Mindfulness and How to Use It

Mindfulness is a DBT skill. In intensive outpatient therapy we’ve learned a LOT about DBT. Mindfulness is the first concept I want to cover not only so I can share my insights and knowledge but so I can say that I’m currently in the process of mastering it. Trust the process. As long as you put in the work, you can create new neural pathways exercising that part of the brain and allowing you to get better at it, and to feel better doing it.

Mindfulness is about paying attention non judgmentally to the present moment. This can go hand in hand with the concept of grounding, and being aware of the environment. In this state we accept what we’re feeling and allow it to come in rather than fighting it. Diffusing feelings and thoughts as they come into our minds and manifest in our bodies by thinking of thoughts as leaves flowing down a river or putting a thought in a mental box and sending it down a conveyor belt and letting it pass by. This allows us to give note to the emotion or thought but also to then let it go and come back to center yourself with your breath.

One thing I like about mindfulness is that there’s a sense of a physical point you can bring yourself back to. You can never be in the past and get a breath back and you can never get a breath from the future ahead of time. Therefore, when you breathe you are totally immersed in the present. There are other DBT skills such as “Radical Acceptance” which we’ll talk about another time and which has some play in mindfulness, but are harder to grasp a grounding point in which to refer back to if you’re having a rough time figuring out if you’re TRULY using the skill or not. However, there are other indicators.

Some people have certain breathing preferences while being mindful. Some people like guided meditations. Headspace is a great app, Calm is pretty good, but not all guided meditations work for everyone. There are tons of ways to be mindful however. To start with guided meditations (easily accessible and they tell you exactly what to do) they may either tell you to inhale a certain amount of seconds, hold and then exhale, they may if it’s an app have a visual for you to follow for inhaling and exhaling. If you’re meditating on your own and want to clear your mind what you want to do is focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply and be sure you’re getting air in your diaphragm. This is a true deep breath feeling your belly rise and fall. If your thoughts wander, don’t get mad or try to suppress them, just let them go and come back to your breath. You may want to start meditating for 3 minutes at a time and build your way up, some people may need to start with 1 or 2. The key really is to come back to the breath.

Another way to practice mindfulness, especially when anxious is to do the 5,4,3,2,1 method. I do this mostly when I feel my anxiety is starting to pick up and run with its energy. You stop yourself and (saying things aloud makes them more real by the way, so if you can, say this out loud) find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.

This may look like:

“I see the door to my room, I see the gold door handle, I see my notebook, I see my weighted blanket (GREAT for anxiety btw), I see a mug.

I feel my weight of the clothes I’m wearing, I feel the hard bar under the table where my feet are resting, I feel my shirt is soft, I feel my dry skin.

I can hear a light buzzing in my ears, I can hear the heater, I can hear someone doing the dishes in the other room.

I can smell eggs cooking, I smell the staleness of the air around me.

I taste my gum.”

Another way is to create a labyrinth. If you glue pipe cleaners, beads, yarn or something physical to the pattern then you can close your eyes, think about the answer to a question non judgmentally or you can just focus solely moving your finger through the labyrinth and getting to the center and then out again. Keep one in your car or in your room or your bag and you can use it when you need something tangible to ground yourself with.

Other ways to practice mindfulness include knitting or crocheting (remember to focus on the task at hand, non judgmentally the way you would your breath, and even during this time you can focus on your breath! Let your thoughts be diffused and BE in the present moment.

There’s also watercolor painting, saying the alphabet backwards or counting backwards by 7’s from 100, spell a word backwards even (things that take your whole mind to do which will help you focus on that and not what thoughts you may be ruminating on etc.). You could go on a 5 minute walk, you could put a cold pack under your eyes and focus on the sensations, you can use affirmations (which it’s best to be able to visually see, flash cards are a great idea for this one), coloring, yoga, journaling and my personal favorite listen to instrumental music with a beat you can follow and breathe in and out with the beat.

I try to practice mindfulness at least 5 minutes a day. I’d like to ramp that up to a half hour a day. Doesn’t have to always be lumped together either, but practicing it has helped me challenge racing thoughts, anxiety and rumination. It feels really weird to just, “be”. But it’s a tremendously important skill to be able to accomplish.

Drop a comment if you’d like to hear more about mindfulness or any other DBT skills in particular! I want to share what I’m learning and experiencing in outpatient a bit at a time. Damn feels good to blog again. Thanks everybody.

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First Post in a Long Time

Avoidance. It’s a huge anxiety provoking choice we make. I’ve avoided blogging here for over a year now. I also happen to be in an outpatient program for anxiety and depression. I’m using a skill called opposite action right now to blog even though I don’t want to and I’m nervous what people will think especially since this post is less than perfect (challenging my perfectionism here too). So this could be exposure therapy in a way. So next post, that’ll be the one where we get back into the swing of things. This is it. I’m doing it. We’ll touch base on DBT skills next post. I just need to put this up. Stop avoiding. We’re back, ladies and gentlemen.

#TodaysBipolarStruggle

This is officially the first of my bipolar blog entries, and it’s in the middle of a rough patch, so here goes.

I’ve decided the format for my bipolar posts will be to refer them to informative entries. For example, this one has a link to #IntensiveBipolarEducation which I’m going to put up right before this one. 

I’ve gained about 70lbs on the most current mood stabilizer that I’ve been on, and the number one thing I want to talk to the doctor about is adjusting the drugs. I haven’t been able to see the doctor in 3 months. Thanks to insurance and her fucking idiotic receptionist that is. Today is going to be a struggle to slice through all the nasty sinew of phone calls and e-mails and contact who needs contacting so I can get things straight. Not that this is going to be my first attempt at all this bullshit.

Right now, I’m struggling. I think my liver might be overworked (toxic) and here are reasons I can tell:

1. When sad music comes on TV shows, movies or commercials I get really sad/borderline weepy.

2. I don’t sleep properly. Lately I am sleeping all day and up a couple hours at night, then going back to sleep.

3. I have 2 tests tomorrow, I haven’t been able to study for either because I can’t concentrate. I still can’t concentrate. I’m even forgiving myself for not being able to concentrate right now. This post is taking forever, and still going to be a mess.

4. I’ve been working with administration at the damn university I go to in order to get the administrative withdrawals in place for classes SEMESTERS AGO that I had needed dropped. That includes pending refunds that won’t be processed until the paperwork goes into place.

Do you know how fucking hard it is to be ill the way I am and have to deal with some bullshit that’s not getting done? I can’t even talk directly to the Dean and every single month that passes I have to follow up on all this bullshit the more I just want to crawl under the earth and be frozen because I don’t want to deal with it.

It’s paralyzing. It’s fucking paralyzing. And ESPECIALLY now that I’m so fucking frustrated it’s the middle of the semester, this should have been dealt with LAST YEAR, and now I’m upset about  tomorrow and the fear when tomorrow comes of dealing with all of it, and I’m trying very hard to be mindful but let me tell you I don’t know how to handle everything.

5. I get excited about the idea of something, like for instance, G-Dragon’s world tour, but then wonder “will he be coming to the U.S.?” I need to see! So then I look and see there’s nothing more than a handful of tour dates so far, and therefore I can’t plan anything or figure out if I can go, or scramble to pay for tickets, IF I can afford them, etc. I get overworked over stupid little things.

I’m escaping into fantasy land rather than being mindful of my surroundings, but either distraction is helpful.

It’s funny, now that I’ve raged and gotten the chance to express some of my inner demons I’m not satisfied nor do I think anyone cares, even people who are struggling with mental illness on their own. I feel like isolating even from my own blog audience, which is nearly 0 to begin with.

A day in the life.