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.
The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause. Mark Twain
I sometimes find myself toting a “badge of honor” surrounding my busYness. You know what I mean right?? “Well I have so many things to do and I have taken on so much responsibility, my time is incredibly valuable because I must be the busiest person ever. I have 3 kids, 1 full time job, 3 side gigs, I sit on multiple boards and committees, but what else can I do for you?” I squeeze too much into my days and find myself running right on time or 5 minutes late to every meeting, commitment, birthday party, etc. This behavior and lifestyle is fueled by years of well-defined perfectionism and people pleasing. I feel pulled to say YES to all the things. All. The. Things. Taking on more than I can handle is not something I should hang my hat on. Learning to achieve balance in my life is a more valuable endeavor. Thank you Jesus that I discovered the beauty of balance and the power in the pause before I ran myself ragged.
In my journey with mindfulness, self-awareness, and (in lots of ways) awakening…I have learned a few things. One is that I enjoy an active lifestyle. I like going, moving and being productive. I like adventure. I like to get my kiddos out of the house. I enjoy the community-centered mindset of getting plugged in and making an impact. For me, self-care is about achieving a balance of saying NO when I really need to, but also saying YES when I want to and making sure that I do “all the things” in a way that promotes well-being for me and my family. Something that has been life-changing for me is the beauty of the pause. Taking pause in moments when I feel overwhelmed, when I am triggered or feel a rush of frustration, right before I have a scheduled session with a client, moments before I speak before a room full of people, when I finally sit down to nurse my sweet Maya, when my kids ask me to play with them, when I take a walk to recharge my batteries. At times, simply taking pause before I commit to or refuse to take on a new task makes all the difference. These (and many more moments) are enhanced or improved by my willingness to practice taking pause. This pause provides a moment to check in with myself, to provide a level of control regarding my brain’s instantaneous capacity to finish the story or create worst case scenarios and it allows me to soak in the beauty and gratitude of each moment. Kristin Armstrong says:
It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.
That is a perfect way to describe what I have found in my own pause practice. Drawing my attention to my breath. Checking in with my body to learn more about why I am feeling the way I am feeling. Am I truly overwhelmed and anxious, or did I just drink one too many cups of coffee? (oops, often that is EXACTLY the reason) Soaking in my surroundings. Shifting my perspective to move forward in a mindset of awareness, gratitude and openness. What I love is that pause/rest/awareness often produces new beginnings and motivation. It is not about ceasing activity forever, it is about taking the time to be genuinely mindful in our actions and responses. I remember when my sister was first encouraging me to implement meditation into my daily, self-care routine I would think about how I did not have time to stop for that long. There was no way that I could just not be productive for long enough to create a meditative space. I did not understand the ways that mindfulness and meditation can be wrapped into our daily activities. I also had this ridiculous idea in my mind that I had to be forever chill and perpetually relaxed to be successful at mindfulness. Mindfulness is a coping skill. Mindfulness is a way of life that transforms the perspective with which we view ourselves, our surroundings and our purpose. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with productivity, in fact, it enhances performance and focus.
I wanted to talk about some of the methods that I have used to implement pause into my day to day life:
The STOP Method: I have referenced this activity more than once in my blog, because it is effective and simple. This one minute breathing space is a guided thought activity that is perfect for a shift in perspective or to relax when you are feeling triggered:
S: STOP what you are doing. Close your eyes. Put your work down or your task away for this moment in time.
T: TAKE a deep breath. Draw your attention inward and focus on controlling your breathing pattern. I enjoy tactical breathing in this space. Inhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4, Exhale for a count of 4, Hold for a count of 4. Put this on repeat until you feel that you have been able to clear your mind and focus fully on your breath.
O: Observe your surrounds, your thoughts, your feelings. Are you seated? What does the support of the chair feel like? Are you hot, cold, relaxed, tense, etc.? Think about your 5 senses. What do you hear, smell, feel, etc.? If specific thoughts and feelings are present, take a moment to non-judgmentally acknowledge them. Simply having the ability to define your current emotional state of being is empowering.
P: Proceed into the next moments with an increased level of positivity, awareness and openness.
This method can be used in various ways throughout your day. When you first wake up, rather than grabbing your phone to check notifications, take a moment to check in with yourself and get oriented to your immediate environment. When you are in the shower, take pause to experience the cleansing and relaxing task at hand. As you are sitting at your desk and you find yourself in a state of distraction, practice the STOP Method to regain focus.
Mindful Eating: In the world of numbing, food is my go to drug of choice. If I am stressed, sad, frustrated or bored, I am much more likely to make bad nutritional choices. Taking pause before I ask for another bowl of chips and salsa, drawing my attention inward as I open the fridge at 10:00 at night, or checking in to see if that bowl of ice cream is meeting a nutritional need vs. an emotional need has created a level of control with my food intake than anything else. Taking pause allows you to check your intentions and motivations. Being mindful of my choices rather than acting in reactive or impulsive ways helps me to honor my values and personal goals. Mindful eating can also enhance the way that we experience flavors and textures of our food. Slowing down to experience meals is a great way to practice mindfulness.
YOGA: On days where I am feeling especially overwhelmed, yoga allows me to create space for mind and body relaxation. It certainly requires the ability to remove distractions as you commit to the practice. This practice has taught me me to build increased awareness of my body and the places where tension and stress might hide. The concepts taught in yoga practice can be utilized in many facets of life and interaction. In my role as Employee Assistance Program Manager at Wise Health System, I have developed a program in partnership with our fitness facility that offers employees a Yin Yoga class during their lunch breaks twice weekly. The goal is to not only provide them will rejuvenation in those 2 hours of yoga practice each week, but also to help them learn how to separate, pause and practice self-care in the midst of stress and demanding work loads.
Personal Time-Out: Oh the good old “time out.” As a parent, I certainly use this one with my children. This gives them time to breathe, calm down, think about and discuss their behavior with me or their Daddy. I have found that I could use a time-out almost as often as my 6 year old. I facilitate Parent Café’s with the Wise Coalition for Healthy Children which is a great community initiative sponsored by Cook Children’s Hospital. We utilize Nurturing Parenting curriculum and in the Stress Management presentation we hand out magnetic timers. We recommend that parents use these for their own emotional regulation as much as for timing the time-out punishment when their children make poor choices. Taking pause in moments of conflict, stress and discipline can transform the way that we react to triggers. Whether it is with your spouse, children, co-workers or anyone else try to implement a pause when you are feeling triggered. Rather than allowing fear, anger, embarrassment and disappointment regulate your emotions…take a breath, try to rationally connect the dots in your brain and step away if you need to. Commit to returning to resolve the conflict, but sometimes taking 5 minutes to shift your perspective can be a gift to yourself and to the people in your life.
With the simple addition of these pause practices; we can be more in tune with and in control of our emotional reactions to life. This practice is full of struggle in the beginning, but just like a new workout routine or rehabilitation for an injured muscle… your body and mind will become more capable of taking effective pause and the process will become natural with practice and dedication.
Where have you learned to take pause in your life? How has slowing down to enhance awareness changed your experiences? I would love to hear from you and how mindfulness is transforming you and your relationships.
Motherhood is full of excitement. My journey as a mother has been particularly eventful over the last few months. If you have been plugged into my blog for some time, you might know that my youngest has had a couple of extended hospitalizations lately. She is well now, but kept us on our toes for her first year of life. Last week was wild and crazy in the life and times of the Adams Family. Let me tell you about it and explain the radio silence over the last nine days.
On Friday the 13th, we traveled to Cook Children’s for the THIRD time in 4 months. Now if you have any superstitious bones in your body you might believe tough times come in 3’s and, well, no explanation is required for Friday the 13th. I am not even a superstitious person and those circumstances had me feeling pretty extra that morning. This trip was for our Rad Man. Our 3 year old boy had a trampoline accident, and I was convinced before arriving at the Emergency Room that his tibia was fractured. This notion was confirmed and we left the hospital a few hours later with a hard splint and firm non-weight bearing instructions. Imagine any 3 year old boy’s ability to be compliant with these marching orders for an extended period of time. Yikes…we figured we were in for it.
Let’s take a step back to earlier in the week. Our first born, sweet, and serious Lennon fell off the monkey bars and bloodied her nose. I got a call from the nurse, all was well, no need to panic. When I see her after school, she (Lennon not the nurse) informs me that she will probably have a black eye from the fall. She was bummed to wake up with NO battle scars. She also has developed an obsession with a walking boot I have from a minor surgery years ago…she loves putting it on and walking with crutches. It is the same kind of fascination with wanting glasses, braces, or wanting any distinguishing mark that sets you apart from the pack. Lennon is the oldest of 3, she feels every emotion intensely, and her intelligence and focus make her a really low maintenance child. For all of these reasons…there are times when she has to scream (literally or figuratively) for attention. When I am present enough in the moment to realize that this sweet 6 year old (who most of the time behaves more like a 12 year old) needs some tender loving care…the attention seeking moments are easy to deter.
It is also relevant to add that I had a fever for the first time that I can remember in years on Friday and Saturday. It takes a lot for me to claim that I am not feeling well, but I was NOT feeling well, certainly subpar. Productive coughing always makes me feel like I am on my “A” game too, optimally attractive and classy. I try to be grateful for the spring weather as my allergies cause me to hack up whatever is filling my chest and head with congestion. I find obstructed breathing to be extremely irritating. I like to believe that I can handle stress well, but agitation and febrility upped the ante.
So welcome back to Friday the 13th. Boy-child with a hip to toe splint is lying flat on his back for all the hours. Sweet six year old is crying out for TLC and to be set apart from her brother and sister who tend to generate a lot of excitement. The joyful one year old is actually the easiest and breeziest one in the mix…just loving life and eating all the food. Oh wait…she did have one projectile vomiting episode but that was while she was at the babysitter’s house and (PRAISE JESUS) that did not continue at our already wild house. Cody was present and helpful for all of these moments, but there is certainly something about Momma in these situations.
I did not handle the entirety of this weekend well. I threatened more punishment than I followed up on. I was strung too thin. I did not make presence a priority and I was reactive rather than preventative in my parenting style. I was experiencing stress and handling it poorly. I was not using my body’s reaction to stress for good…I was letting everything pile up. And then I was frustrated with myself. Overanalyzing Lennon’s need for attention, feeling terrible for and owning Radly’s pain, griping at Cody to take my stress away as if he could read my mind, and feeling guilty for allowing Maya to eat way too many rice puff snackies.
I am so thankful for my profession and the work I get to do daily, because it helped me quickly recognize the shame storm that I voluntarily entered into. The fact that I was sick and sleep deprived definitely allowed me to get to a place of shame, stress, and reactivity but the beauty in recognizing it was that I could turn it all around. I could slow the pace, adjust my expectations, and prioritize mindfulness and self-care.
I told Cody that I was going to take a bath, one of my favorite things to do but something that rarely happens. I turned on a Chopra Center guided meditation and soaked in a bath with essential oils for about 30 minutes. Then the kiddos came in the bathroom, but that was great. I welcomed their interaction with me. The ability to hit reset on my mindset changed the game! The rest of the day was more productive and went smoothly. I did not get everything that needed to be done completed. But I was much more capable of being in the moment with my family. I also felt proud and excited to not only recognize the need for change, but to be able to draw on the right tools to create change.
I cannot promise much about raising children because each tiny human is unique and the rapid evolution of their preferences and personalities make each journey exciting and unpredictable. I can promise that you will not always get it all done! I can also promise that you are going to be way too hard on yourself. Perfection should not be the goal in parenthood. The ability to tune in to your children is priceless. Take moments to hear their hearts and fill their souls. And give yourself some grace and space when you need to hit reset!
These precious babes are building their self-image, world view, and learning how to treat others based heavily on their interactions at home. Yes…this feels like pressure, BUT choose to feel empowered by this. If nothing else gives you motivation to remove distractions and make mindfulness a priority…think about the impact that these moments of awareness could have on your family. Mother Theresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Even if the moments filled with bloody noses, broken bones, and bodily functions; when we feel like we have lost all control over the situation…take pause, bring your focus to the present moment, and move forward in love and grace!
I am currently participating in a 21 guided meditation through The Chopra Center. This particular meditation, “Shedding the Weight: Mind, Body, and Spirit” is a collaboration between Deepak Chopra and Oprah. I am on day 7 and loving it. Oprah and Deepak talk through the concept of balance, lightness, and shedding the heaviness that interrupts our joy, self-kindness, self-awareness, and wakefulness on a day to day basis. Today they spoke specifically about the role of self-care in the pursuit of balance and lightness. The most beautiful parts of my journey with mindfulness have been the moments that allow me to acknowledge (with kindness) parts of me that previously led to insecurity or discomfort. In today’s words, Deepak shares that self-care must be about “inclusion rather than denial or rejection.” Self-kindness is not about pretending we are perfect or allowing ourselves to continue on unhealthy or inappropriate paths. Self-kindness is wrapped up in loving ourselves enough to grow and acknowledging our areas needing growth without judgment. The Centering Thought for today is “My true self leads me to an inspired life.”
Let’s explore ways to understand our true selves. The first step is awareness. Awareness of our bodies and minds helps to guide us to a deeper level of understanding about who we are, what needs we have, and what speaks to our souls. Clearly…mindfulness and meditative practices are a key step to achieving a heightened level of awareness. Implementing practices that encourage us to press pause on our hectic and fully consumed lives to come into a moment of stillness and peace in effort to acknowledge where we ARE in the MOMENT helps us find presence and understanding. There will not necessarily be an AH-HA moment when it all clicks and your questions about who you really are will finally be answered. It is more visceral than logical in my opinion. The questions, fears, experiences, trauma, heartache, failures, etc. all muddy the waters that separate us from remembering who we are outside of our habits and experiences. I think Deepak says it best:
We are the thinker behind the thought, the observer behind the observation, the flow of attention, the flow of awareness, the unbounded ocean of consciousness. We spontaneously realize that we have choices, and that we can exercise these choices, not through some sheer will power but spontaneously. Through meditation, we gradually bring harmony, laughter, and love back into our soul and, in the process, rediscover our unconditioned self, which can never really be lost.
Life can leave us feeling lost. The busyness of the day can leave us feeling numb. Our habits, addictions, and fixations can lead us to a place of shame and discontentment. We so easily exist in a place of unbalance. When we quiet the noise and distractions both literally and figuratively…we get closer to rediscovering the parts of us that get lost though our worldly experiences. I encourage you (with everything in me) to pursue a practice that encourages these moments. There are so many methods, outlets, and guiding points to get you there. From The Stop Method I previously introduced, to the Body Scan Meditation, Yin Yoga, to The Chopra Center Guided Meditation and a million other resources…find a mindfulness practice that fits your lifestyle and personality. The benefits are uncanny. Not only do you achieve increased balance emotionally and spiritually…your body can achieve a greater sense of balance. The impacts of chronic stress can be relieved. Studies have shown that mindfulness slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, provides relief for chronic pain, lowers cholesterol, reduces the level of stress hormones and toxins in your system, enhances immunity, and so much more. I had multiple influences in my life’s journey that encouraged this practice. I was resistant and stubborn. I told myself I was “bad” at meditating and got stuck in a place of judgement rather than opening my mind to this opportunity. Now that I have been able to reap the benefits of practicing mindfulness, my only wish is that I had been open to this lifestyle sooner. I was craving the stillness. I needed to get back in touch with who I was underneath the baggage of my past and fears of the future.
When I think about the idea of TRUE SELF, I think about children. I am surrounded by my own dynamic and vibrant children so often that they are often on my frontal lobe and in my thoughts. Children are brave, joyful, excited, non-judgmental, and decisive. They are inspired. They are hungry for life experiences. I want to not only get back to the parts of me that laugh out loud and dance without hesitation; I want to inspire my children to cling tightly to their true selves. I want them to be less jaded and influenced by the outside world. When I struggle with committing to my self-care and mindfulness practices, I remember the inherent value that this journey has provided me and my family.
Outside of mindfulness, there are some other fun ways that I have gotten to know myself more and obtained a deeper understanding of what makes me tick. One of my favorite practices (in my personal life and in my counseling practice) is the Meyers Briggs Type Inventory. I was able to take the full version of this inventory in graduate school and taking this test was such a meaningful moment for me. Not everyone wants to invest in the cost associated with the official inventory, so the alternative is the 16personalites.com. This is a brief quiz that will let break down different components of your personality and provide you with 5 letters that make up your personality type: Mind (how we interact with our surroundings,) Energy (how we see the world and process information,) Nature (how we make decisions and cope with emotions,) Tactics (our approach to work, planning and decision-making,) and Identity (how confident we are in our abilities and decisions.) Taking this test provided me with a great deal of insight into how I engaged with others, where I get my energy from, why I view the world the way I do. I definitely recommend taking some moments to head over to 16personalities.com and giving this test a go! I think you will find it both affirming and encouraging. It is nice to recognize the unique components of your personality in the type you fulfill and it helps you feel connected and understood. Clients always ask, “Did I get a BAD personality type?” And I always respond, “There is not a negative type. The world goes around with all kind of kinds. Our purposes, preferences, and personalities are unique and suited to our purpose. We can always grow and learn to engage our strengths in a purposeful way, but there is no BAD personality.” I happened to be an INFP and have been each and every time I take the quiz. The accuracy is mind-blowing. I LOVE to search INFP on Pinterest to find new quotes, articles, and comparisons that speak to me or make me laugh. Try it out and tell me your thoughts.
I encourage you to take the time to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your personality, your values, and your true self. Self-care is dependent on inclusion. To obtain balance, live out self-compassion, and live our best lives…it is necessary to have self-awareness. Be inspired by your truest self today. Life out your dreams and pursue your goals with the inspiration of knowing your inner self. Release the expectations of others, fears for tomorrow, and shame from yesterday…actively pursue an understanding of who you are in the truest version of yourself.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!! St. Paddy’s Day always makes me happy! Green is my favorite color and this day brings to mind fun, family, and faith! All of which I highly value. I love that shamrocks are used to commemorate Saint Patrick’s evangelism in Ireland. (He utilized the shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity, fun little fact for you.) I also love drinking green beer to celebrate Irish heritage. I have been known to dye the noodles of a spaghetti dish green so my kiddos to join in the consumption of green and yummy things! It looked like worms and really has no relevance from a historical standpoint, but they loved it! But today, I cannot help but look for my 4 leaf clover. I have not had a green beer and, to be honest, I am in a bit of a lousy mood.
Which made we want to talk about the reality of self-care, mindfulness, etc. Not every single day is full of joy and exquisite recognition of the beauty in life. Sometimes your dryer goes out, your phone won’t charge, and your gloriously-cyclical, womanly gift of the month joins you in your already stressed existence. Oh and you picked up a Saturday shift to bring in some extra dollars. So St. Paddy’s Day 2018 is not going down in the history books as an awesome day, well not so far anyhow.
So why am I sharing the details of my less than stellar Saturday with you? Because it’s real life. My threshold for whining children, my husband, and cold coffee were not up to par today. Not. Even. Close. But why is that, what is going on in my body that creates a heightened level of irritability, less focus, and leads to poor communication?
She briefly discusses the realities of stress and how chronic stress can be harmful. She presents incredible research about the idea that perception of stress can be the key to changing the way our bodies responds to said stress. Fascinating right? Essentially, we decide the power that we give stress. Stress will absolutely create a physical response in your body. The chemical dump that is created from moments of stress prepare us to be faster, stronger, provides increased endurance, makes us more social beings, etc. Viewing this response as preparation to move mountains, overcome, and succeed can change the way our bodies react to stress.
Stress is, unfortunately, inevitable and stress is not always the result of negative moments in life. Moving, new jobs, traveling, growing your family, and other touchstone moments of life create stress reactions in our bodies. And then, of course, there are the stressful moments that are simply frustrating and exhausting. But how cool is it that we can control the manner and degree in which stress impacts our systems? We have a say in whether chronic stress will lead to heart disease, premature death, migraines, gastrointestinal issues, so on and so forth. Stress can be to blame for many of the physical, emotional, reproductive, and really any category of ailments that we are plagued with, but what if we can have a preventative relationship with stress that helps us overcome the potential of being brought down by our exposure to seemingly constant stress?
In case you were curious about the answers to my rhetorical questions…It is SO cool and we totally can! Here’s how…
Adjust the lenses that you use to view stressful situations. Rather than seeing each difficult moment or hurdle as your potential downfall, be rational. First, remember that your body is built to have a chemical reaction to stress, if you are experiencing an aroused or heightened state, this is your body preparing to conquer and overcome this situation. Then ask yourself: Can I overcome this moment? What are the steps and timeline involved in overcoming this moment? How have I coped with something like this before? The answers to these questions are not always easy, but sometimes these types of questions can help sort out the flat tire moments from the facing foreclosure moments. These questions can help you prevent a broken dryer and cold cup of coffee from taking over your emotions. It helps you put your stress into perspective and avoid allowing unnecessary reactions to commence.
Practice relaxation techniques. Coping skills are key: practicing mindfulness and increased self-awareness aides in my ability to have a healthy relationship with stress. Because I have been able to get to know myself, my triggers, and my signals of dysfunction, I am better able to utilize my coping skills before I allow stress to take control. Now, let’s be clear, that does not mean that I do not make mistakes and react poorly to stress from time to time. What it does mean is that I can (ideally) change the course I am traveling down in my reaction to stress. The STOP Method, box breathing, yoga are all go to coping skills that allow me to take control of my physical and emotional reactions to stress. Mindfulness can also create symbiosis between your mind, heart, and body! Rather than working against your body or being angry at yourself for reacting to stress, get in tune with your body and develop a level of understanding about how your particular system reacts to stress. These steps put you in the driver seat; you decide the course created by stress. You can decide to be empowered rather than defeated.
Take care of your body. When you are experiencing stress you can benefit from increased water intake. Drinking more water helps your body to flush out the chemicals released when your brain senses stress. Activity or movement also serves as a stress reliever. I mentioned yoga, some people prefer running or boxing. Allowing your body an outlet for the physical reaction to stress can encourage a more healthy relationship with stress.
Don’t take yourself too seriously in the passing moments. Ok… sometimes we just need to take a deep breath, release our unrealistic expectations, and take a moment to relish in the lighter side of life. Let me give you an example, mornings can be rough. Trying to get the kiddos out of the house and to work on time may sound simple, but that is not always the case. There are a LOT of moving parts that have to fall into place. As the clock ticks closer to 8:00, stress heightens and begins to impact everyone’s mood …the moving parts fall everywhere but into place. Rather than allow the tension of a failed morning bleed into the rest of our day, we will often have a dance party on the drive to school and we say our daily mantra “I am brave, I am strong, I am kind, I am important” to hit reset. We hug, kiss, and say I love you. We acknowledge that being in a hurry led to a stressful morning and we are not going to let it ruin our day. This same reaction can apply to conflicts at work, missed due dates, speeding tickets, broken appliances, and other moments that are definitely stressful but do not deserve to take over your mindset.
Let me place a disclaimer here…if you have consistent physical symptoms that concern you, please see a physician to rule out any underlying diagnoses. Also, if you think you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder or depression, changing your relationship with stress can certainly help mitigate your symptoms, but talking to your physician or pursuing counseling may be necessary. There are also critically stressful moments that may require additional intervention. However, no matter what your circumstance is utilizing positive coping skills, taking care of your body, and checking your perspective are all beneficial steps to take to aide in stress management.
So cheers to ☘️St. Paddy’s Day☘️ and driving the snakes out of your mind. Don’t allow negative thought processes to take over and control your relationship with stress. You are equipped to overcome the moments that seem overwhelming.