Mindfulness: 3 Practical Applications for Everyday Life

 

The practice of mindfulness has been a hot-topic in the mental health world these days– and it is no secret that many people are quick to jump on the mindfulness train. As a clinician, I notice many clients wanting to learn more but feeling confused about where to begin.

To break it down for you, the nuts and bolts of incorporating mindfulness in your life on a regular basis, let’s start with a definition. What exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the act of being in the present and bringing one’s awareness to what is happening in front of you at this very moment.

Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; such a state of awareness.

So, you’re supposed to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and experiences – now what?

Practicing mindfulness in every day life can be tricky. Let’s look at right now for example- as you are reading the words in this article, consider your thoughts. What are you thinking about?

Perhaps you are thinking about what comes next as you skim through the article. Maybe you wore an itchy sweater to work and are currently noticing how uncomfortable it feels on your skin. Or maybe you fought with your partner this morning and you can’t stop thinking about it.

Take a second and reflect – what is on your mind? Are you able to really read these words and stay focused?

These are examples of how our thoughts can interject in the moment and distract us from the task at hand. Now, consider how often you find yourself thinking about something other than what you are currently doing. It can be hard to stay focused on the present especially when we have so many gears turning in our lives. I’d like to share with some strategies for applying mindfulness to everyday tasks:

1. Washing the dishes.

BORING, right? Maybe you enjoy doing the dishes, but more than likely, you are just going through household chores and crossing it off your list. Next time you are doing dishes, pause to reflect on all the steps that are involved while noticing how your senses are involved. When you are scraping the excess food off of the plate, bring your attention to the motion you use to do so. Do you use a sponge or scrubber brush to remove sticky substances or do you use your hands? Notice the sensation. Are there certain motions that work better than others? Feel the temperature of the water as it crashes onto the plate. If you applied soap, maybe a certain scent fills the air around you. Take that in.

What is it like to be reflecting on the process of washing your dishes this way? How might this activity seem different to you now that you are directing your awareness to it?

2. Workouts @ The Gym

One of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness is while working out. Why then? It is sweaty and loud and there are so many distractions… this is precisely why. When we are prone to distractions or self-criticism, these moments are excellent for re-centering our body awareness.

So, you are at the gym in the middle of a workout. You are on rep 7 of 10  squat jumps and your mind is entirely checked out. This is a perfect time to reel it back in, here’s how:

As you look into the mirror, what do you see? Be your own witness. Take a moment to notice the form your body makes when you bend your knees, sitting back deeply into a squat position. Feel the distribution of weight into your heels as you sit back and the air underneath your feet as you jump into the air. Become attuned to the pace of your breathing – at what point are you inhaling and exhaling? What sounds do you notice when you land on your feet or jump into the air from your squat? Are you listening to music? If so, what tunes are in the background?

If a thought comes up and interrupts your sequence, acknowledge that thought and push it aside for right now. It can wait until you are done with your 10 reps or maybe even your entire workout.

3. Bathing & Showering

Showering or bathing is part of your routine – so consider it another chance to practice mindfulness. Showering is an especially rich opportunity to engage in mindfulness because there are so many bodily sensations being activated during the process. What makes this shower different from an ordinary shower?

That would be the presence of intention. “Intentional Showering” involves a shift in awareness to bodily sensations that may not be attuned to on a regular basis.

First, consider what time of day are you showering. If it is early in the morning, how might that feel different from if it were later in the day or evening? Notice how much light is present around you as you shower. How might the experience be different with varied amounts of light? What items surround you in the shower? Maybe there are shampoo bottles or maybe there are rubber duck toys or fluffy loofas – how might these sights shape your experience?

Now bring your attention to the temperature of the water and how it feels against your skin. As you begin cleansing yourself, direct your awareness to the motion in which you are cleansing. Pause for a second. Maybe you use a washcloth, a loofa, or your hand. Is there a particular order you follow while cleansing your body? What sounds are present as you shower? Do you listen to a radio, sing, or shower silently? What scents are present for you as you cleanse? As you notice each of these sensations, I invite you to reflect – how might this change your showering/bathing experience?

Mindfulness is called a practice for a reason. The more often we engage in the practice, the more opportunities we have for learning and growth. When we pause to thoughtfully reflect on our lives in a slow and intentional way, we train ourselves to appreciate the power of living in the present.

I encourage you to incorporate a daily practice for at least a week. Perhaps you have your own ideas or unique ways of incorporating a mindfulness practice that are a better fit for you? Go for it. Run with them. Let me know how it goes – I’d be honored to hear your feedback.

 

5 Reasons To See A Sex Therapist

In a professional field that’s highly specialized like sex therapy, it’s common to be curious about what it entails and ask questions. In my experience, people often wonder, what exactly happens during sex therapy & why might I go see a sex therapist?

Sex therapy is a specialized type of psychotherapy that addresses sexual concerns within the bounds of confidentiality. In other words, it is talk therapy that takes place in a therapy office with a clinician and the client(s). Occasionally, there might be other health professionals involved in the therapy (with a client’s permission) such as a physical therapist, gynecologist, urologist or a psychiatrist. However, sex therapy can look different depending on the type of concern being addressed. Sex therapy can occur both individually and in the context of couple’s therapy. Much of sex therapy is rooted in cognitive-behavioral interventions while it can also be emotionally-focused or include psycho-education. Sometimes, homework assignments are given to the individual or couple to work on between sessions. These homework assignments are done privately and typically facilitate experiences for clients to gain awareness about themselves that will be helpful in addressing their treatment goals. Sex therapy is a directive yet compassionate process where clients can share their intimate concerns and work toward improving their sexual health and experiences.

If you’re having any of the following concerns, these may be reasons to see a sex therapist:

1. Sex does not feel pleasurable to me.

Maybe sex has never felt pleasurable. Perhaps sex was pleasurable at one point in time and it no longer feels good. Sex feels painful to me.

2.  I’ve never felt “comfortable” during sex.

My mind is always somewhere else during sex. Sex makes me nervous so I avoid having sex or talking about it because it’s tough for me. I worry about sex often.

3. I have never had an orgasm before. What’s wrong with me?

Sometimes sex feels good but it’s not crazy good. How do I get myself to climax? I wish my body would work like that.

4. My partner wants sex all the time and I’m just not interested. Am I normal?

I have no sexual desire. I feel like I haven’t wanted sex in a long time and it’s affecting my relationship because it always feels like I’m the one holding us back.

5. I can never last long enough during sex and it frustrates me.

Sometimes partners seem disappointed when I finish too quickly. I feel worried that I cannot satisfy them and I just come really fast. I want to last longer, but I don’t know how.

If any of these concerns are relevant to you, I encourage you to consider sex therapy as an option.

Beginning Therapy: When Is The Right Time?

Beginning psychotherapy can seem daunting to many, especially if you have never seen a therapist before. While psychotherapy can look differently depending on the clinician and the presenting concerns, I’m hopeful that this information will be useful to you as you consider embarking on the therapeutic process. I’m here to share with you some tips as to when therapy might be the right choice for you and what to expect before, during and after an initial session.

So, when is the right time to seek out a therapist?

Today, Tomorrow, or whenever YOU believe it is the right time for you. I like to think about the role of a therapist as similar to a coach or teacher. We are here to help provide direction, empathy, and honest reflection at times, but ultimately you are the leader of your own life. You choose what skills you want to work on and concerns you want to address and we can help you sort through the messiness, unpack it and make sense of it. We can coach you through the difficult moments and celebrate the successful ones.

Similarly to a teacher or a coach, we do not do all the work for you. Instead, we provide support and guidance while you put in the effort to changing whichever aspect of your life it is that you wish to change.

If you are wondering whether or not it is the right time for you to begin therapy, I encourage you to consider the following questions:

Are you feeling stuck or experiencing distress? Are your concerns impacting you in negative ways that no longer feel manageable? Do your struggles interfere with your ability to live your everyday life? Are you ready to make a commitment to mental health and wellness by changing whatever it is in your life that is not working for you?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, therapy sounds like it could be helpful.

You may not know what is going on. You may just realize that you’re not feeling like yourself or something seems off lately. You may not have a clue how to get there (and by there I mean feeling better). That’s okay. You may feel as stuck as being knee deep in quicksand. But, you know you want a change in your life and you’re ready to accept the responsibility of getting yourself there.

So, you’ve decided that you want to give therapy a try, now what? Maybe you type therapist into Google and then a bunch of names pop up and you are suddenly feeling quite overwhelmed. One way to narrow your search is to think about what you are looking for from a therapist.

What are the concerns that you want to address in therapy?

Many therapists are familiar treating anxiety and depression, but sometimes the presenting concerns are more complex and someone with more training would be a better fit given the nature of the concern. For example, my training is in marriage and family therapy with an emphasis on sexuality. A client who struggles with intimacy or reports low sexual desire in their marital relationship may seek me out because of my clinical training in those areas.

If you are unsure, maybe grab a pen and paper and try writing down what has felt different or concerning to you lately that you would like to address in therapy. These ideas can be buzzwords to help you connect with a therapist who has experience or extensive training in treating those concerns.

Other things to consider…

Location, Availability & Payment Options

Do you want to see someone closer to work or home or somewhere in between?

Do you need to see someone at a specific time such as during your lunch break? Usually evenings and weekends are high-priority times for therapists, so you may want to keep that in mind as you begin your search.

Are you looking to see a therapist that is in network with a particular insurance provider or are you going to be paying out of pocket?

Once you have some more details, you will be better prepared to connect with a therapist to fit your needs. Perhaps you’ll utilize a search engine like Psychology Today which allows you to locate a professional near you by selecting different filters based on specific criteria such issues (ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, etc.), location (zip codes), age (children, adults, teenagers), treatment orientation (Cognitive-Behavioral or CBT, Structural, Dialectical-Behavioral or DBT, etc.), insurance provider (self-pay, Medicaid, BCBS, etc.), faith, language, or sexuality.

Another way to connect with a therapist is through a referral from someone you know. Maybe the referral comes from a friend or family member or maybe another clinician. Doctors and other health professionals often have lists of clinicians that they refer to which can be helpful if there’s a doctor you trust that you can speak to about looking for a referral.

Connecting With A Therapist

Once you have narrowed your search and have some names of clinicians and their contact information, you are ready to reach out.

When you first contact a therapist, you might indicate that you are looking to set up a time for you two to talk about whether working together will be a good fit. During this time you can ask all the questions you have about how they practice, find out if they are a good match for you in terms of availability, you can discuss the payment process and any other concerns you have. You may decide to go ahead and schedule a session with them at this time or you may want to think about it and let them know. The choice is yours.

Paperwork

Prior to the session, the therapist may opt to send you some paperwork to sign that includes their privacy practices and consent for psychotherapy treatment. Some therapists choose to review these documents with you at the beginning of the first session. These documents will cover their legal and ethical duties in regards to confidentiality, your protected health information and privacy. They also cover the policies implemented by the practice, clinic or agency where the therapist works. It is important to read these carefully and mark any questions you have so that you can ask the therapist if you would like more clarification on something. Treat these documents like any legal document that you would sign.

The Initial Session

The first time you do anything, it’s normal to be a little nervous. You’re not sure what will it will be like. Many first sessions are about therapists leaning in to understand what lead the client into their office. This is an opportunity for clients to share with therapists what’s going on that seems concerning, challenging, bothersome or unusual that ultimately lead them to choose therapy. The goal of this session for you, the client, is to see if this therapist is a good fit for you and your needs.

Do you feel comfortable addressing your concerns with this person and developing a trusting relationship with them? I encourage you to listen to your intuition or your gut on this one. If it feels like a good fit, you’ll know. If it does not feel like a good fit, I encourage you to think about what it was that left you feeling that way. These can be helpful cues to pay attention to as you continue looking for a better fit.

At the end of the first session, the therapist may ask you if you are interested in scheduling another session (not all therapists phrase it this way). This is a good time to let the therapist know if 1) you would like to continue 2) you would not like to continue or 3) you are unsure and you would like to think about whether or not you would like to continue. It is not a big deal if you choose to think about it or even if you tell a therapist directly that you do not think it’s a good fit. Remember, this is your therapy- so you get to choose who is a good fit for you.

Therapy…Continued.

Congrats, you made it past the first session. Hopefully that was not as scary or terrible as you had anticipated. Maybe you are even feeling a sense of hope. What are you feeling right now? It might be useful to do some reflecting on what this experience (the first therapy session) was like for you. This way, you can refer back to those feelings in the future when you evaluate your progress.

So now, you have the chance to either schedule another session with the therapist you met with OR you can reach out to a different clinician that seems like a better fit and schedule an initial session. Usually therapists will talk about their therapeutic process, how they communicate with you around scheduling, payment, etc. when you first meet. If they missed something, feel free to bring it up and ask them. Therapists forget things sometimes – they are human too.

I hope I was able to shed some light on the process of therapy for you and I hope you feel more prepared going forward. I wish you the best on your therapeutic journey – may it be filled with great insight and profound learning opportunities.

If you have any other questions about beginning therapy, I encourage you to share your questions below or reach out to me via email. As always, I appreciate your feedback

Marriage & Family Therapy: The MFT Perspective

Marriage and Family therapists are trained systemically. This means a few different things. First, it means that we understand that people are one part of a system. This may sound kind of funny out loud, but people are not just themselves. People are an accumulation of their experiences plus their teachers, parents, friends, coaches, siblings, relatives, families, and significant others whom have made an impact throughout their development. All of these people form a system in which that one person is a part of.

Second, we (MFTs) work to understand all parts of a system. There is great insight that can be appreciated from a person’s family, their significant relationships, the many people that have shaped multiple aspects of their identity as it relates to who they are today.

For me, it seems rather misguided to begin to work with a client therapeutically without comprehending what was happening in their lives prior to them entering the room. Coming to know who is involved in a client’s system and how those people impact their life is essential for me as I seek to delve deeper into a client’s emotional world.

As a therapist that primarily works with couples, I cannot be more grateful for my training as an MFT. Significant others, partners, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, special someone(s), are often one of the most important aspects in a person’s system because they are included in a relationship in which people grow and evolve. My training as an MFT has taught me to approach couple relationships as two individual systems conglomerated into one system. Within each couple, there are two (potentially more based on your relationship configuration) people and each individual has their own family of origin history and meaningful members that are included in their system. When I work with couples, I aim to grow my understanding of their relationship by first getting to know who exists in each individual’s system and then working my way to the present in the couple’s system.