Going Unplugged In The Age Of Distraction

“Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say? Can’t you feel the fears that I’m feeling today? I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation. When human respect is disintegratin,’ this whole crazy world is just too frustratin’.”-Barry McGuire, from the 1965 song Eve of Destruction

The world has changed drastically in the past 25 years. Perhaps the most notable of these changes is alsoimages one of the most subtle. Travel anywhere in a metropolitan area and you’ll notice at least half of the people have some kind of electronic device visible on their person, a cell phone, iPhone, iPad, or laptop. Notice how many of them are engaged with their devices and notice their level of absorption. It’s also safe to assume that those that don’t have a device visible probably have one on them somewhere. Progress? Maybe.

I read something last week which said that current versions of the iPhone give us more computer capability in our pockets than President Clinton had in the White House in 1994. Pretty mind-boggling, if you’re old enough to remember the era of shoebox size cell phones. We have instant access to anything going on anywhere on the planet, as much information as a small town library, and the ability to speak with anyone, virtually anywhere, at any time, no matter what that person is doing. It would appear that everyone is someplace physically, and another place mentally, and not fully aware of where they are currently.

While many of us turn our noses up at those who text and drive, talk loudly on their cell phones in public places, (why do people seem to speak louder when talking into a cell phone?), use texting for personal things, such as breaking up with a significant other, and use their cell phone as a status symbol, most of us are distracted more than we’d care to admit. We don’t need to have our phones on in order to be distracted by them. Just having that phone, iPad, or laptop nearby is enough to frequently pull us out of the present moment. While many of us, myself included, love this instant access, it’s probably a good idea to put this all into perspective.

hqdefaultIn 1989, MTV began a series called MTV Unplugged, showcasing music that was usually played on amplifying instruments, such as electric guitars and synthesizers.The music was performed on more traditional instruments such as acoustic guitars and piano. The mere act of switching the instrument dramatically changed the listening experience. Yes, it was the same songs but it was difficult not to appreciate the difference in sound and tempo. Very subtle, but very cool, a different look at something that we thought we knew well.

Going unplugged in our daily lives, at least occasionally, can have positive benefits for our emotional and physical well-being. Shutting off the phone, computer, iPad, and even the radio and TV for periods of time can make a big difference. Yes, you may go through some withdrawal and “what if, what am I missing,” emotions, but that’s okay. If you set aside regular periods during your week where you go unplugged and make technology off-limits, you will get used to it and learn to enjoy it. You’ll find that you will become more attentive to family, friends, significant others, and will experience a greater connection to nature and the world around you. You’ll become more in tune with where you are, both literally and figuratively. Despite what most people think, going unplugged occasionally leads to better time management, task completion, and problem-solving. Research studies have consistently shown that multitasking is, in fact, a myth.

indexModern technology has been both a blessing as well as a curse. The negative impact is that many of us live our lives in a constant state of hyperarousal and hypervigilance, waiting for what next, what if, other shoe to drop moments. Many of the maladies caused by technology, such as anxiety, fear, worry, and increased diagnoses of ADHD, can be traced in part to our addiction to being distracted. Going unplugged is good for your brain’s health, pure and simple.

If you follow this blog regularly, then you are familiar with some ways to cope with the detrimental effects of modern life. Here’s a recap of some ways to counteract technology and life in the Age of Distraction:
⦁ mindfulness activities
⦁ meditation
⦁ exercise
⦁ getting outdoors
⦁ learning to breathe correctly
⦁ connecting with supportive friends and family
⦁ going unplugged

The point is to schedule unplugged moments into your day. It can be as simple as going for a 15 minute stroll during your lunch break while leaving your phone at your desk, shutting off phones for 45 minutes for a family meal time, or unplugging for 10 minutes of meditation. Like many things that are good for us, there is a temptation to overdo it. If you’re not comfortable with going unplugged for long periods of time, learn to be comfortable with brief periods and learn to appreciate the benefits. There are not many things in this world that can’t wait at least 15 minutes.

“Silence is a source of Great Strength.”― Lao Tzu

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Food Addiction: “I Can’t Believe I Ate The Whole Thing!!”

“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”-from an Alka-Seltzer commercial, 1972

You try to live healthy. You exercise regularly, eat well, see your doctor once a year, try to avoid Food-addiction-1negativity and gossip, hold doors open for people, donate to charity, and are even kind to animals…. but, every once in a while, there’s this dark side that emerges. Afterwards, you feel guilty, sick, and totally disgusted with yourself. You’re in denial. You rationalize with a series of yeah but types of statements. “Yeah but, my weight is good, Yeah but, my BMI is under 30, Yeah but, my blood pressure is normal, or Yeah but, I’ll work out extra tomorrow.” You can’t accept the obvious. You are a food addict.

Even if you are a healthy and physically fit person, there probably are foods that you absolutely, positively, cannot resist. In fact, there is even a conspiracy in the fitness and health industry to justify the occasional gorging on your “guilty pleasure.” It’s called a “cheat day,” where your regimented diet has a built in day where you eat whatever you want. Usually, this means overeating some food, dessert, or culinary delight that you struggled to resist the other six days of the week. If you do this as part of your diet, don’t feel guilty. It’s probably the only way to deal with food addiction. And, like everybody else, you probably have foods that you are addicted to. Yes, addicted!

If you grew up in the United States during the Baby Boom generation, then you were raised in the Golden Age of food. You grew up watching television commercials, singing along to advertising jingles, and slogans that have become part of our consciousness. Meals were something that were planned, prepared, and eventually ate. If there was any left, it was carefully wrapped and stored away for a smaller meal the next day. There was always a country somewhere-China, Japan, or Africa- where kids were starving, so you had a great deal of respect and gratitude for whatever your parents put on the table. Yes, we all had our occasional Twinkie, Yodals, or Pixie Sticks binge, but we seem to get by, purple tongues and all. The food production industry kept pace with the demands for food as well as our faster paced way of living. “Fast foods,” designed to keep up with the lifestyle and our compulsion for addicting foods became more and more a part of our diet. The manner in which these foods were preprocessed and produced is what led to food addiction.

Human and animal experiments consistently show that foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt can be as addictive as drugs such as heroin and cocaine. They trigger the same pleasure centers of the brain that are activated by these drugs. Feel good chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, flood the brain with pleasurable sensations. These chemicals can override the brain’s ability to perceive fullness, creating the need to overeat. As a result, people overeat, feel good about it at the time, and then later feel guilty.

It’s not just junk foods that can cause this addiction. It can also occur with foods that contain large amounts of sugar, salt, or even wheat. Some insidious culprits are:
⦁ White bread and pasta
⦁ Salty snacks of any type
⦁ Fatty foods, particularly fast foods. Probably anything you purchase through a take-out window or some guy delivers to your home will fit this category
⦁ Chocolate. Cacao itself, is healthy. The sugar used to remove cacao’s natural bitterness is what makes chocolate problematic
⦁ Sugar. This is the number one culprit and the big kahuna of all food problems. Sugar is not just granulated sugar, but includes fructose, lactose, corn syrup, and naturally occurring sugars

enhanced-buzz-32071-1369344088-17A recent study at Connecticut College compared laboratory mice’s responses to cocaine and Oreos. Researchers found that the mice not only preferred Oreos over cocaine, but that Oreos activated significantly more brain neurons than cocaine did. “This correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to our hypothesis that high fat, high sugar foods are addictive,” Joseph Schroeder, associate professor of psychology at Connecticut College, said. Their explanation was that sugar addiction is hardwired into the human animal. We are capable of producing small amounts of naturally occurring chemicals that are released through breast milk, believed to be one of the ways that babies bond with their mothers. A baby associates sugar with nurturing and satisfaction. It’s the first pleasure that a human receives. We are biologically set to crave sweet things and consume as much of them as possible.

Like all addictions, there is no standardized testing method to diagnose food addiction. A diagnosis of addiction is based on behavioral principles and an individual’s unique, subjective responses to a substance. Here’s some simple questions to ask yourself about food addiction:
⦁ Do you end up eating more than you planned when eating certain foods?
⦁ Do you get cravings for certain foods despite being full and after eating and nutritious meal?
⦁ What happens after you eat that certain foods that you are craving? Do you eat more than you intended, eat until you feel excessively “stuffed,” and feel guilty later?
⦁ Do you promise yourself after this gorging that you will limit future consumption, “I’m not going to eat _______________ like that again?” Do you find it difficult to keep the promise you made yourself?
⦁ If foods that you crave are presented to you unexpectedly, do you find it impossible to resist eating too much of them?
⦁ Do you make excuses to yourself and others about your consumption of certain foods?
⦁ Do you continue to eat certain foods despite being aware that your body and mind have a negative response to them? In other words, do you eat certain foods despite the fact that you know you will feel terrible afterwards?

Keep in mind that the typical food addict, much like the typical alcoholic, doesn’t always look like you think they would. Many alcoholics and drug addicts are highly successful, well put together people who are hiding a secret. Many food addicts are not overweight, but they are people that sometimes use food as a drug to satisfy emotional pain, depression, loneliness, and unmet needs. They rationalize with expressions like, “If my body craves it, then my body must need it.” Plausible, but often a rationalization for making a poor food choice.

Of course, an occasional binge on a forbidden food is pretty normal. Next time you are about to undertake that 12 inch stuffed crust Papa John’s pizza, or whatever your food of choice is, ask yourself some questions before diving in. Eat slowly and mindfully, allowing your brain to notice the pleasurable feelings, thus slowing the whole process down. If you find there are certain foods that are difficult for you to control, then don’t have them around. Don’t make excuses like, “The kids like them, it’s hard-to-eat-healthy-1Halloween, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, or Super Bowl Sunday,” without being fully honest with your intentions. If it’s an excuse for you to overeat and feel guilty, then rethink that decision.

Remember, food can be medicine or poison, the choice is yours.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Beginner’s Mind

“The less we know about something, the more fun we have.”-Tom Maggliozzi

Shoshin is a concept in Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of indexopenness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject or performing a task. It even applies to studying something at an advanced level, just like a beginner would. The term is most commonly applied to the study Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts, but there is probably a lot of wisdom in this concept for all of us.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are a few.”- Shunryu Suzuki

Like many Zen concepts, the phrase “beginner’s mind” is likely to be overlooked, underestimated, and possibly ridiculed for being too simplistic. In Asian culture, most things are not what they first appear to be. A second, or even a third look, often brings a deeper insight or an “a ha” moment of understanding. Most Zen concepts are designed to be pondered at first, then understood, and then applied. The idea behind beginner’s mind is that you suspend judgment, self evaluation, and assessment when taking on a new activity. You just put your ego in check and just do the exercise. Get into the experience and perform the task as non-judgementally as possible. Suspend everything you know, think you know, believe, and imagine and just do.

If you look back over the course of your life, there are probably hundreds of activities that you learned to do, and eventually do well, because you possessed beginner’s mind. You were probably much younger and not so full of yourself. You learned through imitation, in a rote manner, because you didn’t know any better. You learned to do things such as tying your shoes, tell time, (remember non digital watches?) learned algebra and foreign languages, ride a two wheel bike, and drive a car. As a child, you did not possess the inner critic that often holds you back as an adult, the questioning, critical, “yeah but..,” self-conscious aspect of your personality that takes the fun out of things.

imagesWhen an adult is trying to apply the concept of beginner’s mind, the idea is to remain open-minded and to focus on the experience rather than the outcome. Rather than judge or imagine how you must look or appear to others, focus on the process so that you can see what you experience, getting curious about what you are doing. Almost 25 years ago I began studying an Okinawan martial art known as uechi ryu karate do. Learning a traditional martial art is an incredibly interesting venture. You are learning a skill that is, in its essence, athletic, but is taught in a very non-Western manner. You are welcomed by all the students, in fact they all line up, shake your hand, and introduce themselves. You then get into formation with the rest of them and imitate what they are doing. My first teacher, Walter Mattson, started the class by telling me, “I teach as though you are looking in a mirror, so you don’t have to think ‘my right, your right,’ just follow along as best you can.” For the next two hours I learned as I did when I was a child, looking at others and following along as well as I could. Over the years I’ve seen many students attend their first class and not come back. I often wonder if they did so because they were unable to handle an activity that was focusing on the activity itself and not them.

As adults, there are probably a lot of things that we wish we did when we were younger. Many adults think that these activities are no longer possible. We suffer from the “Tyranny of the Toos,” as in, too old, too late, too tired, etc. Next time you think of an activity that you wish you learned years ago, ask yourself why you are not learning it now. My guess is that after you identify some aspect of the Tyranny of the Toos, you will have some visual of yourself fumbling and stumbling through an awkward process and evaluating yourself negatively. If you are not careful, you won’t even attempt this activity. It won’t necessarily be because you can’t do it, it’s more likely to be because your ego gets in the way. You’re probably very successful in most areas of your personal and professional life, and your ego won’t allow you to risk looking stupid, even to yourself. Too bad.

No matter how old, wise, or experienced in life that one gets we are never too old to tap into our shoshinbeginner’s mind. In uechi ryu karate do there is an expression, “Even teachers have teachers.” No matter how good one gets in the art, or how long one has been practicing, there is always an instructor to be emulated and consulted. This keeps the performance of the art on target, but more importantly, preserves beginner’s mind. Next time you’re considering that new exercise class, studying that foreign language, taking up golf, or that cooking class you thought about, ask yourself what’s holding you back. Don’t let your ego rob you of the joy and wonderment of beginner’s mind.

“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”- Shunryu Suzuki

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

“I Think I’m Geting A Migraine!!” : Coping With A Brain Buster

“I think I’m getting a migraine!!!”

Many of us know the scenario all too well. The day seems to be going ok, or at least feels normal. You’reimages going about your daily tasks and normal chores when all of a sudden you have trouble focusing one or both of your eyes. The lights seem to be bothering you and you know you have approximately 5 minutes before a Hiroshima sized headache hits. You panic, especially if you’re not home, or are at work, or driving a car. You hope you don’t end up stumbling around temporarily blind, muttering to yourself, “Please God, don’t let me throw up!” In a moment of clarity you ask of no one in particular, “Anybody got a couple of Advils?”

Why does this happen? Why are these so different from other types of headaches? And what can you do Migraine_1634678cto prevent them? Susan Broner, medical director of the Manhattan Headache Center in New York City says that, “People with a genetic predisposition have a reduced threshold for activation of the brain’s “pain centers” and become hypersensitive to stimuli that causes pain.” It is among the most severe and painful types of headaches. Headaches are one of the most common conditions that brings people to their primary care physician, are one of the most common causes of emergency rooms visits for premenopausal women, and are one of the most common symptoms and indicators of anxiety disorders. Recent research also implies that it could be a factor in depressive disorders as well. A 2009 headache study found that over 11% of the participants had migraines as well as other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, substance abuse disorders. Other studies have found that 40% of people who suffer from frequent migraines also suffer from major depression. If an individual has two or more migraine headaches per month, then they meet the diagnosis of chronic migraine headache disorder.

If you are fortunate enough to not know the symptoms of migraines, then congratulations. And, the symptoms are nausea, sensitivity to light, and vomiting. Headache pain from migraines tends to be a throbbing sensation or a piercing feeling, with pain on either one side or both sides of the head. Pain can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. A classic migraine causes an aura, or visual symptoms such as flashing lights 10 to 30 minutes before an attack or loss of vision. A common migraine may cause nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms, but no aura.

Most people who have migraines accept the problem as something out of their control. Because migraines come on so suddenly, it does create the feeling that there’s nothing that one can do about them. There is, however, a lot of research that indicates that there are ways to prevent migraines from occurring. Here are a few things that have been proven to work:
⦁ Stress management training methods of any type have been proven to reduce migraine symptoms from 32 to 49%.
⦁ Cognitive therapies significantly aid in prevention. Learning to identify what your triggers are is the most important cognitive skill needed to prevent migraines. Writing out what was going on prior to a migraine’s onset, where you were, what you were doing, and what the conditions, lighting, temperature, and other factors can help you identify some of the things that can trigger a migraine. A solid program of cognitive behavioral therapy can also help you to put life into perspective and help you manage stress better, significantly lowering susceptibility to migraines.
⦁ Progressive relaxation training, where one learns to control the level of muscular tension that their body holds, can lower the general level of body tension that one carries. This helps create an ability to relax, lessening tension that can lead to migraines and other more common types of headaches.
⦁ Monitoring your consumption of alcohol. If you get a “hangover” after one or two drinks, you may actually be experiencing a migraine. If you must imbibe, then pay attention to how different types of alcohol effect you. With careful monitoring you may find that some types of alcohol, for example vodka but not beer, cause headaches. Headaches triggered by alcohol tend to be very specific to certain types of drinks.
⦁ Your diet also plays a role. Many people find that they are adversely affected by foods containing caffeine. In addition to coffee, caffeine is found in other forms such as candy and chocolate. Cutting out caffeine from your diet to quickly can result in caffeine withdrawal, which is characterized by splitting, migraine style, headaches. If you use a lot of caffeine now, cut down gradually. Excess consumption of caffeine can increase your body’s susceptibility to stress.
⦁ Monitor and track your sleep patterns. Improper amounts of and quality of sleep can make the body susceptible to migraines. Keeping a regular sleep-wake cycle is one of the most important things you can do for your body’s physical and emotional well being.
⦁ Meditation has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to de-stress the mind and body and create the relaxation response. There are numerous ways that one can meditate. It’s more important to engage in a meditative practice regularly, rather than to agonize over which style or method of meditation you use.
⦁ Exercise! This is perhaps the most overlooked and ignored solution to most physical and mental health problems. It’s common sense, the body is the vehicle that carries you through life. Keeping it healthy and functioning well will improve all aspects of your life, including your ability to manage the stressors that create migraines and all types of headaches.
⦁ Learn to breathe correctly. Deep, diaphragmatic breaths, taken multiple times a day increases blood flow to the brain, improves brain functioning, and increases energy, making your body more resistant to migraines and headaches of all types.
⦁ Stay hydrated. Adequate intake of pure water prevents headaches, fatigue, and energy loss, all factors in the development of migraines.

In addition to these suggestions, I’d also suggest you check out the Categories section and use the search imagesbox to the right of this post for more suggestions of how to cope with the stress that produces migraines. Learn what sets these brain busters off and learn your own, unique ways to prevent them. It’s also not a bad idea to keep those two Advils handy just in case, but try to keep them as plan B in your fight against migraines. Track when they occur in see if you can decrease their number and severity. You’ll find that there is a lot you can do to gain control, in the positive benefits of doing so will filter over into other areas of your life as well.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Acceptance And True Wisdom

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some MHS-300x199person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. “- Anonymous

One of the most difficult balancing acts that any human being has to perform is the juggling of the possible with the impossible. The quality of our life is largely determined by the internal dialogue that we constantly engage in and the quality of the questions that we ask ourselves continuously. Can I? Should I? Is it possible? Why? Why not? Why me? These are the kind of questions that can either allow us to have what we deem to be a successful, satisfying, life or drive us crazy. For some people, simple questions such as these are so overwhelming that they settle for whatever life gives them, believing that this will give them serenity. The irony is that these people are perhaps the most likely to be negative and feel unfulfilled.

As a psychotherapist, one of the most humbling experiences that I have is sitting with the emotional pain that clients bring into the counseling room. Over the almost 20 years that I’ve been practicing, I find myself struggling with my own internal dialogue when working with clients. Questions such as, “Can I help them fix this?,” “How can I help him/her see this in a more positive light?” and “What can I do to motivate them?,”are typical self statements that I make after the first session with a new client. More often than I’d like to admit, the answer to these questions is to help them accept an unpleasant and painful situation. More often than not, issues clients come to therapy with are things that can be fixed, improved, or changed. These are challenges for my clients and their success in these cases is extremely satisfying and rewarding for me. Sometimes, the situation clients are in calls for acceptance of some painful reality that cannot be changed and may never go away. In situations like these, acceptance is the only answer.

snow_2522302bThe idea of acceptance is certainly not new. It is a core belief in virtually all of the world’s great religions and philosophies, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism. Great minds throughout history have embraced the concept of acceptance as the only way to cope with the uncertainty and tentative nature of human existence. Life can be a wonderful, fulfilling experience, or pure torture, depending on what a person believes and focuses on. Acceptance, however, does not mean denial of life’s realities. Some psychotherapies teach a concept that is called Radical Acceptance, where one accepts a difficult situation while acknowledging, very clearly, that it is painful. The basic belief and thought process behind Radical Acceptance is, “I don’t like the situation that I am in, or this painful event, but I am powerless to do anything about it. It is out of my control. I cannot do anything about it, so acceptance is the only answer to relieving some of the suffering associated with this situation.” Radical Acceptance proposes that the pain and suffering is made worse by struggling against something that cannot be changed.

Acceptance of life’s realities does not mean that one becomes a doormat for unacceptable people and events that life puts in your path. It does mean, however, that a person must decide which battles to fight and where to place their emotional energy and focus. What a person focuses on determines their reality and plays a huge role in their emotional and mental well-being. Prioritizing where our mental energy goes is perhaps the biggest challenge of being human. While all of us don’t have the time, energy, or even interest to read the works of the great philosophers, there are some shortcuts we can use to help us decide where our focus should go. One of the best I know of is a written activity that I call Serenity Prayer 101:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

This exercise is designed to create clarity and to help you focus your efforts and emotional energy. Make three columns on a piece of paper. Label the first column Things I Cannot Change, the second column Things I Can Change, and in the third column for a question mark. Write in the first column, without judgment or analysis, all you cannot change about the situation. When done, proceed to the second column in begin to strategize things that you can change about the situation. There will be some back and forth between the two columns and you may find yourself erasing and crossing out before you decide which column something truly belongs. In the third column you will place everything that you are not quite sure of where they belong-column one or column two.

At the completion of the exercise a person usually has a much clearer sense of what is in their power to change and what they need to accept. Remember, acceptance does not mean that you like it or agree with it, it means that it is something you are powerless to change. It may be something from your past, someone else’s past, a natural event, or an illness-anything that you are powerless to control, influence, or change.

For many of life’s more painful events, acceptance is truly the only answer. However, don’t be too quick imagesto accept that you are powerless over a situation. Doing the Serenity Prayer 101 exercise in writing will give you the clarity needed to decide if you have any ability to influence the undesirable situation. Before you throw up your hands and utter that overused cliche, “It is what it is,” sit down and logically decide if there is a course of action that you can take.

Remember, acceptance is always the answer, but it should never be an excuse.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Moving Meditation For Dummies

“Take rest. A field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”- Ovid

Contemporary life has become a whirlwind of activities, both internal and external. We have a lot of 200359539-001activities that we must accomplish for survival. However, what survival means for the 21st century is far different from what it meant 100 years ago. We do not produce most of what it takes to survive, we exchange activity we do for other people for coupons we then exchange for our needs . We are disconnected from the basic activities of producing our own food, killing our own meat, building our shelters, and healing our own illnesses. Despite all the modern improvements and creature comforts, we are more stressed out and in less direct control of our lives then it any time in human history. What’s the remedy for all this? Learn to SLOW DOWN.

Taking a break from all this activity has become virtually impossible. Try finding a quiet place, I mean a really quiet place, where you can be undisturbed by people or man-made sounds for a half an hour. My hunch is that you would have to travel quite some distance to find such a Shangri-La type of place. Doctors, counselors, therapists, and wellness experts of all types recommend meditation as a way to slow down both mind and body, improving physical and emotional health. Most meditation methods begin with these instructions: “Find a place where you can sit undisturbed for 10 to 15 minutes…” Many people begin the pursuit of a meditation practice wih all the right intentions, but become frustrated and give up because finding that mythical place is virtually impossible. Man made disturbances, whether it is automobile sounds, family members, dogs, cats, machines, or whatever are virtually everywhere. Don’t believe me? Try to find a quiet place where you can spend 15 minutes and solitude without leaving your immediate surroundings.

There is, however, a remedy for this. The remedy is moving meditation. There are various types of meditation, many of which people don’t consider to be meditation at all. In the Buddhist tradition, meditation is a number of activities, not a single thing. It’s helpful to think of the word “meditation” in the same way that the Western world considers the word “sport,” as a generic term for a number of separate, yet somewhat similar activities. The goal of meditation is to attain a relaxed mind that is more aware and focused on what is going on in your life the other 23 1/2 hours of your day. While the practice has been clouded in mysticism, largely because of the way it has been portrayed in the media, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, all of us engage in meditative practices without even knowing it.

One commonly practiced method of meditation is called Mindfulness Meditation, where a person directs their full and complete attention on some object or activity. The activity can be anything, as long as attention is fully focused only on the present moment. Many of us do this unintentionally when we are fully engaged in an activity and are fully focused only on that activity and nothing else. At that moment, your mind is on autopilot, you are engaged in an activity and the activity itself takes on a kind of timeless quality. Athletes, musicians, artists, and craftsmen often experienced this unintentionally. (See also “Washing Life’s Rice” Bowls,http://mindbodycoach.org/?p=487)

If you are someone who finds it difficult to meditate in the traditional manner, here are some examples of moving meditation that you may not have thought of:
⦁ Yoga in all forms and variations.o-YOGA-HEALTH-BENEFITS-facebook
⦁ Tai chi, aikido, and most types of traditional martial arts, especially styles of kung fu and karate were the practitioners engage in moving meditation called “kata.”
⦁ Playing a musical instrument, especially when improvising, can be a great form of mindful moving meditation. Fully focusing on the process of playing and the melding of self and sound makes it moving meditation.
⦁ Every day, daily household chores can be an opportunity to practice mindful meditation. In fact, many people enjoy routine housework. If you are fortunate enough to be one of those people, then you may want to consider it as an opportunity to practice mindful, moving meditation.
⦁ Walking, combined with mindful breathing, is by far the most practical and easy to implement method of moving meditation. It has the added benefit of providing exercise for mind and body at the same time.

imagesWalking meditation, called kinhin in the Zen tradition, is often practiced by contemplative monks to keep them physically healthy. One begins by moving slowly, seeking to find a rhythm to their movements and their breathing. After you hit that sweet spot where movement and breath get into sync, you can move at any pace you want and walk as long as you like. The goal is not to make it an effort, but to make it effortless and mind less, meaning that your mind is focused only on the activity itself and not the rest of your day, your problems, your work, or your to do list. The goal is to be fully present in the activity of rhythmic movement and breathing. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and author of over 100 books on Zen, describes how it works: “Walking on this planet is a joy. Mindful walking allows us to be aware of the pleasure of walking. We can keep our steps slow, relaxed, and calm. There is no rush, no place to get to, no hurry. Mindful walking can release our sorrows and our worries and help bring peace into our body and mind.”

If you walk for exercise, or would like to begin, then moving meditation may be the way for you to combine meditation with your exercise. Don’t use headphones, leave your cell phone at home, and fully focus on the activity itself, rather than the outcome. Don’t think about why your doing it, weight loss, lowering your cholesterol, or bringing those numbers on your annual bloodwork down into the normal range. Just focus on the activity itself and the rhythmic synchronization of movement and breath in the present moment. If possible, leave the watch at home. If not, set an alarm and walk until it goes off, then return to where you started.

All of us have been aware of the health benefits of walking for a long time. Practice of moving meditation is now something that you have been made aware of. Get outside and enjoy its benefits.

“A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.”-Lao Tzu

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

 

Whining About First World Problems

“I have too much money in my wallet and it hurts my butt when I sit.”-A Twitter post, author unknown

First world problem is a slang term that refers to issues in First World nations that people are complaining about only because of the absence of more pressing concerns. The term was added to the Oxford Online Dictionary in November 2012. Initially, reviewing a list of some of these First World problems is humorous. Here’s a few:images
⦁ “There’s no room in the refrigerator for these leftovers.”
⦁ “My TV doesn’t have HD.”
⦁ “I just spent $200 on groceries and don’t feel like eating any of it.”
⦁ “My car is in the shop, so I have to drive my truck to work.”
⦁ “I ordered a large latte at Starbucks and the idiot gave me a medium.”
⦁ “I have lost so much weight I need to buy new clothes.”
⦁ “I dropped my iPhone, it landed on my iPad and cracked it.”
⦁ “I left my jacket in the car.”
⦁ “I can’t find the remote!!!!!”

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed in “A Theory of Human Motivation,” a model for basic human needs. His theory is that people are motivated, first and foremost, to satisfy fundamental survival needs, then safety needs, followed by the need for connection and affiliation, the need for self-esteem, and then have a possibility of developing their fullest human potential. His model is often depicted as a pyramid, prioritizing these needs from bottom to top:

maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, I’m sure we’ll all find that we engage in this complaining about First World problems quite frequently. There’s virtually no way around it, we all do it from time to time. It would seem that in the 21st century, man has developed a basic need to complain. Complaining makes us feel significant and important in a world that has great capacity to make us feel the exact opposite. While it’s fairly normal to complain now and again, too much complaining can have a deleterious effect on ones mental health. We live in a culture where whining about First World problems has become so common that we don’t even notice it. Think about it for moment, two of the biggest health problems in the United States today are weight problems and diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

The reality is that those of us who live in the first world complain more than any time in human history. We have the luxury to do so because we are not spending our day trying to satisfy that first level of Maslow’s hierarchy. Our time is freed up to be bored, disempowered, and creative in our ability to find things to complain about. And, in the absence of real problems, we find insignificant things to complain about to create a sense of self-importance. Complaining about things that we cannot solve, or will not solve, leads to a personality style that lacks the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions, creating a sense of learned helplessness.

Prioritizing what we complain about is the first step in coping with this modern tendency. If it’s something that cannot be solved, then acceptance is the answer. If the problem can’t be solved, then complaining and whining is useless and unhealthy. If it is something that can be resolved, then taking action, even if you fail, is empowering and far more emotionally healthy. People who take action steps to resolve problems in their lives tend to take more responsibility for their feelings, as well as their actions, creating better self-esteem, resiliency, and mental health.

Next time you find yourself perseverating about some injustice that the world has done to you, ask yourself some important questions:
⦁ “Can something be done to resolve this?”
⦁ “Can I do something about this?”
⦁ “Do I really need to do something about this?”
⦁ “Is this a First World problem?”

Developing an awareness of the things that you complain about and deciding how much energy you NO_WHINING_ZONE_1_500expend on these things is a healthy way to develop self-esteem. Maslow considered self-esteem to be one of the highest levels of human achievement. You’re not going to get there complaining about First World problems.

“To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.”-Abraham Maslow

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

A Sober Solution To Managing Anger

The word sober has a lot of different meanings and connotations. An obvious meaning is to be free from indexthe influence of a psychoactive substance, such as drugs or alcohol. Another meaning is to be serious and thoughtful. There are a multitude of different acronyms that use the word sober as a reminder for something. (My favorite is SOBER-son of a bitch, everything’s real!, borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous.) One does not have to be an alcoholic, substance abuser, or under the influence of a substance in order to benefit from the sober acronym.

In moments of intense anger and emotion, our rational, logical, brain shuts down and we become influenced by an intense burst of brain chemicals that lead to an angry, often embarrassing outburst that he later regret. I’m sure we all can identify events in our lives when we overreacted, got angry, and later regretted it. We probably acted on limited information, going with the intense emotion, before we had all the information that we needed to make a more rational choice. In that moment of emotional intensity we might as well have been under the influence of a substance. The fact is that in times of emotional reactivity our brains get taken over by a chemical stew that is influenced by our past experience and preconceived notions. Someone acting out in anger is, in that moment of irrational thought and behavior, is as impaired in judgment as any drunk or drug addict. Outbursts of anger trigger the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which if not managed can lead to a host of physical and emotional problems. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/?p=1379)

reptilianbrainThere is research that suggests that repeated and episodic outbursts of anger create changes in the brain on a cellular level. It changes the brain’s neurons, making it difficult for them to switch on and off appropriately, effectively getting them stuck in an “on” position when facing things that trigger anger. A person becomes addicted to the flood of brain chemicals that they create when confronted with their anger triggers. This compels a person to act out angrily over and over again, as they become addicted to their own negative brain chemistry. Over time, such stress blocks the growth of new neurons that would otherwise make coping with these triggers more likely. Anger responses can literally become an addiction.

To break this destructive pattern of anger as addiction, we’re going to use the acronym SOBER as a way to retrain the brain to learn better ways of coping. (For more on how to identify anger triggers see http://mindbodycoach.org/?p=477) The acronym is simple. Here’s the steps:
⦁ S = Stop immediately, and as soon as you are aware that you are you are about to enter a triggering situation. The first step in managing anger is to become aware of what your hot buttons are and how you typically respond to them. What do you typically say to yourself during these times? How does your body responds at these times? What physical gestures do you make when becoming angry? What things do you say, swears do you use, expressions and so on? People run the same patterns over and over again in the brain when they are becoming angry, so we tend to think, do, and say the same things at these times. STOP as soon as you recognize one of your patterns beginning.
⦁ O = Observe what’s going on, both internally and externally. Ask yourself the important questions: Is this one of my trigger events? What am I saying to myself? What’s my internal dialogue right now? What am I feeling physically at the moment? Where am I holding physical tension? Become aware of physiological sensations, such as the way you are breathing, carrying tension in your muscles, and the volume and tone of your voice. Remember, it’s virtually impossible to change something that you do not notice.
⦁ B = Breathe. Take some deep breaths and slowly exhale. If possible, notice that you are doing it. Notice yourself breathing, and bringing that response under control. Regulated, controlled, aware breathing is by far the best thing one can do to bring physiological responses under control. Controlled breathing brings your parasympathetic nervous system into play, allowing you to slow down your physiological responses. This allows your thoughts to slow and prepare you for more rational thought. There is a reason that pregnant women are taught those breathing techniques.
⦁ E = Expand your view and your interpretation of what’s going on. Start from the inside and work outward by getting your breathing under control first. Then, begin to examine your own thoughts and internal dialogue. Ask yourself some more rational questions. Is there another explanation for this? Did they do that on purpose? Am I overreacting? Could I be wrong? Am I missing something? These are initial questions that you must consider. Consider what the various responses you may make at this time could lead to. You may remember times that you acted poorly in similar situations and later regretted it. This will enable you to learn from that past, negative experience. Consider choices that you will be comfortable with.
⦁ R = Respond. Choose a course of action that is consistent with your personal values and is appropriate to the situation at hand. By no means should having anger management skills make you a doormat for the world. We’re not trying to turn you into St. Francis here, we are trying to get you to slow down, get your physiology under control, and respond appropriately to the situation in a way that you can feel good about.

This process does take a little time, but is simple to implement into your everyday life. Once you imagesmemorize the acronym, look to find ways to implement it immediately. This is a skill that you can develop with some conscientious effort. The benefits are that it can improve your relationships, work performance, self image, and your emotional and physical health. The sobering facts are that people who are prone to anger suffer from greater instances of heart disease, high blood pressure, muscle tension, elevated cholesterol, are more prone to being overweight, and die earlier. Using the skills outlined here you will learn that anger is not instinctive, but is a choice. You can get it under control.

“The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”- Thomas Paine

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Zen And The Art Of Context

“The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.”-Unknown

This simple expression, commonly quoted from Zen philosophy, is a metaphor describing how most of indexus think. It points out a characteristic of human thought that often gets us into trouble and sometimes leads people to seek psychotherapy. I’ve been a psychotherapist for 17 years and can’t help but notice how frequently misunderstanding the basic meaning of this parable brings people into treatment. The entire parable goes as follows:
“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”

In all branches of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the basic premise is that the way we think about life events and interpret those events determines the quality of our life experiences. CBT challenges one to adopt a wide lens angle on the events of our lives. Seeing the bigger picture can lead to introspective reflection and a different interpretation in meaning. A disproportionately large amount of people who enter psychotherapy do so because they are struggling with the meanings that they attach to events which happened in their lives. Life throws thousands of things at us every day. Fortunately, for us, most are pretty simple and we can make sense of them. The beauty of this dynamic is that the longer we live, the more events we process, and the better we get at making sense of what goes on in our world. We learn to attach meaning to these events that are consistent with our values and our world view. Occasionally, something will happen in the lives of everyone that they struggle to interpret.

I often tell my clients that, “The meaning of events is more important than the events themselves.” Often, the therapeutic challenge is to allow time to process what has brought them into therapy. A wait and see attitude is often helpful and is illustrated in the following Zen tale:
4951752980_55a3e5c454_zOnce upon a time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.

All of us have to decide what things happening in our world mean to us. Common, every day, events can mean different things to different people. Sometimes, they can even mean different things to us. For bliz78_janexample, something as simple as rain means different things to us at different times. During that July heat wave, that cloudburst is a thing of joy, that cold rain three days in a row in November? Not so much. That first coating of snow in early December is “beautiful,” those 3 feet in late January “suck.” Why the difference? And, why does that become a story that makes you smile the following Fourth of July? The context in which an event occurs can completely change its meaning. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s war criminal is another man’s national hero. What makes the actions of the person different is interpretation and context.

When life throws surprises at us, it challenges us to make a decision whether we are aware of it or not. Asking yourself the question, “What does this mean to me?,” is a good starting point for more rational decision-making and logical thoughts.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

This Is Your Life On Cortisol

If you are reading this article, then it is a guarantee that you are quite aware of the impact that cortisol has on your life. You are at a computer, which means you probably have Internet access, a job to pay for indexit, a decent lifestyle, and more than likely, a lot of obligations, deadlines to meet, and a host of things that are out of your control. You know what “stressed out” feels like. Some of us even take a type of perverse pride in our stress, believing that it makes us more important and that it is evidence of our productivity. Some of us may even brag about how we put in “60+ hours per week” at our job, “Can get by on less than six hours of sleep per night,” or are involved in the three extra curricular activities that each of our children have.” While, no doubt, some of this frenetic level of activity may be necessary, there is a cost that we all need to be aware of and need to decide if we are willing to pay it.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by our adrenal glands. Like a lot of bodily functions that work beneath our conscious level of awareness, it only gets noticed when it is out of balance. Cortisol is necessary for proper functioning and survival:
⦁ Cortisol helps balance the effect of insulin, keeping blood sugar at the correct levels
⦁ Cortisol helps the body regulate and function during times of stress
⦁ Cortisol assists in the regulation of blood pressure
⦁ Cortisol helps in the regulation of the immune system

From an evolutionary standpoint, cortisol exists in order to wake you up in the morning, adapt more effectively to life-threatening danger, and cope with sudden emergencies. A sudden spike in cortisol gives the human body potentially superhuman capabilities. We are literally faster and stronger under the influence of cortisol. Unfortunately, 21st century life does not give us many opportunities to appropriately exercise this kind of power surge. In fact, excess levels of cortisol in your body can have a deleterious negative effect, called Cushing’s Syndrome, which often leads to:
⦁ Mood swings, depression, and irritability
⦁ Digestive problems
⦁ Heart disease and high blood pressure
⦁ Sleep disturbance
⦁ Weight gain
⦁ Premature aging

If this were a commercial, this would be the point where the voiceover says, “If you suffer from any of these side effects, contact your physician.” Not bad advice by any means, but before you go through the stress of making the appointment, three hours in a waiting room, a hefty co-pay, and two or three prescription medications, there are a lot of things you can do on your own to bring your cortisol levels under control. Here’s a few to get you started:
⦁ Get your diet under control. Cut back on all beverages and foods that have caffeine in them. This includes not only coffee, but soft drinks, energy drinks, tea, and chocolate. Caffeine causes spiking of cortisol levels. While you do not need to cut out caffeine entirely, it’s a good idea to use caffeine judiciously.
⦁ Reduce processed foods, simple sugars, and carbohydrates. These cause a spike in cortisol levels, increase blood sugar, and cause you to feel anxious. Anxious feelings and thoughts promote increase cortisol to prepare you for the perceived disaster. Try to avoid white bread, pasta, white rice, and pastry products. When you do indulge, lean towards whole wheat.
⦁ Keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of pure water. Dehydration causes spikes in cortisol, as waterdehydration leads to stress and stress leads to higher cortisol levels. No need for all those funky, expensive flavored waters unless you prefer them. Regular tap water works fine. Just try to consume 1 ounce of water for every 2 pounds of your body weight.
⦁ Use fish oil regularly. Fish oil has been linked to moderate levels of cortisol as well as with a host of other beneficial results. If you prefer real food to supplements, lean towards salmon, mackerel, sea bass, and sardines. Fish oil has been shown to aid with brain functioning and reduced levels of inflammation. It is one of the cheapest and least invasive things you can do for good health.
⦁ Learned to meditate in some fashion. Just learning to sit quietly, focusing on your breath, for 10 to 20 minutes per day can bring down stress and cortisol levels dramatically. There doesn’t have to be anything mystical, magical, or religious about it. Just find the time and a place to sit quietly each day. If you find it difficult, try doing it outside as often as possible. Meditation is an acquired taste, but well worth the time and effort.
⦁ Exercise, exercise, exercise! Yeah, you knew what was going to get around this eventually. Exercise does not have to be intense or painful, but it must be absorbing and done consistently. Some exercises are much better than others for lowering cortisol levels. Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates, for example, are better for lowering stress than intense cardio or weight training. While cardio and resistance training are necessary for a complete program, a simple stretching routine and a little bit of walking on your off days will do the trick in lowering your cortisol and stress levels. Don’t under estimate little things like parking your car a quarter of a mile from your destination, a brief 10 minute walk at lunch, or a few minutes of yard work.
⦁ Laugh, smile, and hug when appropriate. All three of these activities drastically reduce cortisol. They dalai-lama-laughare your physiology’s “proof” that everything is okay, if not now, at least soon. Find ways to do all three.

Cortisol is a powerful, internally produced, necessary drug that we need for survival. Learn to control your cortisol levels or your levels will control you. It is estimated that as much as 70% of primary care physician visits in the United States are due to stress related illnesses. Before you sit in that waiting room, try some of the solutions suggested here for at least 30 days and see how you feel. Be consistent and you will find that you feel the difference. While you may not become the Dalai Lama, I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better.

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.