Living Mindfully

Good morning!

I just wanted to share the opportunity I was given to be a guest on the Decatur Public Library Podcast. I had the opportunity to define mindfulness, speak at length about the benefits, guide a brief STOP method practice and offer advice about starting your individualized mindfulness practice.

The definition of mindfulness I have devised is, the practice of holding space to offer loving, kind aware as to your present reality.

Recording this was SO fun!! I hope you enjoy and find it to be informative.

 

 

Living Mindfully – Long Overdue Podcast

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

I write and speak often about self-care. Self-care is not always luxurious, but it is necessary. I have said before, it may not be a bubble bath with a glass of wine. It might be more beneficial to spend time getting caught up on paying bills or doing laundry. Having our lives in working order is as much self-care as the moments we take to relax and treat ourselves.  A bubble bath will always be way more enticing than laundry, but feeling  caught up or ahead on the many to-do’s that fill my list certainly takes a load off my shoulders.  Self-care is multifaceted and requires intentional effort. Today, I want to talk about the way we speak to ourselves, the truths we tell ourselves, and the way in which we support ourselves in moments of pain.

I saw a post on Facebook once that seems to come to mind often when I am discussing being kind to ourselves. It said something along the lines of, “Make a list of the things you love…how long did it take for YOU to come to mind?” The goal of the message was to help people realize that they did not think about the importance of loving themselves. How often do you think about loving yourself or demonstrating self-compassion? Do you struggle with the concept of showing yourself compassion?

Kristen Neff authored the book Self Compassion, in this (highly recommended) book she describes in detail 3 elements of self-compassion: 1) Self-Kindness 2) Common Humanity 3) Mindfulness. Neff is clear in distinguishing where self-compassion ends and self-indulgence begins. The best metaphor that I can draw on is that of parenting. When we demonstrate compassion to our children, we do not let them go on feeling sorry for themselves, throwing tantrums in moments of distress, or seeking inappropriate or destructive coping skills.  If my first-born Lennon falls down in softball, I check in with her to make sure she is ok. Given there are no major injuries, I acknowledge her pain but encourage her to keep working hard towards her goal of finishing practice or winning the game. I am kind in my approach with her and allow her the necessary moment to check in with herself and make sure all is well. I do not chastise her or yell at her for falling, but I do encourage strength and bravery as she moves forward from that moment.  When I “fall down” or make a mistake at work, as a parent, or as a wife I, at times, do not naturally offer myself the same kindness, patience, and compassion. I often chastise myself or get stuck analyzing why’s and how’s rather than focusing on moving forward in the moments as they pass. I get stuck criticizing myself rather than acknowledging my own pain and fostering growth and learning from those tough moments.  I get stuck in the cycle of perfectionism and shame, which is the opposite of self-compassion.  However, when I cultivate moments of kind awareness when I am struggling or hurting, compassion pours out of me with increased ease. When I slow down long enough to non-judgmentally recognize the humanity in failure and the inevitability of disappointment from time to time, I find it more natural to move forward with self-compassion.

So why and how does this relate to mindfulness? Now I just (briefly) discussed kind awareness and non-judgmental recognition. That is the essence of mindfulness: taking moments to remove expectation and criticism, to simply exist in the moment. Social Workers are trained to “meet people where they are.” We are taught to remove labels and previously determined expectations. We are taught to actively listen and engage in learning with clients as we assess their language, nonverbal communication, and other cues to help determine a treatment plan. How ridiculous would it be for us to not check in or engage in learning to establish their course of treatment? What if we scolded them from the get go and just advised that they just get their lives together? I would be willing to bet they would NOT be coming back for a follow up session.  So why is it in parenting, in marriage, in a work setting we show others kindness and compassion with ease but we face such difficulty in embracing our own needs with this kind of openness and love?

Maybe this lack of self-compassion is driven by perfectionism or shame?  Perhaps our ideas about what success looks like for us are too rigid. We might have ourselves in a box and falling outside of that box confuses us about our identity or image. Maybe we are terrified of failure? Could it be that we just do not put effort into actively loving ourselves?

Regardless of the hurdles that create a lack of self-compassion in your life, there are steps that you can implement to cultivate increased compassion, kindness, and love in the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself in difficult moments. The first step is to allow moments of that kind awareness that we previously discussed. Meet YOU where you are! How are you feeling in this moment? Receive your feelings with love and let go of judgement.  If you find this kind awareness difficult to achieve, try implementing a mindfulness practice into your daily life. I enjoy guided meditations and use them frequently in my personal mindfulness practice. Having the assistance of a guided meditation helps me hold my focus and set aside certain periods of time where the only goal is presence. The Self Compassion  website has multiple guided meditations that are 5-25 minutes, meaningful, and easy to implement into your practice. I also love The Chopra Center and have purchased multiple meditation experiences that help guide and direct my practice.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it not only allows the space to gain familiarity with yourself it also helps to increase the gray matter in your brain associated with compassion. The Harvard Gazette discusses a study in the article “Eight Weeks to a Better Brain” the findings of an 8 week study of individuals who implemented mindfulness meditation practice into their daily lives. They “found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”  We can exercise and enhance our brain’s capacity to demonstrate compassion more naturally and with ease. That is too cool!!!!

I challenge you to recognize the potential impact of mindfulness and self-compassion in your life. As you gain self-awareness, take time to recognize the tone of your self-talk and your tendency to criticize yourself. Make the decision to change your tone and demonstrate increased love and compassion in your struggles. Recognize that you deserve the same kindness that you show to your loved ones and continue to charge down your path with bravery and strength!

Until next time!

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 🙂

Sleep…

I tried and tried to develop a pithy title for a post on sleep. Some ideas I had…”Sleep: A Love Hate Relationship.” “SLEEP: The Forbidden Dance for Mothers of Babes.” “How to Enhance your Sleep Life.”  Let’s be honest, at this exact phase of my life, 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep sounds like the most desirable and sought after thing that I can dream of. If I had 8 hours of uninterrupted and blissful sleep, I think I could probably take on the world. I was ALWAYS an awesome sleeper. I could take a nap anywhere and my sleep started the moment my head hit the pillow at night. But then my precious babies (whom I wouldn’t trade for gold) came along, and they need to nurse at night, or pee at night, or have a drink of water at night. When you multiply those needs times three, they can really add up. I give my lack of sleep credit for weight gain, increased anxiety, and memory loss. What I sought to determine was whether or not this credit was due. Was sleep, or the lack thereof, able to cause such palpable symptoms in my journey towards quality of life, mindfulness, and self-care?

In my research on the impact of sleep in our ability to improve our level of functioning and enhance mindful awareness, I came across a “Whole Health Changing the Conversation: Neuroplasticity and Sleep Clinical Tool” created by the Integrative Medicine Program, Department of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health in cooperation with Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, under contract to the Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, Veterans Health Administration.  This document is highly clinical in composition, but does an excellent job explaining how the body views sleep deprivation as stress. In my clinical practice, I often discuss the impact of chronic stress on the body. Your body has a natural reaction to what it associates with or as stress. This reaction is preparing you for survival. It dumps chemicals that (if needed) can make you more reactive, faster, stronger, etc. However, when you are not in a situation where you have to run for your life or fight your way to survival, these chemicals can cause damage. These chemicals also keep you awake and alert. So you can understand how stress and sleep deprivation become a cyclical battle. Understanding that your body is equipped this way is fascinating and helps you to understand the importance of stress-management, rest, and healing for your body. This tool also describes why sleep is essential for neuroplasticity:

Neuroplasticity is defined as change in the brain’s structure and function due to experience. The brain was once thought to become immutable after a critical period of development in early childhood. Now we know that the brain is constantly changing in response to experience and disease. Given the fundamental importance of sleep in the biology of all life, it should come as no surprise that sleep has major effects on the brain through neuroplastic mechanisms.

Neuroplasticity is essential for healing, the creation of and maintenance of memories, creating new pathways for information to be processed, and in maintaining overall brain health. Neuroplasticity is what creates the opportunity for a stroke or traumatic brain injury victim to learn to walk again. The brain is literally capable of finding a new route to process information and commands. Can we please take a moment to applaud our incredible bodies and what they are capable of…?

Outside of understanding the science behind sleep and the brain, I also wanted to start a conversation. Am I alone in the world? Who else has this battle with sleep? Is anyone else out there longing for improved sleep? So, naturally, I asked the question on Facebook. I quickly got a multitude of responses. People expressed that they identify with the struggle. People marketed the products they sell that can promote rest and relaxation. People recommended routines and habits that promote resting well. People expressed that they had found the solution to getting 8 hours of sleep with children. Long story short…I am NOT alone in my ongoing journey towards improving my sleep. It was encouraging and provided me with lots of ideas and set out on a whole new path of research and discovery.

Taking from my Facebook conversation, interactions with friends, my personal experience, and research I wanted to provide you with some tips to improve your sleep.

  1. Consult your physician: I always want to make sure that everyone takes their physical struggles to their family provider. Make sure there is not an underlying reason for your inability to wind down. If you feel concerned about blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, etc. it is important to implement self-care but also have an ongoing conversation with your provider to be safe and cover all your bases.

 

  1. Develop a Routine: this for me has been the ultimate struggle as a mother. I am spontaneous and disorganized. However, my ability to stay on top of housework, laundry, appointments, practices, projects, bills, etc. etc. etc. has been dependent on creating a doable level of organization and routine. This is crucial at night. Routines create positive habits, but also create signals that tell your body what is coming next. This routine can be as involved as including dinner time, bath time, one cartoon, warm milk, brush teeth, read book, prayers, lay down. Repeat nightly.  Or it could be as simple as spraying a lavender linen spray or rubbing essential oils on your and your children’s feet to create a signal that appeals to your sense of smell then reading a bedtime story. An important term used in my description of routine is Whatever routine you choose to implement must be achievable for the long run. Similar to a diet (or any lifestyle change for that matter) you want to create a realistic opportunity to be successful.

 

  1. Promote the body’s ability to relax: There are so many ways to achieve this. Multiple folks expressed their belief in the impact of essential oils, using oil on their body or diffusing oils in the room (some specific oils mentioned were cedarwood, vetiver, and other blends specific to essential oil companies.) My family and I certainly use oils; I absolutely believe this is a path to promoting relaxation. I have a lavender and chamomile linen spray that I crave at night now. I love breathing it in and my kiddos love it as well. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can also help. Box breathing, the body scan meditation, or certain music enhances your mind’s willingness to slow down and can aide in your pursuit of sweet sleep. Exercise and nutrition can also play a role in promoting rest for your body.

 

  1. Remove sleep disruptions: I shared wonderful dialogue with a dear family friend Jeannie Nichols, who is also a Licensed Spiritual Healer and Raindrop Specialist about this exact topic: the importance of removing distractions that interrupt the ability for our brain to rest.  For instance, falling asleep with the television on is a sleep deterrent. “The light fluctuation is disruptive to sleep,” says Nichols. I also read an informative article regarding blue light exposure and its impact on our sleep written by Michael J. Breus, PhD a.k.a. “The Sleep Doctor.” I recommend reading the article, “The latest on blue light and sleep” in its entirety. Breus summarizes his thoughts by saying, Nighttime blue light exposure is indeed harmful to sleep and circadian rhythms. And taking steps to manage blue light exposure—including using red light sources during evening hours—can make a real difference.”

 

  1. Be open: Life can throw you curve balls and you might have to adjust your routine or day-to-day priorities from time to time to achieve wellness. My relationship with sleep has been heavily impacted by the introduction of those three precious and dependent souls that are my children. One day they will not be as dependent. One day they may not want to snuggle so close. One day they will be headed out to conquer their own version of the world. I will, then, have complete and total access to 8 hours of sleep and my full short term memory capacities. For now, some 2:00 AM snuggles may not be the worst thing in the world. I fully believe that so much of our ability to cope with life’s trials is wrapped up in our willingness to open our hearts, love others, and love ourselves.

 

So, for now, I will mindfully and lovingly meet the needs of my children and give myself grace as I continue my dance with sleep. Sweet dreams until next time friends.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

 

Megan

 

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