Understanding Your Daily Focus
I am a big fan of therapy in all its forms. I believe that we can use spirituality, community time, friendship, and introspection as forms of therapy, as ways to examine our patterns of behavior, try to change the things we dislike, and enhance the things we do like. I also believe strongly in evidenced based medicine, and the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy. One of the most beneficial practices I have found lives at the cross-section of spirituality and physiology: mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness means using the power of your own mind to rewrite reactions, and help you respond better in times of stress and anxiety. The idea is to acknowledge your feelings, both emotional and physical, and to isolate one from another to help ease the feeling of panic and allow you to look at the situation more objectively. In this week’s Daily Focus, I will go over one mindfulness tip for each day.
Saturday, January 16
“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.” –Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation
I want to start this journey with a new awareness of self and our surroundings. This is not an easy thing to change, and so to start, instead of changing anything, take the time to recognize your own triggers and reactions. Is there something that happens in the morning that has the ability to ruin your entire day? Do you let a bad mood from before work impede your performance during the day? What moments define how your day was, and when it goes from good to fine, to terrible?
Sunday, January 17
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” –Jelaluddin Rumi, The Essential Rumi
Our breath is a powerful tool. We all objectively know increased oxygen can stave off panic, but when we’re caught up in the stress of the moment it can be difficult to remember to breathe. If you’ve identified some moments throughout the day that have the ability to shift the tone of your entire day, make sure you face each one first and foremost with a breathing exercise. I like to use square breathing, which means four counts in, four counts hold, four count out, four counts hold. Give it a try today when you feel yourself begin to react.
Monday, January 18
“Moving around releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve mood. Taking up regular exercise can help reduce anxiety over time, which may lead to a reduction in the number or severity of panic attacks.” Medically reviewed by Alex Klein, PsyD –Written by Amy Smith
Listen, I can’t stand the “just go for a walk!” philosophy as much as the next guy, because I know that whole health goes far beyond walking, or any form of exercise. However, when faced with a panic attack, exercise can trigger your body’s fight or flight response. This is an automatic reaction which will stop panic in the moment and clear your mind, as your body realizes it has something more pressing and immediate to focus on. Doing jumping jacks, push ups, or sun salutes is a great way to trigger this effect.
Tuesday, January 19
“The mind is just like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets and the more it can expand.” –Idowu Koyenikan
Meditation is a key aspect of mindfulness. Being able to use mind over matter, to get to a state where you can find inner peace, even during turmoil— that is the ultimate goal. If you’re new to meditating, YouTube offers a wide selection of guided meditations. Start with a walkthrough and creating your own safe space you can return to. You may be surprised by what you find waiting for you in your subconscious.
Wednesday, January 20
“Eating rapidly past full and ignoring your body’s signals vs. slowing down and eating and stopping when your body says it’s full.” –Christopher Willard
Mindful eating is a great way to practice mindfulness and see the way it can change behavior, and the result of those changes. When we eat based on our emotions— how good food makes us feel, how much we enjoy the flavor, the community and conversation, the shows we watch while doing it— we are ignoring our bodies physiology. Mindful eating means focusing only on your food. Not watching TV or talking through your meal— just taking small bites and listening to your body in all senses, emotional and physical. It would be impractical to do this for every meal, and it would strip a lot of the joy away from food, so please don’t think my advice is to always eat like this! Rather, if you can take one meal a day like this, a quiet breakfast or lunch break, see how it goes and what you learn about your body’s desires and reactions.
Thursday, January 21
“Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” –Raymond Lindquist
One of the biggest changes you can make when facing social stressors, either at home or in the workplace, is to walk away and take space to process. It’s easy to think this is just who I am, but that statement always excludes growth, which is a disservice to your soul. Next time you get frustrated— walk away. It’s always okay to go collect your thoughts and come back ready to talk.
Friday, January 22
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle
Our minds are both muscles and machines— it can be trained and redirected, but it is ultimately going to keep chugging ahead in whichever direction we point it. Making the effort to do these things every day will affect change in a short period of time. It will be easier for you to acknowledge what’s causing distress, to separate your body’s reaction from your mind’s reaction, and to facilitate growth and ultimately— peace of mind.
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