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Why do we need art in our lives?

Art, both the act of making it and the act of viewing it, is an incredible aspect of humanity that contributes to our well being in many ways. Art making is a uniquely human activity that dates back to our earliest days on earth, and evidence of this can be found in cave paintings around the globe. Examples include the bull paintings located in the Lascaux Cave in France, as well as in the many statuettes that have been located around these cave sites, like the famous Venus of Willendorf. These artifacts give us clues about how our ancestors saw themselves and the world around them. Today, we continue to create and observe art in ways that are just as meaningful. We interact with and make art, regardless of our skill level, experience, or talent, as a way of connecting with ourselves and with the world at large.

There are many different ways to make art as one can see from the varying and sometimes silly examples of “Modern Art” in the world, but the most common and accessible methods tend to be painting, drawing, or sculpting with clay or wood. Art making is therapeutic in that it can be both soothing and enlightening. We feel soothed by the actual process of making art including the rhythmic sound of a brush against a canvas, the crisp connection of a pencil on paper, the soft feeling of earthy clay in our hands, or the cathartic release of hammering a nail into a board. Each of these can soothe and relax both the body and the mind. Art making is enlightening in that it gives us a window into ourselves, our perspectives, and what is important to us as reflected in our choice of subject matter, color scheme, design, and execution.

When we are making observational art- when we draw or paint something that is directly in front of us- there is a suspension of anxious ruminative thinking which is replaced by the focus of observation and the somewhat meditative experience of transposing the object into a work of art. When we sit and focus like this, we are practicing grounding as well as producing something that grounds us.  When the work is complete, we are able to see that art connects us to the outside world in as much as it provides a window into the process of how we connect with and express ourselves. One of the best parts about expressing yourself through art is that the painting, drawing, or sculpture is uniquely yours. You are completely free to say whatever you need or want to say, in whatever manner you choose. This can be extremely liberating and cathartic which also contributes to a sense of well being.

Lastly, it is interesting to consider what type of art you like to make. Do you enjoy making landscapes, portraits, trees, or abstract images? What is it about that imagery that draws your attention and energy? Which artists are you most interested in and why? Note how your work, regardless of the size or skill level involved, is creating a singular story (yours) as well as being an expression of the greater human experience.  I will leave you with this quote by the famous sculptor, Antony Gormley, on the ancient handprints found in caves around the world, “…it was never about the handprint, it was about the place where a hand once was.”

And this is why we need art in our lives.

 

By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP

 

Meditation – It’s for Every Mind!

What image comes to mind when you think of meditation? A Google image search for the word “meditation” yields countless photos of young, fit, blissed-out individuals sitting in full lotus position on mountaintops and beaches. Unfortunately, such cultural stereotypes have perpetuated a number of misconceptions about this ancient practice and lead many to assume meditation just isn’t for them. The truth is, meditation can be helpful for anyone who has a human mind!

Consider these signs that you’re in the ‘struggle zone’ as a human, and see if you recognize any of them:

  • Paying ATTENTION in a scattered way or failing to attend to what matters most to you;
  • Getting caught up in negative THINKING and believing your thoughts tell you how things really are;
  • FEELING tense and overwhelmed or numb and disconnected;
  • PERCEIVING your distressing thoughts and feelings as ‘the real you’ and letting them determine what you do next.

Chances are, you’ve experienced all of these from time to time. That’s because they’re a universal part of the human condition. What does this have to do with meditation? Meditation can be defined as a systematic mental training designed to challenge those habits of ATTENDING, THINKING, FEELING, and PERCEIVING. So it directly targets the natural but unhelpful tendencies of the mind, to free you from the ‘struggle zone’ and help you thrive.

The best part is, meditation works! And thanks to major advances in neuroscience over the past few decades, we now know how. Regular meditation practice changes the very structure and function of the brain at the neurological level. The enhanced connectivity and flexibility associated with new neuronal growth and branching in specific regions of the brain in response to meditation confer a host of empirically supported benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Improved focus
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Better mood
  • Enhanced sleep

Now, as with all healthy habits, including exercise and nutritious eating, a consistent commitment to the practice of meditation over time will yield the greatest benefits. (Notice the phrase “systematic mental training” from the definition of meditation presented earlier in this post.) It can be helpful to think of meditation as taking your mind to the gym to foster mental fitness, just as you would take your body to the gym to foster physical fitness. Going only once is unlikely to produce results, but going several times a week or even daily will put you on the fast track toward achieving your personal goals.

Many new meditators have trouble sticking with the practice. Some common concerns include not knowing if they’re “doing it right”, feeling like they don’t have enough time, being unsure about where to start, or believing they have to empty their mind of thoughts. These concerns are perfectly normal, and I’ll address each of them in a future blog post. For now, it’s important to note that a wide variety of readily available tips, tools, and techniques exist to set up even the most inexperienced of meditators for success. Let’s start with the fact that meditation doesn’t have to take a lot of time. As little as 3 minutes per day has been shown to begin the neurological restructuring of the brain. Try the following 3-minute mindful breathing meditation as an example. It will help you feel more grounded in the present moment while you practice noticing the sensations of breathing and allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go in the background.

3-Minute Mindful Breathing Meditation

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How was that for you? What did you notice? Don’t worry if you had a hard time focusing on your breath. The untrained mind is like a puppy. It doesn’t sit still and stay for very long. But with gentle encouragement and regular training sessions, it will gradually learn how to settle, and you might even find it to be a welcome companion.

 

By Stephanie Best, PhD – Licensed Clinical Psychologist

We Finally Get It: Hindsight is 2020

Several years from now, in say 2028, a typical therapy session with Mike, a forty something struggling with anxiety and depression unfolds … Mike shares some of his overwhelming and distressing thoughts … “I should have known better, and just stayed at my job. It is so obvious that I made the wrong decision to start my own business and help out more with my kids. I am such an idiot.”  The therapist simply asks, “When did you make this decision?” Mike’s eyes smile with some resignation to the fact that it is not all his fault as he shakes his head and sighs, “2020.”

This past year – 2020 – highlights for us all so loudly and clearly like a flashing neon sign, YOU DO NOT AND CANNOT CONTROL EVERYTHING and THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER FACTORS than your poor decision-making and unsatisfactory abilities!

We humans look back on our lives – our relationships, our decisions, our actions and nonactions – to make sense of ourselves and our lives.  We yearn for a coherent narrative to give us a sense of meaning and purpose.  We attempt to create order and clarity in our lives by putting ourselves and others in neat little boxes labeled good/bad, success/failure, pretty/ugly.  And yes, we seek a sense of control over the good things and the bad things that happen so as to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.  So, we look back at times and reflect and examine.  Such is introspection and learning.  We try to get a different angle on the road taken.

Yet, that thinking process, especially when we are struggling with depression or anxiety, can quickly become an unhelpful, self-critical and ruminative path characterized by hindsight bias or “I knew it all along” thinking.  The expression “hindsight is 20/20” refers to hindsight bias or the idea that we can see things more clearly and accurately when we look back on it.  Hindsight bias or the idea that hindsight is 20/20 generally makes us feel like crud because it is not reflective of our lived reality.  The year 2020, however, really captures our lived reality, each of us living our very own horrific reality show.  We see how human we all are – scared, sad, creative, opinionated, effortful, moody, tired, angry, unsure, trying, trying, trying, failing, succeeding, irritable, isolated, grateful, loving, trying – and our vision is not 20/20 because we can’t go to the eye doctor!

If hindsight bias is coming up in our thinking, it reflects a struggle to concede to the fact that we simply have to live …to live the natural course of life which means there are mountains to climb and valleys to descend as well as hurricanes, fires, tornadoes…and viruses…to survive.  We cannot get rid of the storms or the viruses fast enough or even ever.  Remember, regardless of vaccines or herd immunity, there will always be viruses just like there will always be storms.  In storms or even when it is a clear day, we are better off driving our lives by looking mostly through the front windshield rather than the rearview mirror.

Thus, while there is a time and place for looking back and learning from our past – our successes and our failings – we ought to know now that Hindsight is 2020, not 20/20. The therapist can ask Mike and we can ask ourselves, “what did you learn in 2020?” rather than “why didn’t I see it right?”  Hindsight can impart a sense of understanding and appreciation for the fact that life is rocky terrain as we integrate our steps and missteps along the way.  As we end the year, let’s remind ourselves that we will have new vantage points from the mountains we climb in 2021, but that doesn’t mean we should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve in 2020.

 

By Ashley Bullock, PhD, Chief Psychology Officer

5 Tips to Stress Less During the Holiday Season

Do you aim to move through the holiday season with the cheeriness of Cindy Lou Who but find yourself acting more like The Grinch? Holiday expectations placed on us by the media, our families, and most importantly, by ourselves can feel daunting and difficult to meet. This year, there’s the added stress of the pandemic and associated worries about the health and safety of friends and loved ones. As members of Club Human, our minds tend to spin all sorts of anxiety-provoking stories at this time of year. You know the drill. Some of the greatest hits I hear from clients include:

  • “There’s not enough time to get it all done!”
  • “If I have to be around my family for another minute, I’m going to scream!”
  • “I can’t afford to buy all these gifts!”
  • “I should be feeling happier right now. What’s wrong with me?”

Recognize any of these? (wink wink)

If you do, then you’re far from alone! That’s the first step in untangling ourselves from our unhelpful mental stories – recognizing that thoughts like these are normal and common during the holiday season. Rather than playing tug-of-war with them, see if you can practice dropping the rope and turning toward what truly matters to you. Here are 5 tips to help you open your heart to the holidays, lower your stress level, and connect with your core holiday values:

  1. Do 5 minutes of heart-centered breathing
    Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed, close your eyes, and softly place your hand over your heart. With a very slight grin on your face, imagine smiling down to your heart. Slow the pace of your breath, and while focusing on the breath, imagine breathing healing energy into and out of your heart center. This simple practice is a beautiful and gentle way to begin activating the energies of the heart and can help you feel more peaceful, less rushed, and more deeply connected with yourself. You may even find it easier to connect with others.
  2. Check your posture
    Each of us is a mind-body creature. How we treat the mind affects the body, and how we treat the body affects the mind. We can use this mind-body connection to our advantage to regulate our mood. Research shows that if you sit in a slumped posture, you’re more likely to feel depressed, and you’re more likely to think negative thoughts. If you sit in an upright posture, you’re more likely to experience a positive mood and to think positive thoughts. As you’re going through your day, notice how you’re sitting or standing. Invite yourself to adopt an open, upright, confident posture like the Wonder Woman stance made famous by social psychologist Amy Cuddy in her TED talk.
  3. Seek out and savor the sweet spots
    When we get stressed and anxious, we tend to focus on what we think is going wrong or could go wrong, and that’s a vicious cycle. Train your brain to seek out what I like to call the “sweet spots” in your day. These don’t have to be big, major things. They can be as simple as noticing that the traffic light on your way to work that’s usually red was green today. Or your taste buds sang at the first bite of a warm holiday cookie, fresh from the oven. Or you heard your child laugh while watching their favorite holiday TV special. You can even set a mindfulness bell to sound on your mobile phone periodically throughout the day (e.g., MindBell for Android or Mindfulness Bell for iPhone) and use it as a prompt to identify one small thing you can appreciate or be grateful for in that very moment. Then once you notice a “sweet spot”, let it sink in. Savor it for even 30 seconds before moving on with your day.
  4. Offer yourself loving-kindness
    Loving-kindness meditation practices involve intentionally activating positive feelings states (such as love, kindness, compassion, and gratitude) and sending them toward yourself and others. These practices can have tremendous benefits for overall well-being by doing things like increasing your empathy for others and reducing self-criticism. Try this loving-kindness meditation from the Mayo Clinic to beat holiday stress.
  5. Remember the inner child
    You know that little child version of yourself that lives inside of you, the one who sometimes feels afraid of the world and of failing? The one who gets sad from time to time and just needs a hug, perhaps especially during the holiday season? Yeah, I’ve got one of those, too. Spoiler alert… we all do! When you find yourself struggling to navigate challenging personalities over the holidays (Can’t you PLEASE talk about something other than politics, Uncle Ned!?), try to remember that, while they may rarely show it on the outside, these individuals have scared inner children, too. Can you “see” them as a parent might see a child? Can you recognize that the innocence and vulnerability they had as a young child is still a part of who they are now? Does this help you to approach them with a bit more equanimity and compassion?

We may not have much control over the external stressors that seem to come at us from all directions this time of year, but we can decide how we are going to show up. How would the “you” that you most want to be show up this season – toward yourself and toward the ones you love? I hope the tips in this article make it a little easier to choose to be that person and to be the living, breathing embodiment of your core values.

Wishing you wellness always!

 

 

By Stephanie Best, PhD – Licensed Clinical Psychologist

5 Tips for Mastering Change

5 Tips for Mastering Change

You may have heard the expression, “Change is the only constant in life”. This saying certainly reflects the reality of 2020, a year marked by uncertainty, adjustment, and continuous change. This year we have all experienced changes outside of our control – losing a job, kids being remote from school, inability to visit family or go on vacation, etc. Amidst all the uncontrollable changes, you may have also implemented changes in your life to benefit your health and wellness. Have you tried learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby during quarantine? Controllable or not, large and small changes to our everyday lives can be difficult to navigate. Here are tips to help you set yourself up to adapt well and be successful in making valuable changes.

Start small. Identify small objectives within the bigger goal. Break down the steps as much as possible, making them more manageable and realistic over a short period of time. For instance, are you burning the candles at both ends and feeling short on sleep? If you want to get more rest, you may feel tempted to move your bedtime up by a full two hours on day one and hit the sack by 10 pm. Starting small means shifting your bedtime back for 10 or 20 minutes at first, which can be increased 1-2 hours over time. Small steps lead to big changes!

Link new habits to your already-established routine. Mentally attaching a new habit to something you already do sets you up for success in making a sustainable change. For example, if you want to incorporate stretching into the start of your day, try doing a few stretches while your morning coffee is brewing, or while the shower is warming up. Not only will you make good use of ‘waiting’ time, but you will then reward yourself for stretching with a hot cup of Joe or an invigorating shower. Using some of  these natural reinforcers that you already do will help to set up a new routine, allow you to feel good about what you’ve done, and create a smooth transition for the new behaviors.

Don’t go at it alone. Identify at least one person – a friend, coworker, partner – who knows about the change you’re making. Or join a virtual group of others with similar interests. Make sure you connect with a person or group that is supportive and can provide a listening ear when you hit a roadblock, or a high-five when you reach a milestone. Sharing about your experience not only increases accountability, it also helps you reflect on what’s working and what’s not.

Ride the emotional wave. Changing a pattern of behavior or routine that you’ve been following for years can feel like swimming upstream. Frustration is a given as are “starts” and “stops”. Instead of giving up in frustration, ask yourself, “What is getting in the way this time and what can I do next to work through this?” Accepting that you’re going to experience some roadblocks and a range of emotion helps you ride out the current challenges and prepare you to tackle future ones.

Practice self-compassion. It’s human nature to respond to set-backs with criticism and self-doubt, especially during times of change. Practicing self-compassion is the best way to flip the script on that inner dialogue. Put simply, self-compassion means taking a perspective toward yourself as you would with a friend or colleague. Rather than criticizing yourself when you struggle, try saying “This is hard” or “I am doing the best I can”.

Change is inevitable and the bumps in the road that come with it are part of the process of building resilience. Take a moment to reflect on all the changes you’ve been faced with already in 2020! Moving forward, use these tips when faced with a new obstacle – controllable or uncontrollable. And remember to be kind to yourself!

Creating Meaning During the Holiday Season

Here in Charleston holiday traditions abound. Walk downtown and you will see traditional Southern holiday charm in the form of poinsettias, garlands, and wreaths adorned with citrus on many of the houses. This, in itself, is a holiday treat to behold! Three more of my personal favorites include the Charleston holiday festival of lights on James Island, the holiday parade of boats on the Charleston harbor, and strolling through the Historic City Market for unique gifts made by local artists and craftsmen.

At Rockefeller Center in NYC, people gather for the annual lighting of the Christmas tree each year while across the country families watch the broadcast of the event along with entertainment including the infamous Carnegie Hall Rockettes.

Mystic Seaport, in Connecticut, celebrates the holidays with actors staging an interactive play that is set around Christmas Eve. One never knows who will be called up to play a part or how the audience as a whole will be brought into the holiday story line!

And in Lindsborg Kansas, the home to many residents of Swedish descent, the community hosts a traditional “St. Lucia Day” festival complete with the eldest daughter of each family wearing a white robe and crown of ivy and candles.  After a procession and song, meant to honor the martyred saint, the celebrants enjoy traditional Swedish food and mulled, hot wine.

These are just some of the holiday traditions found across the country.

Traditions are an important aspect of family life, especially during the holiday season, providing context and meaning to our lives and connecting us to our broader history. Traditions are comforting in that they provide a sense of meaning and reassurance. During the holidays our family traditions come alive in the form of baked goods, favorite songs, holiday décor, gift giving, and even expectations. Typically, traditions get passed down through generations, within the family and community. Even as we create our own families and develop our own ideas of what is meaningful, we hold on to what we cherish from the past. We pass down stories, memories, and recipes that make the holidays special in order to keep these traditions alive. Even outside of the holiday season, traditions help keep us moored and provide familiarity, especially when the world feels somewhat chaotic and unpredictable.

This holiday season in particular, with many separated from loved ones, it is an ideal time to reflect upon what traditions provide you comfort and joy and also, what new traditions can be created to add to or replace some of the old ones? Are there traditions that perhaps no longer hold meaning for you, or make you feel sad because they remind you of someone or some place that is no longer part of your life? This year many have lost jobs or businesses and holidays may be looking quite different than previous years. And for communities, such as in New York, Kansas, or Mystic Seaport, or even here in Charleston, public and larger gatherings may be curtailed or limited to a certain number of participants due to concern for transmission of the virus. Yet, these current challenges do not have to take all the joy out of our holiday cheer. Ask yourself and your loved ones: Are there new activities, recipes, and gift giving ideas to replace the expensive and trendy gifts you are used to giving and receiving? Are there perhaps traditions that can be modified and still enjoyed despite the physical distance from family and loved ones? What can we do as a neighborhood or religious community to connect and keep meaning and purpose in our holiday?  Sometimes we hold on to traditions “because, well, that’s the way we have always done it” or we feel pressured to keep up with the neighbors or please others, and yet, this challenging time can be met with some creativity and renewed purpose for many.

Take a moment to reflect on if this resonates with you. If so, consider preserving only those traditions that are truly important, and creating new traditions that are special to you and your loved ones this holiday season. With all that has happened this year, consider making some space for some self-compassion. Take time to ask yourself what you want and need, not just what does everyone else want and need.  Instead of another sweater, scarf, or Amazon gift card, consider giving the gifts of kindness, patience, and awareness, to yourself and to those you love. Consider giving the gift of joy through creating and exchanging DIY gifts such as a favorite photograph is a beautiful frame, a scrap book of adventures and favorite memories from the year, or a recording of a sentimental song or poem. Consider giving the gift that so many crave: the gift of time. Make “love coupons” to gift to busy family members that can be cashed in for spending time together, taking a drive or a hike, or family game night. Perhaps families can do some Christmas Caroling to their neighbors, or to relatives and others who they know may be alone this holiday?  Decorating the trees outside of a senior residence or a local hospital is another new tradition to spread the holiday spirit and contribute to brightening someone’s season. Or, children might create holiday cards to send to Veteran’s homes or eldercare centers.  Who knows, these traditions may end up being so significant that they carry on well beyond the holiday season.

Happiest of holidays and cheers to traditions old and new!

 

By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP

Navigating Stress

Stress feels a bit like a cold, windy day at the beach these days – a relentless and seemingly out of your control pounding by the waves, the wind and the sand.  Many of us feel continually knocked down and hassled by life, and the jokes about 2020 being a bad year are not funny anymore.  We have all also realized that our short-term coping methods back in April are not sustainable through November.  What’s next and how can I possibly manage another stressor?

First, let’s briefly define stress. A stressor is an internal or external threat that impacts your physical and psychological balance and stress is the resultant tension created in how our bodies and minds work to re-calibrate our balance. Think of how you close your eyes and duck your head while walking into the wind, or how you brace yourself when getting struck by a large wave. We respond to and manage stressors all the time. Stress is a part of life. First and foremost, we are not going to get rid of stress because it is a part of being human whether in 1999 or in 2020 or in 2032.  Kind of like how a sailboat is built to navigate the winds, we too are built to manage stress of different kinds. Like sailboats need wind, we too are meant to navigate, discover, learn, and evolve in our lives, and that is not always via a beach walk on sunny day.

Thus, if you have been trying to get rid of stress, pause for a moment! Let’s try to think instead about the idea of navigating stress instead of getting rid of stress. Of course, this is not a simple or easy process, but a lifelong one that takes some curiosity or interest in your own wellbeing or the wellbeing of others. If you are reading this, you have got it! So, let’s consider a few questions:

  • What stresses you out right now? (pick up to 3)
    • Health
    • Family
    • Financial stability and/or income
    • Work-life balance
    • Safety
    • School and Education
    • Community
    • Environment
    • Other
  • What matters most to you right now? (Pick up to 3)
    • Health
    • Family
    • Financial stability and/or income
    • Work-life balance
    • Safety
    • School and Education
    • Community
    • Environment
    • Other
  • How do you typically deal with stress right now? (Come up with top 3-5 ways you respond to stress). While you are reading this blog, no one can read your mind, so be honest with yourself!

 

  • How helpful are your strategies for coping with stress in the short and long term and for what matters most to you? Pick a number below.

0: All my strategies are helpful in the short and long term

1: Most work well but a few strategies don’t work

2: Most of the strategies only work in the short term, not the long term

3: Some of the strategies don’t even work in the short term

4: All of the strategies are unhelpful

You may have picked answers like participants in the Post and Courier Stress Management event this week. Watch this free workshop with members of the Modern Minds team to get more ideas and support in your stress management skill building.  Your answers likely reveal that what stresses you out right now also matters to you. You also likely have some coping strategies that work but not all of them work well and many of them don’t work in the long term. Don’t despair! Let this be a curious opening to exploring new strategies and ideas. Let your sail out for a moment and explore a different direction that might pivot you more in the direction of where you are hoping to go in the long term.

Move more.  Stress is a hugely physical phenomena inside our bodies and if you move more, you do discharge some of the tension. Important caveat though is do what feels good to your body. Dance, walk, jump. Read or listen to the Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal for some framework to this idea. Or watch one of her many Ted Talks.

Create your social world. Social distancing in the era of loneliness feels like real sand in the eye. Social distancing has pushed the limit so far that we are in a new era being created right now. You cannot wait for COVID to end or for someone else to call you.  We all must literally work our way out of the era of loneliness and into another one yet to be named. Put your own stamp on it by writing a letter to an old friend or family member. Or send a text. Or pick up the phone. Cast out many lines from your sailboat to make connections because socializing is as important as eating food and drinking water. Create the ZOOM book club, go on meetup.com and find a group, call your Aunt, call all your friends who you haven’t spoken to in 10 years. Call them all again.

-Seek support. Joking aside, 2020 has been especially hard and if you feel stuck and unable to pivot and pursue strategies that feel more aligned with your aims, take a step towards getting support from a professional. Please find solace and understanding in the fact that we humans are not actually that well built yet for the stressors of modern life. Modern life involves chronic or sustained psychological and social stress such as loneliness, conflicted family relationships, financial struggles, racism, chronic illness, and 2020.  We are best built for acute physical stress as evidenced by our highly honed fight, flight, or freeze reactions.  The stress of loneliness and worry are a bit hairier in fact than a lion chasing you!

Please explore our website for additional tools for navigating your stress, including free yoga videos with Shelly Wolfe, meditations and mindfulness exercise with MM staff as well as other fun stuff to explore.

7 Ways to Eat with Intention During the 2020 Holiday Season

Dr. Lauren Carter’s 7 tips for eating with intention (and attention!) during the holidays:

1. Perspective: Keep the meaning of the holiday season in mind. It can be easy to equate the holidays with food; however, the holidays mean much more than that. Above all, it is a season of togetherness, connectedness, and shared joy. Whenever you get together with others during the holidays, try to put the focus on connection rather than food. With intention, focus the meaning of your gatherings on connection rather than what is on your plate.

2. Be Flexible. This year is a great opportunity to practice flexibility in thinking and acting with regards to connection. Rather than focusing on connecting over food, can you plan some other activities that foster connection and joy where food isn’t the focus? For example, could you plan some extended family Zoom time, sing carols, or play a family game that lifts everyone’s spirits? Could you plan a physically distanced get together in an outdoor space or bring several family members together to sing outside of an older family member’s window? On Christmas Eve, could you and your neighbors gather outside and ring bells for a few minutes to help spread holiday spirit and help Santa fly the sleigh?

3. Plan ahead and set SMART goals. Set yourself up for success by thinking ahead and planning for what your healthy priority is. Often times, individuals set healthy eating goals in terms of the number on the scale, but healthy eating is much more than that. Setting yourself up for success when it comes to goal setting may be best achieved if you make a SMART goal—one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. For example, rather than stating “I don’t want to gain too much weight over the holidays”, you might set specific SMART goals, such as taking a 20-30 minute walk after dinner on 4 out of 7 nights per week over the next month or getting 8 hours of sleep on at least 5 out of 7 nights per week.

4. Choose foods that are nourishing and satisfying. As Hippocrates said, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Eat foods that help you meet your body’s needs, so that you feel better when you’ve finished eating than you did when you started.

5. Balance and moderation. While you will feel best if you primarily eat foods that nourish your body, it is also important to make sure you do not feel you are restricting or depriving yourself from holiday foods. Keep moderation in mind. For example, perhaps it is tradition for you and your family to decorate your home while sipping hot apple cider and enjoying freshly baked cookies. Mindfully (see tip #6!) and intentionally engage in this tradition. If you enjoy the hot apple cider and cookies mindfully, chances are you will do so while listening to your body’s cues and wholly throwing yourself into the joy of engaging with your family in this tradition, without over-consuming.

6. Eat mindfully. Mindful eating means eating with intention and attention. As you eat, slow down and take the time to tune into the ambiance, flavors, colors, aromas, textures, and temperature of the food.

7. Listen to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness. Eat when your body is hungry, check in with your internal hunger and fullness thermometer, and stop when you are full. This is easiest to do when you limit distractions while you are eating. For example, it is difficult to gauge hunger and fullness if you are eating while driving or eating while watching television. As best you can, try to always eat while sitting at a table with limited distractions.

As you mindfully apply some of these tips, keep in mind that practice makes better (not perfect!). One success breeds future success. So, even if your current relationship with food seems far off from the tips listed above, take comfort in knowing that you can help move towards a more mindful and intentional relationship with food one meal (or snack) at a time.

 

By Lauren Carter, Ph.D and licensed clinical psychologist

Yoga is Life

All of the tenets of living a meaningful life are experienced in Bikram yoga. Much like life, it all starts with showing up in service of what matters to you. Showing up is often the hardest step in any journey, including yoga. You arrive at the studio at 6:00am. You summon the courage to enter a crowded, hot, humid room where you will remain for the next 90 minutes.  You lift your gaze and face yourself in a mirrored wall, silently recommitting to holding this gaze throughout the practice despite awkward poses, shifting balance, physical discomfort, unyielding internal judgement. You will yourself to lean in. You are here because it matters. Your mind reminds you of all the reasons you should be home in bed, all the times you’ve tried before and faltered, all the important things that await you in the day ahead. You thank your mind for doing its job. You notice emotions, thoughts, sensations and let them pass like clouds in the sky. You are the sky. You remain grounded and solid, willing to just be where you are.  You return to your breath, refocus, and gently shift your awareness back to the present moment. You make a choice to keep going. Because it matters.

At some point you become aware of changes in your practice, in yourself, in your life. You stop counting how many postures are left. You stop fidgeting. You stop clutching the reassurance of your self-doubt and allow the panel of critics in your head to fade to the background like music in a restaurant. You realize that you actually can tolerate the heat, the humidity, the internal and external adversity. You become aware of yourself balancing steadily, stretching more fully and flexibly. You feel a wave of gratitude for your body, and even your chattering mind.  At some point you find yourself reflexively breathing into doubt and making room for the process; whatever that means for you for that day. You begin to view each practice and each day not as an endgame, but as another chance to make choices that move you in the direction you seek to go. The next thing you know the 90 minutes are up. Suddenly it’s too soon.

Much like life, yoga is about being aware that there are many factors and conditions that impact you on any given day. Some days you are able to move full steam ahead towards what matters to you, other days you feel like you can’t seem to launch no matter how hard you try. Each moment is an opportunity to resist giving in to our impulses to soothe, escape, control, and avoid discomfort and uncertainty. Yoga reminds us that we are constantly growing, changing, and transforming, and at the same time we still can remain rooted and strong, dedicated, and committed. Whatever arises in life can be faced with these same guiding principles. Before you know it, you realize that you are stronger than you ever thought you could be, and when something matters, you show up.

 

By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP