The physical and health benefits of meditation have been noted for years and repeatedly validated by science. You don’t have to switch to an entirely new lifestyle in order to practice meditation! There are many ways to begin practicing, a little at a time.
Many people with anxiety do very well with the structured approach taken by Headspace (Andy Puddicombe). With simple graphics that clearly explain physical, cognitive, and emotional aspects of meditation, you will find the process easy to understand and implement. Even if you do not get a subscription and only use the first sessions that are free, it is well worth a look:
Today is #WorldMeditationDay and also Headspace's 9th Birthday. A very happy coincidence. To celebrate, both we're unlocking nine of our favorite singles today, free to the world. Check out our thread and get celebrating. pic.twitter.com/cgLBglo0G6
And if you’re ready to go a little deeper into the emotional aspects of meditation, I highly recommend anything at all by Tara Brach!
Meditation: Choosing Living Presence (19:14 min.) A meditation on being present with our living, breathing life (includes body scan and chanting the Om’s in community – a favorite from Tara’s Wednesday night archives).https://t.co/0XK5AoOkKn via @TaraBrach
Our physical, emotional, and cognitive aspects are interconnected and interdependent. This is the case whether we use a psychodynamic approach or a cognitive-behavioral psychological approach. If we are experiencing (noticing) dysfunction in one area, the whole system is actually affected. The good news about this is that by changing things in one aspect, we can affect other aspects as well.
This does not mean that we can simply “think away illness” or that if we can exercise “perfectly” (whatever that would be!) then our thoughts and feelings will just “snap out of it” into rationality and/or bliss. What it does mean, however, is that when we gradually move our habits towards health and balance in one aspect, the other aspects will also move more towards health and balance.
That means when behaviors become healthier, thoughts and feelings become healthier. When thoughts become healthier, feelings and behaviors become healthier. When feelings become healthier, behaviors and thoughts become healthier. A change in any one of them changes all of them!
When we consider the interconnected areas of behavior, cognition, and emotion, the most easily and directly influenced aspect is behavior. We can change what we do, which can help to change what we think and how we feel.
Remember, with any behavior change, the idea is not instant change, but rather successive approximation: doing things a bit more like the goal behavior, and then when that sticks, we do it a bit more like the goal behavior. Attempting drastic changes is less likely to create long-term change than creating and conditioning gradual habit change.
This really interesting clip discusses some ways in which developing–for example–a yoga practice can influence not only thoughts and feelings but also our bodies down to the cellular and chemical level:
From time to time, our clients bring in articles, books, essays, or other materials that they have found especially helpful in work we are doing. Since one of the most valuable reviews is from someone who has been there, we’d like to share the helpfulness with others who may need it!
Be loving to yourself and to others: Mental illness deserves as much care as any other illness or injury. It’s not “laziness” or being “weak” or flawed in character. Practice acceptance and support instead of criticism.
Phobias are irrational or excessive fears. If a phobia interferes with someone’s everyday life, it may be anywhere from annoying to debilitating. Other phobias will only come up once every so often, so they are less intrusive.
If a phobia interferes with an everyday or essential activity–such as dental work, flying, or animals–a person might choose to get treatment in order to overcome it. Phobias can be treated by exposure treatment, an intervention in which the person is exposed to tolerable aspects of the phobia in a safe environment until their anxiety diminishes.
First, the treatment focuses on exposure to the least anxiety provoking aspects of the phobia, as determined by the patient in a “hierarchy of fear.” The accompanying anxiety is addressed until it diminishes to tolerable levels, however long that takes.
Then, and only then, does the exposure move to increasingly more anxiety provoking aspects of the phobia. This may take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the nature of the phobia and the person’s level of anxiety.
An example of a phobia hierarchy based on items generated by clients working in exposure treatment:
Just thinking about exposure treatment may be anxiety provoking enough to count as exposure!
As a certain little pink dog has taught us, it takes courage to face your fears. Being courageous doesn’t mean not being afraid, it means taking action, even if it feels scary to begin.
Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) expresses acceptance of self and others with a beautiful metaphor:
“…when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
Remember, emotional and cognitive skills take practice just as physical skills do. Many of us have years or decades of practice in thinking destructively and judgmentally! So practice a little self-acceptance today, and then again tomorrow, and the next day…
When you’re feeling really depressed, upset, or anxious, it can be hard to come up with ways to understand what is happening with yourself, let alone what to do about it. Even the most basic self-care can be hard to remember when your executive functioning is down.
This is a very helpful list to have handy for those times when you are unable to generate the energy to remember how to support yourself: