Mindfulness …


After a number of significantly difficult events, I’ve been meeting with a therapist for about two years.  She’s become like a best friend who has perfect listening skills. And I get to talk to my heart’s content. 🙂  Anyway, she recommended I attend Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) classes to help me handle the overwhelming emotions I’d been experiencing related to the events of the past few years.  After several of my regular blog readers had asked about DBT, I decided I’d share some of the things I’ve been learning.  Just those things that have been particularly meaningful to me.  My sharing will probably be more storytelling than teaching, if that makes sense.


 

One of the most important parts of DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy), is learning to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is sort of a buzz word these days. and I’ve discovered different people can mean different things when they say they practice mindfulness. So I’m just going to explain what I mean by mindfulness, which I think is pretty close to what DBT means by it.

Since DBT’s main purpose is to help people regulate their emotions, mindfulness plays a key part in that process. It allows a person to stay grounded in the moment, to stay in touch with each moment’s reality, and by staying in touch with the here and now, helps us take time to breathe and gain control of emotional reactions.

Goals of Mindfulness (in DBT)

  • reduce suffering (we can’t reduce life events, but we can reduce our responses to life events which can alleviate some of our suffering)
  • reduce anxiety, tension, stress
  • increase control of your mind by decreasing worrying, overthinking, ruminating

What is mindfulness?

My short definition is that mindfulness is intentional awareness of the present moment. It shouldn’t be confused with mindlessness (or emptying the mind). It’s a matter of focus to keep you grounded in the here and now. Observation is the goal, not relaxation. Although sometimes it can be relaxing.

There are a lot of mindfulness practices that are taught and even apps to help lead people through the process of being mindful. One of my favorite parts about practicing mindfulness, however, is that it can be practiced anywhere, at any time.

  • washing dishes
  • listening to music
  • walking
  • housecleaning
  • painting
  • hobbies
  • bathing
  • weeding

For a quick way to ease into practicing mindfulness, choose one of the items on the above list and next time you do it, take a couple of deep slow breaths. Then focus on your body’s sensations. Are you washing dishes? Feel the warmth of the water on your hands. Does it feel good? Is the water too hot? Too cold? Feel the sensation of bubbles on your lower arms. Does it tickle? Do the bubbles feel soft? Smell the scent of dishwashing liquid. What smell is it? Lemon? Orange? Listen to the sounds of the water running into the sink from the faucet. Is it a soft trickle?

If you find yourself being distracted by thoughts or emotions, just acknowledge the thought/emotion, and then refocus on your breathing and other sensations again. The goal isn’t to never have your mind wander, or never to experience emotions, or never have thoughts. The goal is just to be mindful of the present moment. I’m washing dishes. The water is warm. I just had a thought to pick up popcorn at the store. I refocus my thoughts back to the dishes.

The purpose of practicing mindfulness throughout the day when you’re not under stress or feeling strong emotions, is so that when you actually are in an heightened emotional state, the skills will have become almost second-nature through your on-going practice of the skills.

Every week in our DBT classes, we practice at least two mindfulness activities together. Last week we did a mindful eating activity. A bowl of snack items was passed around, everyone chose one, and then we proceeded to mindfully eat our item. Mine was a small wrapped chocolate candy bar. We were to look at the food item as if we were an alien from outer space who’d never seen it before. What did the wrapper look like? Was it shiny? Dull? What colors? Were there designs on it? What did the wrapper feel like? Smooth? Ridged? What was it like opening the wrapper? What did it feel like? Did it make a sound? Did you smell anything? Take the candy out of the wrapper. What does it look like? Smell like? Examine it thoroughly like you did with the wrapper. Take a tiny bite. Don’t chew or swallow. What does it feel like in your mouth? Smooth? Hard? Rough? Does it melt in your mouth? Allow yourself to slowly move it around in your mouth, and when ready, chew and swallow slowly, also noticing the processes of chewing and swallowing.

So that probably seems like a long event just to take a single bite of a candy bar. It actually only took about two minutes.

When we did this in class last week, I’d arrived to class a couple of minutes late, I’d had a stressful morning, and I was even a bit out of breath from walking quickly into the building from my car.

After doing the mindful eating exercise, I realized I was calm and ready to be fully engaged in the class. Mindful eating grounded me in the moment, and allowed me to focus on something so intently, that it gently pushed aside the stresses of the morning. My breathing was calm, my mind felt focused, my body felt grounded.

It was such a simple thing, but it worked wonders. I knew about the idea of mindful eating, but I’d always thought of it as a trick for eating more slowly and thoughtfully as a dieting technique. Now I see it can also be used as a regular mindfulness technique to bring down heightened emotional and physical stress-related responses.

As I share things I’ve learned and experienced through DBT classes, I’ll probably return to this idea of mindfulness frequently, sharing examples of various ways it’s proven helpful to me.

Thoughts? Questions? Have you had any experience with mindfulness practice?

~Debi

DSCN4951

Help that’s actually helpful …


When I was at my lowest low several years ago, I began seeing a personal counselor for moral support and to have someone to talk to who had expertise to deal with the difficulties I was facing. Since the emotions I was feeling at the time were so strong, she recommended I attend a DBT class (ie: Dialectic Behavior Therapy) to gain some fresh skills for handling my overwhelming (and sometimes suicidal) emotional reactions to an on-going crisis in my life.

Since DBT was so helpful to me, I thought I’d take some time on this blog to share some of the insights and skills I developed through the program. A number of followers of this blog and my Facebook page have expressed interest in hearing more about my experiences with DBT.

DBT is a six month program taught through mental health clinics which can be taken twice. I’m on my second time through. Soon it will be a full year of DBT classes. Wow. It feels like it’s gone by fast. I’m gaining further insight this second round of classes, but I’m also seeing how much I’ve grown in my ability to implement and understand the skills. The group I’m in meets once a week with a required weekly meeting with a personal counselor for follow-up in using the skills.

A quick overview of DBT:

It was developed in the 1980s by psychologist Marsha Linehan, originally to treat patients with Borderline Personality Disorder. Since that time, DBT is being used for people with all sorts of emotional regulation issues. Everything from suicidal ideation to depression to Bipolar mania. It’s useful for anyone who reacts strongly to emotional stimuli in ways that negatively effect their lives.

In my case, I’d become so overwhelmed with sadness, that life felt unbearable and utterly hopeless. I was surprised to discover that even an emotion like sadness could be regulated with the right skills. Prior to DBT, I was frightened to start crying, because I thought if I started, I’d never stop.

The main topics covered in DBT are:

  • Mindfulness
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness
  • Distress Tolerance
  • Emotional Regulation

I’ve personally found the Mindfulness and Distress Tolerance sections to be the most helpful. I’m sure it’s different for everyone since we all deal with different issues and emotionally triggering events in our lives.

My plan is to start going through my notebook from my DBT class and writing about various insights I’ve had through the program. I can’t share the entirety of the class due to copyright issues, but I can share my personal reactions to the units and the teachings.

There are a variety of books, workbooks, and other resources on DBT and I’ll probably be recommending some of those as we go along.

If someone you know is struggling with overwhelming emotions, or difficulties working through strong feelings, feel free to let them know about this blog. It won’t take me six months to get through my thoughts on the topic, so don’t worry. I’ll probably share a post once a week or so for a couple of months. Maybe less. Maybe more. 🙂

~Debi

And here’s yesterday’s watercolor project. Spring is coming!

DSCN5231

Self-Care: Watercolor …


Although I don’t have experience (or talent) with painting, I’d been having a strong urge to take a watercolor class. Watercolor, with its soft edges and bleeding colors, seemed like it might be a more forgiving art form for me than something like acrylics or oils. I have developed a slight tremor which makes fine details next to impossible for me.

I tried to find a friend to take an in-person class with me, but nobody was interested, so I looked around online and found some free video tutorials for beginning watercolorists. Much to my surprise, I actually liked some of my paintings that resulted from the tutorials.

Now I have an “art studio” set up on my kitchen table. It has the best light in the house. I don’t use that table often, except for folding laundry. The dining room table is my eating spot (and the couch). 😉

Anyway, almost every day for the past six weeks, I’m spent at least a few minutes painting or practicing. While my work isn’t professional by any stretch of the imagination (and probably never will be due to my tremor), it’s healing for me to sit quietly and play with forms and colors.

Self-care. It comes in many forms. What things do you do to take care of yourself and to treat yourself kindly?

~Debi