Mindfulness Matters: Tips for Living in the Present

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” Sylvia Boorstein

Sometimes, my brain feels like it’s not my own. I try to control the thoughts that come racing in when I wake up, but they bounce around with little regard for where I want them to go. Not now, I’ll tell them, but it falls on deaf ears. When this happens, I try not to let my thoughts carry me away with them. I may meditate, or I may just take a moment to take in where I am, noticing how it feels to be supported by the earth, and what sounds, smells, and colors I can see. Does it always work? No; sometimes, the thoughts still win. But the more I practice this skill, the better I become at being present in the moment. Mindfulness is a powerful psychological tool that can help you accept, study, and let go of the worries, fears, struggles, and persistent thoughts that cloud your mind, allowing you to feel lighter and more alive.

The best way to become more mindful is to practice meditation. However, even simply living more mindfully has its benefits. On my journey to become a more mindful person, I have found keeping certain things in mind has helped me make progress towards my goal.

Practice, Practice, Practice

One meditation session does not make you mindful. Mindfulness is like any type of exercise; with practice, you will improve. If you don’t practice, don’t be surprised when the worries that consumed you before come pouring back, filling your mind like static. You can practice mindfulness through daily meditation, or simply by going through your day in an aware manner. Try fully focusing on the task at hand, whether you are doing the dishes, walking home, writing a paper, or doing nothing at all. The practice of focusing on the present allows you to better ground yourself during those moments of crisis when you need it, as well as more fully experience the joys of life.

Accept Yourself

No one sits through a meditation session with a completely clear mind. Whatever creeps into your consciousness, whether you are thinking about what you will be eating later or contemplating your loneliness in the world, is normal and natural. A big part of meditation is accepting yourself without judgment. Don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself drifting away from the present moment; simply observe that these thoughts are coming to you, and let them go. For me, I will sometimes visualize my mind as a blank white canvas. Thoughts come in like splashes of watercolor, trying to draw my attention back to them, but I simply acknowledge them then slowly brush them away. Fighting with your thoughts only gives them more power; allow yourself to acknowledge that you have drifted away, then return to your breath and this moment in time.

Make it a Priority

Like any goal, you are only going to become more mindful if you prioritize it. You might finish this article, feel motivated to meditate for five minutes, then promptly forget your newfound commitment to living presently. You don’t have to be perfect, but practicing mindfulness on a daily basis is the only way to become more mindful. Whether you start your day with a fifteen-minute meditation or you simply take the time to check in with yourself and the present moment several times throughout the day, the more time you put towards this goal, the simpler it will be to access that presence of mind at any moment.

Make Room for Intention

These days, it easier to overschedule than ever. There are so many different things that demand your attention, your days may be filled to the brim with appointments, errands, chores, work obligations, and social engagements. You can keep busy for your entire life and never take a moment of self-reflection, and many people do, to the detriment of their mental and physical health. Avoid this by making sure to schedule more time than you really need in between your obligations to give yourself the ability to go about your life with more intention.

Listen Actively

Raise your hand if you have ever had this experience: you are having a conversation with someone and you find yourself so wrapped up in how you are about to respond, you have no idea what they just said. Mindfulness benefits not only your own health, but your relationships with others. When you bring mindfulness into your interactions with people, you can expect them to feel much more positively about you. When you are truly present with another person, you listen to exactly what they are saying instead of just waiting to speak. Focus on being with this person at this very moment, and experience more profound mindfulness.

Savor Every Moment

“We have only now, only this single eternal moment opening and unfolding before us, day and night.” Jack Kornfield

The only thing we are guaranteed is this present moment, so savor it while you have it. Instead of allowing your mind to be preoccupied by your mistakes from the past or worries of the future, take a moment to feel the joy of what is happening right now. Breathe in the scents that surround you, feel the warmth of your clothes against your skin, and appreciate the feeling of having someone who loves you looking at your face like you are something to be seen. When you feel joy, close your eyes and feel everything this moment has brought you.

I hope these mindfulness tips help you live more presently in your everyday life. It can be difficult to stay in the moment, but you don’t have to wait to start being mindful; in fact, the best time is right now.

Advertisements

How to Cope With Anger

I have recently made it my mission to get in touch with the emotion that makes me the most uncomfortable: anger. All my life, I have made it a habit to stifle anger. I hate confrontation so much that I thought that keeping anger inside was the way to deal with it, and it turns out, it totally was! HAHA just kidding, it emotionally exhausted me so much that I physically felt tired. I had to accept that anger, like any emotion, serves a purpose, and that pretending it isn’t there doesn’t make it go away.

The Wisdom of the Five Messengers

A few years ago, my therapist gave me a copy of the book “The Wisdom of the Five Messengers” by Kerry Paul Altman, and it really resonated with me. It’s about the purpose of emotions: to bring our attention to what we need to change in our lives. Internalized misconceptions stop us from really hearing what our emotions are guiding us to do, but even when we choose to ignore them, they come out in other ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally. According to Dr. Altman, the key to living a healthy life is to let go of these preconceived notions about our feelings, stop ignoring them, and accept them for the important role they play in our lives. There are no “good” or “bad” emotions; each of the five outlined in the book (anger, sadness, happiness, fear, and love) is an essential part of being a human.

Dr. Altman refers to anger as “the messenger of injustice” (this will likely immediately speak to anyone who is angry about the new administration). When we are angry, it is because we feel wronged. We feel betrayed, whether it’s by another person, the world, or ourselves. Anger gets a bad rap because it is associated with aggression, so we are taught to ignore and avoid it. However, anger is different than aggression; anger is a feeling, and aggression is a behavior. Anger doesn’t need to be managed; aggression does. Anger needs to be heard, because anger is essential to getting shit done. Anger is why any social movement ever started. As Audre Lorde said in her well-worth-the-read essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” when anger is “[f]ocused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.” We need anger on some level to motivate us to address injustices of all kinds, from large scale societal injustices such as racism, to minor frustrations in our personal lives. When we recognize and accept our anger, it enables us to see the options we have to deal with it. We can repress anger and let it manifest as passive-aggressive behavior, headaches, or panic attacks, or we can face it head on and use it to address what is unfair in our lives.

Take a Beat

For many people, the trouble with anger is that it makes them say hurtful things. I am not generally one to respond immediately with anger, mostly because I have spent so much time out of touch with it. However, this hasn’t stopped me from spewing some toxic sentiments about the source of my anger later on to close confidants. I won’t post them here for public record, but my close friends reading this could probably tell you exactly what I said. Anger can be blinding, so it is wise to take a step back and unpack it before you address it. Give yourself the time and space to compose your thoughts if you want your words to carry the right impact. In the heat of the moment, it is easy for others to dismiss you as “too emotional.” Don’t give them this satisfaction by taking time to compose your thoughts and say exactly what you mean, how you mean it. Whether you need to take ten seconds to breathe deeply before you respond or you need several days, take the time you need, do the work, and process your anger.

Express It

I am pretty good at detecting when I need some room to think when I am feeling heated, but I am not great at following through later. My natural inclination is to work through my anger on my own and then let it slide when it comes to actually expressing it out loud. Because of my fear of confrontation, I have chickened out on this step again and again. I used to just hate the idea of “burdening” others with my feelings and making them feel bad for making me angry because does it really matter if I am not that angry anymore? Yes, it does. Your emotions are not a burden to other people. When you tell people how you really feel, how they made you feel, you are showing them respect. You demonstrate that you think enough of them to be honest with them. Imagine being in their position: if someone was mad at you, would you rather they tell you or hold it in the form of a grudge forever? Go ahead and tell them what’s on your mind.

Do Something About It

In the case of an argument, expressing how you feel may be all you need to move past it. However, there are many sources of anger within our lives, and many times, a conversation is either not possible or is not going to resolve the problem. If you are stuck in a cycle of endless road rage during your commute, for example, it might be cathartic to talk to your friends and family or journal about it, but that’s not going to address the problem head on. This is where it’s important to identify actions you can take to cope with your anger. In the case of road rage, look into alternative methods of commuting, like a more scenic and less populated route, or taking the bus instead of driving. Make a list of all your options for coping with whatever is making you angry, and choose what to do with this invigorating emotion.

Forgive

Anger serves an important purpose, but it is not meant to held onto for the rest of your life. Once you have expressed it and done something about it, it should be easier to forgive the source of your anger, which is important for your own well-being. However, this may be easier said than done in many cases, particularly in the face of oppression. You don’t need to forgive your oppressors, but find forgiveness where you can so you can heal. Forgive yourself for not being able to do more. Forgive those who don’t know better (and try to educate them). Forgive the world for its passive silence. When your anger is no longer serving you, it’s time to let it go. There is plenty more productive anger in your future.

Feel Gratitude

Once you have accomplished everything you can with your anger and let it go, it’s time to turn your attention elsewhere. This is a great opportunity to indulge in some gratitude. Think about the things in your life that don’t make you angry, but fill you with feelings of contentment, security, and awe. Tell a friend what they mean to you. Spend time in a place that gives you peace. Thank yourself for doing the work necessary to process anger. Anger is not an easy emotion, but it is one that can bring much to be grateful for into your life if you let it.

Here’s hoping your journey towards healthy anger is a smooth one. If it isn’t, feel free to reach out to me for more advice! I’m here for you.

Ginzo

10 Self-Care Tips (That Don’t Involve A Bubble Bath)

Have you guys ever noticed how articles about self-care always tell you to take a bubble bath? Don’t get me wrong; I love baths. I pretty much always have bath bombs from Lush on deck, and when I don’t, I will drive an hour to buy one. I have also had several epiphanies about myself while sitting in baths, so I am not about to belittle the value of some good ole self-reflection in the tub. But self-care is about so much more than bubble baths, and the heavy emphasis on pampering yourself makes self-care seem like indulgence, which people use to justify either not taking care of themselves or participating in some unhealthy behaviors and calling it “self-care.”

Self-care is about CARING for yourself, the way you care for a child. Caring for a child is not all about taking them to the circus and giving them all of the ice cream their heart desires; it’s also about making sure that they are fed and clothed and brush their teeth and get to bed on time, plus loving them and giving them a safe space to develop and grow. Just the way you would care for a child, you need to care for yourself. So to help you in your self-care efforts, I have compiled a list of self-care tips that don’t involve a bubble bath (though tbh all this talk about baths is just making me want to take one when I’m done writing this).

Have a bedtime ritual

If you’re anything like me, you have nights when you just crawl right into bed without doing anything beforehand because why bother, we’re all going to die anyway, right? Existentialism aside, having a bedtime ritual is extremely beneficial to your sleep hygiene and ergo, your life. Rituals trigger our brains to release the hormones we associate with these particular actions; so for bedtime rituals, our brains release melatonin, the sleep hormone. Basically, having a bedtime ritual conditions you to be sleepy at bedtime, making it so much easier to fall asleep. Sleep is important for your mental and physical health, so you should prioritize it.

Apply to a new job

This tip applies specifically to y’all who hate their jobs, or feel complacent in their jobs, or just feel complacent in general. Even if it leads nowhere, applying to another job allows you to envision a different future. Don’t resign yourself to live in an existence you hate. This can apply even beyond your job. Imagine your life beyond what limits you, whether that’s your job, your apartment, your friends, or your relationship. In short, whatever it is that is making you unhappy, take steps to change it: apply for a new job, look for a new place, make new friends, and dump his ass.

Go to the dentist

I’m sure there are people out there who are extremely diligent about going to the dentist; congratulations on being responsible. I, on the other hand, will put off going to the dentist as long as humanly possible, and then endlessly worry about them judging my tartar build up and live in an anxious ball until my appointment. Maybe for you, this is not going to the dentist, but going to the eye doctor, gynecologist, or other medical appointment. Regardless of what type of doctor, just go. It’s better than living in fear of all of the terrible diseases you think you have but probably don’t, and if you do, you need to, you know, see a doctor.

Prioritize plans with yourself

If you’re anything like me, you are intimately familiar with this scenario: someone asks you to do something, and you don’t really want to do it because you had been planning to curl up in bed and eat grapes and watch reality television, but that doesn’t really count as plans so you say “yes” anyway. Eff that. It doesn’t matter if all you did was make plans with yourself, you already have plans. Don’t allow yourself to be guilted into going to your sister’s boyfriend’s poetry reading, either by your sister or by your own inner critic.

Clean and decorate

In moments when it felt like my life was completely out of my control, cleaning has been one of the most cathartic actions I have taken. When you can’t control your life, you can still control your environment. I especially like cleaning the kitchen. There is something about a clean kitchen that makes me feel so calm. I also love when my bedroom is all cozy and neat and Instagrammable (read: fairy lights, patterned quilts, and tapestries). Cleaning is not only good for your mood, but for your cognition. When I go into slob mode and make Clothes Mountain in my closet, it is so stressful getting dressed in the morning. In contrast, when I have hung and sorted all of my clothes according to style and color, I don’t start my day with any clothes-related anxiety (I will find something else to worry about instead).

Make yourself a meal

It’s so easy to fall into the same pattern of eating out, grabbing whatever is convenient, but there is something important in the act of cooking for yourself. Food is a way that many people choose to show love (i.e. me/my mom/my sister/probably your grandma/the coworker who always brings in baked goods). Why not show yourself that same kind of love? Make yourself a meal that nourishes you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Sounds too lofty? Just make something that tastes delicious. Make grandma proud.

Play with an animal

At my college, they would have pet therapy day before finals to help stressed out students. This is because SCIENCE which tells us that animals have a calming effect on humans. Keep your blood pressure low by petting, playing with, or holding an animal, whether it is your pet, your friend’s, or some pups at the Humane Society.

Have a conversation with yourself

It might be hard for you to be kind to yourself. If it is, you are not alone. I have to actively combat negative and persistent thoughts of self-doubt on a daily basis, so I get it. Something that helps me sometimes when I am getting really down is to add some distance. I have a conversation with myself as though I am one of my close friends and I can approach the situation with far more kindness and love. When I have a feeling, I might say out loud, “I feel so ______ when _____ happens,” and I respond as though it was my friend who expressed this thought. Put a little distance between yourself and your feelings, and you may be surprised how much easier it is to accept them and move on.

Unplug

Have you ever felt like social media is a drug that is slowly sucking your time and soul so you close the Facebook app in disgust and swear you won’t check it till tomorrow but then you check it again almost immediately after because what if something has changed in the last 20 seconds? Whether your social media addiction is as persistent as mine or you have a better grip on it but still feel the effects of information overload, it’s healthy to unplug once and awhile. You might try charging your phone on the other side of the room when you sleep, deleting some apps off your phone so you can’t check them as regularly, or deactivating an account or two. Some people get nervous at the idea of leaving their phone at home for a few hours because what if this is the one time there is an emergency? I get that because I am also a worrier; that being said, it can be very refreshing to leave your phone at home for an hour or two while you go for a run or go spend some face-to-face time with a friend, and you will probably come home to only a few promotional emails or no notifications at all, making you wonder why you own a smartphone at all.

Invest in people who invest in you

When I was younger, I spent way too much time on people who gave little in return. Now, I spend more time nurturing relationships with people who want to nurture relationships with me. The people you invest in are the people who root for you, who ask how you are and want to know the answer, and who you unquestionably know care about you. Invest in them by returning the favor; support them, think about them, and let them know however you do that best, whether it is verbally, written, or through acts of kindness. On the flip side, let go of (or if you can’t, distance yourself from) people who only care about what you can give them, who never show any curiosity about you and your world, and who leave you feeling depleted and used. Care for yourself enough to know that you deserve better.

Happy Wellness Wednesday, y’all! Go out and care for yourselves!

Ginzo

How to Write New Year’s Resolutions

I love New Year’s resolutions. People are quick to point out how often we fail to accomplish them, but I don’t think that fear of failure should hold you back from this helpful exercise (or doing anything, really). I have failed to achieve many resolutions, but at minimum, thinking about what I wanted to accomplish helped me to live a more intentional life and gain greater perspective on my life. This New Year’s Day, I hope you are taking some time to reflect on what you want to accomplish this year. If you are, I have put together this handy guide to making the most of your New Year’s resolutions.

Picking Your Resolutions

Pick realistic and specific goals

Making resolutions that are too lofty or vague guarantees that you aren’t going to accomplish them. Don’t resolve to exercise on a daily basis when you rarely do now; that isn’t realistic. Instead, work yourself up to that goal by exercising once a week, then adding more days as you go.

Additionally, if your resolutions are too general, it’s harder to stick to them because you don’t have a specific measure of success. If you want to read more, for example, pick exactly how often you will read and for how long. If you have overarching goals, such as becoming a better flutist, make more specific goals that contribute to it, like playing the flute for 15 minutes every day or joining a flute interest group (that’s a thing, right?).

Make a resolution a month

A year is a long time to keep focused on a goal, as evidenced by the fact that most people give up on their resolutions sometime in February. Instead of making your resolutions for the whole year, make a resolution for each month of the year. For example, if you want to become a better cook, you might resolve to make a new dish twice a week in January. At the end of the month, you will have eight new dishes in your repertoire, and you can focus on other things in February.

Research

Before committing to a resolution, research it as much as possible to find resources to help you. For example, if you want to start doing yoga, look into classes in the area, check out YouTube (Yoga by Adriene is awesome and accessible, by the way), and read some background information so you have a better understanding. Researching into your resolutions makes you more invested in them and keeps them at the forefront of your mind.

Reflect

When making your resolutions, think about your accomplishments over the past year, as well as things you would like to improve in your life and about yourself. Below are some questions to help you reflect on what you want out of your resolutions.

Questions for Self-Reflection

  • In what ways have you changed over the past year?
  • What 2016 accomplishments are you proud of?
  • This time next year, how you would like to answer the above questions?
  • What could you work on within yourself? What are your biggest obstacles to change?
  • What makes you feel fulfilled and happy?
  • How do you feel about your physical health? Your mental health? Your emotional health?
  • Who are the most important people in your life? How do you feel about your relationships with them? What could you do to improve them?
  • How could you deepen your spiritual life?
  • How could you improve your financial well-being?
  • What would you like to accomplish professionally this year?
  • What creative outlets do you have? How could you enrich your creativity?

Strategies For Sticking With It

Establish accountability

Accountability makes humans actually do things because we don’t want to let anyone down. Use the power of social pressure to keep yourself moving towards your goals. You can get a buddy to commit to the resolution with, or you could start a social media account or blog to track your progress. Anyway you can establish accountability, do it.

Embrace failure

Brace yourself for the first of many Brené Brown quotes that will be featured on this blog:

“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

You aren’t going to be perfect with your resolutions. Making the choice to change doesn’t mean it is going to happen overnight, and you will stumble along the way. Forgive yourself your failures and get back up and try again.

Write them down

You are more likely to stick to your resolutions when you write them down because it makes them more tangible when you see them on paper. This also makes you more focused and committed to your goals, and makes it easier to remember them. Don’t try to just remember your resolutions; make them real and write them down.

Remind yourself

Just writing your resolutions on a piece of paper and sticking it in a drawer isn’t going to be enough to keep your goals on your mind. There are several ways you can keep reminding yourself of your resolutions. You could hang them next to your mirror as a daily nudge to keep at it, or schedule out specific tasks on your phone calendar so you are regularly getting automated reminders. Keep your resolutions at the forefront of your mind, and you will be more likely to achieve them.

Regardless of whether or not you succeed in your resolutions, I hope 2017 brings happiness, good health, and peace for you all. Happy New Year!

Ginzo