Category: Mindfulness

Mind’full’ Eating

By Talia Kaplan, PsyD

Mindfulness is the practice of living and being in the present. For people with anxiety, this is an especially important tool to use. It helps a person focus on what they are experiencing in the present moment rather than focus on everything that may happen in the future. While anxiety can make the world feel like a vast forest with unknown danger in every corner, mindfulness helps a person take one step and see whether there is danger on the single spot they occupy.

One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is through eating. We often eat so quickly or “mindlessly” that if anyone asked you what you ate five minutes ago you would be hard-pressed to answer.

We’ve all been there, it happens morning, afternoon and evening. In the morning you’re trying to get the kids out of the house while making sure you have your bag packed for work, so you take a bite of last night’s dessert as you’re running out the door and call it breakfast. During the afternoon you made sure to schedule a lunch break at work but you were called in for a last minute meeting so you try and scarf down your lunch in between your office and the conference room. Dinner may have started with the best intentions but you often find yourself watching the television as your bowl of soup disappears into your stomach.

So how do you eat mindfully? The answer lies in our five senses.

  1. Sight – look at the food you are eating. What do you notice about its appearance? Have you always noticed the bright colors of your fruit? What sticks out to you about the shape?
  2. Touch – What do you notice about the texture of your food? What does it feel like in your hand? What does it feel like in your mouth? Do you notice how the texture changes at different points in your mouth?
  3. Sound – As your chewing your food what sounds do you hear? Is there sound the food makes when you pick it up?
  4. Smell – Before putting the food in your mouth take a moment to smell it. What smells do you notice?
  5. Taste – Taste can be complex and different. Notice the various tastes you are experiencing. Channel your inner “foodie” as you pay attention to the hints of taste in your food.

Eating mindfully can help give a person an appreciation for the present in a way that they rarely experience. The powerful senses pull a person’s mind away from what MAY happen, to what IS happening right now.

While this may seem like a lot, it doesn’t have to be. A person can start out by just dedicating one minute of a meal to paying attention to their food. You may notice that a food you never liked actually has some very redeeming qualities. They may also notice that their favorite soda is actually too sweet for their taste. Either way, it can easily allow you to appreciate the moment you are living in, appreciate the food that is sustaining you, and slow down your life by just one bite.

The iPhone Setting That Could Save Your Mental Health

By Aliza Dinerstein, LMSW

With mental health awareness on the rise, many individuals are beginning to become more mindful of their internal experiences in day to day life, and the number of adults recognizing feelings of anxiety and depression has reached an all-time high. According to the National Institute of Mental Health 18.1% of the American population suffers from anxiety, and 6.7% of adults in the United States face depression. Even though these statistics are high, there is an even greater number of people with no formal diagnosis or professional treatment who are actually experiencing their own volumes of anxiety and depression every single day.

Multiple theories have been hypothesized as to why today’s society engenders such pathological responses to reality, some suggesting that the bombardment of social media, constant connection to technology, and a fast-paced culture are the antecedents that cause people to respond to life with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and/or depression. These theories may give us a glimpse into certain contributing factors, but no single explanation seems to be leading us directly toward a direct cure. Thus, the question must begin to shift from what has happened in the past to understand what is happening in the present; and from why we became a culture with so much anxiety and depression to how we will begin to fix it.

In psychology, there is a common understanding that thoughts, feelings, and actions make up an interrelated triad of human experience. This notion has led cognitive and behavioral therapists to treat psychological disorders by targeting one specific area, such as a series of thoughts or a pattern of behavior as a means of activating positive change in all other areas of the individual as well. One such technique used in behavioral therapy is called behavioral activation or self-activation and is a highly effective method of treating depression. Simply put, behavioral activation is based on the premise that in order to improve one’s mood and recover from depressive symptoms, one must take active steps, no matter how small, to slowly re-engage in his or her own life. The model of self-activation proposes that when one succeeds in activating or changing a small behavior that allows him to re-enter his own world in a meaningful way, eventually the rest of his thoughts and feelings will begin transforming as well.

So although the aforementioned theories about our present-day society cannot give us direct causational reasoning for the pervasive mental health challenges of today, they all have a very relevant commonality: a root that lies in the engagement with others and disengagement from the self. Perhaps our connection to media, ever-present technology, and our rapid culture is not the issue; rather the problem lies in our inability to turn off the externalities and re-engage with ourselves, even for a few moments a day.

In 2017, the idea of completely rendering one’s self-unavailable to the public for the sake of engaging in his or her own world seems nearly impossible. Rarely any pockets of time remain when it is socially acceptable to be completely offline and unresponsive to the barrage of social media, colleagues, and even friends. With internet connection on almost every street, aircraft, and even subway, there is no longer a feeling of sweet escape when boarding a plane or getting onto the train for work, knowing that when internet service disappears, there is every excuse to take a breath and shut off the outside world for a while.

This brings me to my favorite smartphone feature. Sometimes it only takes one button to trigger a pattern that will re-engage a person in his or her own life, and there’s an app for that. The tiny little switch on my iPhone labeled ‘airplane mode’ has been my ticket to self-activation (and perhaps sanity), every single day for the past two years.  It takes a lot of courage to tell the entire universe that you need some time to shut off their requests, opinions, and stresses in order to focus on the area of life that tends to become the most neglected: the self. The theory of self-activation states that it is disengagement from one’s life that perpetuates negative emotional states and the way to remedy these very feelings is to take the tiniest step towards deactivating the world around and reactivating the world within. The choice to deem one’s self-unavailable (even for 10 minutes at a time) may seem insignificant, but it could actually spark the chain reaction that may be the best therapy you’ve ever had.

Scheduling Effectively: How to Keep Our Focus on Priorities

Written by Malka Akhenblit

Do you ever feel increasingly stressed with the number of tasks that you find yourself juggling? Do you have seemingly never-ending distractions that get in the way of attending to your priorities? Oftentimes, it is easy to get caught up in attending to tasks that call for our attention, irrespective of whether they are truly our priorities. Sometimes, the most important priorities, such as our closest relationships, self-care, and dearest dreams do not make their way onto our urgent to-do lists. Believe it or not, a simple tool can help. Effective scheduling can assure that we remain strongly rooted in our priorities.

When scheduling, it helps to first outline the top 3-4 true priorities in your life. This brainstorming process requires placing everything you care about on the table, such as time with your loved ones, self-care, various professional pursuits, independent learning, etc. After identifying what we truly want to accomplish in life, the next step is to break these priorities down into specific tasks. “Being a healthy person” may mean setting a consistent time and place to work out. It may also mean committing to a meal plan, or seeing a nutritionist. “Being a great daughter, son, parent, spouse, friend etc.” can mean having a set time to spend with certain individuals and attend to their needs. Although this sort of planning may feel boring and unnatural, this is what enables us to actualize our most important values in our lives.

Once our priorities and their associated tasks are laid out and broken into specific directives, it’s time to put them into an actual schedule. The more we can break down and plan our daily activities into specific steps and put them into our schedules, the less decision-making we have to make on a daily basis. This is beneficial in several ways. Recent research has found that decision-making depletes our physical energy – as such, making decisions in advance helps keep us more energized in our daily activities and not bogged down with constantly choosing between priorities. When we know that a time to cater to each priority has already been penciled into our schedules, we are able to be more present and find more joy in all of our daily endeavors. We may also want to put effective systems into our lives, such as a nightly time to create to-do lists for the next day, in order to check-in regularly about whether we are on track in meeting our aims.

Well-crafted schedules also serve as a compass to stay focused on our goals in an increasingly distracting world. If we’d watch a Navy Seal training for an important mission, we would see exquisite commitment and attention to detail. While not all of us may face active combat, if we want to keep our focus it is worthwhile to prioritize our lives with a similar level of care – happy scheduling!