Month: April 2014

Why be Mindful?

670px-Practice-Mindfulness-(Buddhism)-Step-1

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present.  When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad.  Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

Worrying can wreak havoc on our mindfulness.  Whether you worry about past problems or future concerns, it causes anxiety, frustration, depression and feelings of hopelessness.  Excessive worrying can cause various physical effects on our bodies.  Headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate, dizziness and fatigue have all been associated with worrying.

This internal turmoil can trigger the fight or flight response causing our nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol.  These hormones can boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides (blood fats) that can be used by the body for fuel.  When this fuel in the blood is not used for physical activity, we can encounter some series effect, such as digestive disorders, muscle tension, short term memory loss and even heart attack.

By training ourselves to live in the present moment, we can push our fears and worry from our minds.  The point is not to ignore the problems.  If we consciously make time to address our worries and fears, hopefully, we can gain some clarity and practice towards a more mindful existence the rest of the time.

Helpguide.org offers multiple ideas for practicing mindfulness, such as:

  • Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.
  • Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
  • Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
  • Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
  • Urge surfing – Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.

There is not a right and wrong way to practice mindfulness.  What techniques have you found to increase your mindfulness?

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Laughter is the Best Medicine

When was the last time you had a good laugh?  Not a giggle or a polite laugh, but when was your last hearty, side splitting, “make you cry” laugh?!  Where you laughed so hard you could felt like you could hardly breathe? If you really have to think about it, it’s been too long!

I have always felt that a good laugh makes us feel good but there are medical benefits that can be associated with laughing.

  • Tension and stress cause the blood vessels to tense up and restrict blood flow.  Laughter has been shown to return blood flow to normal with blood vessels expanding and contracting regularly.  This exercise for your heart can help aid in protecting you against a heart attack or other cardiovascular problems.
  • Stress has been associated with a decreased immune system.  Humor can raise the levels of infection fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, a natural chemical in your body that makes you feel better.  These endorphins can actually temporarily relieve pain.
  • Humor brings relaxation.  Muscles that are tense and tight can can be eased with a good, hearty laugh.  This feeling of relaxation can stay with you for as long as 45 minutes after the laugh.
  • When feeling overwhelmed, humor can shift your perspective, allowing you to see the situation in a more realistic and manageable light.
  • Laughing is great exercise for the diaphragm, abdominal and facial muscles.  It even burns calories! When your belly aches after a good laugh, you should be commended for a great workout!

Sharing laughter with another person brings joy, vitality and resilience, uniting people in difficult times and offsetting the impact of mental stress.  Though I don’t recommend laughing at a funeral, I can see where it could be very beneficial to ease the tension while sharing those funny memories of our loved ones who have passed.

How often have you encountered someone laughing and found yourself joining in?  It’s contagious!  Most people are happy to share the source of their laughter as it gives them the opportunity to laugh again and feed off the laughter of others.

So, loosen up.  Look at the lighter side of life.

  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.  Share an embarrassing moment and laugh at your serious self.
  • Release your inhibitions and don’t be afraid to express your true feelings.
  • Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up.
  • Keep things in perspective.

Here are two videos that always make me laugh…

 

I Am So Bored…

When I hear this from my kids, I roll my eyes and laugh.  They have no idea that to be bored is such a luxury!  We should all be so lucky to be bored!

In the fast paced world we live in, we often find ourselves running from one obligation to another without taking any time for ourselves.  When we do find a few spare minutes, most of us are still being stimulated via our phones, laptops or tablets.  Whether checking emails as we wait for an appointment or playing Angry Birds at the DMV, our brains are constantly active.  Finding some “me time” where we can decompress, sit quietly and do nothing is essential in keeping our sanity.

Vashon FerryI grew up on an island in Washington state, accessible only by a 15 minutes ferry ride.  After graduation and before moving into the city, I would ride the ferries on a daily basis to get to work and back.  During those 15 minutes, I would watch the waves or gaze over the city, never realizing the incredible benefit that I was getting.  I often think back to these ferry rides and miss this mandatory down time.

Being bored is a luxury we all need to reflect on our past to achieve.  As children, it came easy.  As we grow up, it becomes a skill that many of us have to reacquire as we become more consumed with our busy schedules.  My first time practicing “boredom,” I found it incredibly difficult to sit quietly for a few minutes, let alone 15 minutes.  I fidgeted with my hands, thought of errands to run and planned the menu for dinner.  I had this overwhelming desire to do something (ANYTHING!) to keep me from sitting quietly.  How could this madness actually benefit my mental health?!

I kept at it though, determined to be able to do nothing and enjoy it!  Over time, my fidgeting turned to relaxation.  Soon after I felt the peace and tranquility in allowing myself to just be.  Taking this time to ourselves teaches us to clear our minds and relax.  It gives our brains a chance to step away from the stimulation of the everyday world and refresh. Our brains need this opportunity to rest in order to stay focused and strong for the rest of our crazy busy day.

Believe me, I do not allocate a large portion of my day to “being bored.”   I have a job, a family, schoolwork and other obligations that take the larger chunks of my day.  I look at each transition from one activity to the next as an opportunity. I don’t mind having to wait a few extra minutes for my dentist appointment or the girls telling me they need a few extra minutes in a shop, I can wait quietly, clear my head and take advantage of this valuable time to be bored.

Try it for a few minutes each day for a week, I think you’ll be amazed.  Let me know how it goes.

Nevada Women’s Fund: Empowering Women

Nevada Women’s Fund was founded in 1982 by Lynn Atcheson, Maya Miller and Barbara C. Thornton.  These women had a vision to provide the best opportunities for women and their families in Northern Nevada.  Through scholarships and grants, Nevada Women’s Fund’s mission is to strengthen communities by empowering women to improve their lives and those of their families.

Through scholarships alone, Nevada Women’s Fund has awarded over $3.1 million dollars to 1,350 women since 1983.  The majority of these women have faced social or financial challenges that have prevented them from pursuing further education. Many recipients are single mothers and women reentering the workforce.  Applications are accepted in January and February each year, with awards announced in July.

Grants account for over $3.1 million in disbursements to 141 community organizations that focus on helping women and children.  Whether addressing the physical and mental health of our women, preventing violence for women or addressing concerns of the aging women, NWF strives to strengthen the community.  In turn, our community can better support their women in the pursuit of their goals.

Nevada Women’s Fund supports its efforts through the generous donations of individual donors, earned income from its endowments and the hosting of two annual fundraising events.

  • The Salute to Women of Achievement Luncheon is held every year in May to celebrate women and their professional and personal commitments.  The keynote speaker this year will be Lucille O’Neal, author and motivational speaker. (For those basketball fans, she is Shaq’s mom!)
  • NWF Power of the Purse is hosted just before the holidays to give women an opportunity to shop some of the fabulous local vendors that Northern Nevada has to offer.  With tasty treats and drinks, I’m in!

Nevada Women’s Fund is another great non profit doing some incredible work to encourage women to reach for more that they imagined they were capable of.  I’d love to hear about any other organizations that are empowering women.  Leave me a comment below.

NWF

What is the SAT Measuring Anyway?!

How can we possibly get an accurate measure of a student’s ability based on a standardized test when each student is completely different? Teenagers are far from standard!

The Scholastic Assessment Test or the SAT test was developed in 1926.  It was adapted from the World War I Army I.Q. Test and it was developed to set a standard scale of intelligence for university admissions.  The theory was that by standardizing the test, students of different economic and social backgrounds would all be measured on the same scale.

Ironically, research shows that there is a very high correlation between income and test scores. “The only persistent statistical result from the SAT is the correlation between high incomes and high test scores”, states Leon Botstein, president of Bard College as commented in TIME magazine.  In fact, research shows that the SAT is less of an indicator of intelligence than a student’s GPA.  By using the SAT test as a measure for university admissions, we may actually be looking over well deserving, low income and/or minority students.

So what are we testing on the SAT or any standardized test for that matter?  For students who have the financial advantages for test preparation software, courses, books and tutors, as well as the time to study the format and structure as well as endurance testing for the 4 hour marathon, it seems obvious.  The College Board, the association that administers the SAT, is working on addressing some of this public criticism.  Changes are underway on the SAT (due to take effect in 2016) to make it more representative of high school curricula.  We can hope that at some point, the SAT will measure the knowledge that our students have gained over the course of their lives rather than how to take a test and the best way to spend their money to prepare for the test.  Until then, the SAT is just one of those necessary evils that high school students must endure.

Debbie Stier is the mother of two teenagers who took the SAT test 7 times in one year as part of a project to spur some initiative in her teenage boy.  Her theory was to join her son in this endeavor to teach him about motivation and the importance of not just sliding by.  Her book, “The Perfect Score” documents her journey as well as outlines the tips and tricks that can help any student suffering from testing anxiety.  She offers some humor in this seemingly boring and hopelessly standard test that necessates any college acceptance notice.

Sarah StudyingThe SAT College Board website is a great (free) way to gain some insight on the test, review the format and do some practice questions.  ProProfs.com is another great resource for reading, writing and math practice as well as some fun brain games to easy the tension.   Regardless of how much time you spend and how much you pay for your SAT practice, stress management will be a huge factor in a student’s success.  Practice proper breathing techniques to combat pre- and post- testing stress and take some snacks to carry you through.  Hopefully once is enough!

 

 

It’s the Journey…

PerfectPerfectionism (in psychology) is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards accompanied by overly critical self evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

Normal perfectionism tendencies push a person towards a goal without compromising one’s self esteem.  This is a healthy drive that can increase productivity as well as satisfaction along the journey to the goal.  Neurotic perfectionism tendencies cause internal conflict and anxiety as unrealistic goals are set and dissatisfaction is felt when these goals are not met. This can lead to depression and low self esteem.

Perfectionists often struggle with inner peace. As they venture through life with certain expectations, it is inevitable to feel discontent as they struggle to fight this uphill battle. This inner conflict stands in the way of tranquility for themselves.  Additionally these tendencies can impedes a person’s gratefulness and appreciation, making way for negativism and skepticism.

Perfectionism can be related to the person – the need to organize a home, stay in shape or climb the corporate ladder.  It can also be projected on others – identifying others imperfections in their looks, behaviors and life, in general.  To work towards a healthy blend of perfectionism and inner peace, we must realize the merit in doing our best to work towards a goal.  There may be a better or more efficient way to do things but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy and appreciate things as they are.  Try not to become overly attached and focused on the negative aspects of this journey.  By looking at life without judgement, we can more clearly see the joy in life.

Try to catch yourself falling into the negativity of the unattainable and enjoy your life today, making the most of the journey.

Life is a journey, not a destination.”    -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Become More Powerful in as Little as Two Minutes

Can our body posture influence others to believe we are more powerful?  More importantly, can our body posture influence ourselves that we are more powerful?

Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist whose research as an associate professor at the Harvard Business School focuses on the perceived power that is gained from our body posture.  More specifically, she researches the non-verbal expressions of power dominance.  Her TED talk, titled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” is one to watch.


Powerful people are often characterized as assertive, optimistic, abstract thinker and a risk taker.  They take up more space in a physical situation that a less powerless person.  For example, arms outstretched or hands on the hips and legs firmly planted or up on a desk. They normally register high levels of testosterone, with low levels of cortisol, whereas a less powerful person would show the opposite.

Testosterone is a very important hormone found in both men and women.  It has been shown to increase a sense of pride and boost one’s self image.  It also increases optimism.  Dominance is increased in a  person with a high level of testosterone.

Cortisol is a hormone released by our adrenal glands when faced with fear or stress, as part of our bodies’ fight or flight mechanism.  Elevated levels can increase blood pressure, affect weight gain and interfere with learning and memory.

Cuddy explains how we have seen that when people feel more powerful, they display this power through non verbal body gestures and do more things characteristic of a powerful person.  She questions whether the opposite is true.  By exhibiting power through our non verbal gestures or “faking” that we possess the power, can we teach our mind to be a more powerful person?  She finds that it is absolutely true.  The amount of time necessary to gain the benefits of a powerful person through posing in power positions is as little as two minutes.

lynda_carter_as_wonder_womanThe next time you are preparing for an important interview, take the posture of Wonder Woman in the elevator for a couple minutes.  Take up some space.  Show who you are. Your presence in the interview will reflect it with increased confidence, enthusiasm and passion.

Have you ever tested this theory?  Did it work for you? Leave a comment and share your experience.

Our bodies change our minds,

and our minds change our behaviors,

and our behaviors change our outcomes.  

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Combat Stress With Proper Breathing

Just breath…

Stress can cause a variety of changes in our bodies.  An increased heart rate, for example, can cause faster, more shallow breathing, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood quicker than normal.  Low carbon dioxide in your blood can cause psychological effects such as increased feelings of anxiety and fear and, ultimately, stress.  One way to decrease the effects of stress is by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in our blood by practicing proper breathing techniques.

Deep diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing engages your diaphragm so that your lungs use a full range of motion when breathing.  This allows our lungs to get the full benefit of the exchange of incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide.  Each of our tiny blood vessels then get a chance to take advantage of the oxygenated air, carrying this oxygen to cells within the body.  This can stabilize your heart beat as well as stabilize or lower blood pressure, effectively reducing stress.

Lungs

Begin your deep breathing by sitting in a quiet place with your eyes closed.  Inhale slowly through your nose using your diaphragm. Your stomach should expand as you inhale with little or no chest movement.  At complete inhalation, try to hold your breath for about 6 to 12 seconds.  Next, exhale slowly through your mouth using your stomach to push the air out.  A good goal to begin with is 10 minutes of deep breathing a day.

By practicing deep breathing techniques on a regular basis, you gain other benefits.

  • Reduce the risk factors for heart disease
  • Reduce chances of cancer
  • Helps reduce cravings for processed carbohydrates (junk food)
  • Improves quality of sleep
  • Improves your mood level
  • Improves mental focus and concentration

I’ve found that I have a hard time remembering to do my diaphragmatic breathing on a daily basis.  These are some of the ideas I came up with to remember to take advantage of this inexpensive and effective stress reducer.

  • Before getting out of bed in the morning and again at night
  • While doing yoga
  • Set your alarm on your phone for specific times throughout the day
  • Anytime you visit the restroom
  • Walking to and from work to your car

Take a minutes right now to practice a few deep breaths, if you can’t dedicate the full 10 minutes, that’s okay.  I find that I can easily squeeze in three to four deep breathes at multiple times through out the day.   Enjoy your less stress day!!

 

 

 

Exploring the Work World

How great would that be to experience any career you choose?  Just for one day?

Growing up, I had many dreams and aspirations…

I wanted to be a dancer.  Ignore that fact that I am completely uncoordinated and have the worst sense of rhythm.  I took dance lessons for a while and finally decided it wasn’t the best route to go.

I wanted to be a veterinarian.  I rescued strays dogs and cats and proudly presented them to my parents, only to have them look at me sternly with the same ‘no” that I got every time.  When one of our pets got sick, I couldn’t bear to see them suffering.

I wanted to be a writer.  I loved to write stories and poems of the love and heartache I had yet to experience.   As I took more writing courses, I took my criticisms very personally and I fretted about what happens when my creative juices run dry.

As a teenager, I had the opportunity to explore many interests, enabling me to test the waters prior to embarking on a career path that may not have been right for me.   My two daughters are now facing the same decision as one enters high school and the others one prepares to leave.

My senior in high school is feeling the pressure of choosing a career as she looks towards her first year in college.  She took a job recently at a local preschool after narrowing her interest to early childhood education.  It took about a month for her to realize 1) she’s not cut out for early childhood education and 2) children are the best form of birth control available.

My youngest daughter is a freshman in high school.  She is interested in the medical field as well as veterinary  medicine.  Over spring break, she volunteered at a medical surgery facility.  She has been doing filing and other clerical tasks and has had the opportunity to view a few surgeries.  It took her a week to realize 1) there is life beyond high school and 2) she can choose a job and love what she does.

Choosing-A-Career-PathExploring the work world can be beneficial for any young person still deciding on a career path or someone at any age that is contemplating a change in careers.  Most professionals are eager to share their love for their career whether via an informational interview or by shadowing them for a day.  The insight that can be gained now will help steer you on a more direct career path in the future.

What career would you “test-drive” for a day, if you could?

 

 

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The Benefits of Self Discovery

Growing up, my parents would send me to summer camp for at least one week every year.  I really hated this.  I would much rather spend my summer alone, walking the beaches and hiking in the hills around our home.  I fought it every year but they insisted and off I went, most often in tears, out to spend a week with people I didn’t know, to a place I was unfamiliar with and doing activities I wasn’t used to.

Looking back, this was exactly what I needed.  I was a very shy child and although being put in this situation was traumatic, it taught me to open myself up to what the world has to offer.  Over the course of the week, I conquered a few fears, made new friends and tried activities that I never would have otherwise.  I made some great memories at these camps that have stuck with me.

Camp Colman (Longbranch, WA) seemed a world away, though it was only about about an hour and a half from our home.  Campers would sign up for three activities that we wanted to try through out the week.  We had time every day to learn about and participate our activities as well as group activities and free time.  This is where I first experienced horseback riding, archery and singing the old Beach Boys song, “Sloop John B.”  To this day, this song is one of my favorites.

Camp Letter194Camp Burton (Vashon, WA) was only located about 15 from our home.  As a child with anxiety about being away from home, it didn’t matter how far it was away, it felt like hundreds of miles.  Campers would bring the instrument that they played and pick another instrument that you wanted to learn how to play.  We had lessons throughout the week for both instruments and performed at the end of the week for all the parents.   I remember hanging out with the campers and counselor from our cabin just laughing so hard we could hardly stand it

My oldest daughter is a complete extrovert and when I told her about my camp experience, she begged me to go… somewhere…anywhere!  She wasn’t facing the same fears as I did but we knew she would have a great time, if nothing else.  We focused on her interest in music and chose Sierra Mountain Music Camp (Nevada City, CA).  She is now in her third year as a counselor as SMMC.  She has gained leadership skills, coping skills and valuable experience as she pursues an education in childhood education.  She loves feeling like she has made a mark on a child’s life.

This will be my youngest daughter’s first experience at camp.  She is exactly like I was, she does not welcome the unfamiliar.  Though she is somewhat exited, I still see her reservations.  Sister will be there as a counselor but in another cabin so she has her space to grow.  She will experience new things and meet new people, shaping her opinions for the future.

Did you go to camp?  Was it a good experience for you?  How has it influenced your future?