Category: Mindfulness

Holiday Self-Care

By Laura Vraney, PsyD

While the Spring holiday season ushers in nicer weather and rays of optimism, there is no question that it also brings about anxiety. At times, we may become so distracted by the to-do list, both leading up to and during the holiday time that we forget to appreciate and enjoy the festivities. Additionally, other stressors often surface preventing us from enjoying the holidays; for instance, many celebrate the holiday with family members who are hypercritical; others are reminded of loved ones who have passed away, and some are navigating transitions that do not allow for certain family members to be present. Well, you are in luck! Whether the holidays are usually a joyous time or a stressful one (or both!), here are three self-care strategies you can utilize to ensure a more cheerful and relaxing holiday.

  1. First and foremost, acknowledge and validate your feelings with minimal self-judgment. You may have anxiety or stress or sadness or anger or other feelings. If you pretend to be “fine,” especially to yourself, then either you will repress your feelings only to “explode” at a later time OR your feelings may manifest in disguised ways, for instance, a loss of appetite or passive-aggressive behavior. Neither of those routes is productive. While it may feel selfish, you need to be kind to yourself. Rule of thumb – support your own emotions just how you would support a friend or loved one when they are feeling anxiety and/or stress.
  2. In order to feel a greater sense of control, here are some basic behavioral strategies you can implement. Write a list of everything that needs to get done in the days to come – spend as much time as you need getting everything organized. Prioritize in a daily planner your responsibilities based on the day, required preparation time, and deadlines. If you are someone who struggles with other aspects of the holidays (e.g., family gatherings), know your warning signs when feeling overwhelmed. These may include a shift in your mood, increased heart rate, or loss of appetite. Whether the former and/or later, give yourself permission to take 10-15 minutes alone to refresh. Find things that are self-soothing, such as journaling, listening to music, or stepping outside for a short walk. Also, please make sure you are eating well-balanced meals and getting adequate sleep both during the holidays and in general. We are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety when we are “emotionally eating,” skipping meals, and/or sleep deprived.
  3. Let us not forget why holidays are so special! Research has found that taking the time for gratitude can facilitate neurobiological changes that protect us from stress, anxiety, and depression. Especially when one is preoccupied with planning or overwhelmed by other holiday activities, it is not abnormal to be disconnected from the meaning of the holidays. So, give yourself the freedom and space to appreciate the good in your life over the holidays. A way to do this is by slowing yourself down to acknowledge three wonderful things in your life and contemplating them for a full 60-seconds each. Whether in a state of distress or not, there is no better time to appreciate and adopt an attitude of gratitude!

Think Before you Post: Managing Anxiety in the Era of Social Media

By Rebecca Holczer, MA

As a member of many Facebook groups (perhaps too many?) I see almost every day how group conversations over social media can easily get out of hand. All group discussions start with an original post, however, it seems more common than not for discussions to go in all sorts of directions that are rarely relevant to the initial post. There are many reasons for this phenomenon, but the most compelling is that social media posting tends to be so fast and impulsive, that it is often more emotional than rational. In other words: Social media communications tend to be less about what we truly want to say, and more about what we want to convey in the moment. The problem with this (aside from miscommunications) is that the more people just give into our emotions, the more they tend to be prone to anxiety. Here are six tips we can use to manage anxiety when participating in group discussions in the era of social media:

  • Consider not responding at all: Yes, this is an option as well that we sometimes forget is available! But it’s often the best one. Of course, it’s fine to contribute to a group discussion if you want to share or to make an original post and initiate a discussion. But you don’t need to contribute or respond to everything.
  • Mindfully pay attention to your feelings: Before you post, think about how you are feeling and try to name that emotion. Some posts will make you feel angry, some may elicit feelings of sadness, and others will bring on anxiety. Being aware of your emotions and mindfully paying attention to them is a key strategy to making sure your feelings don’t get out of hand or take over. Consider it a challenge: Can you notice and name your gut reaction without giving in right away.
  • Adopt perspective-taking: Try to put yourself in the shoes of others who are posting messages for a few moments. Think about what their intentions were when they wrote their comments. Are you sure you’re understanding what they are trying to convey? Also, is their message written clearly (often it is not!) and do you need to clarify what they meant before responding?
  • Re-read before you reply: Relatedly, if you would like to make respond to a comment, take the time to read the comment you are responding to a second time. Group discussions can proceed at a rapid pace, and often people make errors when reading through comments. Don’t you just hate it when you post a response to a participant, only to realize seconds later that you misread their comments?
  • Role play in your mind: Before firing off a post, take 20 seconds to imagine how an in-person conversation might go with others in the group. What would you say if you were facing the group members in person? Research suggests that people feel much more free to express themselves in extreme ways when they are removed from a situation, or anonymous. But if you would not say something to someone’s face, do you really want to post it on the Internet?
  • Consider a direct message: When joining into an online conversation, we sometimes neglect the possibility of writing individual direct messages, instead of contributing to a group chat. Even if you ultimately do wish to post en masse, this alternative can be a good starting point to clarify ideas (yours and others) and help create more intentional and meaningful exchanges with others.

Social media has the potential to achieve what previous generations were unable to accomplish—we can now connect to others around the world with the mere touch of our fingertips. For that very reason, let’s make sure we actually connect with others without miscommunicating or getting stymied by our emotions in the process.

 

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.