Tag Archives: mindfulness

Personal mantras and mental health

Mantras are ancient, energizing sounds that help uplift mood and the stress or suffering (Dukkha) of the everyday. ‘Mana’ in Hindi translates to mind; a mantra is what takes you ‘beyond the current mind’.

They are traditionally repeated, chanted, or listened to with mindful repetition. Like self-statements in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), they help to manage stuck mind: feelings of dread, anxiety, worry, intrusive thoughts.

In my Mindfulness-based therapy practice, I encourage people to find what is meaningful to them. What is your mantra that really speaks to you and your struggles?

Put it on your mirror, your phone, post-its, in your backpack, journal, desk, fridge. Repeat.

Mine is : No One To Be.
For more on mental health and mantras: Mantras as Self-Statements

Seven Paradoxical Intentions for the New Year

Reduce Food Waste
With all good intentions, the majority of people throw away a largesse of wilted produce and other perishables throughout the month. While we may wish to food prep: beautifully prepared Tupperwares stacked in the refrigerator ready to take to work or put in the microwave and oven are usually a rarity or intermittent. In reality, an astounding amount of food is wasted by most households. If you go to your local South Asian, Latinx, Korean, or Caribbean markets, you will greet the same families almost day after day shopping for fresh dinners. Planning smaller meals on a more frequent basis may be antithetical to the genuinely beautiful products of Costco and big box stores. I’ve never known anybody who used 2 pounds of lettuce… ever.

Be Bad, Mindfully
If you are going to spend the weekend binging a series, sitting in your pajamas, eating the whole pizza, sleeping the day away, or drinking delicious libations, do it. Do it without beating yourself up. Do it without feeling guilty and do it without feeling guilty about feeling guilty. We are the only species that feels anxiety about having anxiety. Never in the history of time have I ever met anybody who improved their mental health by hating on themselves. Hedonic pleasure is short-term. Guilt hangs around.

Say no, simply and politely
“Thank you for thinking of me. I’m not going to be able to do it. It sounds like a lovely idea”. It is the sandwich. + – +
You don’t need a lot of other condiments.

Be a Baby
Let yourself have some moments when you get to cry, whine, and complain. Send yourself to your room, shut the door, get under your softest blanket and feel sorry for yourself. When you emerge from your self imposed timeout, you will feel better.

Express Wonder
When you see something really cool, something that you want to learn, somebody who is amazing, the gorgeousness of nature, the utter cuteness of your child or companion animal, the radiance of a friend, say it. The psychologist Maslow called it the ‘Peak Experience’. Parents of young kiddos say to me, I am reliving the beauty of the things that are familiar through my child’s eyes. Remember when you first went to Disney World and it was the Magic Kingdom, not overpriced everything, long lines, grumpy families, and cynicism. Wow is still possible. We forget to see it.

Enjoy the Simple
If you have a delicious cup of coffee in the morning, see your dog’s tail wagging joyfully because you’re home, enjoy the warmth of clean clothes from the dryer, listen to your favorite song, delve into a new book, turn over and go back to sleep because you can, or take in the scent of your beloved, it matters. Collect them.

Reduce Judgment
I have been serving a community shelter and food kitchen for over a decade, Washington DC. One of the first times I served food there, I had a humbling learning experience. I brought copious amounts of delicious curries and home made roasted chicken, as well as buckets of Popeyes, extra crispy, picked up on the way in. The Popeyes rapidly disappeared while my biryani remained forlorn for some time. An experienced volunteer said to me: don’t judge people what gives them pleasure. It’s important to remember that. We need pleasure.

These intentions might seem simple. They are a practice.
Related, see Stones Across the River.

The Neuropsychology of Gifting

Present: A Gift/In the Here and Now/To Give or Offer
A noun, adjective, and verb all in one.

  • Giving gifts creates a tide of oxytocin, the neuropeptide that signals safety, connection, and affection.
  • Receiving a desired present from a loved one and giving a gift to a loved one actually produces the same brain rewards.
  • The oxytocin effect is in motion during each step of gift-giving, from planning, shopping for the gift, wrapping it, and anticipating the response of the giftee.
  • Brain scans using fMRI technology showed that giving a present indicates simultaneous activity in the brain area associated with processing social interactions and the part of the brain that feels pleasure. Gifting is a pleasure-full interaction. (Learn more about the neuropsychological link between generosity and happiness.)
  • The monetary value of the gift was unimportant. Gifts do require sacrifice: thought, creativity, time, and money; but they don’t have to be expensive. One of my favorite gifts was a recipe, handwritten by a friend who was a renowned chef accompanied by a ‘voucher’ to cook it for me.
  • A present does not have to be a tangible object. Similar brain rewards were found by giving the gift of time (babysitting, helping cleaning out closets, dog walking), assistance (help with a project, home or office), or experience (a weekend away, spa time, a special exhibit).
  • Presents accompanied by a thoughtful message, letter, card, or note were greatly valued,. Messages that bring to mind shared moments, explanations about the significance of the gift, and the connection between the gifter and the giftee are a gift in themselves.

Also see the Mental Health Benefits of Random Acts of Kindness.

Mindfulness in Fur

When you have furry members of your family who are ill or aging, you experience a pattern of variability. You have memories and you have the moment. You have good days and bad days. You have love and dread. Uncertainty becomes a fact; mindfulness on steroids.

As a psychologist, I have written frequently about the importance of having companion animals for mental health, companionship, and even physical well being, supported by a growing body of neuroscience research.  My offices are dog friendly. My own (now senior) companions, Sage (Doberman) and Asia (English Lab) have frequently been my gentle co-therapists for folks who are hurting.

As a mental health, mindfulness, and well-being clinician and researcher, I am exploring an audacious idea: Dogs are in many ways our mirror species. Unlike most animal-based models used to study aging, dogs are not in a lab, they share the same environment we do. That includes emotions: ours and theirs, physical health/exercise, how we sleep, routines and schedules, nutrition, attachment and love, social skills, dealing with new situations, separation and loss, education, medical care, stimulation and learning.

How to live in the moment. Dogs do this at warp speed. They have a lot to teach us.

Also see What Can We Learn from Aging Pets; and Mental Health Benefits of Having a Companion Animal.

Anxiety as a Warrior

I teach my teen and kid clients about the purpose of Anxiety. The amygdala is a part of the brain that sets anxiety in motion. It’s actually an Ancient Warrior trying to protect you. Sometimes it becomes overly protective and gives you a turbo boost. This is fuel that is meant to keep you strong, fast, and powerful in case you need to take action. Sometimes you need it, and sometimes just in case. We can work together on that ‘just in case’ part. 

How to be more introverted

You read that correctly. While traditionally Western culture has minimized the importance of introversion, most people have a mix of extroverted and introverted tendencies. We have a lot to learn from introverts when it comes to mental health.

1. Reboot
Don’t confuse being an introvert with being shy. An introvert acquires psychological energy or a “reset” after expending energy, by time spent alone.

2. Create
Nurture your individual creativity: Art, music, poetry, writing. Somehow, we lost track of the fact that the arts are important to our cognitive and social growth. When kids play they like to pile blocks, mold a sandcastle, fingerpaint, make a fort, build a treehouse, bake cookies with lots of sprinkles, draw on the walls. We derive an inherent joy in creating that rarely gets built into our adult schedules.

3. Enjoy solitary tasks
We live in an easily bored society. From an early age, learning to master the arts of self-engagement and self-soothing is invaluable. For example, I encourage parents and children to work together to put together a small backpack of goodies to take with them wherever they go; books, sketchpad, favorite pens and pencils, coloring materials, a small stuffed animal or action figure, word finds, squeaky toys for stress, and so many other possibilities. Being able to entertain yourself requires practice. And it’s great for your brain.

4. Practice mindfulness
Have you ever driven past your own exit or street? Mindfulness is the opposite of auto pilot, and it requires practice. Notice what is around you. I have teens practice walking into the kitchen (or any room) and observe/notice five things. Use all of your senses when you’re eating something delicious; when you’re washing the dishes, when you’re making a bed.

5. Reflect
Contemplate the mysteries of existence; the universe, quantum physics, nature, why your companion animal does what they do. The natural curiosity we had as children can be nurtured and stirred at any age.

6. Day-dream
One of my teen clients has an elaborate imaginary life, a running story with nuanced characters, dialogue, and interactions. Others I work with mentally design their dream house, sketch designs or patterns, collect a bucket list of things to do, solve problems. One young person I know has come up with an art theme spread across 12 different works/mediums of art to show how social media impacts the self-esteem of girls.

In a loud and bustling world, we have a lot to learn from introverts. See also Quiet.

What I Learned

I was recently interviewed for a piece on mental health for VerywellMind about things I have learned from the pandemic.

The question was:
As both one who is living through this and helping others live through this, what are the lessons that most come to mind for you?

Seven things I learned from the Pandemic
1. There was no ‘Normal.’
We say, I wish we could return to normal, I miss the old days. When will things go back?
The old days weren’t so great. We have seen businesses go under, people who were barely getting by already go over the precipice, huge upticks in mental health and substance abuse problems, how separated and isolated people feel, and how difficult it is to ask for and receive support. I believe The greatest lesson of these times is the absolute necessity for a paradigm shift. The concept of a paradigm shift, originally based in physics, refers to a major change in the worldview, concepts, and practices of how something works or is accomplished. Recently, people have sometimes referred to it in employment terms as the Pivot.  Why return to a supposed normal that never worked, completely fell apart under duress, neglected the vulnerable, and is certainly not equipped to address any future challenges?

2. Nothing is more important than connection.
People have deeply hungered for love, touch, intimacy, and affection during these difficult times. It is an essential part of being human. Those who felt most isolated suffered the most challenges to their mental health. I recently wrote a piece about loneliness as a marker of danger to mental and physical health. A recent study equated deep-rooted loneliness as the equivalent of smoking chronically, with regard to the impact on longevity and wellness.

It’s literally a killer.

3. Mindfulness matters.
Groundhog Day happens. Over and over again, I have heard people say they have lost track of time. ’It feels like it’s going by so slowly, and yet so quickly’. Each day can feel the same. Learning mindfulness strategies anchors our perception of reality. We cannot live in a blur, and it’s very easy to succumb to that. Before we know it, it’s September 2021. Also see this helpful post on a mindfulness practice.

4. Pain cannot be avoided.
We can numb our feelings of fear, resentment, anxiety, grief, and terrifying uncertainty. They are still there. How to cope without being overwhelmed requires numerous strategies. I was sent a photograph from a recent trash recycling day in DC, where house after house was lined up with dozens of empty bottles; liquor, wine, beer, soft drinks. Our pain is honorable and a marker of experience. It’s not going to go away just because we want to anesthetize.

5. Looking after your health is absolutely essential.
Health care that is consistent in the middle of chaos is one of the hardest things to do. When you’re just trying to juggle bills, care for children and family, deal with virtual learning, work from home, metabolize constant health alerts and daily fears, confront financial hardship and job changes, and combat isolation and ennui, survival needs take over. Self-care often goes on the back burner. And yet, it is the absolute foundation.

6. It takes community.
In previous work, I have referred to the pandemic as the ultimate #compassionproject. In short, thinking about ourselves and our immediate circle has never worked, is not working now, and will not work in the future. Only if we pull together with our amazing range of strengths, talents, skills, and vulnerabilities, are we going to make it through.

7. Creativity can thrive under fire
I have seen innovation, creativity, flexing, and hustle like never before. In line with number six, above, I have seen projects large and small making the world a better place. Resolve, Love, and Hardwork are unbeatable.

On adding mindfulness to treatment

For the past two decades, I have combined my passion for practicing mindfulness and eastern philosophy, with my love for neuroscience and clinical psychology. The ancient and the research; they are compatible.

This is a frequent question posed to me that I deeply honor.

Them: My partner and I are studying Buddhist teachings to help us with anxiety and depression. What can you tell us to help us relieve our suffering?

Me: I believe that attempting to alleviate suffering on an individual basis or just with a partner only partially works. Because it emphasizes attachment to self (ego). To connect with the suffering of the universe, the understanding that all beings suffer, is actually more helpful over time for healing.

I primarily specialize in depression, anxiety, grief, transition, and lack of connection to the moment (ADHD). I encourage my patients to meditate, of course. There is a strong body of neuropsychological research that indicates that meditation changes neural pathways associated with depression and anxiety. I meditate with child clients in my office or my garden outside my office. We ring the gong at the end. Their faces are solemn and joyful.  For more info see Neuropsychology of Meditation.

While most Western practitioners think of Buddhist teachings and practice as primarily sitting meditation (zazen), there is much more in actual practice that is pragmatic. Buddhism is about the every day.

The emphasis is connection, which is highly different than attachment.

I strongly encourage the following adjunct therapies:

  • volunteering and community service
  • tending a garden and green babies
  • caring for fur babies
  • eating foods that honor the earth, animals, and the bounty available to us
  • going through your home and giving away possessions that you don’t need
  • reading poetry and of course Buddhist writings, hopefully a primary source, every morning
  • doing a walking meditation every day
  • teaching non-violence and loving kindness through practical matters such as social justice. Buddhism is not esoteric; it is societal.
  • most importantly finding your Sangha, in your community or even virtually.

Practicing these, and other activities, without attachment, and with a desire to understand and connect with the knowledge that the world is suffering, actually starts to lessen our own.

My work emphasizes the practice of such steps on a daily basis. I have termed it #stonesacrosstheriver. Adding these things to other empirically validated treatment methods is potent.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.