The second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 is suicide. Knowing what to do when you child starts to show signs or makes the statement “they don’t want to be here anymore” and “I want to kill myself” can help you and your child.
The first thing that you should do is take a deep breathe. You have to be in control of your emotions before you can talk to your child. Hearing your child make a statement like that, can be difficult to hear. So take a little bit of time to take inventory of your feels so that you are able to help your child.
The second thing that you want to do is be able to talk to your child about how they are feeling. Be careful not to insert your feelings. Be calm, listen and reassure your child. It can be a scary thing to tell someone that you feel that way, so stay calm, understanding and validate their feels and that you are there to help them in every way that you can. While talking with them, see if they have a plan of how they would hurt themselves and if something has happened to make them feel that way.
The third thing to do is to find a mental health professional that would be a good match for your child. You can talk with their school guidance counselor, child’s doctor, or psychologist at their school. If your child has a specific plan it is important to have them evaluated. You can take them to your local emergency room or to a community mental health agency to have them evaluated. You can take them to your local community mental health center or to the emergency room. If you’re worried or something does not feel right or that you think that your child will attempt or have attempted suicide the call 911. Suicidal thoughts or behaviors are serious and is an emergency situation.
Once you have found a mental health professional that you and your child are comfortable with, be an active participant. Let your child know that they are important and that you support them.
“I really learned that I’m human and people make mistakes. I learned to forgive … I forgave myself for all of the hurting that I caused myself and my family.” – Shawn, Addiction Survivor and Proud Treehouse Grad
When we think about people being brought down by addiction, it’s easy to picture only those directly suffering from the disease. But the journey to sobriety is often just as grueling for the people who love them. Although it sometimes feels hopeless to overcome addiction, even with our loved ones by our sides, Ellen and Larry’s inspirational love story proves that we can triumph over even the most daunting of battles — and addiction sufferers and their loved ones can emerge even stronger on the other side.
When Ellen met her husband, Larry, he was the happy, healthy man she’d always dreamed of finding.
“My husband and I met in 1978. There were never any signs of addiction when we first met. In fact, both of us would go out and drink socially at parties without any problems. We married a few years later and raised a family together,” she recalled.
As it often does, alcohol began controlling Larry’s life — and wreaking havoc on his family members — seemingly out of nowhere.
“It wasn’t until about two years ago that he started drinking more and more. It got to the point that he couldn’t stop. It was all night, every night,” Ellen said.
She knew his drinking was taking a toll on him when he simply stopped being the man she fell in love with.
“He wasn’t contributing to life anymore — or the life that we had built together,” she sighed. “He stopped doing things around the house, he stopped doing things with the kids and the family. He just wanted to stay home all the time. And that meant staying home to drink.”
The impact on his family became worse and worse, both physically and emotionally.
Ellen said, “My husband’s drinking got so bad he started having health issues. So then, he’d drink to feel better. It led to fights and arguments that we never had before. He’d promise me he’d stop. He’d tell me he’d get help ‘tomorrow.’ But tomorrow never came.”
Ellen wanted her love for her husband to conquer all of their hardships, but she knew something had to change — both for Larry’s sake, and that of their family.
“I loved him, but I hated what he turned into. I wanted our relationship to work — I wanted our family to work — but his drinking was destroying it.”
She added, “I finally put my foot down and told him that he needed to make the choice: vodka or family. I told him there was no more ‘tomorrow’ — that he had to change today. That conversation and that ultimatum was so difficult, because I really didn’t know what he would do. … I stuck to my grounds. And I told him if he went to treatment, I’d still be there when he got back.”
Realizing that his issues were greater than they could take on alone, Ellen and Larry contacted an out-of-state treatment facility.
“We were scared to death, but we wanted to save the family,” she said.
Although their journey of healing had begun, the transition was challenging.
“The first few days were really difficult,” Ellen recalled. “I was embarrassed. But then I started to realize that it was a disease.”
After several weeks of intense treatment, Larry has remained strong in his sobriety for over a year.
“It’s really like a dream come true,” Ellen beamed. “For so long, I was doing everything myself. Now, I have him back to do things together.”
While Ellen learned much about the complexities of her husband’s struggles, she also learned a lot about herself:
“I learned I didn’t handle it properly. I would scream and yell when I’d get home and see he hadn’t done anything but drink. I would knock the couch over to get him to move. I enabled him instead of helping him by allowing him to lay around and do nothing. I know now that I need to help him in his recovery and sobriety. And I’ve learned that I shouldn’t be so angry.”
Addiction tries to shatter the lives of those suffering the disease, but it also has detrimental effects on their loved ones. If you are struggling with an addiction, you must know that there is help for you and your family. Your journey may be filled with obstacles, but according to Ellen, it’s worth every hardship.
She said, “I’m still scared when he doesn’t answer the phone when I call. I still worry when I’m not with him. But that being said, I will be there if he falls.”
About The Author
Constance Ray started Recovery Well with the goal of creating a safe place for people to share how addiction has affected them, whether they are combating it themselves or watching someone they care about work to overcome it. The goal is to share stories of hope from survivors who know that the fight against addiction is one worth having, because no matter how it affects you, life can get better.
The summer months are winding down and going back to school is quickly approaching. Children and teens are going to be going back to school, which can cause some general anxiety and some separation anxiety. Here are 5 tips to try to make the transition back to school a little bit easier.
1. Try a run through: Every teacher and school has an open house before schools starts. Take your child with you so that they can see their classroom and meet their teacher before school starts. As adults we practice for that big presentation at work and athletes always warm up before taking the field, children need to see their classroom and meet their teacher to feel safe and comfortable, so taking them to open house can help reduce some of their anxiety.
2. Create a routine: Children with anxiety do well when they know what’s going to happen. Developing a routine for back to school, so that your child knows what to expect every day. You can also practice this the week before school starts. The unknown is what can cause anxiety, so knowing what to expect can help to reduce anxiety.
3. Have a goodbye ritual: Have a way to say goodbye to your child, can help to reduce anxiety. Whether that’s a handshake, walking them to the door, or saying goodbye in the carpool line. Have a way to let your child know that you have to go and that you will see them later and to keep their trust. Sneaking out and not saying bye can increase anxiety.
4. Go shopping together: I know that it’s easier to maneuver in stores sometimes without our children when we are on a lunch break or just trying to pick up a few things that are needed without someone asking for everything that they see, but taking your child to pick out their school supplies and put them in their book bag.
5. Change their sleep schedule: In the summer time, their bedtimes may have been later and that may have slept in. Two weeks before school starts, have then start to go to bed 30 minutes earlier each night, so that by the time that school starts they will be ready for their school time bed time.
If your child continues to have significant anxiety related to school, consider taking your child to a counselor that specializes in working with children and adolescents,
Grieving touches us all if we live long enough. 2015 was a very difficult year for two families in my circle of friends. One of my former classmates at Olivet Nazarene University passed away unexpectedly. A few days later, the former youth pastor at my church in Winston-Salem, NC lost a loved one to a violent crime.
Both of these situations left spouses, children, and extended family and friends in tremendous grief. In response, I wanted to write some lessons I have learned about grieving.
We grieve on our own terms. Others may give us advice or tell us what to expect, but ultimately, grief is a process that is different for us all.
We grieve best in a community. When we have loved ones, physically present, who offer support and share the sorrow we face, we tend to recover better.
We grieve best when we can express our emotions through words, pictures, music, art, exercise, and other actions that give voice to what is inside of us.
We grieve slowly. Recovery from the trauma of losing a loved one doesn’t happen quickly.
We grieve best when we are hopeful. Believing that recovery from our pain is possible helps us to continue the process of healing.
Wisdom Through Grieving
What we learn from grieving is profound. Some of these lessons are encouraging and others are sad, but wisdom helps us recover.
We learn how much we love others.
We learn the unpredictable, chaotic, and broken nature of our world.
We learn how much we need the support of others.
We learn how short life is and how precious each moment is that we have with loved ones.
We learn that in spite of the loss and brokenness, there is much beauty and love in the world. Our departed loved ones would want us to experience it.
Perhaps you are coping with grief. Sadness is a normal response to the loss of a loved one, but if you are not able to function well after a loss, you may need help in your recovery. Don’t struggle with depression on your own. If your support system isn’t adequate, or you find that you need additional support, consider counseling services.
Guilt is a painful emotion. Tom and Joe are two men in their 20s. They are fictional characters but struggle with a similar issue that I have seen in many patients. For our purposes, I will define guilt as a sad emotion in which a person feels that something about himself is wrong.
Tom has been married for two years. He and his wife are expecting their first child. Unfortunately, they are also having marital problems. Tom has been having an affair for 2 months. He has been keeping it a secret and hasn’t had any consequences for his betrayal. Tom doesn’t feel right emotionally. He feels sad and when he talks with his wife, feels shame.
True guilt has some of the following characteristics
A defined offense against another person
Violation of one’s moral and spiritual beliefs
The above behaviors were intentional and could have been prevented
Joe feels sad most of the time and can’t measure up to others’ expectations for him. He is in his 20s and his career isn’t going anywhere. Joe isn’t married and doesn’t know if he ever will be. He can’t think of anything he has done wrong but believes he is a bad person.
False guilt has some of the following characteristics
An offense can’t be easily identified
A person is bad because of who is, not because of what he has done
A person has not harmed others or himself
The person has not had any intent for the difficult situation and could not have prevented it
Healing from Guilt
The healing process for both true guilt and false guilt is similar. I will put these terms in the context of Christian Spirituality, but these terms could be changed for those who are not religious
Healing from guilt often happens best in the context of healthy relationships. Both with other people and with God.
Healing from guilt involves having a better understanding of self, others, and the world (at least one of these, and often all 3).
Healing from guilt involves changing unhealthy thinking patterns:
False guilt is often focused on “who I am is bad”.
True guilt is often focused on “I can continue engaging in “insert whatever behavior” without consequence.
Both of these thinking patterns must change to a more realistic understanding.
Healing from guilt often involves changing unhealthy behaviors
True guilt involves a destructive behavior pattern that should change — either neglecting a responsibility or engaging in a behavior that should be stopped
False guilt is often paralyzing, leading to fewer and fewer behaviors that could help a person be healthy.
Healing from guilt often involves spiritual disciplines, such as confession, prayer, and acts of service.
True guilt — Spiritual insight will help a person recognize the need for repentance and in many cases, making amends to others.
False guilt — Spiritual insight will help a person recognize their value in God’s eyes and can be a step towards this person valuing him or herself.
Healthcare professionals recognize the destructive nature of guilt. Many articles have been written on how to better understand and cope with guilt. WebMD, and PsychCentral are two examples of many websites that have helpful information about coping with guilt. These resources contain useful information, but often do not refer to spirituality, which for many people, is central to healing from guilt.
When struggling with guilt, try to find others who can help you in your healing process. If you are fortunate to have healthy friends and family in your life who will listen and mentor you, reach out to them. Consider seeing a Christian Counselor to help you in your recovery from guilt.
Roughly 2.7% of the adult population in the US during any given year meets diagnostic criteria for “Panic disorder”. Many more individuals do not have panic disorder, but have panic attacks. A panic attack is extreme fear, far beyond normal anxiety.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Fear of imminent death or severe medical event
Rapid heart rate
Rapid, shallow breathing
Feeling of confinement or inability to escape
Many individuals who have a panic attack present to the emergency room. A panic attack does not generally last more than 20-30 minutes, although the after effects and anxiety that another panic attack may come can persist.
If you have had a similar experience, you should first be checked medically to ensure that you do not in fact have a medical problem that could explain your symptoms. If you have had a medical workup and your medical professional has judged that you are physically healthy, you should consider the possibility that your symptoms are explained by a panic attack.
Panic attacks occur when the brain and body misperceive physical cues of distress and the brain responds by initiating a fear response in the body. Panic disorder generally responds very well to psychotherapy. Some studies estimate that better than 80% of individuals with panic disorder who seek treatment no longer have routine panic attacks. Medication may be a quicker treatment for panic attacks, but medication has side effects and when the patient stops taking the medication, the panic attacks generally return.
Helpful Psychotherapy Techniques
Education about the body’s response to stress and perceived threat
Gradually exposure to cues that in the past created panic
These techniques are often referred to as “cognitive behavioral therapy” and research predicts that these methods will be most successful in treating panic disorder and preventing panic attacks.
Although treatment for panic is very successful, unfortunately, many people with this disorder do not seek treatment. They are embarrassed by their problem and don’t realize that psychotherapy can help.
If you or someone you know has problems with panic attacks, consider contacting a mental health professional who is skilled in cognitive behavioral therapy. While no treatment is guaranteed to work, the success rate for cognitive behavioral therapy of panic is high.
One of the first fights my wife and I had as a married couple was on my birthday in 1996, which is nearly 20 years prior to the date I published this blog post. We had recently married, moved across the country, and started a new life together. I was looking forward to my wife pampering me on my birthday. She wished me a happy birthday and gave me a hairdryer for a gift (which I needed). I had expected a fun night out and something a little more exciting than a hairdryer for a birthday gift. I wasn’t very grateful. My wife’s feelings were hurt. We had a fight.
If you are married or in an intimate relationship, you have had conflict. Have you felt like the conflict was too frequent and too intense? Have you felt like you were having the same fight over and over again? Are you tired of marriage fights?
You will have conflict in your marriage. The only people who have conflict free marriages are separated and never talk with each other. While you will have conflict in your marriage, you can learn how to stop fighting and work towards a solution. Here are some strategies that will help you stop any fight in a marriage.
A Place of Safety
If you want to stop fighting, you must make a commitment to yourself that you will create a place of safety for your spouse. Abuse of any kind, whether verbal or physical is so destructive that you will not have a healthy relationship under such conditions. Likewise, violations of trust, such as sexual infidelity will prevent you and your spouse from having a healthy relationship that will enable you to successfully resolve conflict.
If you want to stop fighting, you and your spouse must commit to each other that there will not be abuse or betrayals in your relationship. You are committing that together, you will create a place of safety. Without these commitments, it will not be possible to establish a healthy relationship and to stop fighting.
If you want to stop fighting, you will need to take responsibility for your wellbeing. You will need to learn how to personally cope with negative emotions. Your spouse can’t do this for you. Ultimately, you must learn to soothe yourself.
Why is self-soothing necessary? When we experience stress, and become emotionally aroused, our bodies and minds go through a series of changes. The higher the level of arousal, the more physically active we become. We become physically stronger and faster. The higher the level of arousal, the more we lose our ability to think abstractly, to think logically, and to see things from another’s point of view.
This stress response helps us survive if we are in a dangerous situation. If a car were about to hit me, I wouldn’t want to be concerned with my finances, or what my friends think of me. I want to jump out of the way as fast as possible, and that is the purpose of the stress response.
We experience the same stress response whether or not we are in actual physical danger. Our bodies and minds don’t know the difference. So, how can we lower our level of arousal?
Slow and deep breathing. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Relaxed creating is slow and deep, nearly 10 seconds from the time breath is inhaled to the time it is exhaled.
Relaxed muscles. When we are stressed, our muscles become tight. During relaxation, our muscles have a loose heavy feeling.
Healthy thinking. When we are stressed, we often have negative thoughts. If we become aware of our thinking and avoid jumping to conclusions or assuming a negative event will occur, we are more likely able to soothe ourselves.
Enacting the above steps is not easy, but it can be done with practice. Meditation is a helpful exercise (a topic for another blog post), and I recommend you learn this practice.
Improve Your Timing
It will be important for you to be select the appropriate time to have a discussion with your spouse. We often look for quick solutions to our problems and react to situations. This behavior will not help us resolve conflict in marriage.
If you and your spouse are having significant conflict, it can be very helpful to select a specific time to talk on which both of you agree. If either of you are struggling with physical pain, fatigue, or distraction from work, you should look for another time to talk.
You would also benefit from setting a time limit for your discussion. You may find that after a stressful conversation has gone past a period of time, you are becoming more angry and if you are in that emotional state, it is not as likely your conflict will be successfully resolved. You may need to agree to take a break from the discussion and return to it a later time.
Understand Your Spouse
Once you have created a safe place for dialog, if you want to be successful in ending marital discord, understand your spouse. Does your spouse have needs that aren’t being fulfilled? What is your spouse’s motivations during the disagreement? Is it merely about the issue at hand, or are there other unspoken motivations?
For example, a disagreement may be about finances on the surface, but the root cause may be control (your spouse wants to know that his or her voice matters to you). Or, perhaps an argument is not so much about what friends come over to the home, but more about knowing that your spouse is your top priority.
What does your spouse want more of from you? Your time? Your help in a task? How can you best affirm your spouse? Through words? Through non-sexual touch? More frequent sex? Each person has different expectations and needs.
Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse “Help me understand.” Give your spouse time to express what he or she really wants and what would help him or her feel more loved by you. If you think you know, ask a specific question. “Do you want me to spend more time with you? Would that help?”
Deepen Your Friendship With Your Spouse
Assuming your home is a safe place for you and your spouse, the single most important thing you can do to stop any fight in your marriage is to deepen your friendship with your spouse. Research in the mental health field has demonstrated that while all marriages have conflict and negative emotions (anger, sadness, anxiety), all successful marriages have a greater proportion of positive emotion (happiness, pleasure, peace) than negative emotion.
Practically speaking, what this means is that you and your spouse need to make positive memories together on a regular basis. You need to spend time together in mutually satisfying conversation, sharing your hopes and dreams. You need to engage in recreation and romance together.
Humans have a natural tendency to avoid pain and seek pleasure. If the majority of your interactions together are negative, you and your spouse will avoid each other and began leading separate lives. If on the other hand, you are experiencing love and fulfillment together, this positive emotion will help counteract the negative emotion you experience when you have conflict and it will be more likely that you will be successful in stopping fights in your marriage.
At the beginning of this blog post, I shared an example from my marriage, when my wife and I fought on my birthday. We hadn’t had enough time to build a strong friendship, yet, and didn’t understand each other well. Needless to say, a fight over a mundane issue lasted longer and had more negative emotion than necessary. After 20 years of marriage and working to build a deeper friendship with my wife, I find that I am not as defensive and don’t need to be right as much as when I was first married. I also find that while my wife and I continue to have conflict, it does not last as long and we are more successful in finding a solution.
The steps for ending a conflict that I have outlined in this blog post are not complicated, but they are not easy to implement. If you practice these steps, you will succeed in finding a resolution to marital conflict. Sometimes, implementing these steps can be very difficult. If you continue to have difficulty stopping fights in your marriage, consider marriage counseling.
Several years ago, a friend gave me a plant. The plant was special to me because it was a beautiful gardenia, but more importantly, the plant was gifted to me out of gratitude. The giver passed away about 6 months later.
My family did not realize that this little gardenia had taken root in my heart. A family member thought it might be a good idea to see if my gardenia would do better outside (or perhaps to make more room in the kitchen). We had an unusually cold winter in Kernersville, North Carolina that year and although I brought the gardenia back inside later that evening, the plant died from the cold.
The plant was special to me. I loved the person who killed the plant. This was a recipe for painful, mixed emotions. I wanted to lash out at the loved one who had made a mistake, but also knew that lashing out would make things worse. I needed to offer forgiveness, not only to prevent me from saying something hurtful, but for my wellbeing.
If you have relationships with others, you will eventually be hurt by them. Many times, the pain will be a minor sting, but there will be occasions in which the hurt seems unbearable. Ironically, the more you care for the person who hurt you, the more painful the hurt.
When we are hurt, we experience negative emotions. These emotions are not innately bad. In fact, the purpose of these emotions are to protect us from being hurt again. Such negative emotions help us to stay away from potential threats. When these emotions fester inside of us, we begin to have significant emotional and physical problems.
Yes, you read what I wrote correctly, not only emotional problems, but physical problems as well. When we experience negative emotions, particularly over a period of time, stress hormones impact us, causing interruption in sleep and impairing the healing mechanisms of our bodies.
A presenting problem I often encounter as a psychologist is to help people recover from hurts someone else has caused. There is a process we experience as we heal from such pain. While the process is different, there are commonalities as we heal from the hurt another person has caused. The process of forgiveness is a powerful and effective antidote to the negative emotions inside of us. The following are 6 important facts about forgiveness that may change your life.
Forgiveness Is Not Forgetting
We only need to forgive someone else when they have hurt us. If the injury is painful enough to forgive, we will not heal by trying to forget. Such wounds are painful and we can’t simply force ourselves to forget. If we did not recall what occurred, we may open ourselves to be injured in the same way. While we can’t forget, we can work towards healing of the emotional hurt.
Forgiveness Is Not Excusing
Excusing an offense is not the same as forgiveness either. There are times when excusing an offense is the appropriate response. For example, if you had a 3-year-old child and that child accidentally broke a vase in your living room, excusing the offense may be an appropriate response (along with chastising yourself for not providing appropriate supervision and for placing breakable items in the child’s reach). When the offending party unintentionally injures us, or we have no connection with the offending party, there are times when excusing what occurred is appropriate.
However, if the offending party commits a significant injury (for example, the “other man/woman)” in an affair with your spouse), even if you don’t know that person, forgiveness would be a more appropriate path towards healing than excusing the offense. Or, if the party is someone with whom you are connected, and they did something to hurt you that they should have known was wrong, excusing what occurred would generally not be the most healthy response.
Forgiving others does not mean that they are not confronted with the damage that they have done.
Forgiveness Happens Slowly
We live in a fast food society. We want satisfaction now. That won’t work in the context of forgiveness. While the time period is different for each person and each offense, forgiveness is not measured in minutes and hours. Forgiveness happens slowly.
Forgiveness Is A Process
We often like to think that when our intentions are good and we have done our homework, that the problem is solved and we can move on. Forgiveness is achievable, but it is a process. We often need to wake up each day and chose to forgive the offending party for a significant period of time until we have healing from the pain that has been caused. In many instances, we will continue to have scars and need to be grateful for the healing that has been experienced, and chose not to open old wounds through focusing on negative thoughts of the offending party.
This isn’t quick or easy. It is a slow process, but it is achievable and it will make an enormous difference in your mental and physical wellbeing.
Forgiveness Is Possible, Even Under Difficult Circumstances.
What about forgiveness in difficulty circumstances? What if the offending party is deceased? What if they offending party inflicted a wound that has lifelong consequences?
In such cases, forgiveness will be harder. However, your need to forgive is also significantly greater. The more intense your internal pain, the more you will benefit from forgiveness. This process is not doing the offending party a favor. It is not excusing their bad behavior. It is healing you.
Yes, forgiveness is possible in such cases, but often the process will be different. In such excruciating circumstances, there will often be no reconciliation between the injured and offending parties. Forgiveness will be an internal process that the injured party will practice.
What Is Forgiveness, And How Is Forgiveness Achieved?
Forgiveness Is Best Understood As Letting Go Of A Debt. Consider a person who owes a bank too much money to repay. That person has no assets and no income and will not acquire them in the future. For the sake of illustration, we’ll suppose this is an individual who put into a coma in a car accident and the person has no estate from which to recover funds. The bank’s only option is to discharge (forgive) this debt.
In most of life’s situations, there are no do-overs. When we hurt someone, we can’t take it back, and in many instances we can’t adequately repay them.
The options are often either negative feelings, such as anger, sadness, and hatred, or forgiveness. Negative emotions are the initial and natural response to injury. They help to keep us from being hurt again. In many respects. it is easier to hate than to forgive.
When we forgive, we let go of our right to get even. We stop viewing the offending party as a monster, a deceiver, a betrayer, or whatever negative, one dimensional box we may have place them in. We begin to see them a person who has positive and negative character traits. A person who has wronged us, perhaps on purpose or perhaps out of ignorance. We consider times when we may have hurt others and we remember the connection we share with each person we encounter. The process of forgiveness often happens best in the context of trusting relationships who can support us in the process.
Forgiveness is slowed, or goes backwards, when we have negative attitudes about ourselves or others, such as “you can’t trust anyone”, “or, I hope he gets what’s coming to him”. We know we are making progress in forgiving when we are able to enjoy life and be engaged in relationships. When we are able to wish the offending party well and have no desire to get even, the process of forgiveness has done its work.
Forgiveness is best understood as letting go of a debt. We let go of our right to get even. Forgiveness is not a favor we are doing for another person, but an investment we make in our own wellbeing. Forgiveness isn’t fast or easy, but most worthwhile pursuits in life take work and happen slowly. Forgiveness is a process that we often chose daily. Over time, as forgiveness does its work, we are more engaged in our relationships and experience more happiness and peace.
About the Author
Psychologist Dr. Dave Spriggs
Dr. Dave Spriggs is a psychologist licensed in North Carolina. He has worked in the mental health field since 1994. People seek Dr. Spriggs’ services for a variety of reasons, but he specializes in relationship issues, treatment of mood problems, and serving people who wish to integrate their Christian Faith into the counseling process. Dr. Spriggs finds that forgiveness is often a primary goal for his patients.
You have so much to do that you can’t focus. You feel tense so often that it is “normal” for you. You feel like you can’t work any harder, yet you feel like you are spinning your wheels. You focus on painful memories to the detriment of present peace. Does this sound familiar?
I think if we are honest, most of us can relate to feeling overwhelmed, at least occasionally. Some of us, more than occasionally. Why is it that some of us have extremely demanding careers, busy family and social commitments, yet still avoid a constant state of tension?
The reality is that all of us are limited to 24 hours and 7 days to each week. Some of us may be a little stronger, weaker, smarter, slower, or more articulate, but most of us have similar abilities, with some areas of strengths and some areas of weakness. No one goes through life stress-free, and no one escapes painful memories.
Beating stress isn’t easy, but it is possible for all of us to improve our ability to cope. Many people with significant demands have learned to avoid feeling overwhelmed. One practice that will enable you to beat stress and experience more peace in your life is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice in which we are focused on the present, with acceptance of our physical and emotional sensations. This acceptance involves a nonjudgmental and calm attitude. By practicing mindfulness, we narrow our focus from our many demands (finances, health, relationships, work, and countless other responsibilities) to what is going on in the current moment.
This practice may sound mundane, but achieving a state of presentness is profound. As we focus on the here and now, we achieve greater peace. This practice is not easy. Our entire culture draws us to the urgent (cell phones, emails, and social media) and to quick fixes for our problems.
We have it backwards. We have deluded ourselves into believing that a focus on simple everyday activities, such as watching the sun rise, or enjoying a conversation in which we are truly present with another person, is somehow less significant than multitasking and planning for the future.
Mindfulness is a state of being more so than a simple technique or attitude. There are activities and thinking patterns that can help us achieve mindfulness. The more we incorporate these behaviors into our routines, the more likely we are to be mindful.
If you want to begin practicing mindfulness, the first step is to focus on your current situation. What are you senses telling you? What do you hear, see, smell, touch, and smell? Does your chair feel hard or soft? What colors do you notice? What emotions are you currently experiencing?
Don’t try to fight these perceptions. Attempt to accept them for what they are. You are not trying to change anything. You are attempting to accept yourself and your experience for what it is.
An Attitude Adjustment
If you want to practice mindfulness, it will be important for you to begin changing your thinking patterns. Rather than focusing on your concerns, attempt to empty your mind. Rather than making judgements about yourself or others, accept without judgment.
We have difficulty emptying our minds. We are so accustomed to to the pull of the news, social media, and our to do lists, that it is rare for our thoughts to be clear. It is often helpful to focus on a peaceful memory to help clear your mind. Perhaps you recall a relaxing day at the beach and can recall the pleasant sensation of the sun falling on you.
There is certainly a time for planning and a time to judge, but not when you are attempting to be present. Balance is key.
Proper Posture And Muscle Tone
Make a fist and flex your bicep. Don’t do this halfheartedly, but really try to put some strength into it. Hold…hold…hold. Eventually, you should feel your arm shake and start to get tired. Let your arm drop onto your knee.
Do you feel the heavy, loose sensation in your muscle. That is the feeling you should have in your muscles when they are relaxed. They should feel heavy and loose.
If you are sitting in your chair, don’t cross your arms or legs. When you cross your arms and legs, there is some constriction that can interfere with breathing. Try to achieve a comfortable posture in which you are not slouching, nor are you sitting firmly at attention, but somewhere in the middle.
When we are relaxed, our breathing slows and becomes deep. When we are breathing deeply, the diaphragm causes our belly to expand. If you are breathing in a relaxed manner, it should take approximately 10 seconds from the time you draw a breath in until you let it out.
This contrasts to times when we are under stress. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow — almost as if the breath were stopped short in our chest without going all the way down into the depths of our lungs.
Proper breathing is a crucial aspect of mindfulness. If you breathe slowly and deeply, your body and mind will begin to relax. Relaxation helps us to be more present and accepting of our current situation.
Mindfulness is not a set of techniques, but is a way of being that involves calmly being present without judgment. There are a number of techniques that can help us experience mindfulness, such as proper breathing, thinking, and posture. Meditation (or relaxation training) is an attempt to integrate several of these techniques and is a powerful tool for increased emotional stability.
I plan to write a future post that will include more specific instructions for meditation. The aim of this post was to introduce the concept of mindfulness and provide guidance into how principles of mindfulness may be incorporated into your life. Attempt to implement these strategies a little at a time, with the goal of being more present and nonjudgmental in your at least some of your daily life. Practicing mindfulness will help you achieve greater health and peace.
Dr. Dave Spriggs is a psychologist licensed in North Carolina. He owns a private practice located in Kernersville, NC. People seek Dr. Spriggs’ services for a variety of reasons, but he specializes in relationship issues, treatment of mood problems, and serving people who wish to integrate their Christian Faith into the counseling process. Dr. Spriggs finds that mindfulness practice greatly improves stress coping and emotional stability and often incorporates mindfulness into psychotherapy.