The following is an article written by Juliette Foster. Enjoy!
Mindfulness as a Tool to Promote Mental Wellness
Mindfulness is not a new principle, as it is integral to Buddhism, but there is increasing interest in its value as a therapy to enhance mental well-being. There is evidence that adopting this technique can help to manage conditions such as anxiety, depression associated with pregnancy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mindful practices can also promote better memory, so have potential as a therapy in the early stages of dementia, and can improve learning and concentration, making it a valuable tool in education. Being more mindful can additionally foster healthy relationships, which itself can boost mental wellness. However, even with this range of benefits it is important to understand what mindfulness is and the mechanisms it works through.
When we are mindful it means we pay close attention to our thoughts, the way we feel and take in our surroundings. This involves concentrating on the moment without being distracted by former experiences or what is still to come. Another principle of mindfulness is that we don’t make any judgments, so we accept things as they are. However, we need to appreciate that we are responsible for our thoughts and activities, and that it is possible to change these for the better.
Mindfulness doesn't work through just one component; there are four that explain the way in which it works. Through attention regulation, which involves focusing on a physical object, this helps us avoid distractions. By concentrating on our breathing and other internal sensations, this promotes greater awareness of our bodies. Meanwhile, by accepting our emotions, this gives us more control over them. Finally, by changing the view of ourselves, we can acknowledge that it is possible to make changes which can have a positive impact on us.
Avoiding its drawbacks
No form of therapy is perfect, so mindfulness has its limitations. For example, if we become too aware of our body, this can heighten sensations, as is sometimes the case when it comes to feelings of pain. There is also a chance that when we use mindfulness when it is not called for that this can interfere with creativity, as our mind needs to wander to inspire creative thoughts. Similarly, abilities and skills not under conscious awareness are also more difficult to acquire when mindfulness is overused. The key to avoid these problems is therefore receiving instruction on when it is suitable to use mindful practices.
Mandala photo courtesy of http://unityinmarin.org/
I am very excited to announce the opening of my brand new counseling office in beautiful downtown Dover, NH. I am also thrilled to be next door to Childlight Yoga, a pediatric yoga program. There are many wonderful possibilities to our proximity.
I look forward to having a space which will be in walking distance to the many amenities that downtown Dover has to offer, including the children's museum, Henry Law Park, and the Noggin Factory toy store. I also am excited that this will be a brand new construction in an exposed brick and beam mill. It's shaping up very nicely!
I will continue to specialize in pediatric therapy and especially with children and teens who have anxiety and/or are on the Autism spectrum. I will also continue to provide Animal Assisted Therapy and treatment for Selective Mutism.
See you in Dover!
Why am I so anxious??
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors had larger foreheads, less comfy living quarters and a whole different set of things to be worried about. The tingling sensation and heightened awareness that occurred when you were about to be mauled by a mammoth, could potentially be lifesaving. Having your nervous system on high alert or as it is sometimes known “fight or flight,” can provide many added benefits, if you are in a perilous situation. Your senses are heightened, adrenaline flows through your system, you become stronger, more alert, faster, all things which can help you to escape physical harm.
In modern society, we are likely better served being worried about our email inbox as opposed to being some larger animal’s lunch. However, there are still remnants of our more primitive brain which exist today. Most of these are close to the brain stem and deal with our more base emotions, such as anger and anxiety. This is not to say that being worried about something does not still serve a purpose, it does. We can channel that energy to meet deadlines, improve our performance, and perform well in times of stress. In the way that most people’s brain works, after the time of heightened stress or imminent danger has passed, the brain returns to its normal state. However, if you suffer from anxiety, this is not always the case. The brain can continue to send out the signal that you are in danger, causing you to be constantly on edge.
So, what causes this misfire in the brain? Why do some people feel as though they are constantly anxious about something, no matter how inconsequential it might seem? The culprit is a tiny almond-shaped area in the brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for sending out an “alert” to the rest of your brain (and ultimately your entire body) that you are in danger. Recent neurological research has suggested that some people inherently have an over-active amygdala, almost like a twitchy trigger finger, that fires at inappropriate times.
Another factor is what people themselves interpret as being a potentially dangerous situation, based on their personality. If you are an introverted person who prefers to spend time by themselves or with one or two close friends, the idea of a cocktail party might seem like the end of the world. Or, if you are afraid of spiders, seeing a harmless small spider might feel as though it is a threat to your well-being.
The good news for people who suffer from anxiety is that there are several options to help alleviate your symptoms. Therapy has been shown to be very effective in helping to manage anxiety. The act of processing your anxieties and becoming more conscious of them can help to override your amygdala. Medication, when warranted, can also help.
If you have any questions about anxiety, or know someone who is suffering from it, don’t hesitate to contact me. Don’t suffer needlessly! Unless you are being pursued by a wooly mammoth, in which case, feel free to be nervous. Otherwise, take the first steps towards living a more comfortable and relaxed life.
Photo courtesy of wikimedia.org
What Is Normal, Anyway?
One of the most significant things that keeps people from coming to therapy is that they feel as though they are going to be judged, seen as weird, or simply not understood by someone else. This has always struck me as something that is very unfortunate. Our sense of what other people think of us can be one of the most damaging things to our self-esteem, and often times can cause significant anxiety or depression. Where does this sense of what is normal come from? Has anyone ever even really met a completely normal person? Why do we feel that we need to define ourselves via what we perceive as someone else's perception? When we look closely at our physical senses, science tells us that they are not entirely reliable. This is true of things that are as seemingly objective as our sight and our hearing. If this is the case, how can we think that we know what other people are thinking with any reasonable degree of certainty?
Since we were small children, we've been told that each one of us fits inside a particular designation, a particular group of people, and that we should behave in accordance with what is expected of us. Deviation from these expectations can cause people to be ostracized, bullied, or possibly even diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Many people feel as though their struggles are unique to them, that there is no way that anyone would understand what things are like for them. In some sense, this is true. We are all individuals with all of our own unique desires, needs, and wants. From a broader perspective, however, we are all involved in something known as the "human condition." Within this, we are all very much the same. Some of these similarities transcend race, culture, and even time. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung found in his work with tribal communities that there was a striking similarity with symbols that they used with symbols from the more Western world to identify things in dreams, religion, and expressions of life in general. Jung referred to this as a "collective unconscious" meaning that human beings seem to share many basic things underneath the surface level of our consciousness. In addition, they tended to express many of these things in the same way. The implications of this are profound, indeed. While it may seem difficult to imagine our struggles as human beings as being in some way similar to those of someone from ancient Egypt or tribal Africa, there are underlying properties deep within our unconscious minds that are the same.
One of the most healing properties of group therapy is the similarities that members share with each other. Many people are astonished when they go to a group at just how perfectly other members have described their difficulties. In my work with individuals I have also seen people be surprised that someone could accept them for who they are. No one should have to feel that they are alone. If people are telling you that you don't belong, it is because they fear something within themselves. If you feel as though you need a safe place to be accepted and explore things in your life, contact me and take the first step towards making things better.
Mandala photo courtesy of http://www.milos-art.de
Stephen Quinlan is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker who practices in Dover, NH