Breath Work

Gratitude Is Healing

GratitudeWith Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought it would be a nice time to focus on the healing benefits of a gratitude practice. I experienced an impact when my husband and I decided to start an active gratitude practice about five years ago. Over time we noticed subtle changes in our home, stress levels, and marriage. Recently, I spoke to a group about the benefits of gratitude in a marriage relationship. My teenage son happened to be in attendance. During the comments time he told the group about the positive difference he noticed in our family. He said he could tell a difference in the way my husband and I related to one another. It was incredible to hear our son share his own experience of our decision to practice gratitude as a couple.

Gratitude Nourishes the Brain

An active gratitude practice has the power to change the way we think and feel. According to neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, where we choose to place our focus has the power to shape our brains.

“If you rest your mind on self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness and guilt. On the other hand, if you rest your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, or there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take on a different shape, one with strength and resilience hardwired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, a positive mood, and a sense of worth.” (Hanson, 2013)

Gratitude Builds Resilience to Stress

Over the past few months I paired my gratitude practice with an app called the Heartmath Inner Balance Trainer. The Inner Balance Trainer has a heart rate monitor that works with a smart phone or tablet to guides your breath while it monitors your heart rate. As you breathe, you bring to mind gratitude and thoughts of compassion. The science of Heartmath has shown a powerful correlation to our heart rhythm pattern and our emotions:

“When we experience uplifting emotions such as gratitude, joy, compassion, and love; our heart rhythm pattern becomes highly ordered, looking like a smooth, harmonious wave. It’s no wonder that positive emotions feel so good – they actually help our body’s systems synchronize and work better.

Gratitude

During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes – actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress.” (www.heartmath.com/innerbalance/)

Gratitude Over the Holidays

The holidays add stress to our normal daily routines. In my last blog post, I discussed how “turning down the thermometer” on stress can create balance, especially since practicing gratitude has proven to reduce stress. The article “Seven Powerful Ways Gratitude Can Change Your Life” shows multiple ways this practice can enhance your health and your relationships.

I wish you and your families a grateful Thanksgiving. Thank you for your continued encouragement and support of Jennifer Christian Counseling. I am deeply thankful.

Hanson, Rick, Ph.D. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.

University of St. Thomas Labyrinth

A friend of mine recently recommended visiting labyrinths throughout Houston as part of my “healing space” journey. Houston has a number unique labyrinths, located all over the city and surrounding area. I visited the Labyrinth at St. Thomas University, a replica of the labyrinth in Chartres, France. I was deeply moved by the beauty and the serenity of the space. Gentle water fountains line the side the labyrinth closest to Alabama Street, quietly subduing the sound of the traffic. Children’s laughter from a nearby elementary school mixed with the sounds of the birds and trees.

St. thomas labyrinth

Every time I walk, I have a unique experience. On this occasion, I felt myself calm and become centered throughout my walking meditation. Throughout the rest of the day, I continued to reflect on the experience and carry the peace of the walk with me. The labyrinth at St. Thomas University has definitely been added to my “Houston Healing Spaces” list.

St. Thomas Labyrinth 3

Benefits of Labyrinth Walking: 

“Labyrinth walking is said to benefit participants by allowing a temporary suspension of so-called left-brain activity—logical thought, analysis, and fact-based planning—and encourage the emergence of the intuition and imaginative creativity associated with the right brain. labyrinth walking puts them in touch with simple body rhythms. Because labyrinth walking involves physical movement, participants may find themselves becoming more mindful of their breathing patterns, the repetition of their footfalls, and the reorientation of the entire body that occurs as they move through the circular turns within the labyrinth. More particularly, the overall pattern of movement in labyrinth walking—first inward toward the center of the labyrinth and then outward on the return path—holds deep symbolic meaning for many people.” (Encyclopedia.com)

St. Thomas Labyrinth 2

11 Back to School Strategies for Parents

I have two teenagers gearing up to start school next week, and I feel a little disoriented. Transitions have always been a personal challenge, and I have to pay extra close attention to my stress levels throughout the shift into the new school year. The next couple of weeks will be full of lists, paperwork, school supplies, lunch ideas, medical forms, school forms, school clothes, etc.

I used to run myself ragged trying to get everything done for the sake of my family. I would end up feeling frazzled and irritable. I did not realize there was a relationship between my own self-care and the health and peace of my family. Like the old saying goes, “When mama isn’t happy, nobody’s happy!” I learned (eventually) that parenting is kind of like the oxygen mask drill on an airplane. Give yourself oxygen first, so that you can stay calm enough to then put the mask on your child. Likewise, when I check in with my own self-care, I am centered and have more to give.

Over the years, I have tried a number of different coping strategies to help me manage the stress and offer myself a little compassion in the midst of unusually hectic times:

11 Back to School Coping Strategies for Parents

  1. Remember transitions are stressful. If you feel a little overwhelmed when you look at all that needs to be done, it is okay. You are not alone. When you beat up yourself for feeling stressed or wonder if everyone else seems to be handling things better, it fuels the tension and makes you feel stuck.
  2. Be kind to yourself. This has been a huge help for me over the past couple of years. When you give yourself a little grace, you give yourself a little space. Compassionate self-talk naturally calms the tension in our body and calms the stress. You build inner support and encouragement when you learn to treat yourself like you would treat a good friend. Try this self-compassion exercise: How Would You Treat A Friend?
  3. Breathe. Breathing naturally calms the body and brings down stress levels. When I get stressed out, my mind starts racing and I cannot think. Breathing settles the mind and helps get back on track. Andrew Weil has a simple, powerful breathing exercise that naturally calms and settles the body.
  4. Buffer Time. A little extra scheduled time sprinkled throughout the day can bring down the stress. Get up 15 minutes earlier to give yourself a few extra minutes to get organized, find a missing shoe, or get loaded more peacefully into the car. Leave for school 10 minutes earlier to give a buffer for traffic or any unforeseen challenges.
  5. Write It Down. Make a list of all that needs to be done, and then prioritize. When you organize tasks and put the most important things first, you create focus and limit distractions. Multi-tasking is over-rated and actually increases stress.
  6. Practice saying “No.” A new school year includes lists of new activities. When you say “Yes” to everything it can leave you feeling burned-out and frustrated. Give yourself some time to think about how each activity will impact the family’s load. When I feel pressured by someone to respond right away, I often say that I need to check my calendar and will get back with him or her as soon as I can. Then I access how many activities will fit into our life without over-burdening our resources of time and money. I can then respond in a firm and realistic way that puts the needs of my family first.
  7. Listen. When you get so busy with everything that needs to be done, it is sometimes difficult to give attention to the people you love. At times things just need to get done right away and it is not possible to listen well. Tell your loved one, “You are important to me and I really want to hear what you are trying to say. I can give you my full attention when I finish _______.” Also, give others some grace when they are busy: “I have something I want to share with you and I want to be sure you can hear me, is this a good time? If not, when will you have a few minutes for us to talk?”
  8. Get some sleep. Lack of sleep exacerbates our stress and impacts our mood, health, and wellbeing. Sometimes getting in enough sleep may mean cutting a few things off the to-do list. However, we may also end up with a better attitude and more energy to get things done.
  9. Minimum requirements of self-care (MRSC’s). When things get hectic and time gets squeezed, your self-care is often the first thing that gets cut. This is understandable and common, but you can get worn down and burned out. According to Jennifer Louden, “MRSC’s are the basic things you need to stay in touch with yourself, to have a strong foundation to meet the rather constant challenges of life, and to ease the noise in your head. Things like loving yourself with yoga, getting enough sleep, being outdoors in the teasing spring wind, saying no to a great invite because you need time to putter alone. They aren’t sexy, they aren’t earth shattering, but without them, you tend to get all blurry and knotty and resentful.” Notice the little things that make an impact like taking your vitamins, going for a walk in nature, etc.
  10. Gratitude practice. When tasks mount, it feels overwhelming when things do not get done. It is life-sucking to get to the end of the day without recognizing that what you did matters. Write down three things you are grateful for about the day and share them with your spouse or a friend. Gratitude helps us not to take our life for granted. And, it is a great way to boost wellbeing and marital satisfaction.
  11. Add an ounce of love to every thing you do. Remember to give yourself and those around you a little extra love in the midst of hectic transitions. The tasks and stressors and temporary and will pass. You and your loved ones are here to stay. A little extra patience, compassion, and love goes a long way!

 

Just Breathe

When we feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry, or can’t seem to stop our minds from racing, deep breathing calms the body and helps us refocus. Just breathe.

When we feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry, or can’t seem to stop our minds from racing, deep breathing calms the body and helps us refocus. Just breathe.