Pursue this delightful article by Oliver Sacks on the psychological and physiological Healing Power of Gardens.
Take a day this month to explore that nearby beautiful garden or listen to a song, new or beloved.
Pursue this delightful article by Oliver Sacks on the psychological and physiological Healing Power of Gardens.
The benefits of mindfulness are not just anecdotal: A growing body of scientific research shows its positive effects on mental health and well-being. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve attention and reduce stress as well as increase one's ability to regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy. Mindfulness is also widely considered an effective psychotherapy treatment for adults, children, and adolescents with aggression, ADHD, or other mental health issues such as anxiety. To learn more about the benefits of mindfulness, please check out this thorough article about mindfulness with children across the all the developmental phases.
There is remarkable evidence that shows that when you do things like mindfulness and relaxation training and yoga, that you are setting your body up to not express certain genes that could cause a lot of illness and disease in people. And the idea of kids learning this is quite beneficial, especially when we add in the different environment that kids these days are growing up in with technology. While we love our phones and some of us love them more than others, we really are creating an entirely different experience for kids these days. And the idea of having this mindfulness to rely on, to clear your mind, to enter into a thoughtless state and to really align your mind and body in a very positive way is very good preventive medicine.
I find in my work with families that parents are just as happy to be doing it as the kids are. And I essentially think all kids need to learn how to do calm breathing and one nostril breathing, which is where you close one nostril and you close your mouth and breathe in very slowly in and out through the other nostril. Usually you breathe in for seven and out for nine. And you do it for several minutes until you get really relaxed.
But, there are all of these apps now where parents can help their children learn how to relax. For example, C-A-L-M, is an app, which has an amazing bedtime stories as part of the app. Part of the app is free and part of it you have to pay for and the bedtime stories unfortunately is something you have to pay for. But, I’ve had children who’ve had a lot of trouble relaxing before bed and they listen to these stories. There’s one where the man’s voice is very soothing and you almost want to fall asleep the second he starts talking. And of course, that’s one way to use it. Another way is not at bedtime, but for them to really learn how to relax and how to decompress. And what I suggest is looking at the different apps to see if any resonate for you, your child or teen, and your family. InsightTimer is a good one. Buddhify is another one. Headspace is another good app. The most important part is to start somewhere and make it a habit.
The weather is warming up, warmer days are here, flowers are starting to bloom. You know what this means? Spring has sprung!
Here are 50 ways to celebrate the spring season today!
The Great Outdoors
What makes some tasks harder than others to tackle? It turns out the time allotted for the work matters less than how our minds perceives the deadline. When a deadline feels like it is part of the present- say, within the current month, we are more likely to begin the task.
Studies find that the brain divides time into discrete categories, with boundaries at the end of a moth or the start of a new year, for example. To motivate yourself to start a task you are putting off, try thinking about time boundaries differently. For a deadline next month, you might call it three weeks instead or design a new calendar for yourself that does not break up the months. Research also suggests that dividing tasks into smaller, incremental steps with their own deadlines, will feel more immediate.
Gazing at images of the great outdoors has been linked with a range of benefits, including pain relief, stress recovery, and mood improvement. Now, research has shown that thinking of and looking at pictures of nature also helps to orient you to the future and reduce impulsivity. Seeing nature or even pictures of nature makes us think more about the future. When time is expanded, it is easier for people to imagine the future and this effect appears to lessen the draw of immediate temptations. This is something to consider the next time you are at the office working late and your desire is to raid the fridge. Watching the sunset or nature landscapes on your computer may help to keep you oriented towards the future and not the immediate temptation.
A pounding heart, rapid breathing, racing thoughts--is it anxiety or excitement? New studies at Harvard University found that by interpreting these sensations as excitement instead of anxiety allowed people to perform better in three types of stressful situations: singing in front of strangers, speaking in public, and solving difficult math problems.
Most people try to calm down when facing high-stress situations, but that approach can backfire by increasing rumination about what could go wrong. Instead choose to focus on the potential high points of the situation, such as looking forward to making colleagues laugh during a presentation or knowing how to solve some problems on a test. Getting excited about how things can go well will give you confidence and energy and increase the likelihood that the positive outcomes you imagine will actually happen.
The answer may or may not surprise you, but a messy kitchen might, in fact, ruin your diet. We have all been there. A week's worth of dirty plates, cups, and unwashed pots and pans are in the sink, the kitchen table has mail and bills strewn everywhere, and the fruit bowl has fruit that has seen better days. This chaotic environment can be enough to make someone overeat.
According to a recent study published in the journal, Environment and Behavior, the researchers set out to find what impact does a disordered kitchen have on people? We know environmental factors influence behavior and we know the influence of stress on overeating in general, but this particular question of the impact of a messy kitchen had not been studied before.
The researchers set up two kitchens, one was cluttered and noisy and the other was neat and tidy. They then asked 98 female undergraduate participants to complete a writing assignment in one of these two kitchens. The writing prompts varied; some wrote about a time they felt out of control and some wrote about a time when they felt in control. They were provided with unlimited supply of carrots, cookies, and crackers and told they could eat as much as they desired.
Of the participants who wrote about a time when they felt out of control, those in the chaotic kitchen consumed twice as many calories as those in the organized kitchen. Participants who were in the messy kitchen who had thought and written about a time when they were in control, however, ate less. The in-control mindset buffered against the negative impact of the environment.
Actively having and maintaining an in-control mindset might help to offset the demands of life, where work, life demands, children, and a busy schedule can make it hard sometimes to keep the kitchen tidy and organized.
Writing in a journal is a great tool to use when you are struggling with something or when you are having intense feelings. Journaling is a private activity and you never have to show anything that you write, doodle, draw, or create.
People often wonder how to get started with journaling. To someone who has never tried to journal, it can seem difficult. Try to remember that there is no right or wrong answer. You also do not have to worry about misspellings, punctuation, or run-on sentences. Just put pen to paper and start writing. Some people ask if using technology to journal is okay. It is okay but it is less effective. Research has shown that putting pen to paper allows our brains to process the information in a different way. Also, if you are setting goals for yourself, writing them down makes them more concrete and makes you more likely to achieve your goals.
For some of my adult patients, I have encouraged journaling. For some people, free writing or uncensored, stream of consciousness writing comes naturally to them. For other people, this can be hard to do. With that in mind, here are some prompts I have collected over the years to help people who are either new to journaling or who need a little encouragement. Feel free to use whatever works best for you.
Some Writing Prompts for Better Mental Health:
1. Tell Me a Story about Your Family.
2. Who or What Inspires You?
3. What are 25 of your favorite personal qualities?
4. What really scares me is...
5. What makes me happy?
6. Write a letter to your future self in 5 or 10 years.
7. What is one thing you wish other people understood about you?
8. When was the last time that you learned a new skill? Tell me about that process.
9. Write about a time when you were courageous.
10. Write about your current, last, or favorite pet.
11. What are your hopes, dreams, and aspirations?
12. If you could have one perfect day, what would it look like?
13. Write a letter to your younger self.
14. Write about a time when you helped someone who didn't ask for your help.
15. Who was your childhood hero?
Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present. They can help to reorient a person to the here-and-now and to stay in the present Grounding skills can be helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety. They help someone to regain their mental focus from an often intensely emotional state.
Grounding Exercise #1:
Begin by tracing your hand on a piece of paper and label each finger as one of the five senses. Then take each finger and identify something special and safe representing each of those five senses. For example: Thumb represents sight and a label for sight might be butterflies or my middle finger represents the smell sense and it could be represented by lilacs. After writing and drawing all this on paper, post it on your refrigerator or other safe places in the home where it could be easily seen and memorize it. Whenever you get triggered, breathe deeply and slowly, and put your hand in front of your face where you can really see it – stare at your hand and then look at each finger and try to do the five senses exercise from memory.
Grounding Exercise #2:
• Keep your eyes open, look around the room, notice your surroundings, notice details.
• Hold a pillow, stuffed animal or a ball.
• Place a cool cloth on your face, or hold something cool such as a can of soda.
• Listen to soothing music
• Put your feet firmly on the ground
• Focus on someone’s voice or a neutral conversation.
Grounding Exercise #3:
Here’s the 54321 “game”
• Name 5 things you can see in the room with you. • Name 4 things you can feel (“chair on my back” or “feet on floor” or "breeze on my face")
• Name 3 things you can hear right now (“fingers tapping on keyboard” or “birds chirping")
• Name 2 things you can smell right now (or, 2 things you like the smell of)
• Name 1 good thing about yourself
We have all been there. You’re browsing in a department store or clicking absentmindedly online and suddenly there it is—the siren call of the impulse buy, a tempting treat that you do not really need, did not budget for, and may regret later on. Yet somehow, you fish out your credit card nonetheless. Why does this impulse shopping happen? And what’s the secret to ignoring the siren call and discerning between a temporary want and a good investment? It’s all about being conscious of what’s happening inside your head when you are shopping. Like mindful eating and mindful breathing, this new sensibility ensures that every single purchase counts.
Why is the siren call of impulse shopping so seductive?
Even though the impulse buy is typically framed as a rare accident, a whopping 68% of consumers decisions are made at the point of purchase. And did you know that if you happen to pick up and hold what you are considering buying, you make an emotional connection to that item that inspires ownership and you are then 60% more likely to buy the item.
Not only is placement of the impulse buy and whether you held the item or not influencing you but so is your mood. We have all heard of “retail therapy.” Retail therapy or shopping to boost one’s mood has been shown to boost mood when done in moderation. So a little retail therapy has been proven to increase dopamine levels, reduce stress and anxiety, and ease life transitions.
Once you have surrendered to that initial purchase, you have unwittingly opened the floodgates to buying even more during that shopping trip. A 2007 study conducted by researchers at Duke, Stanford, and Yale business schools coined this phenomena “the shopping momentum effect.” After you go through the deliberation process on the first item that you decide to purchase, you are now in a mind set to buy even more.
But like all highs, there will be a crash. It might come later that same evening, or when you receive your credit card statement, or when you find the shirt two years later with the tag still on. At these moments, you will be hit with the reminder of your poor choice. And even if we can financially afford this habit, feelings of guilt, shame, and wastefulness can weigh on us and extract a huge psychological cost.
The Mindful Shopper
Earn the Purchase--When you are being mindful of your shopping, you are typically planning ahead. Reframing purchases as something you "earn" rather than something you "get" adds a sense of appreciation and gratitude.
Willpower is a finite resource! Research has shown that willpower gets fatigued. Therefore, it is a good idea to try to identify the moments when your willpower may be low. For example, if you have abstained from several fast food places on the drive home from work, your self-control may be too tapped to pass up the huge sale at your favorite department store.
No check, please! Pay with cash. Studies have found that shoppers who pay with cash as opposed to paying by credit card experience a higher "pain of paying" since the loss of funds is immediate. When you charge it, you are also more likely to spend more for something than when you decide to pay with cash.
Distinguish Wants from Needs. Remember that most things are wants, very few things are actual needs. Put a desired item on hold and tell yourself that you will swing by tomorrow to buy it. If you return, you will know that you really want the item and will have less regret. Slowing down your shopping is a mindful way to shop.
Miranda J. Gabriel, Psy.D.
A licensed clinical psychologist providing psychotherapy to children, teens, and adults in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Information and opinions found on this website
are not substitutes for
medical or psychological advice. Dr. Gabriel can't answer questions about someone's specific situation or give
personal advice. Please see the Disclaimer section under the Contact Page for more information.