned mindfulness expert, talks about the principle of creating habits in a way that resonates so profoundly with me. “What you practice grows stronger.” If you practice complaining, frustration, shame…those actions and feelings become stronger! You create a level of comfort with these negative emotions in your brain. It becomes natural to react to moments and scenarios in a negative or self-defeating manner. Each and every moment of our lives we are processing information, creating pathways of information in our brains, and conditioning ourselves. It happens regardless of your awareness of whether these information pathways are beneficial or harmful. We can change the brain and the way we process information. There are many examples of this related to mindfulness, EMDR, and other therapies or practices that help to transform our thought process. Another word for what I’m talking about it neuroplasticity.

So now we know that we have the power to change the way our brains function, let’s do something with this power! In a future blog post, I plan to discuss in detail the ability of mindfulness to increase the grey matter in various parts of your brain. Learning to turn inward, check in with ourselves, and become more mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions can be a powerful tool in opening our hearts and improving our interpersonal relationships. Emotional regulation was one of my most needed and sought after personal benefits when I discovered mindfulness.

This morning I had the opportunity to not only watch, but genuinely absorb the news. Let me explain that…we have transitioned to a minimal television environment at home. We cancelled our satellite services and just watch what is available to us through Netflix and Amazon TV. It has led to way less background noise and distraction. I was able to watch the news this morning because my exquisitely happy 10 month old, Maya, was admitted to Cook Children’s last night. It seems to be a gnarly virus that led to a very sick, weak, and dehydrated baby girl. We are here for (hopefully) just a couple of nights to get her hydrated and on her way to a full recovery. Maya was also in the same unit of this hospital for a week over the Christmas holiday. She has been dealt a rough hand of illness in her brief life, but she is a trooper and has won the hearts of many nurses in this place.

So as I’m laying with Maya this morning, watching The Today Show, Maria Shriver begins talking about her new book, “I’ve Been Thinking . . .Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.” Shriver interviews multiple influencers about the importance of gratitude, meditation, focus, compassion, love, and other values in corporations and communities. I loved many things about this segment and immediately added Shriver’s book to my reading list. But the emphasis on gratitude is what really peeked my interest this morning. This brief Today Show article, “Be thankful: Science says gratitude is good for your health,” discusses the many benefits practicing gratitude:

“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.”

There are also UC Berkeley and UC Davis studies that discovered the major health benefits of living a life of gratitude. One benefit is a 23% reduction in Cortisol, a stress hormone associated with several health issues.

Maya is sick and that sucks. I’m sad, worried, and preoccupied with the what if’s. But I intentionally take moments to re-focus my energy on being grateful that she is healing and improving, grateful that she has an acute and treatable illness rather than a chronic, life threatening condition, grateful for the excellent care she is being provided, and grateful for my precious husband, family, and friends who make moments like this more bearable.

Focusing on gratitude can be simple! Find a method that fits with your personality and interests. I love the idea of a gratitude journal. You can either create a routine of spending 5 minutes each day writing down things that you are grateful for or maybe just keep a journal handy to write down moments of gratitude as you recognize them. Shriver talks about thanking God each morning for her blessings, I love this and practice this with my babies. There are lots of methods to choose from, the point is to create a habitual practice of viewing life through grateful lenses. To practice gratitude so that your grateful heart grows stronger.

Life is hard. People experience incredible loss and difficult experiences on a daily basis. Having the ability to be grateful and positive isn’t only about “silver-lining” our realities. It’s about making a point to recognize the blessings and beauty amidst the pain. It’s about intentionally turning towards the light. Gratitude is empowering. Gratitude can help us find the calm in what looks like pure chaos. I hope this helps you create an attitude of gratitude! I know I have so much to be thankful for. Thanks for visiting and spending this time with me.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

Your Daily Dose of Mindfulness

I started out this journey by sharing a bit of myself with you. Authenticity is of great value to me in my personal and professional life. I hope to keep this space sacred, authentic, and meaningful. I appreciate your open and kind reception of my story and am so glad you decided to join me again. Thank you!

I briefly shared with you the value that mindfulness has added to my crazy, unpredictable, and messy life. It helps me regain control of my emotions on a moment to moment basis. It invigorates the creative side of my soul. This practice has increased my ability to be present and engaged with the people I love the most. I am such an incredibly far cry from perfection in this practice, but I am enjoying the obvious benefits of my ability to achieve presence.

I want to create more understanding of mindfulness and introduce you to simple and practical applications of mindfulness that I have discovered and recommend to clients who come into my counseling space.

Time passes with unforgiving speed and tenacity.  Time is just that…tenacious. It is persistent. It exists despite our ability or willingness to acknowledge the moments as they fly by. We cannot stop the passing of time nor can we slow it down; however, we can implement practices that allow us to breathe in the moments in a way that enhances our awareness? Enhancing our awareness (not only of our immediate surroundings) but of our impact on the world around us and our impact on one another.

According to Huffington Post article, “The Mother of All Parenting Epidemics—the Preoccupied Mind,” the average person experiences 35-48 thoughts per minute. With that many tabs open in our brain throughout each minute of the day, how are we expected to focus on what is right in front of us? Our rapid firing brains seek constant stimulation. We have conditioned our brains to function in a manner that often creates an unnecessary stress response in our bodies. This can lead to health problems, desensitization, anxiety, anger, and many other undesirable realities. Taking the opportunity to control our thoughts, enhance our awareness, and slow our systems down, if only for a few moments a day, can counter the potential risks of cumulative stress. This is precisely what mindfulness can do for us.

The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something or the mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley defines mindfulness as:

maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, out thoughts tune in to what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Mindfulness serves not only as a tool to balance the constant state of stress that we are exposed to, it offers a multitude of benefits. According to the American Psychological Association those include, but are not limited to: reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, relationship satisfaction, increased intuition and insight, increased immune functioning, and increased wellbeing.

I have certainly been able to recognize the tangible benefits in my life. For instance, I am a little less clumsy. If you know me at all, you know that tripping and spilling (most frequently coffee and/or salsa) come with the territory of being in my presence. Come to find out…this can be a telling sign that reveals stress, distraction, or being overwhelmed in general. My mind was often elsewhere. Now that I am able to be more present in each moment, I have achieved a new level of grace. Another seemingly silly but handy benefit, I have not locked my keys in my car in months. This is a more common occurrence in my past than I would care to admit in this moment. Outside of many medical and psychological benefits, it creates less bullshit (I tried to come up with an alternative here, but this seemed to embody my point most accurately) on any given day. Instead of spiraling out of control from a stub my toe and burn my toast kind of morning, I can hit reset and take advantage of the new and fresh moments moving forward.

Ok, hopefully I have you convinced that this mindfulness stuff is worth a shot. Here are some simple, beginning ways to give it a go…When I am helping my children tune in, become aware, and practice brief mindfulness, I encourage them to bring attention to their 5 senses, one at a time. “Close your eyes. What do you hear?…What do you smell?…What do you feel?…Can you taste anything?…Take a few deep and slow breaths. Now open your eyes, what do you see?” This is quick and simple. Anyone can take a few moments and create a level of awareness and openness that gets lost in the mix of our packed schedules. Únother simple practice is the STOP Method. It is a one minute, breathing space that allows you to hit reset. (S)top when you realize you feel that your thought process or emotional reaction is out of control; (T)ake a breath; (O)bserve what is tangible in your surroundings and in your body finally; (P)roceed onto new possibilities.

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I am also a fan of guided meditation for beginners. I will go into further detail about my favorite websites and sources for guided meditation in a later post. For now, perhaps the above brief and straight forward exercises will help you tune in and take control of your moments.

Something to keep in mind: Mindfulness is an excellent tool for moments of anxiety, stress, or anger. However, like prayer, mindfulness is beneficial in times of joy, happiness, and peace as well. Relish is the beauty of your day-to-day life. Breathe it all in.

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

Continue reading “Your Daily Dose of Mindfulness”

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful, inner resources for light, transformation, and healing.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

14691913_10102972191156983_4053140346840941566_oPhoto Credit: Janey Cooper Photography, Sunset, Texas

Let me start by telling you what mindfulness is NOT. Let me also provide a disclaimer, MINDFULNESS for me is a practice. This is not something I have mastered or can claim total mastery over. I can tell you a series of moments that made me realize the importance of implementing new practices, new habits, and creating a new normal for me and mine. I had written down (with sincere intention) “try meditating,” “slow down,” “breathe,” “get your shit together,” etc.  You get the idea…I wanted to take control of my time, my mind, and my emotions. I just needed to find the right motivation and the right tools.

One Sunday morning, I found myself filled with fatigue, stressed to the max, and feeling incredibly nauseated — the kind of nausea and anxiety that would appropriately follow a night of drunken debauchery. That was NOT what Saturday looked like for me , though . Not that I can recall with exact detail, but I am quite sure it was a Saturday night full of cartoons, s ippy cup re-fills and trips to the potty . My most valiant attempt at sneaking in some REM sleep between my two sweet,  perfect, and rest resistant children with whom I PROUDLY co-sleep failed. It only took me about 5 minutes of considering the potential causes for this not-so- newish feeling and about 5 seconds of checking my boobs for tenderness to realize….”Oh…here we go again.”

Quick background: We were already blessed with our oldest , beautiful girl, Lennon Hadlee (now 6) and our little, heartbreaking , wild man, Radly Dale (now 3) and had  NO intentions of having a 3rd kiddo . In fact, if I could have talked myself into taking the necessary time off of work , I would have gone through with a hysterectomy approximately  one month prior to conception. My husband and I used natural family planning and obviously had no freaking clue what we were doing.

So here I am…30 and slapped right in the face with how much I did not have control over. I am fighting a lifelong battle teetering between perfectionism and flat – out rebellion. You can imagine how laughable it is to hope for any moments of perfection or true rebellion when growing the third tiny and totally reliant human in my, seemingly, very capable and fertile uterus . And, in hindsight, I would not change a thing because our exquisitely happy and loving Maya Rowan (now 10 months old) was exactly what our family needed.

This loss of control did not only come from the news of expecting again . It came from the mounting stress of trying to breathe life into our family business. It also came from trying to keep my career in focus and explore opportunities for growth and expansion in my skill-set and practice as a social worker and mental health professional. It came from the difficulty of juggling the many hats I w ear and the strain of trying to be all things to all people.

T he raw and vulnerable emotion I was struck with over the next couple of months were certainly the makings of a “face down moment,” as Dr. Brene Brown describes in her must read, Rising Strong. – Now , please, do not take offense to my emotional reaction to my third pregnancy. I have faced loss in life; however, loss related to pregnancy  is not a journey I have faced. As a l abor and de livery social worker, I held hands of mothers, nurses, and doctors who faced  this devastating los s, but the gift of life and children was breathed into me without tragedy. I never — for one second –have taken  this gift for granted. But I d o (and did) have to face the reality of my life going off my planned course. I had to rumble (another Brene Brown term) with what this meant for me, my marriage, my career, and my family in general. The next couple of months led to isolation in various forms . As a true INFP the introverted part of. my personality was clinging to any opportunity to regain energy and get through the days that were otherwise filled with exhaustion, vomiting, and thoughtfulness. I knew I needed to make self – care a priority and develop new coping skills , but I was also exhausted .

During this time, I also started my journey to become a LCSW and began equipping myself with an expanded skill – set in order to offer clients that I would eventually see as an Employee Assistance Provider Solid counseling services. I found Mindfulness Based Stress Recovery to be a practical and straight forward approach to the mediation and togetherness for which I had been yearning. The simple practice  of allowing myself the space to be present with my body and have moments of checking – in without judgment or expectation was and is freeing. It helps me escape the many ties that bound me and allo ws me to proceed into new possibilities with peace and clarity of mind.

I know enough now to realize that being completely out of tune with my body, feeling stressed & anxious 24/7, and having a fuse shorter than I’d care to admit were pretty obvious signs that I was in desperate need of a mindfulness practice. So here I , 32 and continuing to lead a life full of surprises — ups and downs. The key difference now is that I feel like I can truly ride th e highs and flow with the lows because I am no longer clinging on for DEAR LIFE to hang-ups that do not serve me. I experience  counter productive and laughable days full give me more energy and more peace. I am so excited to create a forum for  authentic moments of expression .  I hope that you will enjoy this journey with me. Thank you for readi ng; come back soon.

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

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27752289_10104143337300723_7195242945544797387_nPhoto Credit: Janey Cooper Photography, Sunset, Texas