Self-Care in the Time of COVID: Your Mental Health

May 29, 2020

Few would argue that this new reality is a challenging one. The barrage of bad news, the social isolation, the mounting fear of what lies around the corner. Few of us are mentally and emotionally prepared to navigate the extreme uncertainty and upheaval this virus has brought. And if you’re one of the millions of people already managing depression or anxiety, then this is a serious double whammy.

Fortunately though, you are not alone. And there is help. In addition to all the online support groups and services, uplifting and inspiring blog posts and articles (for which I am most grateful!), you now have this obsessively researched, tried and tested list of anxiety quelling, mood boosting tools and resources. The even better news? Every one of these self-care strategies will help create a solid foundation for mental and emotional wellness long after this is over.

Below are some simple tools & techniques to help you harness the power of your mind in support of your mental well-being. And every one of these is equally beneficial for managing depression and anxiety–whatever the source.

Make This Madness Manageable

Trying to wrap our heads around the enormity of this situation and the suffering that comes with it is a formidable task. We don’t know what our circumstances will look like in a day, a week, even a month from now. Which is why the best thing we can do for our mental health, is limit the focus on our current reality to what feels manageable. That may mean reading no more than one COVID-related news story a day (even going a day or two without!), allowing yourself to think/worry/talk about what's going on for no more than 10 minutes a day.

Control the Narrative

The way we talk to ourselves about this whole ordeal has a major impact on how we experience it. Now it's wholly unrealistic to expect ourselves to have "I'm sooo grateful for all the time alone/with my family/to get back to the basics/practice being present...!" on an ongoing inner loop –I certainly don't. But it's definitely worth keeping our inner cynic under control.  For instance, hearing "This is a nightmare", "I can't take this anymore" just drags us down and compromises the inner resources we rely on to persevere. So nip those negative self-messages in the bud! And consider inserting an upgraded alternative in its place (ie. "I will power through this", "I'm doing my best and that is good enough" or whatever sounds believably optimistic).

I find it can help too, to remind myself that the situation as it is now, is temporary. Though we have no definitive timeline, we can confidently reassure ourselves that this will end, and we will return to our lives. And we will likely return a little wiser, more compassionate, more flexible...and certainly, more patient.

Give Yourself the Gift of Productivity (and distraction)!

Another way to assume some control over our situation (and create some healthy distraction!) is to give ourselves concrete tasks to accomplish each day–ideally things we'll feel good about having done. These can be household projects, personal or professional development courses, hobbies, sports, anything we can complete or become more skilled at. And nothing is too small! I have personally gotten a great deal of satisfaction out of organizing my office closet and clearing out my cluttered kitchen cabinets! Every proactive step we take to help ourselves or others–in any way– reminds us that we have some control, even if it's just how we use our time and energy.

Practice Being Present Tense

During times like these, everyone can benefit from a little mental breathing room. Whether you're a regular meditator or a never-meditator, there are tons of online resources to help you create that for yourself. I've personally fallen in love with the wellness app, Calm, as they have a very doable, down-to-earth approach to meditation, and have many different teachers as well as meditative music to help you sleep. They have both free and subscription options. Also worth checking out are Headspace and Simple Habit. It can be especially helpful to start your day off with a guided meditation or just a few minutes of quiet breathing practice.

Give yourself a break!

As a self-employed single parent of an uber high-intensity small human, I always have nagging sense that there is something more (many things really) that I should be doing. Even now. More work, more exercise, more to get more work, more time playing Legos (and basketball and soccer) with my son, more time cooking (though hour-wise this would already qualify as a part time job!), more time meditating, more cleaning (yes I have spent the past week ignoring the mounting dust piles in various corners of my house), and just generally, more earning of my place on the planet. If ever there were ever a time to give ourselves a break its now. Seriously. Stop what you’re doing, take a long, luxurious inhale and tell yourself “I am doing enough.”

Get Ready for a Real Day

There is something about getting showered and dressed that just makes the day feel like it matters. And we need to remind ourselves that it does! Now of course comfortable clothes are a must, and primping is optional (I've certainly spent my share of days not fit for human viewing), but I find that even just doing the bare minimum can be enough to give ourselves a little boost.

And of course there are many ways to get "real-day ready". Lately I've been starting my days with some gently energizing yoga (3 rounds of sun salutations specifically), followed by a five minute meditation. And when I'm able to get my son to join me, it really gets us in-sync for the day.

Notice (and revel in) what you miss

It can be so affirming to think about what we reminds us of the good in our lives, gets us focused on the positive, and gives us something to look forward to.
See how it feels to answer these questions. When this quarantine is over:

The first place I want to go is_______________
The first person I want to see is_____________
The first person I want to hug is_____________
The first thing I want to do_________________
The thing I will never again take for granted is__
Think about how grateful you will feel for each of these things when you have access to them again. Think about how good it will feel to taste/touch/see/do whatever it is, and how awesome is it to have so many things we miss!

Find the Funny

ff ever we needed a good laugh (or 50!), it's now. Adding some levity to our days can help balance out all the negativity coming in, and there's plenty of science to support humor as a stress reducer and immune booster. Humor can be found in any number of places: silly tictoc videos, funny animal videos on YouTube, comedies on demand, Netflix, or Hulu, stand-up comedy (nothing gets me LOLing like old Eddie Murphy routines). And of course, good old fashioned joke books work too! And if you have people in your life who can get a laugh out of you, be sure to add them to your quarantine call-list.

Choose How Your Talk About This Situation

Everything we say–either aloud or to ourselves–has an impact, and the more we use our words to assure and comfort, the stronger and more hopeful we'll feel. While of course we can't avoid thinking and talking about the hard stuff we're facing, we don't want to make it our primary topic of thought and conversation.

Try to notice how you're describing your experience: do you regularly hear yourself saying things like "this is a nightmare", "I can't take this anymore"? If so, see if you can cut those messages down and replace them with something more empowering like "this is so hard but I'm lucky to have_________(whatever or whoever is helping you through this time)" For instance, I keep thinking about how glad I am that this didn't happen in the days before electronics–imagine going through this without access to computers and cell phones?? I also remind myself (and my son) that this is a few months (hopefully) out of a possible1200 in our lives. Giving the situation perspective really helps to make it feel more manageable.

Give Yourself Good Dreams

Getting a good night's sleep is critical for our mental and physical health–never more so than now. This powerful practice can combat nightmares and help us get some peaceful zzz's, and it's incredibly simple. I recommend doing this every night before sleep but if you forget, it can also be done if you wake from a nightmare. This is also a great breathing technique for whenever you’re experiencing symptoms of stress or dysregulation.

  • Breathe slowly into your diaphragm on the count of four (through your nose if possible)
  • Hold for a count of seven, being sure to keep your body relaxed as you do
  • Exhale for a count of eight
  • Repeat a minimum of 10 times, fewer repetitions are significantly less impactful

If you feel your jaw getting tight as you do this, you can soften it by stretching out your tongue as far as it can go, then keep your teeth separated when you close your mouth.

NOTE: There are a few things that do compromise the effect of this technique including short-changing any of the steps or having too much caffeine and/or sugar during the day–especially if it’s late in the day (I know because I am guilty of all of these!)

Be sure to check out my next post Self-Care in the Time of COVID: Your Emotional Health, which will give you lots of tips for bolstering your emotional wellness during COVID times.

Make Meaning Where You Can't Make Sense

“Some things in life cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.”Megan Devine, author of It's Ok that You're Not Ok

I spent many years trying to make sense of my psychological and circumstantial struggles — ever on the lookout for “signs” that would clue me into the reason for it all — the spiritual rationale, the big “why.”  I felt this constant compulsion to attribute some bigger-picture, spiritual significance to all the things that tripped me up and knocked me down.
The search was painstaking, labor intensive, and ultimately yielded nothing too convincing or satisfying. One day I was sure I was meant to suffer, the next I was convinced that my intended destiny was nothing short of stellar. Either way, whatever happened, it felt personal. And I took it personally. And then of course, there was all the wasted time and energy spent searching for those ‘divine signs’ instead of working with the tools I had, to improve my circumstances.

Trying to make meaning out of pain, is very different from trying to find some inherent meaning in it.

Much as I’ve wanted to attribute some divine purpose to my particular challenges, I ultimately could not fathom that the forces in the universe were orchestrating elaborate schemes to encourage each of us to learn specific, painful lessons. It just seemed an unlikely cosmic scenario, not to mention a disempowering perspective — after all, if everything that happens is preordained then we are merely victims of fate, largely helpless and at the mercy of some very callous “powers-that-be.” Well...not too motivating!
Rather, it seems to me that there are opportunities to make meaning where we can’t make sense–whether through our relationships, creative expression, through the stories we tell, the way we engage with the world, what we say and what we give. Then too, are those universal life lessons we can take away from any hardship:
  • To be more aware of our inner workings, our words, our actions–their source and their impact.
  • To become more understanding and compassionate toward ourselves and others.
  • To become more deeply appreciative of the good we do have. 
  • To keep giving ourselves opportunities to grow, even when it feels like a stretch

Take this pandemic for instance... 

You'd be hard pressed to convince me that this pandemic is anything other than senseless. Tragedy always is. So what do we do with it? How do we position it in our minds, how do we give it context, meaning? Because ultimately, that's all we can do with tragedy. Try to give it meaning, give it some purpose. These are some questions I've asked myself to help me do that. Try to answer them for yourself and see what resonates most for you:

  • What is missing from your life now that you realize is of great value to you?
  • What is missing from your life that you now realize was either harmful or just unhelpful?
  • If you were to look back a year from now, how do you want to say you handled this crisis?
  • What have you learned about your own coping mechanisms and strengths?
  • What insights have you had about the key relationships in your life?
  • If you were to redefine your life based on what you've learned during this time, what would that look like? Start with three adjectives that describe what you want your life to feel like going forward.

So here’s what I know..
Whatever your spiritual beliefs, the bad stuff is not “meant to be”! Even if you’ve been convinced that your own burdens are divinely ordained, know that the only thing truly “meant to be” is that you use what you have–inside and outside of you–to heal and grow. To better yourself and better the world in whatever way comes naturally to you. Period. 

Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us — and those around us — more effectively. Look for the learning.” –Louisa May Alcott

When Life Feels Too Intense

May 26, 2020

Missing My Psychic Safety Suit

I’ve never been easygoing. Not uptight exactly. Not high strung. Just not a dance through the tulips without a care kind of gal.
Now this is not to say that I’m a stick in the mud. No, I am a big fan of fun, laughter, and all manner of silliness when the opportunity arises (as my 9 year old will attest). But between romps through happy land, it's been suggested (alternately as a compliment and criticism), that I err on the side of ‘intense’. This is not by choice mind you. Intensity has not served me especially well over the years, and given a chance for a do-over, I’d certainly opt to come back as Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde over say, Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal.
Life has just always felt intense to me. The good, the rotten, even the seemingly innocuous, manages to power right through to my core with something akin to laser like precision. According to my mother, this is how I came into the world—feeling everything very deeply, and taking it all very personally. No protective coating. No psychic safety suit. And in this often prickly world, that’s a whole lot of “Ouch!”

Oh How I’ve Tried To Lighten Up!

Now I’ve done my share of work to lessen this intensity, all its many expressions and manifestations. There is no alternative modality, therapy, spiritual or contemplative practice that I have not at some point given my all to, no theory I’ve not explored, no book addressing the subject–even peripherally–that I’ve not cracked, all in an attempt to lighten, soften, and just generally create a little more ease around my existence. And my efforts have not entirely been in vain. I am indeed a few shades sunnier than in years past, but alas, I am still a far cry from the lighthearted lass I long to be.

My Intensity Has a Name!

Now, I know I’m not alone with my unwitting ‘intensity’, so if you’re reading this and thinking, “hmm, this sounds a bit like me”, then the first piece of good news is that there is a name (and hope!) for the likes of us: Highly Sensitive People. Yes, this is a real thing! High Sensitivity is in fact an official psychological category (Sensory Processing Sensitivity being the scientific term), thanks to the groundbreaking work of research psychologist, and the author of Highly Sensitive People, Dr. Elaine Aron.
As I learned from the recently released film Sensitive: The Untold Story, High Sensitivity is not a disorder or condition but rather an innate temperament trait, possessed, it is estimated, by 20% of the population (that’s 1.4 billion worldwide, so take heart fellow HSPs, we’re in good—or at least intense—company!). As it happens, I found this on the website of Alanis Morissette (the Grammy winning musician and fellow HSP, who happens to be a stellar source of inspired info and resources). And she is hardly the only well-known sensitive soul, as you will find at the Highly Sensitive and Creative website.
In an interview where she explains this trait to the other less (though not ‘in’ sensitive) 80%, Dr. Aron describes High Sensitivity as “a survival strategy that involves being more aware of your surroundings, processing and thinking about it more deeply, and being more emotional, emotionally responsive, having more empathy and more sensitivity to subtleties. It also comes along with being easily over stimulated”.

HSP Is In Your DNA

Now, before you poo poo this as sham psychology (as even I did when I first learned about it), this is a well researched—as in brain studies and genetic analyses—condition. At Medical Daily I learned about some research that explains a bit about the neuroscience of High Sensitivity.
“People are genetically predisposed to their sensitivity”, finds a new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Your genes may influence how sensitive you are to emotional information, according to new research by a UBC neuroscientist. The study, recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that carriers of a certain genetic variation perceived positive and negative images more vividly, and had heightened activity in certain brain regions.
“People really do see the world differently,” says lead author Rebecca Todd, a professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology. “For people with this gene variation, the emotionally relevant things in the world stand out much more.”
“Emotions are not only about how we feel about the world, but how our brains influence our perception of it,” says Adam Anderson, professor of human development at Cornell University and senior author of the study. “As our genes influence how we literally see the positive and negative aspects of our world more clearly, we may come to believe the world has more rewards or threats.”

There's more to sensitivity than emotions

A very eloquent Sarah Dolliver puts it into more everyday terms: “Sights, smells, sounds, touches and tastes all come through at heightened levels.” She further explicates: “Sensitive” does not refer to our emotions. All too often, HSPs are thought to be emotionally sensitive. That’s a mistake. The nature of the sensitivity is not around emotions. Emotions can become part of the equation, though. When an HSP is overstimulated by their sensory experiences, it is quite easy to get to an emotional edge where breakdowns or outbursts occur.”
It is at once reassuring, validating, and weirdly upsetting, to find out that the thing that has so plagued me throughout my life is in fact an inborn trait vs. a personal failing. If only I’d had the knowledge and the language to explain this from the get go! The heartache, conflicts, and self-excoriation I could have saved myself. All those years of beating myself up for not ‘just being normal’. But now I know: I am not crazy. I am not Hyper-sensitive. I am not flawed. I am simply hard wired for high sensitivity. 

The Healing Power of Coziness

I have sought out and created coziness from as far back as I can remember–spending hours tucked inside my carefully crafted blanket & stuffed animal forts with a Little House on the Prairie book as a child, covering my box-size college dorm rooms floor to ceiling with peaceful posters and gauzy fabrics, filling the roach infested apartments of my youth with fluffy pillows and jasmine candles. Whatever space I inhabited, it had to be cozified. 

Now this may sound like a personality quirk–that’s how I always saw it–but I’ve come to see that my quest for cozy is not an indulgence but rather an act of self-care. That sense of being welcomed by a space when I walk through the door, almost like getting a warm hug from the air itself, it just puts me at ease like nothing else. 

Now while everyone’s mental health is affected differently by their physical environment, for the highly-sensitive like myself (those of us acutely affected by sensory stimuli), comforting, safe-feeling spaces can do a lot to promote a sense of well-being. But cozy is not only for sensitive amongst us. Surveys conducted by the United Nations have Denmark topping the list of the happiest countries in the world, attributable in no small part to their relative obsession with “Hygge”, the Danish word for cozy. Hygge in practice is something like the constant pursuit of “homespun pleasures involving candlelight, fires, fuzzy knitted socks, porridge, coffee, cake” and people around whom we feel at ease.

And of course, during this oh-so-uncomfortable time, we can all use a dose of cozy. Try some (or all!) of these:

  • Decluttering (check out this great article on Thrive Global for some ideas on how to do this)
  • Reorganizing your space (we certainly do have time for this now!)
  • Adding decorative elements like pillows or blankets (I’m guilty of a little Etsy-indulgence myself)
  • Lighting scented candles
  • Playing soothing music
  • Put up photo or paintings that give you a sense of warmth
  • Bring into the space positive-feeling objects
  • Add an indoor chair-swing or rocking chair
  • Use a weighted blanket (this is great for sleeping but also feels good when you're sitting and working, reading or meditating)
  • Bring in some inspirational books

And if you have children, identifying a spot that is just "theirs" can offer real comfort. A place they can go when they're feeling upset or just need some alone-time (think cozy-corner). They can make it their own using many of the same elements that work for us big people, adding in toys, stuffed animals, and books they love.

Eat like your mind depends on it

Until fairly recently, the medical field didn't fully acknowledge the connection between our mental and physical health. Fortunately though, there is now a universally accepted understanding that the two are inextricably linked. There are of course varying ideas on how to treat our bodies for better mental heath, there are a handful of essentials that most experts agree on:
  • Regular Exercise of some sort–including something aerobic (walking, dancing, swimming, yoga, hiking)
  • Healthy Eating/Drinking Habits which includes getting lots of whole foods, needed nutrients, limiting sugar, salt, and processed foods, limiting caffeine and alcohol, staying hydrated, and maintaining an alkaline diet (see below for dietary suggestions)
  • Restful Sleep (check out these tips from the National Sleep Foundation)
  • Adequate Vitamin D (ideally in the form of sunshine), B12, Zinc, and Magnesium
  • Probiotics
  • Omega 3 Fatty acids
  • Spending time in nature (park, woods, anything)
  • Limiting screen time
  • Checking Blood Levels to identify any potential hormone imbalance, nutrient deficiency, food allergies, immune issues, sugar imbalances, or immune disorders as these can all have a huge impact on your mental and emotional health! Download The Mental Health Blood Test Recommendations to ensure you get all the necessary tests.

Eating for Mental Wellness

I've compiled some well-researched nutritional suggestions below from sources like Dr. Eva Selhub and Dr. Uma Naidoo of the Harvard Health blog. Of course, always check with a trusted health professional (and use your own experience as a guide) to determine the best nutritional approach for you.  

Eat a 'Clean', Balanced Diet. Studies have shown that compared to a typical "Western" diet (which tends to be high in processed and refined foods, sugars, salt, and dairy), “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean or Japanese diets (which tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, with modest amounts of lean meats and dairy) there is a decreased risk of depression from between 25% to 35%. 
Green juice rules! I've found that a fresh green juice first thing in the morning does wonders for both my energy and mood-especially when I include celery which has greatly helped in reducing my anxiety. You can get a decent, affordable juicer on Amazon and there are any number of good possible combinations (cucumber, kale with a little apple or carrot for sweetness is one of my faves), and organic is always optimal. 
Take Probiotics ('good bacteria') Daily.  95% of your serotonin (the neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain) is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, the production of which is  highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria protect the lining of your intestines, provide a barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria, limit inflammation, improve the absorption of nutrients from your food, and activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain. 
Eat Probiotic-Rich Foods: A study in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested a link between probiotic foods like pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir, and a lowering of social anxiety symptoms.
Eat Foods High in Magnesium. Evidence suggest that foods naturally rich in magnesium may decrease anxiety. Examples include leafy greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Get Your Omega 3's. Numerous studies have indicated a link between the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Fish like mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies, oysters, and sardines are all high in Omega 3's but as much fish now contain high levels of mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other environmental contaminants, you may want to consider vegan alternatives such as walnuts, brussel sprouts, hemp, chia or flax seeds, algal (algae) and penilla oil. And of course you can get your Omega 3's in low-mercury fish or vegan supplements as well.  
Eat Mood-Boosting Foods. Foods have the power to spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Some of the foods associated with decreased anxiety and improved mood are:  asparagus, avocados, blueberries, turkey, almonds, yogurt, and kale. 
Eat Antioxidant Foods. Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lower total antioxidant state so it makes sense to add to your diet foods rich in antioxidants like:
  • Beans: Dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney
  • Fruits: Apples (Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious), prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums
  • Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
  • Nuts: Walnuts, pecans
  • Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
    • Spices like turmeric and ginger.

Stay hydrated. Our brains are made up of 70% water. When we don’t drink enough water, our circulation slows, which results in less oxygen getting to our brain (even a 5% drop in body fluids can decrease your energy levels by as much as 30%). The lack of hydration also triggers areas of the brain that create anxiety and nervousness and can negatively impact the chemical processes in our brain. 

This is Mindfulness for a Messy Life!

First the “Messy"

As any well-worn seeker, I’ve spent my share of time, energy, and resources (both the internal and hard-cash varieties), in search of the ‘one thing’ that would fix all the brokenness, and neaten all the messiness of my life. As you may have guessed, I didn’t find it. As it turns out (surprise, surprise!) there is no one single answer to life’s many complex questions, nor is there a healer, guru, religious dogma or spiritual leader (however inspired and inspiring) that can offer a viable antidote to the trials and tribulations of the human experience. It is fortunate then, that we are possessed (I believe) of the skills necessary to elevate what we can’t fix, learn where we can’t heal, and make meaning, even where we can’t make sense.

And Now the Mindful

Mindful. The word itself feels like a mini mantra to me, as though its very utterance gently nudges you a smidge closer to that oh-so-elusive but wildly delicious present moment. But what is mindfulness really? Here's my best shot:

The gentle resting of our attention on what's happening within and around us, without judgment, attachment, denial, or disregard. It is state in which we're both alert and receptive, able to observe our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and experiences without reacting to them, feeding them into a narrative or storyline, or attributing any particular meaning to them. 

But what happens when the thoughts presently running around your head are a toxic, tangled mess? When your emotions have taken over the reins and are pulling you in every which direction? Or when your body seems to be retaliating with a succession of symptoms?

Conventional mindfulness says "stay present-tense"

'Messy-life' mindfulness says "not necessarily!"

While some may argue that the present is where it's at, regardless of your mental, physical or emotional state, I say it only becomes a prime destination when it's a healthy hospitable place to be.
Mindfulness practices are–as you might have guessed–exercises designed to cultivate an awareness of the aforementioned present moment. Consistent here-and-nowness can be tough though even for the most well-balanced amongst us; for those of us with a mental health challenge or two, it can be nearly impossible to sustain. And, the simple fact is, some of us don't want to be up close and personal with the present all the time. It can be mighty unpleasant, if not downright scary!

I mean, have you ever tried sitting still for twenty minutes while your gut is twisted up in knots of aching despair? How about paying close attention to the frantic pounding of your heart during a ten-minute panic attack? Perhaps you've attempted to watch as your hand goes round and round a dirty dish as suggested by a mindfulness expert when all you wanted to do was crawl into a hole?

Now I believe wholeheartedly in the transformational potential of being present. It can absolutely increase our tolerance for discomfort and our ability to skillfully manage life’s ups and downs. But, our awareness—wherever it’s focused—is only as good as the foundation it’s built on.
If, for instance, we are continually “aware” of painful emotions but show ourselves no compassion, then what good is our awareness? If we’re aware of negative thoughts about ourselves but don’t believe we can change them, then again, how does that help us? And if we’re aware of something that triggers our anxiety but have no tools to mitigate it..once again, awareness alone falls short.

Conventional mindfulness says “sit with the hard stuff"

'Messy-life' mindfulness says "you may want to dance instead"

For those of us struggling with our mental health, "sitting with the hard stuff" as is often recommended, can be grueling and exhausting, even detrimental. If you suffer with PTSD for instance, 'sitting' with” acute distress can be re-traumatizing and leave you only more deeply enmeshed with your pain. In fact, there are times when we're far better off dancing, singing, or running with our pain than 'sitting' with it. And there are other therapeutic tools that may prove more healing than present-moment awareness: EMDR, yoga, Neurofeedback, EFT Tapping, Ayurveda, to name a few.

Ultimately, I think we’ve first got to figure out how to recognize and tame our demons so that when we reach the present, it’s a both a safe space, and a place we actually want to be. This is mindfulness that encourages emotional awareness and acceptance in just the right dose to facilitate healing without the potential for harm. No one knows more about this than the author of Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness David Treleavan, PhD, so check him out!

Conventional mindfulness says "the past is not your friend"

'Messy-life' mindfulness says "the past offers critical clues" 

I'm guessing that most of us love/hate our past in equal measure–our trips down memory lane alternating between delightful and torturous. But few would disagree that the past is an information-packed storage house–a little 'mindful' excavation of which can help us get some serious intel about our inner workings. I mean what better place to venture in search of the source of negative core beliefs or emotional triggers? Where better to find evidence of our strengths and capabilities (and who couldn't use a reminder of those?!). And of course all those juicy insights and 'aha's' can be put to mighty good use as we work to inform and upgrade our life choices.

Conventional mindfulness says "the future is a distraction"

'Messy-life' mindfulness says "sometimes we need a little distraction!" 

I will always vote for some time spent focusing on the future. Why? Because it can give us direction and inspire us to action. Framing the future as a motivational tool, we can recognize the power of thoughtful, well-informed goals to pull us out of dark places and set us on a more productive path. And luxuriating in our fantasy future affirms the best of what’s possible while building up a storage of healthy, constructive thoughts and good-feeling emotions. And we do love those!

Which is all to say that there are many ways to be mindful! It may take some trial and error to see what works for you, but trust that any version of mindfulness is a boon for your mental health. 
Below find one of my favorite mindfulness exercises for panic or just generalized anxiety.

When we’re in the throes of a panic attack, things can get scary pretty quickly. It can feel like our internal controls have been hijacked and the best we can do is try to steer ourselves back onto the rails. At worst it can feel like you’re losing your mind. The Quick Chill  helps you regain a sense of control over your mind and body. You can download the audio version here to have on hand for whenever panic arises. 
  1. Place one hand on your heart and the other just below your belly button.

  2. Breathe into your lungs and belly and feel your hands rise as you do.

  3. With a gentle smile on your face, start to hum so that you can feel the vibration beneath the hand on your heart–try to hold the hum until you run out of breath as this ensures a full exhale.

  4. Remind yourself of one or more of these things:
    a. I am here in my body.
    b. I am breathing.
    c. I am okay and/or right now everything is okay.
    d. I am safe.

  5. If you’re feeling calmer and want to offer yourself some added reassurance, try “I’m so sorry for this awful feeling”, and continue with an appreciative “I’m so glad to be Okay”. As the panic starts to subside, try getting up and moving in any way that feels comfortable. In this way you are physically affirming that you are 'okay' and not in danger. 

    You can find tons more tips for panic as well as myriad targeted exercises in my course Turning Your Mind into Your Greatest Ally.