3 ways to refresh and renew for 2020 !

3 ways to refresh and renew for 2020 !

Original publication in mindful.org on december 27th 2019

Rather than brainstorming ways to improve your life in the new year, practicing mindfulness helps you accept the life you already have—and embrace it for all that it is.

The week leading up to the New Year can be a source of anxiety as we consider all the changes we should make to “better” ourselves. Rather than brainstorming ways to improve your life, practicing mindfulness helps you accept the life you already have—and embrace it for all that it is.

Here are three ways to feel refreshed and renewed, without the resolutions:

1) First, befriend your life as it is

It’s common to daydream about an idyllic and successful future (who amongst us hasn’t practiced their Oscar acceptance speech?) but spending too much time thinking about how things could be “one day” prevents us from appreciating how things are right now.

Learning to befriend all moments places us firmly in the life we are living, rather than the ideal life we are prone to imagine or strive towards. “The shift from aversion to befriending is the most radical shift any student of mindfulness can make,” says Willem Kuyken PhD, Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. “Befriending involves being curious, friendly, and kind, and is a capacity that we can all develop toward ourselves and our experiences. It is available to all of us, and is the home where our hearts and minds dwell,” says Kuyken. Here, he offers a mindfulness practice to find meaning in every moment.

2) Then, add purpose to each new day

Finding a sense of purpose can feel like an intimidating task—but it doesn’t have to be. Tapping into purpose can be as simple as taking a moment to decide, “I’m going to say thank you more,” or “I’m going to call my sister today.”

Your day-to-day activities offer ample opportunities to call up mindfulness in any moment. Breathe space into your morning routine with this simple wake-up practice to slow down and start each day with greater intention.

3) Finally, find a support system

There’s no doubt about it—our relationships help us thrive. Whether you’re trying to conquer Mount Everest or simply get over a bad day, having someone by your side to support you can make all the difference.

Building communities of care creates a culture of compassion and accountability, inspiring you to be the best version of yourself. Here are four ways to create a community of care and surround yourself with supportive people.

Here’s hoping you all find moments to enjoy being mindful this week.

Written by MINDFUL STAFF

3 ways to cultivate joy during this Christmas break

3 ways to cultivate joy during this Christmas break

Original publication in Mindful on December 6th 2019

The holiday season is upon us, and it’s not always a winter wonderland. Practice these mindful habits to cultivate joy even when things feel tough.

Many of the songs, stories, and messages we hear this time of year are about joy. But accessing joy can be difficult as we navigate the sometimes stressful moments the season also delivers (we’re looking at you, holiday shopping). This is your mindful reminder to take time to pause and connect with the here and now, so you can find moments of joy all season long—even when things don’t go to plan. Here are three ways to embody deep joy: 

1. Soothe your inner critic

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the idea of the picture-perfect holiday that we forget to enjoy the beauty of the season. When we let go of expectations (and ruminations about our shortcomings) and simply appreciate the moments as they unfold (in all their imperfect glory), we open ourselves up to joy.  Explore this simple practice to embrace self-compassion and quiet self-criticism.

2 Don’t just gather, connect

Just getting together during the holidays isn’t enough to nourish authentic connection with your loved ones. Purposeful in the way you spend time with others. Here are four ways to add mindfulness to your next social gathering and strengthen your connection with the people you care about most.

3. Rewire your mind for moments of joy

Just like training your attention, you can deepen your ability to feel joy by cultivating it in an intentional way. The next time you notice something that makes you smile—a piece of music, a blue sky, a warm cup of tea—pause and connect with that feeling. Try this two-step practice to bring your whole heart to the present moment and spark joy.

Here’s hoping you find moments of joy this holiday season.

Written by a MINDFUL STAFF

10 Tips for Rest, Recovery and Rejuvenation

10 Tips for Rest, Recovery and Rejuvenation

Written by by 

The Season for Stillness

We tumble to the end of another warp-speed year. We spin through our tasks and grasp at floods of information.

We press too hard, too fast and for too long. Reservoirs are sucked dry. Self-awareness fades. Self-regulation is impaired. Your health and your relationships are at risk.

It is time to slow down, repair, rejuvenate and reconnect with what matters.

In a world of optimisation, ambition, pride and duty, we push hard on multiple fronts. The rest, recovery and rejuvenation cycle is squeezed out between ever shorter bursts of dopamine. We are child-like in our impulsive tapping, swiping, checking, buying, rushing, feeding… compelled to chase the next hit.

As I come to the end of 2019, I feel battered. My mind is a little flat. Attention is fragile. Relationships are edgy. I know I need a good break. I am struggling to disconnect, calm my hypervigilance, and allow the natural cycle of recovery. I sense it in our family, friends and colleagues.

Rest, recovery and rejuvenation (R3) is the next competitive edge. Ironic!

My end of year message it to give rest, recovery and rejuvenation your full attention.

At a cellular level, the R3 cycle is vital to repair and rejuvenation. It is the key to longevity and sits at the biochemical core of fasting, sleep quality, intense activity, meditation, and cold water baths. It is a promising solution that supports this process of slowing, cleaning and repairing hard working cells.

The R3 cycle is key to musculoskeletal strength and physical wellbeing. Intimacy, touch and dreaming (REM) sleep stimulate the R3 cycle for emotional wellbeing. The default network is the R3 cycle for cognition allowing us to focus, engage and refresh our minds.

Our end-of-year pause is an opportunity to capture the R3 cycle for life and family. Please make an effort to allow for adequate rest, recovery and rejuvenation as your year comes to an end. Engage your family in this process so that you may reconnect in more intimate ways.

Share what works well for you.

How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

How about your emotional fitness? Get it right with these 5 tips.

Original publication in Medium.com on October 20th 2019

Have you ever wished that you could find a little more balance in your emotional life? Or maybe you struggle with an endless stream of negative self-talk that keeps you feeling constantly anxious, depressed, or guilty?

If so, you’ve probably found yourself reading an article or two about emotional intelligence. It’s a pretty attractive idea — that if we understand more about ourselves and how emotions work, we can improve everything from bad moods and negative thought patterns to productivity and the quality of our relationships.

But there’s a big problem with the idea of emotional intelligence: It’s just ideas—and ideas are never enough.

To really change and grow into a resilient, emotionally mature, and mentally strong person, knowledge isn’t enough. You need action. You need practice. You need habits. You need emotional fitness.

Reading all the best books on running marathons won’t actually lead to finishing a marathon unless you train and put in the miles. The same goes for our mental health and emotional wellbeing. You have to put in the work if you want to grow and become stronger. You have to build emotional fitness.

What follows are 5 of the most effective habits for building emotional fitness and becoming a more resilient, mentally tough, and emotionally fit version of yourself. These are habits I practice myself and recommend to my clients in my work as a psychologist.

If you’ve ever got stuck in a worry spiral, you know how hard it is to re-direct your thoughts and attention away from worry and back to reality. The same is true of rumination spirals — endlessly criticizing yourself for past mistakes and your own perceived failings as a person.

When your attention gets stuck in a pattern of negativity, your emotions and moods follow:

  • Obsessing about how awful your upcoming speech is going to go? Prepare to be racked by anxiety.
  • Replaying that gaff in front of your in-laws over and over again in your head? Prepare to be swamped by shame.
  • Constantly telling and re-telling the story of how your spouse wronged you after dinner last night? Prepare to be stuck in anger and resentment.

How we habitually think determines how we habitually feel.

Negative thinking patterns exert a powerful gravitation pull on our attention, which is why it’s so easy to slip into them and get stuck in them. In order to resist the pull of negative thinking patterns, you must strengthen your ability to shift, focus, and control your attention.

Thoughts come and go in our minds, and there’s little we can do to change that. What we can control, though, is our attention.

If you can become stronger and more skilled at managing your attention — focusing on helpful, productive things and avoiding unhelpful, distressing ones — you’re mood will improve dramatically.

There are many forms of attention training, put the simplest and most powerful is mindfulness meditation. To begin, carve out five minutes each day and dedicate them to strengthening your attention muscle:

  • Sit somewhere comfortable and close your eyes.
  • Focus your attention on the sensation of breathing. Try to keep your focus there — on how it feels to breathe.
  • Inevitably, thoughts, emotions, memories, images, external noises, or other physical sensations will intrude on your awareness. Simply acknowledge that your attention has been temporarily distracted and gently return your attention to your breath.
  • That’s it!

If you want to be more balanced in your moods and emotions, you must build your attention muscle.

2. Exercise

You can’t separate your mental and emotional self from your physical self. Your mind and everything in it — thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. — lives in and depends on your body.

If your body isn’t functioning well, neither with your mind.

People who regularly exercise and take care of their bodies are much better able to regulate and manage difficult emotions, moods, and thought patterns than those who don’t.

Of course, people who exercise still fall into bad moods, worry, and get depressed. But regular exercise exerts a powerful protective effect on our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Find whatever form of exercise you enjoy and make a plan to do it regularly.

3. Talk to yourself. A lot.

Yes, you heard that right: Talking to yourself is a good sign when it comes to emotional wellbeing.

As we discussed above, bouts of negative emotion and low mood are the result of subtle but powerful patterns of habitual thinking. And what makes thought habits like worry and rumination so powerful is that they often run on autopilot, just outside our conscious awareness.

This means you can have a worry spiral, for example, running through your mind for long stretches of time without noticing it, building up more and more negative emotion with each thought.

The longer your negative thoughts persist unnoticed, the more negative emotion you will generate.

On the other hand, the faster you become aware of your negative thought patterns, the quicker you can defuse them and the less negative emotion they’ll generate.

And that’s where talking to yourself comes in…

Talking to yourself helps you become more aware of your own thoughts. It allows you to put distance between your thoughts and your self.

This distance helps give you a fresh perspective on the mental habits driving your emotions. And the better your perspective on your thoughts, the easier it is to disengage from them or change them.

Here’s another big perk of talking to yourself: You can’t speak nearly as fast as you can think.

If you constrain the speed of your thinking to the speed of speech, your mind will only generate a fraction of the negative emotion in the same amount of time.

Few things will keep you saner than cultivating a habit of talking to yourself when things are tough.

4. Rest

Like exercise, adequate sleep and rest are essential for both physical and mental health.

Here’s an example: If you had to guess, when are couples more likely to get into a fight: 11:00 AM or 11:00 PM?

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, I think the answer is pretty clear: fights and arguments are far more likely in the evening.

Why? Because, by the time evening rolls around, we’re exhausted.

We simply don’t function well when we’re exhausted—physically, mentally or emotionally.

Everything from impulse control and emotion regulation to communication becomes significantly more challenging when we’re tired.

To protect yourself against the mood-deflating effects of fatigue, commit to consistently good habits of sleep and rest:

  • Wake up at the same time every day.
  • Don’t get in to bed until you’re truly sleepy.
  • Create a sleep runway in the evenings.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take frequent breaks, especially during strenuous work.
  • Make time to be outside and in nature.
  • Build more whitespace into your life.

5. Clarify and cultivate your values

Consider the following two people, both of whom find themselves stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, beating themselves up over a mistake they made earlier in the day:

  • Jasper is a high-powered criminal defense attorney. He lives for his work. It’s his life. And he’s amazing at it. Nothing makes him feel better than winning a big trial. But because he’s dedicated his life almost entirely to his job, he has very few interests and passions outside of his work as an attorney. No real hobbies, no long-term romantic relationships — even his friends he’s not especially close to. On his way home late at night after a rare defeat in court, Jasper is skewering himself because of a crucial (perceived) mistake he made in his closing argument. Unsurprisingly, he feels depressed, angry, and ashamed.
  • Jenny is a preschool teacher. She loves her job, but she also loves that she never has to take work home with her and gets the summers off. She’s been happily married for 10 years, volunteers every other weekend at the animal humane society (she LOVES pit bulls!), and has a baking blog where she chronicles her adventures with experimental pie recipes and gluten free treats of all kinds. Jenny is on her way home after a parent teacher conference in which one of her student’s parents berated her for her daughter’s continued poor reading ability. Like Jasper, Jenny finds herself ruminating on what she may have done wrong with her student and how she could have been better. She’s feeling down and discouraged.

All other things being equal, who do you imagine is going to be more successful extracting themselves from their negative thoughts and emerging bad mood?

My bet’s on Jenny.

  • Jenny has a diverse and well-cultivated set of values and interests. Even if she can’t extract herself from her negative thoughts on her commute home, she’s coming home to a supportive partner, an adoring pitbull named Brad, and a flurry of encouraging comments on her most recent blog post about gluten-free brownies.
  • Jasper doesn’t have much to come home to in terms of things that could help him emotionally. Sure, his 65th-floor apartment is dope, his 80-inch plasma TV is stunning, and the bar in the lobby of his apartment building serves killer sliders. But how well will those things really serve to help Jasper disengage from his negative thoughts and bolster his mood?

The point is this:

A diverse set of well-clarified values makes it much easier to let go of negative mental and emotional patterns.

Like a well-balanced financial portfolio, diversified values and interests are a powerful buffer and shield against stress and emotional downturns.

So carve out some time to really ask yourself: What truly matters to me? What are my values? What do I feel passionate about? And then most importantly, how could I begin to work toward those values? What would it take to make those values and interests a reality?

If you want to make real changes to how you feel on a regular basis, emotional intelligence isn’t enough; you must commit to an emotional fitness regimen.

Train your attention.

Exercise.

Talk to yourself.

Rest.

Focus on your values.

Written by Nick Wignall

Sleep is a super power !

Sleep is a super power !

Original publication in Open Access Government on October  4th 2019

Sleep is the best medicine: The repair programme that strengthens resilience.

What does sleep have to do with mental health and resilience? How does the “most important third” of our life affect not only the immune system of our body but also that of our mind and soul?

Dr Hans-Günter Weeß has a degree in psychology and in Germany he is an absolute expert in sleep research. He is the head of the interdisciplinary sleep centre at Pfalzklinikum, Klingenmünster.

Sleep is a highly active process. Sleeping people consume only slightly less energy than people who are awake. Recent sleep research clearly shows that sleep is a human being’s most important regeneration and repair programme. Nevertheless, more than 80% of the Germans use an alarm to get up in the morning and terminate their most important regeneration programme prematurely before it has fulfilled all its tasks. Human beings are the only beings on our planet who shorten sleep artificially and do not sleep in.

Sleep supports regeneration and learning processes

Sleep has irreplaceable functions for the human body and a well-balanced psyche: for instance, it strengthens the immune system.

Several studies have shown that in cases of enough healthy sleep, natural defence cells are built in a larger quantity and it is easier to fight bacteria and viruses. One night without sleep, for example, already leads to a reduction of the function of T-cells (T-lymphocytes or for short T-cells form a group of white blood cells helping the immune defence), which search infected cells and kill them. In some studies, human beings were given cold viruses and a connection between the duration of sleep and the onset of a cold was revealed. Shorter sleep was associated with an increased probability of catching a cold.

During deep sleep the hypophysis releases growth hormone. It has growth and metabolism-enhancing effects. Growth hormone mainly works by activating growth factors on muscles, liver, bones and on the cells of the fatty tissue. It is responsible for energy storage processes at the cellular level and, thus, a key element of physical and mental regeneration.

Sleep is also a decisive factor for the formation of the memory. During sleep the information newly acquired over the day is transferred from the short-term and working memory into the long-term memory and unnecessary information is rejected. For this reason, sleep experts advise us to take a regular afternoon nap of 10 up to a maximum of 20 minutes, especially for active learners but basically to ensure a healthy and long life. Studies demonstrate that a short nap between learning phases helps memorize factual information more easily.

Sleep is important for the mental well-being

Sleep does not only help people who are learning, but also regulates emotions. The advice to “sleep on it for a night“ is legitimate, as even in case of difficult emotional situations information that is less important for the cause is filtered out of the memory during sleep. The next morning, we can simply think and judge more clearly. A lack of sleep, however, makes you more reckless and more willing to take risks and leads to more errors in case of complex decision processes. That puts a completely different perspective on certain decisions made in politics and business after long night sessions.

People with chronic sleep disorders have more than double the risk of developing depressions than people with a healthy sleep. The probability of developing anxiety disorders and addictions is also higher.

The importance of a healthy sleep is already revealed in early childhood and adolescence. Children and teens who sleep well and sufficiently are more stable regarding their ability to regulate emotions and more balanced when dealing with other people. In turn, young people who sleep badly all the time tend to show rather dissocial, excited and impulsive behaviour and an impeded social development. Each hour of sleep deprivation heightens the risk of leading an unhealthy lifestyle with insufficient physical activity and weight gain, as well as increased consumption of fast food, nicotine and caffeine. Even with one hour of sleep less than preset by our genes the probability of overweight increases by 23%.

Sleep protects against age-related diseases

During sleep, waste products generated by neurons in the brain over the day, so-called amyloid plaques, are degraded again so that the human brain maintains its functionality. For this reason, enough sleep enables people to grow old successfully while enjoying good health and reduces the risk of age-related diseases, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Sleep makes us alert and productive. Often, we only realise how important it is when we do not get enough sleep. Depending on the study, up to 43% of the Germans feel “quite often”, “mostly“ or “always tired” during the day and not well rested (DAK health report 2017). The consequences of sleep deprivation on the psychosocial level of performance, however, are not always apparent, but they can have disastrous consequences because sleep deprivation, like alcohol, slows down the reaction time. Lethal traffic accidents on German roads are twice as often a result of lack of sleep than of alcohol consumption.

Consequently, whoever sleeps sufficiently and well is not only physically and mentally fit but also has a better mental balance and resilience. Vice versa physical and mental well-being results in a more relaxing sleep. It constitutes a cycle that provides many reasons to attach more importance to sleep and to sleep soundly again.

Written by Hans-Günter Weeß

How, doing nothing can help you thrive ? Check these examples !

How, doing nothing can help you thrive ? Check these examples !

Original publication in Thrive Gobal on October 2nd 2019

Many of us are so accustomed to a packed schedule that when we finally find a bit of free time, we don’t always know what to do with it. With the pressure to be “always on” and the prevalence of hustle culture, it’s easy to feel bad when you have even a little time to dedicate to yourself. As a result, you can become too wrapped up in the guilt to actually enjoy it. But downtime is good for everyone, no matter how busy you are — studies have shown that embracing a quiet moment or time off can lead to increased productivity, focus, and energy. 

We asked members of the Thrive community to tell us about a time they overcame the anxiety of “doing nothing” and used that time to their benefit. Check out the different ways they turned it into an opportunity to thrive, and how you can do so, too. 

Add some color to your life

“For me, doing nothing has lead me to a fruitful space where my often over-stimulated brain can thrive. I have taken up coloring, which I always enjoyed as a child. The creativity that it allows, and the simple joy I derive from the activity allows for moments of pure pleasure. I go back to work refreshed after I’ve had my coloring time.” 

—Jennefer Witter, CEO, entrepreneur, and public speaker, New York, NY 

Tune into a greater purpose

“I took a year off after college to recover from the burnout of operating with an ‘always on’ mindset for so long. During this time, I still had many commitments and projects, but focused on developing a more balanced approach to productivity, which included being more intentional about doing nothing. The key for me was realizing that time spent doing nothing can still have a purpose, whether it’s self-care, health, or just having fun. Although these things may not further our endeavors in a literal sense, they have a great impact on our productivity and creativity.”

—Andrew Gobran, people operations generalist, Minneapolis, MN

Read for greater empathy 

“I work from home and it’s easy to feel like you have to be ‘on’ all the time. A few months ago, I decided that I would  use the time I’d normally spend commuting to tune back into my favorite hobby: reading. I used to read all the time, and it always helped me better understand people and lead with more empathy. Now that I’ve committed to this downtime, I have much more energy, and it’s done wonders for my stress levels and overall outlook. I make better human connections, and I’m doing better at my job, too.” 

—Rebecca Taylor, sales, New York, NY 

Plan quiet moments 

“I can’t remember the actual moment I surrendered my control over everything. It was more like a gradual deconstruction. It could have started with the realization of how much I had lost in terms of time. I may not have associated value with space until it seemed gone forever. I’m still an overachiever, a mother of three, and a business owner. But having felt a loss so great, I now plan moments where I am doing nothing. This involves letting everyone around me know I am having a moment — my phone will go on silent and nothing will be scheduled afterward. That’s the key: Surrender to the mess, say no, and create space.” 

—Ali Davies, entrepreneur, New Zealand

Let your mind wander

“I have such an ‘on’ brain. Earlier this year, I found myself completely burned out — I was uninspired and completely devoid of joy in my work.  At my lowest, I reached out to my business community and offered to volunteer one day each week to help me find my mojo, but to also give my brain some off time. I helped my friend who is a ceramicist clean her studio and mix up glazes, and helped another friend make dog food, of all things! Through the process of standing on my feet, using my hands, and freeing up my mind to wander away from creative or strategic mode, I slowly came back to life. I’ve since stuck with the one day of helping or volunteering per week. I still get the same amount of work done in my business on a four day week, and I’m more creative after the day of chatting, marinating, and just “being” in manual labor.”

—Odette Barry, publicist and agency owner, Byron Bay, Australia

Spend time outside

“My husband and I became empty nesters in 2012. Initially, it was hard to deal with, especially since my husband had recently taken a new job and traveled for most of the week. I was truly home alone. At first, we started going out with friends and traveling together when he was home. We were trying to make up for all the quiet and alone time we now had. After a couple of years, we were even more exhausted than we were when we had the kids at home. Finally, we decided we could live wherever we wanted with his job. So we bought a small house and some land in the country. I found gardening, and I love it. I have also gotten back into reading. We have a hammock, and enjoy it under the moon and stars, and in the shade on a sunny day after working in the garden.”

—Becky C., office manager, Huntsville, TX

Embrace white space

“As a business owner, I used to think any time I didn’t spend working on — or thinking about — my business was time wasted. Then I suffered from burnout. I realized that no one is going to give me permission to slow down but me. Now I incorporate more white space — time where nothing is scheduled — and downtime, where I totally relax, into my schedule. I feel more creative, energized, and motivated every time I come back from a period of ‘doing nothing.’” 

—Stacey Hagen, coach and consultant, San Francisco, CA

Listen to what your mind and body tell you 

“I couldn’t wait to start an active daily schedule after I finished cancer treatment, but my body wasn’t ready to run — literally and figuratively. I had to learn to stop, slow down, and listen to what I needed. Though it was incredibly difficult at first — and sometimes still is — the lesson to slow down and do less completely changed my life for the better. I learned how to meditate, how to cook food that nourishes my body and soul, how long walks get me the movement and mindfulness I need, and I even started practicing calligraphy. In turn, my stress is much lower, my relationships with others are deeper, and my days are more meaningful. I can’t recommend learning how to ‘do nothing’ enough.”

—Calisa Hildebrand, communications, San Francisco, CA

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