Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fully Aware = Fully Happy! Here's How to Use Awareness for Good Mental Health

Many times when life is difficult, we disconnect, we avoid, we become less aware.  Because, difficulties are painful, uncomfortable, and not at all enjoyable.  It makes sense.  However, the best way for difficult situations and emotions to become easier is not through avoidance.  It is by leaning in, fully aware and fully invested.  Because so many of us avoid and disconnect, we go through our days completely unaware of many aspects of what is going on in the body and in the mind and in the communication the two are having.  We eat, even if we're not hungry.  We put things in our bodies, even though they make us feel awful later.  We spend time on screens that result in terrible sleep patterns.  We walk through the day thirsty and have no idea what that feeling of malaise is caused by.  We allow thoughts that are detrimental and exhausting to go through our heads willy nilly with no regulation.  And, we stuff emotions deep down and distract ourselves with busy tasks, so they stay down there.

Avoiding, stuffing, and disconnecting create unhealthy patterns that the brain and the body begin to follow until you feel overwhelmed by poor mental health and/or physical health symptoms and have to face them. This can all be remedied early on with awareness.  Leaning in to whatever you are feeling when things are great, when things are neutral and especially when things are difficult, is the best way to regulate the processes of the mind and body AND create more contentment, pleasure and joy in your life.

1.  Breathe:  Awareness of the breath is a powerful tool, easily at the ready anytime, anywhere.  Think about the unconscious space the breath is usually in - you don't think about it, it just happens.  Often that means the breath is shallow.  Very few of us unconsciously breathe deep, full breaths.  This is a problem, because the deep, full breath is the breath that communicates relaxing and releasing.  So, we need to make the breath more conscious.  Stop regularly throughout your day and breathe full breaths into the belly, exhaling out long and slow for at least 4 rounds, it takes about 1 minute to do this.  Try a minimum of twice a day, but do more, if possible.

2.  Meditate:  Meditation is awareness - awareness of the present.  Awareness of this moment in time and not the past and not the future.  A really lovely and easy way to connect to the present moment is to sit comfortably, relax into the rhythm of the breath, and as you breathe, say these words:  "I breathe in present moment, I breathe out this is a wonderful moment."  Allow a slight smile to form on your face.  This smile is the most relaxing muscular position for the face, but it also signals to the brain to send out a wave of contentment to the body.  When your mind wanders off to some future worry or task, some thought or story, some past regret or sorrow, come back to "present moment, wonderful moment."

3.  Relax:  Progressive relaxation is a very common exercise that teaches awareness of the tension held in the body.  We all have habitual muscle tension - a shoulder that creeps up, shoulder and neck muscles that become hard as rock, low back aches due to tension in hips, etc.  We aren't even aware it is there until it is so uncomfortable, it can no longer be ignored.  The tension in the body communicates to the brain that something is not ok and the brain communicates to the body to be on alert.  Back and forth go these messages and soon it is just a pattern and the question which came first -the thought or the tension no longer matters.  This exercise takes us through the muscle groups of the body, creating tension, then releasing it.  Try it anytime, but it is especially helpful before sleep.  This video guide will take you through just 7 1/2 minutes of the yoga practice Savasana, which commonly uses the progressive relaxation technique.

4.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  For this exercise, you will need a rubber band, a hair band, or a watch or bracelet that can be easily moved from one wrist to the other.  As mentioned earlier, we often go through the day unaware of the thinking patterns that are running around in our minds willy nilly.  When we do become aware, we are uncomfortable or even made miserable by their detrimental effects.  In an effort to create awareness AND change, we will begin the day with the band on the right wrist.  Each time you catch yourself having a negative or unwanted thought, move the band to the other wrist.  Target which thoughts you want to be aware of.  For example, you might want to be aware of thoughts that are critical of self.  When you catch a critical thought, move the band to the other wrist and say something either to oppose the thought or to let go of it. Keep going back and forth whenever you are aware of the negative thinking.  Continue for days, weeks, months, until you have eliminated the thought.

5.  Power Pose:  Mountain pose does not look like much is going on, but that is what is so important this guide to be aware of the points in the body that allow for a strong, balanced standing position.
about it.  Just standing is never just standing - we want to stand with strength, balance, and ease.   Use this guide to learn the cues for mountain pose.

6.  Affirm:  Since awareness means being present and knowing what is happening right now, we really need to understand why that has power.  Yes, it is important to understand and study the past for insight and learning.  Yes, it is important to plan for the future to set goals and dream.  Being present does not negate these.  When you set aside time to look at the past, then look at the past.  Don't let thoughts about the past take over when you are in the middle of other tasks.  When you set aside time to look at your dreams and set goals, that is the time to let those dreams come to mind, not when you are busy with current activities.  The reason is that it makes for poor effort in the present and the present is what actually creates the future.  Example, the present is unpleasant.  Life just is not what you would like it to be, so you spend time dreaming about the future and ways things could be better.  And, you spend time looking back with sadness and regret at the past.  Now, you are better at regret and you are better at dreaming.  But, you are not better at acting on what needs getting done right now.  What you practice, your brain gets better at doing!  So, affirm:  "All that I desire in my life is created in my actions and thoughts right now.  In the present, I create my future and I release my past."

7.  Chant:  We all know how to hum, right?  Who knew humming was also healing?  In today's exercise, hum at various keys.  You don't have to know what those keys are, just start low, hum, breathe in, hum a bit higher, breathe in, hum a bit higher, keep going.  As you are humming, feel the vibration inside you, where is it?  It will change as you change your pitch.  You might even find the perfect pitch for your peace of mind!

Change your life by practicing the above 7 skills - every day!  Contact me with comments or questions:  OR check out the services on my website - there might be something there perfect for your needs!

Tammy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Yoga Therapist.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post! I have read it fully. This is a very inspiring article for me. Thank you so much. You can also check about Mountain Pose