self-compassion

All Vibes Welcome

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We’ve all heard sayings such as: “just stay positive”, “positive vibes only” and “don’t worry, it’ll all work out”. These words are taking over social media posts, inspirational posters, and easily fall out of our mouths when we’re met with uncomfortable emotions. While these phrases are well-intentioned, they can leave us feeling even more disconnected. This is due to the implicit message of only accepting a narrow range of feelings. Basically we now feel bad for feeling bad, since we can’t choose our emotions. So how can we shift from spreading toxic positivity to providing hope?

First off, let’s just own that most of us have been on the receiving and perpetuating end of these phrases. Even as a trained therapist, I recognize these words have slipped out of my mouth before I could even blink. Toxic positivity is vastly ingrained in our culture, and the discomfort around sitting with sadness, anger, frustration, etc. is present. Yet, when we are struggling and seeking hope, we also need validation and connection. We actually need our support system to acknowledge our pain, rather than dismiss it.

To illustrate my point, try this out for me...Think about something you’re struggling with and notice how your brain and body responds to each of these phrases:

“Don’t stress”

“Being negative won’t help”

“Choose happiness”

Versus...

“This is hard for you. How can I help make your day easier?”

“This sounds like a challenging situation. What are some challenges you’ve overcome in the past?”

“I see you trying. I believe in you”

How was it hearing the first three statements compared to the last three? What differences do you notice in wording?

The first three are actually dismissing your current feelings. Compared to the last three, these words validate the struggle and provide encouragement. That order is key to inspiring hope and building connection: validate first, encourage second.

While it is easier to keep your distance from someone’s discomfort, meeting your loved ones where they are is what will truly inspire healing. While we all hold the capacity to better our situation and heal emotionally, a support system along-side us can help ease that process.

How to be as Kind to Yourself as You are to Others

Guess what? Being kind to yourself isn’t selfish! In fact, letting yourself off the hook every now and then can give you the freedom to be more authentic in your relationships. And contrary, to popular belief, compassion is actually more motivating than criticism. Think of the most caring mentor you have had in your life. Now contrast that with the hostile, angry, yelling coach who always left you in tears. Which one gives you strength and confidence? 

Have you ever considered why it’s so easy for us to be kind, compassionate and loving to others, but not ourselves? Dr. Kristin Neff provides an excellent intro into the benefits of loving yourself, flaws and all, and how the daily practice of self-compassion actually allows you to better care for others as well. She also distinguishes between self-compassion and self-indulgence. Compassion tells us to be kind to ourselves while also holding ourselves accountable.

Hungry for more? Check our recommended reading list for more books on self-compassion!

It's Pride Month... Celebrate YOU!

Pride month is in full swing and celebrations are kicking off all around the world.  What a fantastic month for us members of the LGBTQIA++ community! This is a month in which we remember those who fought so tirelessly for our rights and paved the path for future generations.  It is through these efforts that we’re able to more fully embrace who we are as individuals and who we are as a community. While pride and joy do absolutely abound for many of us this month, June can also be a source of tremendously painful self-reflection, regrets, and “if only’s”.  For many of us, the wounds from our pasts can be closely tied to our own coming out processes resulting in this month feeling like a double-edged sword of joy and pain.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend and colleague about our thoughts and feelings on Pride month.  He shared that, although he does feel a tremendous amount of joy and happiness in seeing the ‘younger generation’ embracing their identities earlier in life, he wrestles with feelings of jealousy, resentment, and regret. He went on to share his coming out story in saying that he didn’t ‘come out’ until his mid-thirties – six years into his relationship with his current husband.  “Back then, it wasn’t safe to tell people that you were gay so I had to keep my secret.” We both bonded in our shared experiences and started down the path of ‘if only I was born later, I wouldn’t have had to hide myself from the world’. As I chewed on this, I found myself thinking about the vast amount of other individuals who have had similar experiences and how this life of secrecy has impacted all of us.  

Even though the social acceptance and support of non-heterosexual identities have tremendously improved over the years, I still find myself shocked when I hear stories of the blatant phobias that abounds in this day and age.  Today’s teens are caught in a very interesting time. They’ve heard the support from the community and are finding comfort in embracing their identities at younger and younger ages yet there are still sects of the community that continue to try and push them down and force them back into the closet.  In sessions, I hear clients tell me that they’re encouraged to ‘be who they are’ yet receive notices and threats that they can and will be ousted from: school, sporting events, church groups, their own homes, etc. if it is learned that they are ‘out’. What terribly confusing messages these young people are hearing today!  It’s pretty fascinating to me that the sentiments experienced today have so many similarities to the overt sentiments experienced by older generations - “go ahead and be who you are, just do it within these specified parameters and spaces.”

So where does that leave us?  I know this is really going to date me, but I’ve got Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” running through my head - ‘secret secret, I’ve got a secret...’.  As far as we’ve come as a community and as a society, we’re still being taught to keep secrets. We are told to embrace who we are yet are expected to hide our very truths.  We’re encouraged to find our happiness yet only act on that happiness as long as it falls in line with others’ ideologies. The message from decades ago of “you chose this lifestyle so just accept the consequences that came with your decision” is still being regurgitated today. So continues the cycle of shame, guilt, secrecy, and the search for pseudo-happiness.  I don’t know about you, but this leaves me feeling all kinds of yuck!

As an empowerment and relational therapist, I can’t help but say this has GOT TO stop.  We all are beautiful individuals with amazing stories, gifts, and attributes. Yes, we’ve all experienced the ‘yuck’, pain, and shame that accompanied our own identity journeys but these wounds don’t have to define us, rather, they can reinforce us.  The word ‘celebration’ often accompanies Pride month and, prior to my conversation with my friend and colleague, I interpreted that word as one of:  happiness, joy, partying, and cutting loose. Somewhere inside me though, there was a shift and I now hear that word as a signal to celebrate the challenges, struggles, and yuck that we’ve gone through. These experiences have helped to shape who we are as individuals and who we are as a community.  The ideas of joy and pain do not have to take the shape of a double-edged sword, rather these two ideas can come together as a two-armed hug – embracing and celebrating who you are, all that you’ve waded through, and all that you have yet to live. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it, love yourself for you’re the most important person in your own life!!!  Happy Pride month everyone!!

Self-Compassion: Becoming Your Inner Ally

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“Through self-compassion, we become an inner ally instead of an inner enemy”.  

-Kristin Neff, PhD

We’ve all had the concept of self-esteem thrown down our throats, which usually teaches us that the ultimate goal is to have high levels of self-esteem. While the idea of feeling good about ourselves is absolutely essential, we’ve learned that our “feeling good” is based on:  how many trophies we have on our mantle, how many A’s we earn in school, and how many points we scored in the last game. What happens when we don’t score that last point or we end up with a B+ instead of an A? For some of us, our sense of self can crumble and our self-critic can begin screaming at us telling us that we’re not good enough, smart enough, or strong enough. It doesn’t have to have such a strong voice, though. Self-compassion provides us that cushion and soft blanket to catch and cradle us when we do fall short of our goals and expectations.

The concept of self-compassion is broken into three categories:  self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. Through the interweaving of these three ideas, we’re able to shift our focus from the potentially superficial feelings of goodness that self-esteem can bring, and replace them with a  solid embracing of who we are through self-compassion. Let me break down the three components of self-esteem:

  • Self-kindness – Think for a second what you would say to a close friend who has come to you expressing feelings of sadness and low self-worth.  Perhaps they just failed an exam and said to you, “I just knew I’d fail that test! I’m so stupid!!” Would you agree with them and tell them that they are indeed stupid?  Well, no, of course you wouldn’t. You would amp up your compassion meter and do everything in your power to help them feel better and dispute their negative self-talk. Now let me blow your mind for a minute; what would it be like if you were to display that same level of compassion and kindness to yourself?  What if you were to change your harsh thoughts of, “This is so stupid...I’m never going to get this...I’m a complete failure!” to “I didn’t do so well on that last test and I’m going through a lot right now.  I need to cut myself some slack”? Feels weird yet oddly comforting, huh?  That’s self-kindness. Giving yourself the same kindness and compassion that you give to a good friend.

  • Mindfulness – I know that I’ve talked about mindfulness a lot in previous blogs.  Take all of that and add to it the idea of recognizing and embracing your feelings for what they are.  Feelings and emotions are just a piece of information for you to acknowledge without placing any judgment on them.  Being quick to judge our feelings and emotions can quickly lead to desires of suppressing those feelings or over-identifying with them.  Being truly mindful allows us to shift our focus from the “shoulda, coulda woulda’s” to the present, because the present is the only state of being where we possess control.

  • Common humanity – When we trip on that crack in the sidewalk or drop our cup of coffee in front of our friends, it can easily feel as though we are the only one’s in the world that have done this.  Likewise, when we feel down, sad, angry, and hurt, it can also seem as though no one else has ever felt as bad as we do. In embracing the concept of self-compassion, we’re able to see that we’re all in this boat together.  We all trip, fall, cry, yell, struggle, and suffer. Why? Because we’re human and we all have feelings and emotions.

For more information on the concept of self-compassion and to obtain deeper tools on how to begin practicing your own journey toward self-compassion, I encourage you to check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s work at www.self-compassion.org.  In wrapping these three components into your daily life, you will be able to enhance that love that you feel for yourself and, in turn, the love that you feel for the world around you.



Approaching Life with a Beginner's Mind

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Photo by Max Andrey on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself making assumptions about the way your next history exam will go, how a conversation with a parent will transpire, or how you will perform in your next soccer tournament? Often times we cultivate expectations of ourselves, others, or situations in general based on past experiences. While this is a natural and adaptive aspect of human nature, it can also inhibit us from being open to the potential of experiencing something new and different. Furthermore, assumptions based on our experiences sometimes take us away from the present moment and transport us backward into the past or forward into the future. Again, while not entirely unhelpful to reflect on past experiences or consider our futures, living in the past or the future can bring up unhelpful emotions. It can also inhibit our ability to experience the here and now and furthermore to be effective in the here and now. Today I offer you the concept of “Beginner’s Mind” as a means of cultivating the opportunity for new experiences and practicing mindfulness of the present moment.

What is a beginner’s mind? It is what it sounds like! Remember the first time you made a new friend, got an A on your exam, went on a rollercoaster? During any of these “firsts” you approach the experience with an unknowing and open mind because you have not yet had that experience. Beginner’s mind is a way of approaching an experience that, while it be familiar in many aspects, has the potential for a new and different outcome. Perhaps you have had several conversations with a parent on earning privileges back that have not gone in your favor. These experiences build on each other and cultivate an assumption that this type of conversation will always transpire in the same fashion and have the same end result. This assumptive mindset, while seemingly accurate, inhibits us from being creative and experimenting with a different approach and outcome. It can feel hopeless, defeating, and other unhelpful emotions when we get into our assumptive mindsets. If we are to shift our perspective to utilizing a “Beginner’s Mind”, we might consider approaching this conversation in a different manner with an open mind about the result looking different. In doing so, we allow for the possibility of change and new experiences. Cultivating the opportunity for a new experience may foster emotions such as hope and optimism.

Now what we know what Beginner’s Mind is, how do we achieve beginner’s mind? First, we must acknowledge that there is a part of our past experience that informs our current experience. For example, that last conversation with my mom did not go well. We might draw attention to the areas in which we felt this conversation was ineffective and tweak those areas to open the opportunity for a new outcome. We must then let go of that past experience with our tweaks in mind. Rehashing the past in unhelpful to our current situation. Similarly, we might envision what could happen in the future; however, we must acknowledge that we are not fortune tellers and therefor we cannot predict the exact outcome. In this scenario, make peace with the fact that we cannot with certainty predict the result of our conversation. Once we have made peace with our past experiences and our assumptions about the future we allow ourselves to come back to the present moment and furthermore be effective in this current experience.

Beginner’s mind can be challenging, especially if you notice your mind often wanders to a different time and place. I offer you the following tips in practicing Beginner’s Mind and cultivating more experiences in the here and now:

  • Practice self-kindness, do not judge yourself on your ability to stay in the present. Rather, gently remind yourself to come back to the here and now when you notice you have wandered

  • Make peace with what you cannot change about the past and what you do not know for certain in the future

  • Practice Self-Care and grounding strategies to help you move through difficult emotions

  • Remember that Beginner’s Mind is challenging and requires practice! Resist the temptation to give up on your efforts!

It Takes a Village: Understanding How Systems Shape Us

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Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

We are all part of a system, several systems in fact. Systems range from our partner, family unit, school/work/organization, community, culture, and everything in between. Systems often develop patterns of functioning that support the system in accomplishing tasks, moving forward, and maintaining balance. The evolution of patterns can be intentional, they might present an imbalance in who the system serves, or perhaps they came about over time through events and experiences that shape patterns without members attunement to the helpful or unhelpful results. I have felt inspired by my work and personal experience to reflect on the systems in which individuals exist, how systems function, and if that function is serving individuals and the systems as a whole.

To further understand the operation of systems, I offer the example of coming to therapy (coincidence?) … Perhaps you chose to begin therapy or maybe that was a choice made for you by someone in your life who cares about you. Whatever the circumstance, you are the client in the room. Maybe you or a loved one identified that you can benefit from having an unbiased, safe space. This sometimes implies that you bear the sole responsibility of making a change or committing to yourself. While this can absolutely play a role in what therapy looks like, it would be a disservice to ignore how the systems you exist within also impact your experience and furthermore how the other members contribute to your identity & well-being and that of the system at large.

Let’s say I come to therapy with the goal of enhancing my ability to be more assertive with my feelings in relationships. It might be helpful to look at what communication has been like in my family, for example. Perhaps I found it challenging to be assertive with family because I was expected to “keep the peace,” insert humor in place of vulnerability, or avoid rocking the boat at times it was on the edge of capsizing. This style offered my family a sense of protection, that everything will be alright, and that I am capable of “going with the flow” to avoid exacerbating conflict. While my willingness to mute or soften my emotional expression appeared to function well in our family system to keep us moving forward and establish rhythm, it also presented a later consequence of fear/hesitancy/confusion around how to be assertive in other relationships and areas of my life.

To avoid placing “blame” on any single family member, including myself, I might remember that this pattern of communicating was protective, and it supported my family moving forward and maintaining peace. Rather than viewing our family system as flawed, I might say this pattern functioned for a period of time for a particular purpose; however, that function no longer serves me or the system as a whole. It truly does take consideration of the systems we participate in to understand how patterns develop and how we might want to change a pattern that is no longer serving us. The shift in system function is not any single individual’s responsibility, but a product of all members role in that system; however, when one person chooses to create changes in how they move within the system, there's a ripple effect that can occur, offering an opportunity for growth for the whole system. In re-framing your experience, identity, and worldview to include how your systems have shaped you, you may notice you experience more self-compassion and compassion for the systems that you are a part of, which in turn connects us more deeply to our humanity and the humanity of others.

I offer some tips in considering your village, how it functions, and how it serves you:

  • Reflect on your systems - identify who and what your systems are, what your function is within the system, and the function of the system as a whole

  • Take inventory on what is serving you and what does not seem to work (anymore)

  • Communicate with members of your system on what’s working and what’s not

  • Practice approaching change to the system with curiosity, willingness, flexibility, patience, and compassion for yourself and others

  • Resist the urge to fall back into old patterns that you know are not serving you, practice a beginner’s mind with each situation you are faced with

Remember that it takes a village for your experience to shift, and you are neither the purpose for unhelpful changes in the system nor do you bear the sole responsibility of enacting change. Use your supports and practice self kindness 😊


Freeing Yourself from Thinking Traps

Recently, I read an article stating that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day. “Is this true?” I asked myself.  Is it 100% true? As a research oriented individual, I immediately questioned this and sought valid and reliable support for this very specific claim. While I was unable to find any reputable scientific evidence to validate this idea, I can still confidently conclude that the number of thoughts one has in a single day is A LOT.

Not ironically, this whole situation got me thinking. I do know that our thoughts greatly affect how we not only see the world, but how we view ourselves.  I also know that there are thoughts that seem to just pop up on their own whether we want them to or not, and sometimes these thoughts can be pretty negative. You may look at a situation one way without considering the many other potential viewpoints, or you may think that you know how things will turn out, despite having any proof to support that idea. According to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, these are referred to as Automatic Negative Thoughts, but I like to call them A.N.T.s. Why, you may ask? Because they are annoying, they can sting, and they are MUCH stronger than they look.  If you have been in session with me before, you may have also heard me refer to them as “Thinking Traps.”

Take a look below to see what A.N.T.s you may find yourself using without even knowing it:

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While these may sound pretty awful, it’s important to know that everyone experiences these kinds of thoughts and likely engage in more than one type. Fortunately, researchers have been able to name the different types of A.N.T.s / Thinking Traps, and there is a huge amount of valid and reliable research showing how to effectively combat them.  One of the first and most important ways to defeat these thoughts is to recognize and acknowledge that the thoughts are even happening to you. So, if you found yourself relating to any of the thoughts above, congratulations! You’ve just completed Step 1 in defeating the A.N.T.s! Next, it is vital that you ask yourself, “Is this true?” Then, ask yourself again, “Is this 100% true?” More often than not, you might realize that there is very little evidence to support the claim you are making, and you may just happen to believe the false information you are telling yourself.

All in all, remember to be kind to yourself if you find that the A.N.T.s have taken over. You have the power and the ability to seek the truth of your words, and to speak more truthfully and compassionately to yourself.  You deserve it.

Glow, Grow, Glow: Befriending Your Inner Critic

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We are our own toughest critics” - This phrase is so widely used and understood, because we tend to be more judgmental of our own performance than others are of us. Whether or not this fact is true or the self-critique is accurate, it can feel true and accurate at times. The implications of self-criticism are unique to each individual... Perhaps self-criticism is a form of motivation or a preventative measure from becoming “lazy.” Perhaps self-criticism has become so much a part of our inner dialogue that it is automatically accepted as fact and prevents us from putting ourselves in seemingly anxiety-provoking situations. Maybe self-criticism falls somewhere in between (or outside) those areas. Whatever role your self-critic plays in your life, I invite you to draw attention to this part of your story and identify how it serves you.

Criticism is defined as the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. The word criticism inherently has a negative connotation, noting that “disapproval, faults, and mistakes” often define this word. Rather than criticizing ourselves, I encourage you to experiment with using the term “feedback.” Feedback, rather, is defined as information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement. Feedback is inherently more neutral/positive and implies that there is opportunity for growth. By simply changing the word we choose to apply when reflecting on our own performances, we may be mentally and emotionally opening ourselves to the opportunity for growth and change.

When offering feedback to ourselves or others, I often encourage the “glow, grow, glow” method that I learned in my yoga teacher training. A glow is something we feel proud of and are able to acknowledge that we did well. A grow is an area we are able to identify that can benefit from improvement. The “glow, grow, glow” sandwich encourages us to begin our feedback with a positive self-affirmation and end with a positive self-affirmation. This supports a reworking of our inner critic to appreciate our strengths rather than focusing on our perceived shortcomings.

For example, I may judge myself on my performance in a social setting as awkward, shy, or unapproachable on the basis of my perceived lack of connection with others in that setting. True or not, my inner critic may be screaming self-judgments in my head. If I am to apply feedback through a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich, I might tell myself - “I am a good listener” (glow), “I can practice engaging more in the conversation, particularly on topics I can relate to” (grow), “I care about my relationship with others” (glow). The example above cultivates drawing attention to our strengths while offering areas for change.

Here are some helpful tips when giving yourself feedback using a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich:

  • Start small, practice often, and apply feedback to multiple diverse areas in your life

  • Practice mindfulness of disqualifying the positive when acknowledging a “glow” (it’s only a true glow when you maintain the idea that this is something you feel proud of)

  • Practice mindfulness of the emotional weight you place into your “grow” (your grow might feel more significant than your glows and that is OK - manage the amount of energy you focus on your grow and take your attempts for change one step at a time)

  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-care. Your inner critic might pop back up from time to time, perhaps you can give your inner critic a feedback glow, grow, glow sandwich

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

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Life can be hard, stressful, painful, and just downright unfair sometimes.  We all have so many pressures and expectations placed upon us as well as our own hopes and desires to be happy.  As we’ve all experienced, our day to day routines don’t always end in happiness and sometimes we just hurt.  Somehow, though, we’ve learned that we can’t show these signs of sadness and pain for fear of being seen as weak or dramatic.  So we add to our armor and spruce up our mask – getting our battle shields ready to protect us from further hurt while continuing to bury down our ‘yuck’ feelings. Why? Well because this is what we’ve learned, and this is what has been taught to us. I’d like to tell you all a different story and one that you may think odd coming from a therapist - sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.

Why do we work so darn hard to make sure that no one else knows that we’re hurting? What is it that we’re so afraid of? Vulnerability – the one magical word that can strike fear into the strongest of people.  When we take down our veil, we open our hearts to potential disapproval, dismissal, and invalidation. For some, it only takes one experience of this for them to tell themselves that vulnerability is unsafe and therefore, guards must always be up to protect them from the pain and ‘yuck.’  Others learn from society – men who show emotion are weak and women who cry are hysterical (not the funny kind). So the shields go up and the masks become fixed to our faces. We brace ourselves for the day and begin our inner monologue: “no one’s going to see how I’m feeling today so I’m safe.”  All the while, our hidden feelings and emotions pile up inside, eating away at our happiness and sense of self-appreciation. The days become weeks which turn into months which turn into years, all the while we sing the same song to ourselves - “Put On a Happy Face.” Of course the gray skies are gonna clear up, but they don’t stay clear forever.  

Boy that’s a downer, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, my purpose in writing this isn’t to put you all in a funk and pour salt into your wounds. I’m trying to highlight something that we all do and the cycle that we all get ourselves into. We wake up, start our day, put on our mask, and hope that nothing bad happens. When that something bad does happen we either react to it or we bury it down deep, adding it to the already immense pile of ‘yuck.’ Rarely, though, do we allow ourselves to embrace those icky feelings and authentically share with others that we’re not okay. What would it be like for you if you were to share those feelings and tell someone, “hey, that really hurt my feelings”? Pretty terrifying, huh? Do you think that this might change your cycle? Perhaps that one act of vulnerability could decrease the amount of armor that you put on and release some of that ‘yuck’ that is stored up inside.

Maybe sharing your feelings with others seems too scary right now.  I can appreciate that. What would it be like if you shared your feelings with someone who is less scary? What about that person that stares back at you in the bathroom mirror? I’ve written in previous blogs about my love of journaling. Now when I talk about writing in a journal, I’m not referring to that fluffy pink journal with the gold lock in which we write about our latest crush or the hottest song that’s on the radio. I’m talking about an outlet in which you write down whatever is on your mind – your innermost thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sources of anxiety/depression. This is a place where you can ‘dump your yuck’.  A place to get those feelings down on the page and remove them from your body.

One of the beautiful things about therapy is that we have an opportunity to ‘dump’ all of this hard stuff in the therapy office so that we can feel lighter and release the heaviness of our yuck. Journaling provides the same opportunity. Although a journal isn’t able to provide verbal feedback or validation of your feelings, it is able to capture the weight of your thoughts and trap them within the pages of your journal. This type of journaling isn’t meant to serve as a historical record in which you go back after a few months and re-read what you’ve written to reminisce about the memories captured. It’s a place to release the heaviness in your head and your heart. Once inside, the thoughts, feelings, and experiences are to be closed in and barricaded by the covers of the journal. It’s not necessary to go back and re-read previous passages, because you might run the risk of re-injecting this yuck into your head and heart. Write and close the book.

We all experience those heavy and painful emotions, and we all know what it’s like to be weighed down by the ‘yuck.’ By embracing those feelings for what they truly are, we take the first step in lightening their heavy load. Acknowledging and accepting the ‘yuck’ doesn’t make us weak. Much to the contrary, it’s empowering and tremendously strong to speak of and/or write about that heaviness. Removing our masks, barriers, and armor allows us to truly hear ourselves say, “sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.”

The Mindful Teen - Less "Om" and More "Me"

Photo by  John Baker  on  Unsplash

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

If you are a person with access to the internet, radio, television or books and magazines, it’s very likely that you’ve come across the word “mindfulness.”  Conduct a simple Google search on “New Year’s resolutions,” “how to deal with anxiety,” or any other self-betterment phrase, and you’re bound to find yourself sifting through pages of articles praising this seemingly miraculous technique. Even searching through our blog will bring up tons of tips and techniques for it!  If you’ve met with me in any kind of therapeutic capacity, you’ve definitely heard this word and have likely even practiced it in some way.

So, if mindfulness is so important and apparently the cure all to what ails you, what even is it and why is it so hard to actually do? Despite its intent and purpose, I’ve found that the word itself can seem a little daunting – not only for me but for many of my clients as well.

According to Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, a researcher/professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the definition of mindfulness is this: to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. Though it sounds simple enough, how realistic is it for teens to take on this practice when judgment and comparison of self and others is practically core to the adolescent experience?

As I explored this issue with some of my teen clients, I realized that there was quite a bit of push-back on incorporating mindfulness outside of session. The stories shared with me spoke to a sense of being bombarded with the idea that we should all be more mindful and if we aren’t, then something is wrong with us (cue judgment and comparison, am I right?!). The images of “mindfulness” we see on Instagram are typically of people sitting cross legged in a very zen-like space filled with lots of plants, string lights, and all the tapestries and floor pillows Urban Outfitters has to offer. While I do love a good tapestry and plants (and Urban Outfitters, if I’m totally honest), we have to get real about what the practice actually is and recognize that this likable image does nothing but couple the word “mindfulness” with a sense of dread, inadequacy and failure.

To help empower my clients to redefine the word on their terms, I’ve created my own definition: “simply being, simply noticing; being right here, right now as you are; no more, no less; noticing that you are here and that you’re okay.” I like to think that “being” and “mindfulness” are interchangeable, and really just a way to move out of auto-pilot. For instance, we may be sitting in class, or our fingers may be scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram. While we may appear to be focused, our minds are often elsewhere, ruminating (aka dwelling) on past mistakes and anticipating future failures instead of just being right here, right now, and being okay.

If we can recognize that our mind is on a runaway train to nowhere but self-judgment, we can stop ourselves and check in with our surroundings. One of my favorite techniques is the 5 senses check-in: What do you See? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? Additionally, try noticing the way the air feels cool going through your nose, and warm out your mouth. Notice how the trees move when the wind blows. Notice how your clothes feel on your body or the temperature of your beverage. There are many quick and easy ways to practice mindfulness without having to channel your inner Buddha atop an overpriced poof surrounded by wind chimes and incense. In fact, here are a few that you can do today just to get your feet wet...

Real Life Being and Noticing:

  • Holding a mug filled with a warm beverage, noticing the warmth, in your hands, watching the steam rise, and noticing the smell.

  • Brushing your teeth: notice the taste of the toothpaste, the way the bristles feel different on your teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue etc.

  • Noticing the way water feels on your body during a shower or bath.

  • Notice the feeling you get when you open a car window or step outside.

  • Notice the color of the sky, if there are clouds, if there are trees.

  • Sitting with a friend and watching the way they talk. Do they talk with their hands? Their face? Their eyes?

  • Notice any flowers. Notice the color, the smell, the softness of the petals or the texture of their stems.

  • Place your feet into a pool, tub, or local water source. How does the water feel on your feet? Between your toes? How did the water move? What do you feel under your feet? Did this cause any other changes in your body?

You and your fellow humans are wonderful and beautiful souls that are deserving of even just a few minutes of noticing, especially when you’re stressed (remember when we are stressed we don’t even think clearly!). Pay attention to your thoughts and if you catch yourself getting stuck in a doom and gloom spiral, slow it down. Stop, take a deep breath, and just notice what . Be right here, right now. As you are. No more, no less. Just Breathe.